Saturday, December 06, 2008

Japan December 2008

compare and contrast - China and Japan.

Firstly there is a substantial cost difference. In Beijing a large meal and drinks is easily available for less than £7 whereas in Tokyo that gets you just a pint.

In Tokyo the local girls favour hot pants or short skirts as they walk , in characteristic pigeon toed fashion, the busy streets. Coloured hair is almost mandatory for younger people of both sexes.

The transport system of the greater Tokyo area is nothing short of awesome. Even after being around Shinjuku for two weeks I would still end up at a different station exit virtually every time.
In China they have buses to spare.

It would take a long time to describe and , not least, understand the Japanese rituals whereas in China there is a lot less ceremony.
That is also evident on the streets where it's every man for himself even if the lights are green when you are crossing the road. The Japanese wait patiently. They also queue in an ordered fashion.

For this visitor, apart from the football, the experience of visiting Hiroshima was especially memorable. The stark atomic bomb dome.

The incredibly moving Peace Memorial Museum with the story of Sadako Sasaki and the paper cranes , the boys tricycle, the shadow on the steps and the stories from the survivors.

Unbelievably within a couple of days of the bomb dropping some of the city trams were running again.

Greens go down.

Tokyo Verdy 0 Kawasaki Frontale 2
One down , one second.

Frontale brought plenty of blue-clad fans to fill most of the right hand goal at the Ajinomoto stadium in Tokyo.

Verdy had their support in green to the left but they would be disappointed as their side ended up relegated.

From the start Frontale had just a slim chance of winning the J-league , they went on the attack and nearly scored after 45 seconds. But Juninho (from Palmeiras rather than Middlesboro') missed as he would do on many other occassions.

Verdy were content to slow the game down and did so even more after they had a guy sent off. Juninho put the subsequent penalty wide of the goal.

Somehow the first half finished goalless.

After 65 minutes a neat move between the tricky Uruguyaun Renatinho and Juninho resulted in the former slotting the decisive goal.

A late second right foot strike from Nakamura sealed it in injury time.

Both sets of fans produced plenty of noise and displayed the usual impressive , colourful flags and banners.

Jubilo hold Veg.
Vegalta Sendai 1 Jublio Iwata 1

The first leg of the J league 1/2 play-off between third bottom Jublio of League 1 and 3rd top Vegalta from J-2.
Sendai is about 2 hours and a quarter on the Shinkansen going north of Tokyo. The home side played this one at their atmospheric Vurtec (Sendai) stadium a subway ride from the centre.

It was pretty much a sell out (19,000) as the home fans cranked up the noise , sang their songs and waved their numerous large flags. Jubilo brought a good number of their blue clad fans.

Ok its derivative but the locals do generate a decent atmosphere although it doesn't always correspond with the onfield play.

It would seem Sendai now have a difficult task as Jubilo in the end looked fairly comfortable though Vegalta did go in front through front man Brazilian Nadson as he was put clear to score decisively late on in the first half.

Jubilo got back on terms after 53 minutes when 19 year old midfielder Matsuura shot in - he could one to watch for the future.

After that Sendai generated some pressure and Ryang did hit the bar with a free kick but it was not enough to make another breakthrough.

Australians beat Kiwis.
Adelaide Utd 2 Waitakere Utd 1
played in the Tokyo National stadium this was the first game in this years Club World Cup.
For this observer a rather surprising number turned out (19,000) on a coldish night to watch in virtual silence. Only in brief moments do the crowd show their allegiance for the relative underdogs (Waitakere)
We had an opening ceremony that started dramatically and finished without much of a climax. Good light show and stirring music , a globe that levitated , the club colours displayed but a somewhat anticlimatic and relatively lenghty finish.

The game itself was characterised by set pieces - corners (Adelaide had 19) and free kicks.
Waitakere, totally against the run of play, scored after a free kick had been mishandled by the Adelaide goalie.

The Australians got back level soon after from a corner with a decisive header by Mullen.
It took a free kick late in the second galf and a glancing header by captain Dodd to settle the issue.

The Kiwis had battled hard and had the entertaining Fijian Krishna - a lively, speedy but unpredictable front runner.

Hot Tuzos.

Al Ahly (Egypt) 2 Pachuca (Mexico) 4 after extra time.
The second game in the Club World Cup also played at the Tokyo National (Olympic) stadium produced a higher quality match. This time there were noticeable groups of fans from both teams and, again, a higher than expected attendance , given as over 30,000.
Perhaps fortunate to go in 2-0 ahead at the break the Egyptians had scored from a deflected own goal after a Aboutrika break.
The second was totaly different - an excellent right wing move again involving Aboutrika again and Barakat who made the cross for Angolan Flavio to score high into the net.

The Pachuca coach thought later that they did not deserve to be behind and indeed they had missed some decent chances. But to this observer it seemed unlikely Pahuca would retrieve the sitauion after the break.

However an early 2nd half goal from a set peice gave them the confidence and Al Ahly were pressed back, made passing errors and seem to lose confidence (admitted by their Portuguese coach)

Argentinian Gimenez scored the free kick equaliser and Pachuca nearly finished it in normal time.
But in the extra period another Argentinian Alverez scored for 3-2 and a second from Gimenez completed the win.

So Pachuca will meet Ldu Quito and Al Ahly will play for fifth place.

It got cold and a brisk walk back to the assault on the senses that is Shinjuku was needed for me to warm up. A curry and some local Bon Rouge wine finished the evening.
I returned via Narita (and the Red Eye club - they make some decent cocktails) to China.

Back in Beijing the Olympic stadium area was busy with local tour parties many taking pictures of the impressive 'Bird's Nest'.

further pics at

Thursday, November 27, 2008

China November 2008

Yin & yang

Beijing is fairly cold , especially when the wind blows.

But sightseeing is OK in the bright sunshine.
There were some foreigners but it is mainly Chinese that are wandering around Tianamen Square and the Forbidden City. Among the impressive buildings are some pictures and text about the last emperor which made this observer wonder how the locals perceived that part of their history.

Food is everywhere and very good value though perhaps dumplings for breakfast might not suit everyone. It's interesting that a survey mentioned in Peking Daily said that the Chinese eat around 20% more than Westerners but are about 20% slimmer.

From Beijing I took the fast train to Ji'nan.

It's necessary to buy your ticket in advance, a process that can take a while.

But the train is fearsomely efficient.

In Ji'nan amongst the hectic streets there is a harmony to be had in the gardens and springs (its known as the 'city of springs')

The main city square is where the locals do their exercises and the roller skaters are out practising. Memorable and very amusing is seeing the very young kids, all decked out in their helmets, knee guards etc being chased by the older instructor as they try to circle the skating area whilst falling over and bumping into each other.

Kites are flown and people wander around in the bright sunny weather.
A scene that evokes the enjoyment of simpler pleasures.
And the families, usually just the one child, stroll around the springs area or the lake. One group want a photo with this correspondent.

The very young children don't have nappies - just a gap in their clothes.

In a day or so looking around Ji'nan I do not see one other European except in the hotels.

A smile and a nod is recommended and sometimes a halting conversation as a local endeavours to try out their English.

A draw enough.

Shandong Luneng 0 Guangzhou Pharmaceutical 0

The final games of the Chinese Super League season were played on a Sunday afternoon. Here in Ji'nan Shandong, leaders by two points, in the end just needed a draw to clinch their second title.

The game was close to a sell out , of around 40,000, with large queues outside sometime before kick off and plenty sitting in the aisles around me.

As would be expected the home side took the initiative though they only really upped the pace in the second half. Most of the time Guangzhou slowed the game down, played on the break, and wasted time at every opportunity. But they had the best chances - all missed badly.

Shandong did play some good football but lacked any cutting edge near goal. Though it didn't matter in this encounter they will surely struggle against teams with decent strikers.

The crowd celebrated as the players enjoyed their success by parading around the pitch.

So maybe a lot more shirts and scarves will be sold as few fans, bar a smallish groups of 'ultras', wore any colours.

more pics at

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Empoli v Grosseto November 2008


Empoli 1 Grosseto 1

Equal near the top of Serie B these two teams stayed closed in this game.

Their goalscorers, Vannucchi for Empoli, and Sansovini for Grosseto both looked dangerous.

Around 5000 watched including a good contingent from Grosseto - filling most of two segments behind one goal.

It was cold but dry near the river Arno.

On a weekend when Italian football produced a possible new strategy (?) with Catania players dropping their shorts at a free kick to put off the Torino goalie.
This match included a moment when an Empoli player reversed the award of a throw-in after indicating that he was the last person to touch the ball before it went out.

My route took me back via Firenza before getting a Milan bound train and then a flight back to Berlin.

In the centre of Florence, not seen since Italia 90, those architectural masterpieces and the Uffizi gallery would inspire this visitor's heart and soul.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Germany November 2008

Good Stuff.

Union Berlin 2 Sandhausen 2

Union played this 3rd Liga game at the Jahn Sportpark whilst their regular home is being updated.
Around 6000 turned out and produced a decent atmosphere amongst which were a small group of away fans.

The stadium has a Turkish feel with the prominent red/yellow/green seats, not surprising since Turkiyemspor normally play there.

After taking a while to get going Union finally developed some pressure and Younga-Mouhani nodded in from a corner.

The second half proved very watchable as Sandhausen equalised through Pinto and went ahead after sub. Ozturk (appropriately) found space to score.

It took a goal area scramble for centre back Stuff to poke home the leveller.

Obasi has the last word.

Hoffenheim 3 Wolfsburg 2

Another team playing at a temporary home. Up and coming Hoffenheim won this one at the home of Waldorf Mannheim as they await their new stadium being completed.

As has been the case the game was a sell out with many in the surrounding area (eg Heidelberg) keen to see Bundesliga matches.

Hoffenheim despite their critics do have a attacking team though forwards Ba and Obasi weren't so prominent as when they played at the 2nd level.

Top League scorer Ibisevic scored early on, helped by a deflection.

But Wolfsburg came back and another leading scorer Brazilian Grafite produced a trick and found space to score for 1-1.

A slightly dubious free kick awarded to the home team allowed Carlos Eduardo to show off his left foot skills for 2-1. Dzecko bundled in the second equaliser, still before the break.

Just one goal in the second half, Obasi beating the offside line to score neatly.

Hoffenheim finished strongly and denied any Wolfsburg 3rd equaliser.

This was an enjoyable watch.

Big beats small.

Ingolstadt 0 Nuremberg 3

The small Ingolstadt arena was ausferkauft (10,500) as the big city visitors brought plenty of fans.

Fortunately it stayed dry (but cold) as there is not much cover at the ground. What there is was mainly for the VIPs in the main stand and behind the goal.

Most fans shared the side an open terrace with Nuremberg bringing plenty of their ultras.

Somehow the game never really caught fire as Lemos missed a great chance when blasting over an empty goal for Ingolstadt.
That proved costly as the away side, with better possession, eventually led after Boakye did well down the right and his cross was deflected in for an own-goal.
Despite Ingolstadt trying to play their football der Club scored two late goals to seal a convincing win in the end.

For this visitor it was a convenient short walk to the station and a regional train back to Augsburg.

Terry the Redeemer

Germany 1 England 2

Back in Berlin sightseeing was just about manageable in the cold damp weather.
This time it included the Brandenburg Gate, the Holocaust memorial, Checkpoint Charlie and the well presented and thoughtful Jewish museum.

Myself and some friends ate at an Italian restaurant where a good reception was evident especially whilst we have a well respected Italian as our coach.

In the game England carried on their progress with impressive performances from non-regulars especially Agbonlahor and an improved Wright Phillips (who hit the post)

John Terry redeemed himself by scoring the winning header. He had been responsible for the German equaliser after delaying to allow Helmes to score.

Upson had put England ahead after the goalie had failed to deal with a cross.

Generally Germany were moderate and got whistles from the home fans.

In contrast it was encouraging that England, with their various replacements, had played well and are continuing the evident progress under Capello.

further pics at

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Greece November 2008

Che sera sera.

Panserraikos 1 OFI Heraklion 2

The bus takes around 1 hour twenty minutes to get to Serres from Thessaloniki.
And Serres has a nice central area with plenty of bars and restaurants where you can enjoy the ambience.

The stadium is a convenient couple of mintues walk from the bus terminal. So its an easy trip for a late afternoon game.

Its a smallish, compact ground with open , red seats and a main covered main stand. OFI brought a group of around 40 fans - some apparently from Thessaloniki.

The home fans , the Che Guevara group, had their flags and as is the style divided into two groups to chant their songs.

After an even, tight, first half Panserraikos took an early lead in the more entertaining second half after Bangoura benefited from the goalie's hesitation. But OFI came back to score two quick goals from the left foot of Popovic.

The home fans were naturally frustrated as Panserraikos failed to create too much and bottom team OFI had a very good away win.

I stolled back to get the 7pm bus to Thessaloniki and indulged in a couple of ouzos.

Next day in Thessaloniki , whilst Athens was gearing up for Panathinaikos v Olympiakos, I saw two Sunday games :-

Kalamaria edges Kallithea.

Apollon Kalamarias 2 Kallithea 1

In the Greek Beta Ethnki (2nd level) played in Apollon's ground in Kalamaria - a 15 minute bus ride from the centre of Thessaloniki.

The ground has seen better days - especially the crumbling terracing opposite the main stand.

The main stand itself was were all the fans watched, around 500, including a smallish but enthusiastic group of 'Rossoneri' local fans.

They saw Apollon generally control things taking a two goal lead and holding Kallithea to few chances and a late consolation.

Its a shortish bus ride and a 15 minute walk to the large Kaftanzoglu Stadium.

First win.

Iraklis 1 Levadiakos 0

Back to the Super League to see Iraklis win their first game of the season.

It was sealed by an early Kone goal as a corner somehow reached him at the far post.

Levadiakos struggled to get much change from a solid home defence . They had a man sent off near the end as Iralkis held out with too much trouble.
In a 27,000 capacity stadium under 3,000 turned out on a fairly cold evening.

Back in the centre of Thessaloniki the bars and restaurants turned on the external heaters as the weather got colder and the well wrapped up locals strolled along the promenade.

more pictures at

Friday, October 31, 2008

Israel October/November 2008

Ra'anana it is.

Hapoel Ra'anana 3 Hapoel Kfar Saba 2.

In the 2nd level of Israeli football this was a local derby played in a small ground in a town near Herzliya , north of Tel Aviv.
Around 400 saw it , fairly evenly divided in the main seating area between the greens and the reds.

The 'green vein' fans of Kfar Saba brought a drum and some large flags. They would go home disappointed.

It was a fluctuating game played in a very pleasant conditions of around 20 degrees.

First Kfar lead then Ra'anana equalised before the break.

The home team then got in front , Kfar replied amongst much celebration after which Ra'anana had a man sent off.

But the ten men had the last word following a left wing break and cross shot.

This being Friday afternoon my main concern was to get the last bus back to Tel Aviv - which I made OK arriving back in a nearly deserted central bus station just after sunset.

Dele done good.

Arrive early in Netanya and you can wander along the beach, improve your sun tan and enjoy a decent capucchino.
I shook the sand off my shoes and strolled to their stadium for :-

Maccabi Netanya 2 Bnei Yehuda 2

An Israel Premier League clash of top against bottom - not that it seemed like it.

Netanya have an old ground (in fact older than the state of Israel) hemmed into a residential area of this seaside city to the north of Tel Aviv.
Next year they are expected to move to a new stadium , presumably with the assistance of finances from their affluent German owner.

Meanwhile the Sar-Tov provides an old style setting with the fans very near to the pitch and ready to celebrate with the players as the goals go in.
Bnei Yehuda had their orange clad fans behind one goal whilst the home fans, in yellow , had their flags along the larger side.
It was another very enjoyable contest though probably not for the famous Netanya coach , one Lothar Matthaus.

His side did take the lead from a deflected Tazemeta header but were pegged back early in the second half by another header - from Baldut.

Bnei Yehuda then gained the initiative and after some Pedro Galvan trickery Atar was able to turn and score to give the away team the lead.

Netanya did equalise, again from a cross , nodded home by sub. Yampolski.
Bnei Yehuda goalie Dele Aiyenugba had a generally commanding game and he had the final say, following the award of a dubious looking penalty, saving Shechter's shot to preserve the 2-2 scoreline.

In about forty five minuites I was back in Tel Aviv via a brisk Sherut.

Beitar bit.

Many visitors come to Jerusalem to sample the history and the religious experience.
But if you are a football fan then go to see the atmosphere at the Teddy stadium.

Your correspondent joined the Teddy boys (and girls), some 15000, to watch :-

Beitar Jerusalem 0 Hapoel Tel Aviv 2.

Even though its 3/4 quarters built the ground is impressive and both sets of fans generated some serious noise for this Premier League game.

Beitar scorned various chances , especially the luckless Itzahki who contrived to miss one from 5 yards.
They paid for it later as Samuel Yeboah scored two in the last 6 minutes to secure the victory.

All three of these matches provided excellent entertainment.

That combined with great November weather and some passionate fans made for a enjoyable trip to the promised land.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Germany October 2008

Pens for Thurk.

Augsburg 2 FSV Frankfurt 2

In coldish, damp conditions a very respectable 15,800 turned out on a late Tuesday afternoon to see FC A draw with lowly FSV.

The stadium is large , mainly open to the elements, with plenty of terracing. Next year they will move to a (presumably) more comfortable new stadium.

A couple of free kicks by Werner caused problems for the visitors but they managed not to concede. It took a penalty by Thurk for FC A to go in front. He would get another, in similar fashion, in the second half.

In between Shapourzadeh had got a possibly dubious reply and he provided FSVs 2nd. with a great cross nodded in by Mokhtari.
Despite Barletta being sent off near the end FSV held on OK. Their small group of fans probably went home reasonably happy.

Two by Two.

SpVgg Unterhaching 0 Stuttgart II 2

A small team in a Munich suburb played a big team's 'reserves' in the 3rd Liga.

Unterhaching have a reasonable ground for their fan base - I think I saw most of the 'ultras' in a station bar before the game and the terracing at the left hand end had no trouble accomodating the 4 fans supporting the away team.
Zillner of Unterhacing started and finished the game by hitting the woodwork.

In the meantime his side mostly controlled possession but had difficulty producing the killer pass.
League top scorers Stuttgart won with a header from a corner and from a somewhat fortunate penalty given when a defender handled whilst jumping to stop a free kick.
It was cold.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Poland October 2008

Cold & Even.

Polonia Warsaw 1 Cracovia 1

One of three games in the Polish 'Premier'.

In a small stadium, a walkable distance from the recreated old town, some 3500 or so braved the wind, rain and cold. There were only a handful of away fans.

Polonia were top before this game but played more like a middle of the table team.

Cracovia scored early through Kasuba after a nice left wing drive by the tall Milosevic.

The home ultras brought out their flags and got the noise going.

Five minutes into the second half a decisive Lato free kick secured the equaliser.

After that there were some near things at both ends but no more goals.

Nice Centre.

Slask Wroclaw 2 Arka Gdynia 1

Wroclaw gets less tourists than Krakow but it does have a very pleasant central area.

From which it takes around 35 minutes to get to the Slask Wroclaw stadium.

The ground does include some temporary style stands. At one end the 50 or so Arka fans congregated for a while before disappearing with about half an hour to go.

The home ultras got the banners up around the periphery and started the hands up clapping - even the press in the main stand joined in.

This was another hard fought game. Slask went in front after about 15 minutes and were rather surprised when Arka equalised with a Anderson header on the stroke of half time.

Top scorer Szweczuk got the winner.


Ruch Chorzow 2 Lech Poznan 0

Take the train to this one and you arrive at Chorzow Batory station in the midst of the somewhat intimidating home fans. They cluster around the shops and amongst the trees before kick-off.

Most wear blue but many also have red - the colours of 'partner' team Widzew Lodz.

A good crowd of 10,000 saw this with around 400 fans from Poznan isolated at the left hand end.

The stadium has a striking main stand perhaps reminiscent of Springfield Park, Wigan. The rest is typically circular ends with about 10 rows of seats all round. The leading home ultras are to the right. They produce the flares (see pics) and coordinate the chants.

Ruch got the goals in the first half and tended to back off later in the game. Lech didn't manage to get too close apart from a late scramble.

The home fans seem to disperse happily enough as I waited for my return train to Zabrze.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Belarus v England October 2008


Belarus - Minsk

From Sofia via Berlin and Vilnius to the Belarus capital.

After the conviviality of a restaurant in Sofia to an Irish bar near the Berlin Zoo for some (middle-of-the-road) music and a couple of cocktails.

Up early for a flight to Vilnius - 'Double Coffee' lunch and some Internet browsing.

Then a four/five train uneventful ride to Minsk amongst some compatriots.

Where it seemed kind of communist-lite.
Though the government does control the heating - the availability of gas etc is restricted until a specified date which means if it suddenly gets cold, unless you have independent control of your energy, many do suffer.
The weather is cool , some rain but eventually mainly dry .

Wide streets , friendly people and without the feeling of a security culture as in Russia.

There are some good museums, parks, decent architecture and characteristically attractive 'scenery'.

But its a struggle , without local knowledge, to identify good restaurants and bars as their presence is not identified the same way as in the West.

Though McDonald's does not have that problem.


Belarus 1 England 3

Some difficulty for our guys in the first half as the locals opened some spaces in the England defence for a period but in the 2nd we had it well under control , helped by an early Rooney goal.

It was another strong away result against a team who could pass it around.

Heskey enjoying a renaissance, was spirited , Walcott pacy as expected and Gerrard got a Liverpool -like cracker.

Rooney , spikey and back to his best.

The uncovered, centrally located stadium was nearly full except for the upper tier above the main stand - restricted because of safety concerns.

The atmosphere was not as intimidating as Croatia (for instance) - the Belarussians generally not having too high expectations for their team.

It looked like there was no spectator problems.

more pics at

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Bulgaria v Italy October 2008


Bulgaria 0 Italy 0

Fairly predictable result ?

The world champions didn't have too many scares as the home team generally struggled to overcome the well organised Italian defence.

Berbatov looked isolated, he won some headers but seemed somewhat casual as is his style.

Italy threatened with their slow build-up followed by driven crosses. Often Di Rossi looked the man most likely to create a goal.

They did enough to get the away draw.

The Levski was nearly full and the home crowd enthusiastic.
The unruly reaction came as the more right-wing Italian fans showed their affiliations. The police moved in and the trouble was quelled reasonably quickly though I'm unsure as to what happened away from the stadium.


Sofia - A city where you can enjoy yourself with the locals especially at the weekend as they eat late and indulge themselves. Many speak English.

This correspondents experience was of meeting outgoing Bulgarians , visiting some interesting museums in a compact city that has a certain buzz about it.
Recommended. Though smoking is still allowed in restaurants and bars.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Italy, Austria & Switzerland October 2008

Udinese 0 Borussia Dortmund 2 (Udinese won 4-3 on penalties)

In the UEFA Cup this was nearly a terrific comeback by Borussia. They had over 2000 fans, and could have had lots more if the Italians had allocated further tickets in time.

The stadium, a venue in Italia 90, was nowhere near full.
The locals sang their impressive song and produced a typically effective Italian-style 'presentation' prior to kick-off.

But as you would expect Udinese tended to sit back and see if the germans could create anything.
Generally they didn't much but did score twice at strategic times - at the end of each half - and both by Hungarian Hajnal.

Into extra time and no change before penalties decided the outcome - sadly for Hajnal his shot was saved.

Udinese just scraped the win with Lucovic scoring the clinching penalty.
As I walked the half an hour or so back to my hotel I stopped at a nearby Irish bar , enjoyed a pint and saw amongst the locals two Udinese players - drinking (coke) , relaxing with their friends and not being overly bothered.
A pleasant end to the day for most.

By train it takes over four hours to get to Leoben in Austria through some typical scenery.

The train was late but made up most of the delay once into Austria.

Leoben 3 Lustenau 2 in the Austrian '1st league'

Constant rain and cold to endure.

But it was a watchable, even contest between teams near the bottom of the table.

In a smallish stadium with a reasonable sized main stand and an open side opposite and not much at either end. Only 200 were there to see it.

The home side just edged it with the winner some 8 minutes before the end.

It took a very brisk walk, a couple of weiss beer and a weiner schnitzel (what else) to warm up this traveller.

Onto Graz , and a better day weather-wise.

In the very pleasant Hauptplatz this visitor enjoyed some 'sturm' a wine based drink whilst the locals mingled in the sunshine amongst the stalls . A violinist and guitarist made the moment even better.

Meanwhile another Sturm set about their opponents for :-

Sturm Graz 3 Austria Karnten 0

In the Austrian bundesliga , at the UPC Arena (ex Arnold Schwarzenegger stadium - likely the man himself was not present being somewhere warmer i guess)

The neat, compact, stadium was mostly full (almost 13,000) to see Sturm eventually overcome Karnten easily enough with one particularly cracking strike on the turn by Beichler.

Before that it had been a fairly even first half with few chances before a looping shot by Muratovic beat the goalie.

And in the second Sturm got on top.

Karnten had some enthusiastic support from their smallish group of fans whilst Sturm had their black & white support packed behind the right hand goal - they kept up a good level of noise most of the time.

From Graz to Linz via Selzthal through that typically impressive scenery in bright sunshine with the local, red capped, stationmasters coming out to greet the train as it passed.

LASK Linz 1 Altach 3

An older style stadium , with curved roofing, a track and a gap at the left hand end.

Linz had their 'ultras' opposite with no sign of any away fans in the 6,000 crowd.

Linz had a group of Croatians in their squad whilst Altach had Brazilian Ailton (ex-Werder Bremen etc)

This was not a good day at the office for Linz even though top scorer Mayrleb had equalised an early strike by Konrad.

In the second half Altach went ahead again through Koch and somewhat inevitably Ailton slotted the third. He should have scored more.

Lastly a 9 hour train ride, involving 5 changes , to Thun in Switzerland.

Thun 4 Gossau 1

In the Swiss Challenge League , Thun played three up front and despite Gossau getting one back won convincingly enough.

Their ground is a little quirky with a miniscule stand on one side next to an entrance displaying the Olympic rings. Partial low level terracing curves around.

Two larger stands are on the other side.

Gossau did have a smallish group of fans with the usual flags and the home fans did turn up in larger than expected (to this viewer) numbers , some 2800 in total.

For Thun Scarione scored from a free kick and Cattaruzzi got two , sub Moser another with only captain Knopfel replying for the visitors.

Fortunately the rain had stopped as I walked back to my hotel via the picturesque town centre.

A Long Island Ice Tea was a welcome end to the evening.

To see more pictures :-

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Greece September 2008

Larissa 0 Skoda Xanthi 1

An hour and a quarter by train or so from Thessaloniki is Larissa where it was wet, the rain falling all day before this Greek Super League game.

An older style stadium, with mainly open seats and with a track around, this ground will eventually make way for an upgraded version compliant with UEFA rules.

A smallish crowd of around 2,000 including the Larissa 'Monsters' ultra group saw their team succumb to an early header by Nigerian striker Agali. Xanthi continued to be dangerous from set pieces and they generally defended well as Larissa increased the pressure in the second half.

Despite making substitutions Larissa , with an international line-up including Nobby Solano, couldn't break through.

Back in Thessaloniki a bus ride out towards Euosmos finds the basic ground of Agrotikos Asteras. They met Atromitos , recently relegated, in a Beta Ethniki 2nd level game.

The stadium is typically hemmed-in by apartments (with the usual free viewers) and comprises two sides of mostly open seats. But some 700 watched , in better weather, as on a bare pitch Atromitos eventually prevailed 1-0.

The away side should have lead in the first half as they hit the 'woodwork' a couple of times and had more possession. It took a very late injury time goal to decide the game following a
throw-in, scored by substitute Domi.
In the last minutes Atromitos had a man dismissed and a linesman seemed to be hit by a missile but the game ended with a home defeat.

Whilst back in the trendy seaside bars the locals chatted, smoked their cigarettes, and drank their drinks.

for more pics see

Monday, September 15, 2008

Netherlands & Belgium September 2008

AGOVV Apeldoorn v Omniworld (2-2)
A small blue/white styled ground with plenty of cover - needed on this evening as it was raining.

There were not too many away fans and a limited number of home 'ultras' watching as botttom of the table Omniworld benefited from home errors to take a two goal lead.

Dennis Wise lookalike, and AGOVV captain, Martens had looked dangerous and it was his left wing crosses that allowed sub. Bokila to score one and make the second and equalising goal.

In Belgium for :- Olympic Charleroi 1 FC (Molenbeek) Brussels 3

Plenty of terraces at Olympic's ground - not too far from the more famous Sporting Charleroi stadium. Again the rain came down.
Molenbeek brought a decent number of fans and their team won this one convincingly enough.

They caused the home team plenty of problems especially Sonogo , Matumona and Eale in attack. For the ageing, though still looking fit, Toni Brogno - the game passed him by.

The away side were three up before Olympic pulled back a consolation and though they had some pressure near the end it was a comfortable win for the team from the capital.

later the same day :- Excelsior Mouscron 4 AA Gent 2

Top of the 1st league table Excelsior kept their position with a well controlled win over AA.
Impressive striker Ouali got three and made the other.

Gent were better in the second with the substitutions made by coach Preud'homme capitalising on some Excelsior complacency and later edginess with Oulafade getting two back.

But the home side were good value for the win. The 6000 or so made for a decent atmosphere though the AA fans were clearly very frustrated with what they witnessed.

Namur 2 Lierse 2

Thankfully a better day for this game and for those involved in the fun runs in the city on the Sunday afternoon.

The Stade Communal hosted a good contingent from Lierse probably comprising more than the home support in this smallish ground near the river.

Namur took the lead , got pegged back by a nice effort from Bojovic and lead again through Benayen who made amends for his earlier penalty miss.

But in the second half, after Namur had a man sent off, Lierse dominated with their extra height eventually paying off - Bojovic again - this time heading the equaliser.

Lastly a Monday night fixture in Almere near to Amsterdam ...

Omniworld 1 Cambuur Leeuwarden 0

In the 'city of the future' the relatively recently created Omniworld (apparently their origins can be traced back to DWS Amsterdam - who I saw draw with Chelsea in October 1968 in the Fairs Cup) played Cambuur in the Mitsubishi Forklift Stadium.

Nearly 2,000 watched amongst which were a small group from Leeuwarden.

It probably would have been a better game had Zeefuik converted an easy chance from a goalie error in the first half. But it took a Wilco Krimp header to decide the game with fifteen minutes remaining.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Spain & Croatia September 2008

Its a bit warm for the human statues in Las Ramblas but i guess they make reasonable money from the fascinated tourists.
For the England fans its a re-visit to Montjuic to play Andorra and the expectation of a better performance than last time.

At least the weather is better with just a shower beforehand. This writer dodged the rain by
visiting the impressive Catalunya Art Museum , near to the stadium.

Andorra 0 England 2

Somewhat deja vu , goalless at the break and England going off to some booing. It could have been a lot different if the chances carved out by Walcott in the early minutes had resulted in a goal. But they didn´t and it was left to Joe Cole to score two at the beginning of the 2nd to secure the win. As usual Andorra never got close.

The real test will come next Wednesday in Zagreb - difficult to say how England will fare but at the moment a draw would look like an excellent result.

Not many locals would have been at this game , more enjoyed the musical fountains display on Montjuic (or the Coldplay concert)
Back in Las Ramblas the tourists and fans mingled - this mingler preferred the local ambience down the side streets were you could watch Spain play Bosnia in comfort whilst sipping a caipirinha.

An hour or so by train is Girona. Where the old town is relatively quiet and atmospheric on this Sunday afternoon.

Girona 3 Alicante 0
Over 5000 watched together with some on the grassy banks above the partially refurbished stadium. This was Girona's first home game back in the second division for quite a while.

Alicante stayed close up until about the last 10 minutes. They had a man sent off in the second half, somewhat harshly and did create some chances chiefly through Ismael.

But the main man was Gabri who had scored the first and completed the victory by scoring the final goal.
Girona thus top the division , albeit with only two matches played.

From Girona via Barcelona for a stop-over in Berlin and in particular the Kreuzberg area of the city where a Persian meal plus a caipirinha went down well.

Germanwings to the Croatian capital. Its warm and sunny in Zagreb ready for the England game.

First take in some culture - the Technical museum and the Naive Art Museum featured this time.

Croatia 1 England 4

So if nil-nil was considered a good result beforehand what about a 4-1 away win ?

The locals generated some atmosphere in the un-improved Maksimir Stadium. But England ran out easy winners. They'd quietened the crowd with Walcott's rather fortunate first goal and survived some scares in the first half.

Whilst in the dramatic second period , after Robert Kovac got sent off for his elbow on Joe Cole's head , England put together some impressive moves with Rooney usually involved. Walcott did the rest.

Maybe we had above average luck and Croatia had a bad night at the office. But it will give us great confidence for the rest of the World Cup campaign.

With no reports of any trouble as well presumably even the Bad Blue Boys had an early night.

for more pics see

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Switzerland August 2008

From the somewhat crowded shores of the Med. to the tranquillity of Switzerland .

Just the 8 hours of driving to get there.

And in a late August weekend it was busy , especially through the Saint Gotthard tunnel.

But calming for sure to be in Suhr, near to Aarau.

Within walking distance is the smallish ground of FC Aarau got to via a quiet road, with stream alongside, past pleasant houses.

Aarau o Basel 2

Tranquil nearby - but not behind the goal amongst the Basel ultras as they dispensed with their shirts and lit the flares and set about creating the atmosphere and rhythm that was sustained pretty much through the whole game.

A sell-out crowd saw their team , still managed by Christian Gross, get the better of the generally predictable home side.

Scott Chipperfield, sometime Australian, bossed midfield in a style reminiscent of a left footed Paul Scholes.

He scored the first just before half time after a defensive error.

Basel wapped it up in the second half and consolidated top spot in the Swiss Super League.

Not too far to Neuchatel and :-

Neuchatel Xamax 2 Vaduz 2

The re-built Stade de la Maladiere is coloured mostly red and represents a pleasant medium size stadium next to the lake.
Inside there was nothing like the atmosphere of yesterday though as the home ultras expressed their annoyance at the recent performances (no home wins so far) in a third-full ground.

Vaduz dominated midfield in the first half and went on to score twice before the interval.

But Xamax got it together better in the second with sub. Rak and Nigerian Brown getting them a point.
It didn't do much to assuage their supporters criticism.

This visitor finished the trip via a slow drive to Basel through the very attractive Jura mountains region. Then returning home from the slightly less attractive Luton airport.

Super Cup in Monaco August 2008

Monaco is small and cramped especially when trying to park your rental car.

But nearby Nice, where this visitor stayed was, well - nice.

In the warm weather , wandering along the promenade (des anglais) was most pleasant. Combine that with a carafe of local wine and a steak piquante and you have a very conducive evening.

Back in Monaco, via the picturesque coastal road, the Man Utd fans were outnumbered by about 3 or 4 to one as the place was full of Russians.

Though typically the Super Cup has a much lower profile in England it must be frustrating for Sir Alex to lose again in the Principality.

Mostly Zenit looked the dangerous team though Man Utd had more possession in the first half. Tevez stood out for his effort but otherwise they struggled to create many chances.

So Zenit took their opportunities and were deserved 2-1 winners with star man Arshavin making just a second half appearance.

for more pics see

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Ukraine & Russia August 2008

Dnipro 0 Shakhtar Donetsk 0

To the Meteor stadium in Dnipropetrovosk for this game where the champions (Shakhtar) generally have possession , attack more, but tended not to control their shooting.
Both teams start fairly cautiously and its only near the end in a late flourish that Dnipro go really close.
They have a goal disallowed as did Shakhtar in the first half.

As seems to happen the match did not start at the advertised time (8.30 rather than 8.45) so maybe that was why the local ultras were somewhat late in arriving.
The visitors from Donetsk were in early and well separated from any local fans.

In another area of town the newly developed Dnipro stadium looks to be nearing completion with work being now done on the nearby roads.

Drive for around 4 hours and , if you don't get lost , you are in Donetsk.

Metalurh Donetsk 3 Kharkiv 0
League leaders Metalurh continued their perfect record with their fourth win (and only one goal conceded)
They are playing , appropriately enough at their Metalurh stadium. Its a small , neat, stadium in maybe not the best area of Donetsk.
After scoring two in the first half including a penalty from the influencial Fernandez the home team got to dominate the game , restricting Kharkiv to a few chances. Nigerian striker Kingsley got the third after beating the goalie and slotting it home left footed.
After that it was easy.

In the evening in Donetsk it was warm and pleasant as the 'musical fountain' attracted a crowd, many wandering around the centre with beer in hand.

In this part of the world the scenery can certainly be industrial but the 'scenery' , as mentioned previously , was impressive.

From Metalurh to Metalist - in Kharkiv.

Some 4.5 hours by car , somewhat longer if you go the wrong way.

But the Metalist stadium is worth a visit - large and reasonably well filled (around 19,000) with local fans for their game against Lviv.

Prior to the start we heard the Metalist song - presumably metal featured in the lyrics.

Sadly this was another goalless match with the homw team , 2nd in the league , generally on top. In the second half they definitely dominated as Lviv wasted time. But the away side also defended well.

A note on car travel in Ukraine.

The characteristics include looking out for the ever-present police - usually indicated by the oncoming drivers flashing their headlights.

Going in the right direction - given that what signage you get is in rarely in English - is key. This may mean stopping to 'ask' someone to confirm you are going the right way. Sometimes they draw a diagram or indicate that you should 'follow the tram lines'.

Minding the bumps in the road is a constant requirement.
The landscape on these routes was generally featureless. Somehow you think about what is not there i.e not too many towns, churches, hotels, starbucks ...

Then in the cities finding a hotel and the stadium location can be tricky - this driver adopted the approach of getting somewhere to stay, leaving the car (guarded) and using public transport - tram, bus, shared taxi or possibly metro to get to the game.

Then a diversion - a flight via Moscow to St Petersburg to see Zenit play in the Russian Premier.

Zenit 3 Terek Grozny 1

It rained and in a predominately open stadium watching was not too pleasant for most fans.

Some , the local ultras , had another reason to be downcast as one of their number had been killed in a bar-room altercation some days before.

But Zenit , with Arshavin, won comfortably enough at times showing some impressive passing and movement.

Arshavin was not dominant but it wasn't a concern as Zenit generally were on top.

Terek , with maybe a dozen fans plus reserves and surrounded by many police did present some danger to the home side but tended not to deliver the final pass.

Before the match I indulged in some culture and a visit to the awesome Hermitage museum.
Join the throng , many from cruise ships and large numbers queueing outside to see the Winter Palace and see a small portion of its vast fine art collection.

Back in sunny Donetsk (and it was - maybe 33 degrees) for a stroll to an old coal mine - as you do.
Then another car venture, driving east to Luhansk. A drive that passes many old coal mines and some typically bleak industrial towns. The weather continues to be very hot.

Luhansk is, well, fairly unremarkable. Some sizeable supermarkets grace the town and some decent restaurants though not too many (any ?)internet cafes. The main worry at the hotel was hoping the lifts didn't break down as they made some disconcerting noises.

Nearby the centre is the local stadium where I saw Zorya play Metalurh Donetsk.

Like last time Metalurh set their neat passing in motion and controlled the game via midfield. Again they scored from a Fernandez penalty and got a second after the interval as the home struggled to create chances. This was the Donetsk's team fifth consecutive win from the start of the season and they are ,at this stage , some 7 pts clear in the league.

Its worth keeping an eye on their progress and their coach.

Back one more time to Donetsk and a visit to the Olimpiski stadium for -

Shakhtar Donetsk 2 Metalist Kharkiv 2

to finish - the best game of the six.

Metalist stun Shakhtar with a Jackson Coelho cracker and another goal just before half time.

But early on in the second half Shakhtar got one back , then benefited from a slightly dubious penalty award to equalise. Metalist had a man sent off later but they held on for the draw.

Around 20,000 watched including a decent number from Kharkiv.

Having survived the Ukrainian roads and a couple of flights (on time) in a Tupolev this correspondent endured a British Airways delay of around 4 hours in Kiev airport on the return trip.

for more pics see

Sunday, July 27, 2008

USA July 2008

A spare evening in New York and maybe you'd like to visit Madison Square Garden .
OK Womens MBA is not quite Frazier v Ali but it takes place at the same venue.

New York Liberty 69 Los Angeles Sparks 68.

This is razzamatazz with some sport.

Be prepared for various fan participation games , many music interludes and some basketball.

Its not my favourite sport but for a couple of hours , in a historic setting, it was diverting enough.

Both teams had some tall, some short , most fairly heavy and some light.

No. 4, Janel McCarville at 205 lbs was one of the larger girls and she tended to impose herself.

And the culmination , a very prolonged last minute , with loads of timeouts did generate some atmosphere amongst the near 13,000 . New York just held on for a one point victory. Maybe they'll make the playoffs.

Across the country to Alameda near Oakland and over the Bay Bridge, with many others, for a Saturday early evening baseball game.
San Francisco Giants v Arizona Diamondbacks (3-5) at AT & T Park

Not as cold as the old Candlestick Park but cooler than New York with the breeze coming off the Bay.
A sizeable crowd came to see two top pitchers battle for supremacy.

The Giants young Tim Lincecum pitched a best ever 13 strikeouts but Webb was the winner.
The relieving pitchers couldn't continue Lincecum's work and the Dbacks ran in 3 in the 8th to seal the win. They maintained their lead at the top of the American West.

The next day in Santa Clara (University) at Buck Shaw Stadium , the San Jose Earthquakes drew 1-1 with New York in the MLS. Not too much help for either team who are bottom of their respective leagues.

Darren Huckerby scored his first goal for San Jose - an easy tap-in following a Sealey shot.
Generally San Jose dominated the first whilst New York played better in the second - Juan Pablo Angel was moderate for the visitors. Over 9,000 watched , seated on wooden 'bleachers'. They do plan to build a soccer-specific stadium within the next 3 years.

Next on to Salt Lake City.

Yes its a little like 'Invasion of the body snatchers meets the Stepford Wives' with all those guys in suits and in temperatures in the high nineties.
Starbucks - whats that ?

But there is money around and plenty of construction going on - not least around downtown. Where the Temple area is very impressive with its clean lines and pristine, manicured flower beds.

Real Salt Lake 2 Toronto 1

Currently playing at the Rice Eccles stadium - which means you watch the game played across the prominent American Football markings and as is typical a small crowd (12,000) had plenty of space in a very large ground.

RSL lead their league and they consolidated - just about - taking the lead then being pegged back later in 2nd and seeing Findley sweep in the winner. Familiar names amongst the Toronto team included Carl Robinson, Laurent Robert and Rohan Ricketts.

The next evening your correspondent saw the Bees , the local Pacific League baseball team, beat New Orleans 11-6 . Though the surrounding area is not as salubrious as downtown the ballpark is pleasant with grassy picnic areas for the families.

The Bees score 4 in the 4th, the Zephyrs 6 in the 6th but the home team respond with 5 and later 2 more to win easily enough. Some 6,000 watched.

Via Phoenix to Oklahoma City using South West airlines.

Where its very quiet.

The National Monument (to the bomb victims) is well laid out and effective.

In Bricktown there is some activity amongst the bars and restaurants as the Redhawks , again in the Pacific League lose to the Las Vegas 51's (3-5)

Not many walked back home from the ballpark - in fact probably only me as everywhere was deserted - tumbleweed (almost) blew around the streets. As the locals would have said - 'you walked !?'

To get from Oklahoma City to Fort Worth it is possible to take the train known as the Heartland Flyer.

This is more Heartland than flier.

Its a medium pace trundle through Oklahoma into Texas and should have taken around 4 hours but took an hour longer due to freight train problems on the track. Sights along the way - some rivers and a bank 'robbed' by Bonnie & Clyde (and used in the film)
Its an alternative to driving though you clearly wouldn't want to choose this option very often.

Near to Fort Worth is Arlington and the home of the Texas Rangers (and in the next year or so the Dallas Cowboys)

Deep in the heart of Texas...
Texas Rangers 5 Seattle Mariners 8

An attractive looking ballpark with some character.

Though not too many turned out for this one (17,000) as the Rangers struggled. The Mariners scored regularly building up a decent lead and it was only in the last two innings that the Rangers got going. They had men on bases at the end but couldn't secure the comeback.

It takes over 4 hours to drive down I-45 South to Houston and past that impressive downtown skyline.

Houston Astros 7 New York Mets 3

The high flying Mets were out-hit by the Astros who smashed four home runs including a grand slam by pinch hitter Loretta.

Fortunately the Minute Maid ballpark is (generally) air conditioned to alleviate the Southern Texas heat - it has some interesting quirks - the 'home run pump' and the train that moves up and down as the runs go in.

A substantial crowd (41,000) on this Friday night enjoyed the home win over the big city team.

It was even at 3-3 until the 8th when Loretta secured the victory.

Nearby the Houston Space Center provides a diverting couple of hours - see Mission control, the Saturn V rocket and other space equipment amongst a tour of the complex. The kids get to play the numerous games in the exhibition centre.

In the evening at Robertson stadium the MLS team Houston Dynamo took on Columbus Crew.

Nearby this University ground the neighbourhood is not the best but safe enough - in a car.

Houston Dynamo 2 Columbus Crew 0

Houston didn't really have much of a problem as Columbus crashed and burned.

A predominently orange clad crowd was quite lively, including some pseudo Argentinian flags/chanting. They saw an Argentinian (Schelotto) star for the losers being generally being a class above the rest. But the Crew defence weakened and Houston took their chances.

Get up early and you can make the South West flight , via Las Vegas to Oakland.

Where LA Galaxy , including David Beckham and Landon Donovan , are the opposition for San Jose.

San Jose Earthquakes 3 LA Galaxy 2 at the Oakland Coliseum.

This was the best game of the four football games seen during this trip.

Bottom team San Jose partly inspired by Darren Huckerby led two nil , including a neat finish by the winger. LA pegged one back before the break with a trademark Becks cross for Donovan to head in.

LA showed more in the 2nd , equalised and looked favoured as San Jose tired but in a dramatic ending Cochrane knocked in the winner , with Huckerby involved again.

Ruud Gullitt was pleased with his team's effort despite the loss and Frank Yallop (of San Jose) happy though realistic.

This was to be Gullitt's last game in charge of LA.

26,000 came to see the Becks and co.

Some stayed on to see the players depart , others played football in the car park.

I strolled back to the Quality Inn and later had some Chinese food.

or more pics see

Friday, July 18, 2008

Norway July 2008

To Bergen and Bryggen, a world heritage site, very pleasant in the sunshine - the old wooden buildings drawing in the tourists and some russian sailors. For food the nearby fish market provides excellent cod & chips.
However at £10 for a beer one things for sure Norway is not a major venue for stag parties - if you go its easy to break your 'fiscal rules'.

Lov-Ham 0 Sogndal 1

Some 10km south in Fyllingsdalen, on a new artifical pitch, the home side celebrated by allowing the crowd in free with cakes an option. Some 900 odd were hungry enough to attend despite the ever-present rain onto an open 'stadium'.
They saw an average game in which Lov-Ham started ok but conceded a goal from a badly defended throw-in, scored by Kanu (no relation?)
Sogndal should have got a second as Kader raced away but one was enough.

A small number of Sogndal fans travelled and brought a couple of very large flags whereas the locals mainly brought their babies.

Bergen to Stavanger is 190 km but it takes around 5 hours by car via 2 ferries and many tunnels and bridges .

The drive is relaxing enough especially given the scenery and the 60-80km speed limits.

Norway is a big country with small speed limits and many tolls.

Even the 30km or so between Stavanger and Bryne has 3 tolls.

Bryne 5 Moss 5

After yesterdays moderate fare this was a veritable goalfest of entertainment.

Played in the old style Bryne stadium with a main stand very reminiscent of the old West stand at Leyton Orient, with a track around and open ends with an open terrace opposite.

And a decent crowd of nearly 2000 attended including some Bryne ultras with plenty of flare and flags.
For this neutral this was a terrific game although the locals probably felt a bit down after Moss scored two in the last few minutes.
The scoring included 4 goals from the Moss no.10 (Kvalheim) who was often left in too much space and there were loads of chances in a game played on a fine pitch (probably helped by the abundant rain)

for more pictures see

Monday, July 14, 2008

Ireland July 2008

Galway Utd 1 Sligo Rovers 1 in the Eircom Premier.

Cold and breezy Terryland Park , near the river Shannon, hosted this Connacht derby.

Both sets of fans had their large flags including one (almost obligatory ?) image of Che.
Galway needed at least a point being bottom of the league and with financial problems.
They scored first but soon after allowed a cross to find defender Almeida who got the equaliser. Sligo probably shaded the game , helped by Galway having a man sent off later in the game.

In the town centre tourists (and locals) enjoy the Irish atmosphere and hospitality amongst the jugglers , bars and restaurants.

Cobh Ramblers 0 St Patricks Athletic 1

Cobh, also in need of points, played one up front and let St Pats pass the ball around endlessly.

Eventually Pats made the possession count , from Guy's mis-header debutant O'Brien scored easily enough. They maintained their position as league leaders.

It's not difficult to associate Cobh ('Cove') with the sea - bars are named after the Lusitania, Mauretania and Titanic. Many of those who died when the Lusitania was torpedoed are buried there. And Cobh, or Queenstown as it was then, was the last stop on the maiden (and only) voyage of the Titanic.
The harbour , reckoned to be the 2nd largest in the world , is pleasant enough in the sunshine as you watch the ships come in whilst reading the Sunday papers.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Latvia June 2008

Latvia - Riga (on the way home from the Euros)

Obviously a strong Soviet influence but the language (Germanic ) is at least readable, if not understandable.

The city has a pleasant centre though not as attractive as Tallinn.

You see trams, graffitti, girls , nice restaurants, some stag groups and a decent selection of museums (especially the Occupation Museum - Latvia has had its share)

Skonto Riga vs Vindava at the Skonto stadium in central Riga.

A 3-0 win for the home side before 100 people , just the main stand open - the standard of play is OK but its all very low key.
It was easy enough for Skonto - their handful of ultras were happy.

The other game is a 2nd level match between Metta LU Riga (Univ of Riga team) vs Zibens Zemessardze (0-3) played on an artficial training type pitch.
A very small 'stand' only - c. 30 around as the students lose.

A pleasant enough Latvian diversion in reasonable weather (some light rain)

No Starbucks but 'Double Coffee' everywhere.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Euros June 2008

1. Russia v Greece in Salzburg

A generally deserved victory by the Russians (should it have been England ?)
The Greeks were very limited, creating little despite having three men in attack. A goalie error decided the match though it seemed like it was only a matter of time before the Russians scored.

As was noticeable in all these games there were plenty of fans of both teams and seemingly few neutrals. This obviously produced a good atmosphere but anybody without a ticket could expect to pay big bucks - up to 500 euros. This could mean collecting hundreds of glasses at a return deposit of one euro per time to get back the cost.

To Salzburg the day after the game - a very pleasant historic centre with some Russians and a few Greeks around.

In the central area is the very impressive medium-size Salzburg museum full of the latest technology and providing superb presentations.

2. Croatia v Poland (1-0) in Klagenfurt

Red & white everywhere, except for the black-clad Croatian 'ultras' who provide a backdrop as in a System of a Down video.

Its hard to tell who had the most support (probably Croatia)
Sitting with Poland fans i had to feel for them - a limited team even against a mainly 'reserve' Croat side still couldn't get too close.

After his kidney transplant it was a great moment for Ivan Klasnic to score.

Both sets of fans certainly seem to rub along ok and mixed together in different areas of the stadium as well as outside.

3. Russia v Sweden (2-0)

Masses of yellow at one end and red/white/blue at the other in the best stadium for atmosphere of the four i visited.
The Russians were a revelationn - attacking from the start with star man Arshavin at the helm.

Whereas the Swedes were much too predictable & slow, with Ibrahimovic & Larsson ineffective.

Could Russia be the new Greece. ?

4. Germany 3 Portugal 2

The first of the Quarter Finals , in Basel.
I thought Portugal would do better but who can bet against the Germans - they showed power, strength and no little skill in getting two goals up , Portugal get one back but Ballack, with a push gets them 2 goals clear.

The stadium didnt 'work' so well especially with the UEFA style arrangements (cordons restricted walking around outside) making it a very inconvenient stadium being hemmed in by railway lines and the river.

And inside the distribution of fans didn't work well either - the main groups not being behind the goals unlike in (say) Innsbruck, thus making the colourful displays less effective.
Nevertheless an exciting game with Portugal always behind and coming up short.

Now it seems like its all set up for another German championship...

As for the cities of Basel and Innsbruck - I didn't see the centres at all - only the football grounds.

Overall 4 decent games watched by thousands of fans of all teams and significantly less neutrals than at the World cup.

for more pics see

Monday, June 09, 2008

USA & Trinidad May/June 2008

Major League Soccer

New England Revolution v DC United (2-2)

Some 8,000 or so watched this game in the 70,000 capacity Gillette stadium.

At least there was plenty of car parking space.

In a game of two halves DC take the first & Revolution the second.

New England Revolution 2 Dallas 1

played before the Brazil v Venezuela friendly , Revolution were quick out of the blocks , scoring early , consolidating their lead and tending to back off in the 2nd half . Dallas got one back but it was not enough.

Brazil v Venezuela (0-2)

The first ever win for Venezuela over Brazil. Not that they had too many fans inside the Gillette stadium to see their triumph as it was packed with yellow shirts - though probably not too many actuallly travelled from Brazil. This time we had an attendance of 54,000 and the traffic was horrendous.

For the first goal Venezuela broke the offside trap and Maldonaldo's neat chip did the rest. After a mistake by Hernandez of Brazil Vargas produced a trick and a decisive finish for a great 2nd goal. They hold on well enough in the second half. Brazil were moderate e.g. Adriano and Robinho not too involved.

and as an alternative sport ..... Baseball

New York Mets v LA Dodgers

As of next year the Mets will be playing next door as Shea Stadium is being replaced.
But for now over 52,000 turned out on this night to see them lose 9-5 to the Dodgers

Philadelphia Phillies v Cincinatti Reds

The third biggest ever crowd at this stadium, 45,492, saw the Phillies shutout (pitched by Cole Hamels) the Reds 5-0.
Most came to see if the Reds Ken Griffey Jr could reach the 600 home run milestone.

In the end he came close but had to wait.

Back to the Football..... Trinidad & Tobago v England (0-3)

A big event in T & T as the locals celebrated 100 years of football.
For Fabio Capello and England it was a competent enough performance and, importantly, no goals conceded.

The conditions were warm but not oppressive and didn't seem to affect our players.

Generally the locals took the comprehensive defeat well (T & T created little) and seemed to, at least, match our fans capacity for drink.

Aside from the football when the sun shined it was very hot.

Though the islands had a somewhat end-of-season feeling with the rainy season approaching it was a pleasant diversion to see the Caribbean. In particular a tour of Tobago with its impressive coastline and rain forest.

Naturally in the States there were no shortage of ...starbucks - that'll be a double decaf, no whip, vanilla. grande frapuccino (for Bill)

for more pics see

Friday, May 23, 2008

Chelsea v Manchester Utd Champions League Final in Moscow

Close but no cigar for Roman.

The dream scenario - to see his club win the Champions League in his home country.

Perfect. But it was not to be.

The Build Up.........

A dramatic final watched by 70,000 in the stadium, including around 40,000 travelling from the UK , certainly upheld the reputation of the Premier League for excitement.

Due to the numbers travelling it was no wonder the Russian authorities decided to relax the rules and allow match ticket holders into Russia without visas.

Even so this visitor endured a wait of over one and a half hours in passport control at Sheremetevo airport.

Based on a general wander around central Moscow and from acnecdotal evidence it was clear that there were more fans of Man Utd in the city and this was borne out by their larger presence inside the stadium. They generally outshouted the flag waving London based supporters.

By the time the game started , after a short but effective opening presentation , it was the latest kick off (10.45pm) that this correspondent had ever witnessed and somehow it was sure to happen that it would go on and on - finally ending at around 1.30 am.
But Moscow was not too cold although the heavy rain made it a very damp walk back to the metro after the game.

The rainstorms also disrupted flights the following day - in my case by some 5 hours.

The Game...

Manchester Utd led by superstar Ronaldo (at times memerising in possession) generally controlled the first half. He caused numerous problems for Michael Essien playing, out of position, at right back.

To cap his performance the man from Madeira headed home a Scholes cross to give the league champions the advantage.

But the equaliser by Frank Lampard near the end of the half , though fortunate, set up an intriguing battle from then on.

Chelsea bouyed by their equaliser put United under pressure in the 2nd half, hitting the bar (Lampard) and post (Drogba)

So we moved towards extra time , penalties and the dénouement.

Prior to that Didier Drogba raised a hand to Vidic after some difference of opinion and his slap though relatively innocuous gave the referee no choice but to send him off and hence he would not take part in the penalty shoot out. This action may well have had an impact (no pun intended) on the result as he presumably would have been one of the first five penalty takers.

Misster chelsea - hero & zero........

Inevitably for Mr Chelsea such an ending by definition magnifies and focussing so much attention on one person - you step up , as the captain and blast the ball into the net .....perfect for Roman Abramovich - to fulfil his dream and win the Champions League in his home country.

But John Terry, for it is he, slipped whilst shooting and the ball glanced off the post.

So a reprieval for Ronaldo , who had missed first , going from hero to zero and back again.

Somehow Nicolas Anelka missing at the end couldn't divert the focus from John Terry - it was his nightmare moment - no wonder he shed a tear or two.

for more pics see