Sunday, October 28, 2007

Donegal Celtic v Glentoran 27th October 2007

A goal after 43 seconds (to Glentoran) & 4 goals after about 14 minutes, this game had plenty of action.

Played to a backdrop of a helicopter overhead & 6/7 armoured police vans in the vicinity this meeting of teams from West & East Belfast evoked some history but passed off very peaceably.
This observer noticed no sectarian feelings whatsoever from the home fans but the visitors complained bitterly at times - about the referee & the 'DC' coaching staff.

Though I'm sure the surroundings are a far cry from the legendary Belfast Celtic's 'paradise' at least this DC team showed considerable spirit & endeavour in representing West Belfast against a much more favoured team.
They were helped by the Glentoran goalie who had considerably difficulty in dealing with crosses & was culpable for at least two of the DC goals (one direct from a corner)
In turn Scullion, one of the smallest players on the pitch, was allowed two scoring headers as part of his hat-trick for Glentoran.

A day earlier I had stayed in Castlederg - reputedly the most bombed small town in Northern Island (during the troubles)
For me it was a reasonably convenient location for visiting Donegal, in particular Ballybofey which was lively enough on a Friday night.
I watched Finn Harps overcome Kildare County before a good size crowd & move closer to promotion to the Premier League.

A possible star of the future played on the Harps left wing - Marc Brolly - you may have heard it here first.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Russia October 2007

A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma - how do those long legged girls become babushkas later in life ?

For Steve McClaren the problem was to work out what happened in those four minutes when England succumbed in the Luzhniki.

This writer enjoyed Russia despite the well documented negative aspects.
Perhaps it was the power, the passion, the architecture or the sense of history in this vast country.

It started off cold with sleet & snow in Moscow but got better.

I travelled to a warmer Rostov-on-Don to see a Russian 1st Division game between SKA & Tekstilchchik Ivanovo, returning on the Wednesday afternoon in good time to see Russia play England in the capital.

Certainly the Luzhniki will offer a vast, atmospheric, secure & well organised stadium for the Champions League Final next year.
The locals generated a vibrant noise & colourful display for the International though the flares might well induce a sanction from UEFA.
Similarly the Spartak fans were noisy during their victorious league game over FC Moscow a few days later - albeit in a less than half full ground.

In 'our' game we scored a route-1 goal, missed one or two other chances & looked dodgy in defence when the Russians turned on the pressure.
To this observer the Russians seemed limited & without obvious stars although the goalscorer Pavlyuchenko was superb when he came on (though less so when playing for Spartak at the weekend)
He had apparently been late for a training session but as part of the admonishment Hiddink had clearly found a way to inspire him.

Despite the situation there might be another twist to this qualifying group as Russia will not find it easy in Israel & before a packed Wembley against an already qualified Croatia, England might get there after all.
One Russian I spoke to definitely thought the powers-that-be wanted the England 'brand' to be in Austria/Switzerland rather than themselves.

The 3 stadiums I visited in Moscow were all close to a Metro station (two in the case of the Luzhniki) & the Metro is a work of art - sometimes literally.
The worlds busiest such system, it is fast & efficient but often very crowded.
It has dangers for the unwary - in that xenophobic, possibly drunken, ultras use it as a means of transport. Typically they wear no colours & do more than just roll coins down the long escalators.
So learning to interpret the cyrillic text (after a few days you can pick up the basics) is recommended for finding your way around the system even though at times you end up counting the stations to your stop.

Moscow is a place to take a camera - though not in Lenin's mausoleum.
The Kremlin, St Basil's Cathedral, numerous churches, the statue of Peter the Great, the foreign affairs ministry - awesome buildings & monuments abound reinforcing the sense of history & power.
Power (or is it paranoia ?) is also represented by the ubiquitous security presence.

Even at the lowly SKA Rostov game there were numerous police/military lining the pitch.

On leaving the Lokomotiv stadium after their 1-1 draw with Luch Vladivostok there was a corridor of guards leading to the Metro entrance & many others on the station platform.
Incidentally I was told that around 20 or so fans regularly travel from Vladivostok to their away games - most of which would be near Moscow - over 6000 km away.
For a 'local' derby the nearest team is currently Tom Tomsk a mere 3000 km or so distant.
Based on distance alone Luch would be far better off playing in the South Korean, Japanese or Chinese leagues.

Back to the security (same word in Russian by the way) aspect. This can be taken either positively , my own view, in that it enhances safety in this volatile world or negatively, in that is normally unnecessary & overkill in most situations.
It seems to hardly affect the bustling muscovites as the only people I saw stopped , for a document check, were apparent (possibly bearded) foreigners & drunks.

Of course there are queues & service can be slow & at times surly.
But there is a vibrancy about the place.
The restaurants buzz with friends & family greetings, as flowers are exchanged evoking memories of the famous picture of Chelsea players receiving bouquets from the Dinamo Moscow team back in the 40's.

That practice stopped in the 1960's so it played no part in Dinamo's encounter with Kuban Krasnodar at the aged Dinamo stadium. Some 7000 saw the home team hold on for a 1-0 win.
Dinamo have plans to either move, or renovate, their historic stadium as do Spartak (who hire the Luzhniki) & CSKA.

Moscow is very expensive , usually there is full-on heat inside & maybe too much cold outside.
But there are plenty of jobs for cleaners, flower sellers, alcohol & mirror vendors (the girls wear them out)
Take a trip outside of the centre , say to Domodedovo airport , & you see the landscape change.
Amongst the autumnal trees are the stark, grim tower blocks & the derelict industry.

But even in those places the Russians would have celebrated their first home win over a top ten team (England)

The place & the country will draw this visitor back in the near future.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Brann Bergen vs Lyn Oslo 8th October 2007

Gold for Brann Bergen as they , barring the mathematics, clinch their first Norwegian title for some 44 years.

After taking an early lead through top scorer Helstad the home side missed numerous chances to seal the win. Generally unless your team is Italian one goal is not usually enough.
And with the celebrations just about to get going Lyn did produce an equaliser with some 3 minutes remaining.
Could it be a serious anti-climax ?
Enter Azar Karadas to save the day(night) with two very late goals & Brann had it won by 3-1.

The red shirted fans certainly generated some atmosphere (for Norway anyway) in the packed 18,000 capacity Brann stadium with plenty of flags & flares & noise.

This joy was then transferred to the city centre as the harbour bars were soon thronged with fans singing (more terrace chant then Grieg) & most of all - drinking into the early hours.
For me midnight was long enough.

It was probably not a normal Monday night in Bergen & I think Tuesday was also abnormal as many fans undoubtedly had sore heads .
But the red scarves & shirts were worn with pride.

Norway in early October is coldish tho' for my 4 day visit the days were bright & sunny though it did get colder by nightfall.
Watching football is reasonably comfortable & certainly cosy enough in the stadium in Bergen.

An affluent , successful country for most - you know its going to be expensive but it still comes as a small shock - the £70 meals, the £20 haircuts (not that I had one) , the £9 cocktails (I did have one) & the £70+ train ride from Oslo to Bergen for instance.

But the scenery is often stunning - the sparsely populated areas seemingly idyllic amongst the isolated cabins, lakes & forests.
Peaceful & civilised - great for children - a few seedier bits (near the big stations typically) but generally safe.

But nowhere is perfect.
A small argument in a library - maybe about some photocopying - somehow typifies the situation.
When most things are under control - you have to worry about something.

Not that many Brann supporters did on the evening of the 8th October 2007.