Rich return for Welsh youngsters at Richmond Park

Mark Pitman makes a welcome return to The Ball is Round with news of the UEFA Under 17’s latest campaign and a rare international success for Wales.

Wales U17 4-0 Liechtenstein U17 – Wednesday 19th September 2012 – Friendly

The official buzzword from the Football Association of Wales for the World Cup qualifying campaign is ‘believe’, but in recent months the only printable feeling from fans of the national team has been ‘disappointment’. With Chris Coleman’s side reeling from their recent inept performance in Serbia, an opportunity to enjoy a more successful 90-minutes watching the red of Wales presented itself in Carmarthen as the Under-17 side welcomed their Liechtenstein counterparts to Richmond Park. The bright early-evening sun compensated for the winter chill of West Wales as Geraint Williams’ young side cruised to a commanding 4-0 victory, in front of a decent crowd that the hosts would welcome for any of their Welsh Premier League fixtures. Continue reading

Football’s coming home – well nearly anyway

Four weeks ago the Football Associations of Scotland, Ireland and Wales surprised the football world by expressing an interest in hosting Euro2020 in a three-way love in.  Whilst not formally stating their intention to bid for the tournament, their dipping of the toe into the murky waters of International football was received in favourable terms by many people.  Faced with competition from Turkey and Georgia at the moment, the Celtic bid looks very appealling.

Michel Platini, however, may think otherwise.  He wasn’t very keen on inheriting the joint bid from Poland and Ukraine and has expressed his Gallic frustration on a number of occasions with the progress of the infrastructure which still isn’t quite finished despite the tournament kicking off in a week’s time.  He also feels a bit guilty about France winning the bid for 2016 7-6 over Turkey where essentially he had the casting vote, so Turkey will be firm favourites.  That is unless they win a bid for the 2020 Olympic Games.But do they really fit with UEFA’s vision for the Championships?  We can glean quite a lot of information from the bid document for bids for 2016 on what UEFA expects from tournaments in the future.

The first thing to remind you is that from 2016 the tournament is being farcically expanded to a 24 nation competition, which based on the potential Celtic bid, will mean that 50 UEFA nations will be competing for 21 spots – hardly a taxing qualifying tournament.  In terms of the tournament, UEFA set their infrastructure criteria for 2016 as:-

  • 2 x stadiums with at least 50,000 net seating capacity (net meaning seats free from any obstructions) of which one should preferably have up to 60,000.
  • 3 x stadiums with at least a 40,000 seating capacity
  • 4 x stadiums with at least a 30,000 seating capacity

In addition there should be a maximum of three stadiums to be used as backup that fall within these parameters.  All stadiums need to be at UEFA Category 1 level prior to the commencement of the tournament which has very little to do with design, facilities or even a fancy roof but more to do with the size of the Referee’s dressing room, the TV compound and the number of corporate boxes (40 for 30,000, 80 for 50,000+).

It also states that stadium must be well connected to public transport hubs (well that must rule out Turkey for a start – have you tried to get to the Ataturk stadium by public transport?) and be within a two hour drive of an airport.  At least three roads from different directions should lead to the stadium (to avoid “crossover” between fans, media and VIPs), and there should be specific number of parking spaces for the different catagories of VIPs.  In the past, UEFA (and FIFA) have not liked a concentration of stadiums in a small number of host cities.  Portugal was ideal for spectators who were able to travel between 7 of the 8 venues by car within a couple of hours, but UEFA felt that the teams training camps and accommodation were too close together.  So, despite its size and facilities, the day will not be anytime soon when we see a London European Championships, despite the fact the city  currently meets the stadium criteria (Wembley, Olympic Stadium, Twickenham, Emirates, Stamford Bridge, White Hart Lane, Upton Park and The Valley – almost). Continue reading

The worst supported leagues in Europe

Two years ago I wrote an article about the worst supported league in Europe an honour won by Estonia’s Meistriliiga with its average attendance of just 160.  Since then, thanks to the bizarre changes put in place by UEFA President it is now easier than ever for the Estonian Champions to progress in the Champions League.  This season Flora Tallinn lost in the second qualifying round to Shamrock Rovers.  Should have had won in this tie they could have been drawn against other small sides such as Rangers, Benfica and FC Copenhagen.

So what has changed in the last two years?  What is the top of the bottom league in Europe? Here is your top ten, in reverse order:-

10th  – Moldova (average attendance 759)
Half the clubs in the Divizia Nationala average less than 400, or about the same as St Neots Town, Bradford Park Avenue or Basingstoke Town.  The winners of this league, go into the Champions League at the Second Round Stage.

9th – Lithuania (701)
All bar two teams average less than a thousand.  Football is not the main sport in Lithuania – that honour belongs to basketball.

8th – Montenegro (601)
Europe’s newest nation, and one of the most impressive national team debuts although their domestic league is still poorly supported.  OFK Petrovac play in front of the same number of people who watch Horsham on a regular basis.

7th – Armenia (572)
Back in 1974, FC Aravat Yerevan reached the European Cup quarter final, losing to Bayern Munich in front of a full house.  Last season they averaged 207 in a league who averaged less than Farnborough.

6th – Faroe Islands (512)
In the land of puffins it isn’t much of a surprise that football isn’t that well supported, although with less than 50,000 people living there crowds are quite reasonable.  Last season the champions, HB Torshavn lost in the second qualifying round to Malmö FF.

5th – Latvia (466)
One of the leagues in Europe that is dominated by just two games, although Ice Hockey is far better supported than football.  It is only eight years ago since Latvia shocked European football by reaching Euro2004 in Portugal, the high-point in their footballing history.

4th – Wales (339)
It must be incredibly hard for Welsh League teams such as Neath and Llanelli to draw crowds when Swansea City are taking on the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea just down the road.  In addition factor in the fact that Rugby Union is the most popular spectator sport in the region and you can see that any club does well to progress.  Last season champions Bangor City lost 13-0 to HJK Helsinki in the second qualifying round of the Champions League.

3rd – Luxembourg (306)
One of Europe’s smallest football playing countries still cannot muster enough more interest in their domestic game than Thurrock, Droylsden and Margate.  The league is dominated by two teams – AS La Jeunnesse Esch, who are the best supported, and F91 Dudelange who are the perennial champions, and last season actually won a game in the Champions League, beating  Andorra’s Santa Coloma in the first round before losing 5-1 to Maribor.

2nd – Malta (224)
It is hard to quantify the exact attendance figures for the Maltese Premier League as six of the twelve teams play their home games at the same stadium, the Ta’Qali national stadium, often on the same day, meaning fans from up to six teams will be coming and going.  Even on the one occasion we attended one of the festivals of football (see here), there was no more than a hundred or so fans in the stadium.

And the winner…..AGAIN…Estonia (203)
Last season was a watershed in Estonian football as the average attendance broke the 200 mark for the first time ever.  That is in part to the champions JK Nömme Kalju who averaged over 500 and next season will will try their hand in the Champions League for the first time.  Seven of the teams in the top league average less than 200.  The worst supported team in the league, FC Ajax Lasnamäe get less fans than Lewes’s Under 18s.

Can they make it three in a row next year?  I cannot see anyone else getting close currently, so for now let’s raise a glass to ESTONIA, home of the absent fan.

Worth the admission price alone?

Mark Pitman, our Welsh wizard, brings us another Welsh football weekend double as Neath take on The New Saints in the Principality Welsh Premier League and Wales take on England in a European Championship qualifier. With little in common initially a glaring familiar theme emerges however, as the wallets of football fans across the country become subject to situation exploitation at every level of the game and the occasion of it.

Neath 2-2 The New Saints – Principality Welsh Premier League – 25th March 2011
A popular football phrase for a flash of on the field brilliance before it was replaced with modern day Sky nonsense such as ‘take a bew, son’ or ‘unbelievable tekkers’ is the more traditional ‘that was worth the admission price alone’ or variations thereof. Neath invested in their own brand of tekker-potential in the summer with the signing of Lee Trundle headlining the arrival of a number of former Football League stars with significant Swansea City connections, and while the flashes of brilliance have been few and far between, a new initiative by the South Wales club seems set to backfire spectacularly.

A common debate in the English Premier League revolves around the fact that the everyday football fan is being priced out of the game by the greed of their clubs. From over-priced merchandise to four-figure season tickets, the revenue streams at Britain’s biggest clubs play a significant part in the young players from across the world becoming very rich, very soon. The average fan in the street resents the exploitation but the worldwide interest of the Premier League means there is a constant stream of revenue. Interestingly, the Principality Welsh Premier League acknowledged this growing resentment, and used it in their marketing campaign at the start of the season. Continue reading

George versus the Dragons

Taking a break from the Daggers Diary this week, Brian Parish headed west for Wales versus England.  In the first of two reports from different camps on the game, Brian gives us the English view.

When the fixtures for the league season were announced, I was hoping that either the Daggers would be away from home, or at least the home game would be rearranged for the Sunday. So when the schedule produced a home game against Sheffield Wednesday, we hoped that the game would get moved. After all, the England band are all Wednesday fans, aren’t they?

Unfortunately for us, the hoped for rearrangement didn’t happen, so it meant a straight choice; either attend the Daggers v Wednesday, or Wales v England. Since last year’s “displays” at the World Cup, interest in the national team seems to have dropped away, although not so much amongst those who regularly travel with the team. There were more applications for tickets than we had been allocated, so for the first time in a while, there was a ballot to decide who would be able to attend. After all of the tickets had been sold, there were extra put on sale, but then there came a problem; the tickets didn’t really exist (or at least shouldn’t have been sold), which meant that several hundred people who thought that they had a game to go to were now denied. Not the Welsh FA’s finest hour. Continue reading

I’m not gonna lie to you…Wales is lush

The Fuller family this year decided to take our summer holiday in Wales.  We could have gone to Florida with (In)Active Matt, or to Denmark to live in the flat but we decided on the Gower.  Sure we expected the weather was going to be crap but the upsides of a week down here completely outweighed the rain.  And I could slip in a couple of games in grounds I had never been to, nor would likely to visit on a cheeky day out. So here are my ten observations from a week in South Wales.

1. Welsh women…On my latest laminated list (see Friends Episode 3.05) of 5 I have two who were born and bred in the south Wales valleys – Charlotte Church and the goddess that is Catherine Zeta Jones.  Isn’t that an endorsement enough of Welsh women?  Sure you get the odd Nessa but having spent many a night in the discos of Bridgend, Neath and Swansea I can say hand on heart that they are tops in terms of UK talent.  Quite why some of them have the most ridiculous tattoos is still beyond me though.  On a visit to the LC2 (Wales’ Premier Indoor Water Park – I believe it is the only indoor water park) I saw the following.

  • Young girl with a lizard with its tongue out crawling down below her bikini bottoms
  • Late 20’s / early 30’s woman with a tattoo of a man’s name on her arse, which was then crossed out
  • Young girl with an arrow pointing upwards on her inner thigh…no instructions what to do but just an arrow
  • 40’s aged woman with a huge tattoo saying just Dad on her shoulder, inked as if she did it herself looking in a mirror

These were just four examples in a period of 2 hours…Head to Wind street in Swansea on any night of the week and just stand back and watch to see a real life Miss World competition.

2. Welsh Men….I get the tattoos bit but some of them need to stop doing them themselves (see above).  And Welsh fathers need to take their sons aside at puberty and teach them how to shave.  Bumfluff moutaches were sooo 1980’s.  Nice people though who are more than helpful, even to us English.  They are very proud of their cars although teenagers think that riding mopeds means they can hold up all the traffic doing 20 miles per hour thinking they are Valentino Rossi (how times have changed – in the past we would have said “like Barry Sheen” but he died almost a decade ago).

3. Supermarket check out girls.  In two separate events I got the life story of one girl at Tesco’s and how her sister was marrying a “wrong un” and that is why it was raining today, and from another that her best friend had told her boyfriend that she (checkout girl) wasn’t the marrying type and would jilt him at the altar.  No wonder the self service tills are so popular in the supermarkets….which gets me onto..

4. Retail Parks.  What is it with developers here?  Almost every roundabout in a town or city has a retail park and/or a supermarket on?  Drive from Swansea to Llanelli, a journey of no more than 6 miles, and you will pass 3 Tesco Extras, a Sainsburys, god knows how many Currys/Next/MFI’s.  Do they not know there is a recession on?  And they are still building them!  Have they not heard of the Ring Donut Effect?  (A-Level Geography – where building on the pheriphery of a city causes people in the middle to move outwards causing decline and slow death of commercial activity in the city centre).  And they are almost always full!

5. Traffic Lights.  Far too many in Swansea and Cardiff and they stay on red for ridiculous amounts of time.  One set near Ffordbach on the outskirts of the city stayed at red for 134 seconds – madness.  Traffic jams appear and disappear all over the reason due to poor traffic flow.  Perhaps Ken Livingstone has been altering them again as he (allegedly) did in London prior to the Congestion Charge being introduced to prove that his unpopular move actually speeded up the traffic.

6. Welsh Food.  Hands up who has tried Lava Bread?  If not let me describe what you have missed.  Take some seaweed lava and boil it for several hours: the gelatinous paste that results is then rolled in oatmeal and fried. Laverbread is traditionally eaten fried with bacon and cockles for breakfast. Mmmmmm…and you can buy it in Tesco’s.  Welsh cakes are a bit more palatable, being a cross between a scone and a hot cross bun.  And of course there is Welsh Rarebit – or cheese on toast to us uneducated English people.  Failing that head for McDonalds/KFC/Pizza Hut which are on every retail park (see point 4 above) so you will never go hungry.  However, there are still those who demand more.  Overheard in a chip shop in Barry Island – “I’ll have chips with gravy plus a burger in batter…”

7. The Language.  Nearly 21% of the country understand Welsh and every roadsign is in both English and Welsh.  Some words are simple to pronounce – Abertawe is literally Mouth of the Tawe and flows nicely off the tongue but you will come across some places where vowels have done a runner such as Cwmffrwd.  The language was used by the Welsh Guards during their tours in the Balkans as a code language.  Always worth a go to impress the local ladies – Bwria belten job ydy oddi ‘r chwestiyna?

8. The Beaches.  When the sun is shining (and it does – see below) there is nowhere better than Oxwich Bay on the Gower.  The beaches here are Blue Flag ones, spotlessly clean and rarely busy.  Head to the west of the Gower and there is the amazing Rhosilli Bay which must be 3 miles long and picture postcard perfect.  You can stick your Portobanus and give me Port Einon any day!

9. The Weather.  Yes we know people call it Wet Wales, and we know why.  It does rain ALOT down here, but people who expect sunshine everyday should not come down here.  Even with the rain falling there is loads to do here.  A pint of Brains doesn’t need the sun to make it taste good.

10. Football and Rugby.  South Wales is all about rugby.  For every car you see driving around Swansea with a Swans sticker in you will see five with an Ospreys sign in.  A few years ago with the domestic game in disarray the Welsh Rugby Union decided to announce a new Super League structure and almost overnight some of the more traditional teams such as Bridgend, Neath, Pontypridd and Port Talbot disappeared, replaced by regional superclubs in the Swansea Neath Ospresy, Newport Gwent Dragons and the Cardiff Blues.  Football, on the other hand at a regional level is still small time.  The Wlesh Premier League comes a poor second to rugby.  You just have to see that AFC Llanelli, champions of the Premier League in 2008 still only get 900 fans on a regular basis whilst the Llanelli Scarletts get 7 or 8 times that in their brand spanking new 15,000 capacity Parc y Scarlets.  This season the football club hosted Motherwell in the Europa League here and got a decent crowd (see Danny Lasts excellent story from this game here).  In such a small region with two clubs on the rise, local teams are falling in popularity, which is a shame.  For a view of some of the fantastic arenas in South Wales have a look at the next article.

But I was here for a reason.  Yes the Fuller family holiday is important, but with only one new stadium opening in the English leagues this season I couldn’t miss an opportunity to tick it off prior to the start of the season.  So, ladies and gentlemen I now give you the main event – The 2nd opening of the City Stadium in Cardiff.

Cardiff City 0 Valencia 2 – The City Stadium – Saturday 1st August 2009 3pm



The new stadium was over a decade in discussion before work finally started in 2007 on the stadium, located across the road from Ninian Park.  The new ground opened its doors for a friendly with Celtic in late July (there was actually a test game played against Chasetown first) and this was to be the final warm up game before the start of the Bluebirds Championship campaign.  Hopes are high for a good season, with the club finishing last season challenging for a play off spot right up until the final day when they missed out on goals scored to Preston North End.

The visitors Valencia could hardly be in a worse shape.  Laden with debt, a new stadium that construction has halted on and no buyer in site for their existing home it is a surprise they could afford the airfare over to Wales.  They were also due to play Manchester United and Arsenal in the next few weeks and whilst their squad included the four David’s (Villa, Silva, Albelda and Navarro) it was unlikely that any of them would take part in the game.

Truth be told this was a disappointing game.  Just over 13,000 home fans arrived (and 10 from Valencia) to witness the Spanish team control the game from the first minute, hardly breaking into a sweat.  Cardiff’s star was Chris Burke on the right hand side, and he often took on the Valencia defenders, creating the first real chance of the game on the 5th minute.  But it was Valencia who struck first with Nikola Zigi heading home with ease on seven minutes.  Ross McCormack replaced the injured Boothroyd midway through the half and added an extra bit of bite to the Cardiff team, and he forced centre back Alexis into one rash challenge too many for the referee and he became the first player to go into the book.

After the 0-0 draw with Celtic Cardiff were looking for that illusive first goal in the new stadium and they had the perfect opportunity on 62 minutes when substitute Pericard was hauled down in the penalty area, but McCormack’s spot kick was well saved by Valencia’s pink shirted keeper Miguel Angel Moya.  Five minutes to go in the game and it was all over as a well worked free kick from the edge of the penalty area was met on the volley by Joaquin and it was 2-0.

And that was it.  A first look at the stadium which could have been any new one in the UK.  The “inners” gave the feeling it was unfinished with bare pipework and breeze blocks, whilst the arena was smart if a little sterile.  The fans in the Home End tried their best and when the visitors are the likes of Swansea or Newcastle  then I would imagine it will be quite a venue, but for a friendly in August it had that pedestrian feel.

CMF and Littlest Fuller picked up from their shopping spree in the city centre we headed off to Barry Island.  I forgot to mention today was our wedding anniversary and what better way to celebrate it than a fish and chip supper in one of the most famous TV sitcom locations around today.  We would have visited Nessa’s amusement arcade or even Pleasureland but they were closed….at 6pm…on a Saturday…in August….Where to we now!

About the Cardiff City Stadium
The Cardiff City Stadium (Stadiwm Dinas Caerdydd) is a 26,828 all-seated ground in the Leckwith area of the city, which is the home of Cardiff City Football Club. Owned and operated by Cardiff City F.C., the stadium also hosts the home matches of the Cardiff Blues rugby union team. The stadium is part of the Leckwith development which essentially means it is in the middle of a huge retail park. It is located opposite the old Ninian Park on the original Athletics stadium site. The stadium was officially opened on 22 July 2009, with Cardiff City drawing 0-0 in a friendly against Celtic althogh it actually hosted two smaller ramp up events prior to this in July 2009.

The stadium is rather disappointingly similar in design inside to most new builds in the UK with three single tier stadiums and one two tier main stand with a uniform roof. Views are excellent from all seats and the home fans are now located in the North (Canton) Stand.

How to get to the Cardiff City Stadium
The new stadium is literally across the road from the old Ninian Park stadium in the west of the city.  It is well sign posted from the motorway, where you should exit off the M4 at junction 33 then follow the A4232.  You can get a train from Cardiff central to Ninian Park but most fans will chose the 20 minute walk down Wellington Road, past the Millennium Stadium to the ground.  Parking at the stadium is for permit holders only although there are currently no restrictions on parking on the retail park or in Asda.  Otherwise the streets off Wellington Road are restriction free.

How to get a ticket for the Cardiff City Stadium
You need to be a member to purchase tickets for the new stadium.  Membership costs £3.50 and can be purchased from the club’s online ticket store (click here).  As the stadium is ticketless (you enter using your card) you will have to have this before you can buy tickets online.  The home end is the Canton end and tickets here will cost £24 for Adults and £15 for concessions.  The Family stand is ideally located next to the away fans in the Grange End, and tickets cost the same.  The Ninian stand is sold out to season ticket holders so the only other alternative is the Grandstand at £30. Details about tickets for Cardiff Blues rugby games have not yet been announced.