Saturday, April 26, 2008

Istanbul April 2008

There was rain in Istanbul and cool temperatures in a kind of role-reversal with the UK.

From early Sunday the Galatasaray scarves are prominent - the big Derby game is getting closer and as is often the case the victor almost certainly wins the league.

This time I stay in the Taksim area and it is slightly different from Sultanahmet since there are less tourists and more locals though the restaurant/bar touts are still very active.

In the evening the main streets are thronged with locals marching up and down. Despite the cool and sometimes damp conditions the (male) locals keep to their characteristic suit jacket and trousers.

Before the main event ....

Kasimpasa v Ankaragucu in the Super League

Just a short walk from the Taksim square area is the stadium of Kasimpasa, currently last in the league.
Ankaragucu start well , scoring first but lowly Kasimpasa reply with two quick goals and at times display some good passing. But the away team do get an equaliser in the 2nd half.
Near the end there is impressive fan action by the Ankaragucu support as they form a square around the perimeter of their section and chant their songs.
Maybe 800 watched - Kasimpasa are a team with some support but tiny compared to the big three in this city (Gala, Fener and Besiktas)

Kartalspor v Kocaelispor

In a shared minibus it takes about an hour from Kadikoy (on the Asian side) - at least the way I went - to get to Kartal .
Your correspondent arrived just 10 minutes before the start -typically finding the ground near a large group of police.
This second level game had plenty of interest for the away team as they were third before kick off. They brought some 200/300 fans not all of which made it inside the stadium.

After some initial fighting with the police they settled down to enjoy their team take a 2 goal lead. Kartalspor only getting a consolation near the end. As can happen in Turkey there were a good size group of fans watching from raised ground outside the stadium - some of these turned out to be away fans giving those inside the opportunity to indulge in some 'counter-chanting' to their fellow ultras outside.

A taxi from Asia (Kartal) to Europe (Sisli) took only 35 minutes or so.

Time enough for a kebab and to sample the atmosphere around the Ali Sami Yen stadium.

The rain doesn't matter to Galatasaray fans - only beating fierce rivals Fenerbahce.

The Taksim area had been getting busier and filling up with yellow & red but around the stadium there is another level of intensity.

Galatasaray 1 Fenerbahce 0

the noise, the chanting, the intensity...

A typical derby game - not much flowing football and won following a mistake between goalie and defender.
Galatasaray go three points clear with two games to go - it should be enough to win the title.
Against a Fenerbahce team showing a bunch of De Souzas, a frustrating Kezman and Kazim Kazim (Richards) who is generally lost amongst the frenzy.

Though better at Fener , in a larger stadium that holds in the atmosphere, this game means so much to those involved. Illustrated by the number of fans waiting outside to join in the celebrations and by those around Taksim square plus numerous others throughout the country.

Istanbul - the history, the crowds, the ferry boats, the mosques.

It's a place that draws you back - for the football and to discover more about the history & the culture.

More Starbucks than i remember
- caipirinha count is zero however Raki count = 6.

more pics at

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Ireland/N Ireland April 2008

Sporting Fingal , a new team based in Dublin play at the Morton (athletics) stadium in Santry in the north of the city. They are named after a county within Dublin - Fingal - which is recognised as the fastest growing county in Ireland and therefore one of the fastest developing in the EU.

This local derby against Shelbourne despite being played on a wintry night drew over 1200 fans - a very large crowd for the Irish 1st division.

The bitter wind certainly played a part in the goalless draw.
Despite having their right back sent off for a bad tackle Shelbourne generally held their own and might have won the game near the end.

A couple of hours on the train & you can be in Belfast.

Here Crusaders played Limavady at their Seaview ground (more like motorway view) before a much smaller crowd of around 350. Top scorer Davy Rainey showed Limavady how to score despite the lowly placed visitors rather surprisingly taking the lead. Rainey converted two chances left footed and after that Crues dominated hitting the bar a few times. It stayed 2-1.

Caipirinhna count = 2 Starbucks = 0 and no Goths.

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Monday, April 14, 2008

Sweden April 2008

Trelleborgs v Malmo
before a good crowd of c. 7000 and a large contingent of away support, complete with flags, this local Derby produced an ok but goalless game. Trelleborgs had less possession but produced the better chances.
They also defended very well against the favoured Malmo team who struggled to create a telling opportunity.

A brisk walk (it got cold) to the town centre where its very quiet - the locals mostly being at home by 9pm.

Bus then train , via Malmo to Gothenburg.

From a central Gothenburg hotel it is easy enough to walk to the old & new Ullevi stadiums , to see progress at the Gamla Ullevi (where the rebuild is progressing well) and walk on to the nearby Valhalla ground for :-

Örgryte v Limhamn Bunkeflo in the Superettan (2nd level).

Played in the small Valhalla stadium whilst Gamla Ullevi (will it be called new-old Ullevi after the reconstruction ?) is being redeveloped this game produced another 0-0 draw. Again both teams were well organised , generally good defensively but created few clear cut chances. A decent crowd of around 2500 watched in cold but dry conditions.

But there is no doubt it is an attractive city with its pubs and restaurants and a nice enclosed shopping area.
As you would expect in such a Scandanavian city the transport structure is excellent.
Some things are free - a plethora of newspapers but most things are expensive not least caipirinhna at 92 SEk and beer.

On a controversial fashion note - maybe the blonde girls should checkout their counterparts in Moscow as i think , dare i say it, the standard long blonde hair-look needs updating.

Anyway onto Degerfors, some 3 hours or so by train from Gothenburg, an industrial town of somewhat moderate appearance.

But they have the biggest stadium in the Superettan - listed as a rather generous 15000. There were over 2000 for the game vs Sirius (from Upsalla)

The local 'ultras' produced some fireworks outside but it was Sirius who produced the fireworks on the pitch winning very convincing 5-1 . Great movement and passing - they should do well on this performance. Not much the Degerfors coach could do - he would need to be Gunnar Nordahl, Sven-Goran Eriksson and Tord Grip (all ex-Degerfors coaches) rolled into one to have done something about their situation.

Back to the b& b, via the local bar, where they have numerous Degerfors team pictures but its very subdued after the comprehensive defeat.

Return to Malmo after some 5 and a half hours on the train.

There it was cold and wet for my fourth (and last) game of this trip.

Next to the existing ground is rising up another impressive, this time more traditional looking, stadium.
But for the moment Malmo play in the original stadium & on this night played much better than at Trelleborgs. Helped by an early goal & a generally controlled effort they went to win 2-0 against a limited Gefle.

Liberian defender Jimmy Dixon got the second goal & Malmo should have had a few more.

Caipirinhas = 1 (costly) and Goths - just a few in , appropriately, Gothenburg.

more photos at

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Germany March 2008

This trip was made via Heathrow Terminal 5 - essentially a great shopping centre where you can catch a plane.

Rot Weiss Oberhausen 3 Lubeck 0

in the Regionalliga Nord (3rd level) played in a an older style ground , with a track around before some 3500.

After a poor first half this resulted in an easy win for the home team with Terranova getting all three.

In the evening I sample the delights of Dusseldorf - or at least a Maredo restaurant.

On the way a Tibet related protest took place - expect more to come as the Olympics nears .

Paderborn 4 St Pauli 1

In springlike weather the St Pauli fans were many & numerous, tracked by lots of police.

There were no shortage of drinks amongst the motley crew of punks & similar.

And piercings a-plenty.

During the game St Pauli start ok, scored first then collapsed with their goalie (Borger) having a nightmare.

They certainly got outfought by lowly Paderborn with Koen's left foot doing considerable damage .

As always in Germany there are people around to collect the discarded bottles and as always there are a bunch of Goths congregated at Duisburg station as I arrive back.

more pics at

N Ireland March 2008

So the Gold Cup was won by Denman easily enough - but he's no Arkle.

Back to the football...

Newry City 3 Limavady Utd 0

In a ground with plenty of character the home team eventually overcame their visitors from well down the league. Limavady had struggled to score all season whereas Newry score two nice goals and a third after a goalie error.
In the cold and rain not many saw this one (100 ?)

Then via Belfast to Larne for :-

Larne 1 Cliftonville 2

There were plenty of fans in the side terrace supporting second in the league Cliftonville and their presence probably swelled the crowd to around 500.

Cliftonville definitely looked far superior and should have got more than one early goal.

Somehow Larne got one back in the 2nd half, but then Cliftonville laid siege to the home goal and Holland scored his second to just about secure the win.

Small crowds but interesting grounds.

Spain February 2008

Spain is cool though bright and sunny for this February visit.

The Costa del Azahar area is quiet and my hotel in Benicassim is good value out of season.
Though many restaurants and some hotels are shut for the off-season there are enough open to enjoy the hospitality with the locals.

Not too far away is Vila-Real (or Villarreal)
Home to the yellow submarine.
Who are up against Russians Zenit St Petersburg in a UEFA Cup 2nd leg game.

In a three quarters full stadium , with the drums beating, Villarreal took a long time to score after Zenit had stretched their overall lead to 2-0.
Although the Russians eventually had two men sent off - one for a second yellow for time wasting - they just about held on for an 'away goals' rule win.

There was a good sized group of away fans inside the ground and before that packing the local bars outside. Probably not too many came directly from Russia.

For the sightseeing part of this trip I drove to Vilafames (an attractive hillside town with a nice contemporary art museum) & Montanejos (via the CV20 a memorable drive through the mountain gorges in very pleasant weather)

Then from Benicassim to Albacete for an early evening game.
The town centre is quiet on this Saturday afternoon though there are some active bars around the side streets - a few (Sporting Gijon) away fans are in evidence.

Albacete 1 Sporting Gijon 2

This 2nd level match was won comfortably enough by 6th placed Sporting against a lowly home team who generally lacked confidence , only scoring near the end. Some 6000 watched in cold(two pullover) weather.

Its even colder (c. 7 degrees) in Soria for the next days midday kick off.

Numancia still have the old stadium next door - based on a biggish stand with track around.

The home team are leaders of the Segunda division and they struggle somewhat but do overcome Hercules (2-1)

Less than two hours away , by car, is Pamplona where it is thankfully warmer.

Here I saw Osasuna defeat a moderate Atletico Madrid to help ease their relegation worries.

Its a lofty view from the main stand - disproportionately much larger than the other three sides.

To finish this trip - some more culture and a look around the nice medieval centre of Vittora Gasteiz in the heart of the Basque region.

for more pics see

Madeira February 2008

Funchal - elderly tourists , mainly British or German, mingling students some with bare, flat midriffs and ever changing February weather.

An atmospheric old town with very nice restaurants and bars together with a sizeable marina and nearby casino are all set up to cater for the (well heeled) tourist industry.

It has two main teams , slightly incrongrously playing in different stadiums, one (Maritimo) in the city stadium , within somewhat uphill walking distance of the centre . The other,Nacional, a steep drive up the mountainside , my journey being made in part dense fog/low level cloud .

In the first game Maritimo met league leaders Porto, had one good chance , missed, and from then on the visitors and league leaders dominated, scoring strategically on the stroke of half time. Two goals later in the 2nd half and Djalma being sent off for two yellows helped secure a comfortable win.
Lisandro Lopez looked every inch the leagues top goalscorer getting two & Tunisian Sektioui the other.
Porto had a decent size group of supporters though probably quite a few live locally.

Nacional played Vitoria Guimaraes, watched by less than 500, for only about half an hour before the low level cloud /fog made it unrealistic to continue , after two stoppages. It's the first time I can remember having a game postponed for too much cloud.

Rather than see the re-scheduled Nacional match (played the next day) I chose to visit Machico , along the coast from Funchal, and see them lose 1-0 to Valdevez in the Portuguese 3rd level. In a scenic ground a small crowd of around 200 watched this encounter.

Refreshments - some nice food, especially fish, from a good choice of restaurants.

Caipirinha count = 2 Poncha (the local cocktail) = 2

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Ghana 2008

The offer of marriage came whilst sharing a taxi to Lake Bosumtwe - I said I already had one - and one was all I was allowed, in the UK anyway.

Extended families , multiple wives, larger children looking after smaller ones. Women doing most of the work and walking many miles with their 'shop' on their head.

Mostly everyone sells.

Thats the way it is.


Coming to this part of West Africa were Elephants, Lions, Warriors, Eagles, Super Eagles, National Elephants, Squirrels, Indomitable Lions, Pharaohs, Hawks, Bullets, Antelopes, Teranga Lions, Carthage Eagles and 'Bafana Bafana'. 15 teams joining the Black Stars of Ghana for the 26th Africa Cup of Nations.

What we saw was loads of goals in a fast moving first phase of matches including some absolute crackers.

And despite the hot conditions not too many dull games.

Crowds were generally good although for some games they didn't turn up until half time.

Whilst the home team win their first three games they only play well in the last.

But Ghana do go on to the semi finals after a great , battling win over Nigeria.

Unfortunately Cameroon prove too strong in the end - absorbing the hosts pressure to breakaway and get the only goal. Arguably Ghana might have made the final with Essien in midfield and a better striker. Nevertheless they had given the home fans a good run for their money without getting to the final. Inspirational figures like Essien and Muntari gave plenty for the cause.

When Ghana were doing well the streets are crowded , the bars are busy. Though very basic they have the essentials - beer and a mega-sound system.

But after the home team lose the roads were quiet, the flags having gone, t-shirts are now half price and the traders gradually switch back to their usual goods.

THE FINAL - Cameroon v Egypt in Accra

As Ghana didn't make it there were many tickets for sale and the stadium was probably less than half full at kick off (though it did fill up somewhat later on)

Not surprisingly a more cautious approach was adopted by both teams in hot , sticky conditions. Cameroon were particularly defensive leaving Eto'o up front and isolated.

It was an error from Rigobert Song , Cameroon's most capped player, that proved decisive. He was caught in possession by Zidan , who crossed for Abou Treika to score.

So the Pharaohs clinched their 6th title and after the closing ceremony (and ecstatic celebrations) they received the trophy from FIFA president Sepp Blatter.


Buses - usually late departing, sometimes by well over an hour . Their speed depends on the driver (who sometimes needed waking up before departure) and the roads which were variable being potholed, littered with abandoned vehicles and sometimes with substantial roadworks.

Trains - you could see some tracks - and numerous people living around and on them but never any trains. Nobody went on them though I did find someone who had seen one.

Taxis & Tro tros - after a while you get a feel for the 'going rate' then its usually a quick negotiation . Taxis themselves could be in moderate shape but did the job even if in one case the driver had no keys (hotwiring each time i guess) The tro-tros , as long as they were going your way, represented good value.

Don't expect too much hot water in the hotels - not that it matters too much as the weather is so warm anyway (in some places it hadn't rained much since November)

Minor faults are common - door locks that fall apart, windows that don't close and rationed toilet paper.

And be aware of the islamic alarm clock found in one place I stayed - set to go off every 4 hours - no wonder I didn't always sleep well in that hotel.


Mole National Park - from Tamale (in the far North mainly Muslim region) two hours each way - half of which is along a very bumpy, dusty track - think Dakar Rally.

Two hours of strolling around with a ranger (with gun - not needed) But worth it to be near enormous elephants, various monkeys, warthogs, antelopes, crocodiles & some cheeky baboons.

The unenclosed park occupies a very large area and but you see only a small fraction.

Jamestown Accra - your correspondent decided to walk around 'British Accra' with a local -after agreeing a deal for him to show me around . On the way we met his mother. In typically hot conditions we walked around the old harbour & fort area and watched the fishermen (and women) dealing with their catches.

Slave Castle - In a country where they still use the expression for the British as 'our Imperial masters', whether ironically or not, it was essential to see one of the slave castles at Cape Coast.

The tour took you into the dungeons , condemned cell & through the 'door of no return' - the exit the slaves took to the ships bound for the West Indies , South America & the Caribbean.


They walk - one guy told me about when he was a young child he walked for 5 miles to his aunties' farm to harvest some fruit , then took around 2 hours to put it all together, place it onto his head & walk the 5 miles back to his mother's house.

No wonder the local men are usually slim, upright & fit (as long as they avoid the nasty diseases)
Talking of which at one point during the tournament there were 30,000 condoms distributed to various drinking spots around the central region.

Football is (also) popular and so is religion but funerals are the where the real expenditure goes. Often it seems there is no money to help sick relations but if they die no expense is spared.

For the living, often existing on 5 cedis (£2.50) per day, the routine is familiar - meaning usually selling something on the street.

Or working in the markets which are jam-packed wooden structures providing an intense, claustrophobic & disorientating environment. Most things imaginable are sold.

Food and drink - rice & chicken , beef & rice , beans - not many dare try the fish sold in the street stalls.

Some decent margaritas , Starbucks count = 0.

Out in the villages you see animals (eg goats , chickens) and children roaming free. Some in disconcertingly dangerous roadside situations.

The facilities are basic with sewers running down the sides of the roads. This makes wandering around in the dark more tricky than usual.

Sunday morning is different as the families dress up for church and in the sunshine the sparkling clothes and smiles of the children brighten up any mood.

Being there as a Westerner , though not a Bill Gates or Bono, you can't helping wanting to assist in some way , however miniscule.
So I embarked on a short lesson for the 6 year-old son of a hotel landlord.

Paq Kwasi and I played noughts & crosses - he grasped that he put down the crosses (and I the noughts) but despite much thought he wasn't able to understand how to 'win'.

Similarly playing 'hangman' he struggled with some of the letters and their pronunciation and couldn't recognise his country (Ghana) or the town he lived in (Tamale) when written down.

Maybe education is a factor.

A (European) volunteer worker who I met on a bus told me this story...

The new teacher gives the young children paper & pencils and says

' so children today you are going to draw a picture of a house - lets say your house'
the children get ready then some minutes pass and nothing is happening.

'why are you waiting' the teacher asks.

'Miss we're waiting for you to draw the house and then we will copy it'

Typical of the local education - perhaps.

As the trip nears its end you feel the need to get back to European comforts more and more . So you gravitate towards the up-market hotels for the air conditioning and some peace and quiet after the Accra mayhem.

In one hotel I come across some Cameroon players and ex-star Roger Milla but conversation is very limited as he doesn't speak English.

So the football was memorable , the organisation not so. But the friendliness of the real people would draw you back.

Though I refused the marriage proposal I spent much time smiling and nodding at the locals as they acknowledge you. Often it was the children with their uninhibited smiles that you remember. When they smile the world lights up.

Thats the way it is.

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