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