Saturday, January 24, 2009

Morocco Janury 2009

Take me to the Kasbah (or a game)

The first flight out of Luton is to Marrakech at 6am. So it meant a very early start for this traveller.

It was surely too good to be true to see a top level game on Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Morocco.

And so it proved , despite various websites indicating games on consecutive days at Safi, Agadir and Marrakech the reality was somewhat different.

With a late shuffle the fixtures were changed and all three of those matches were now on the same day, at the same time.
So my trip to the coastal city of Safi , three hours on the bus, was not to include a game after all.

My plans rescheduled I returned to Marrakech for a Saturday game and a match in Khourigba on the Sunday.

Fes miss pen.

FAC Marrakech 0 MAS Fes 0

Played in the characteristically pink/red shaded Stade El Harti on an artifical pitch in the centre of Marrakech.

A reasonable group of away fans were in the attendance of 3500.
It was cool , dry and overcast.

The game started at a good pace with some half chances spurned.
Though Marrakech did most of the pressing it was Fes who had the best opportunity after 11 minutes when Benhenia was brought down. But Baqqali's penalty was saved.

Then the home coach was sent away from the dugout for persistent arguing - he was a hero to the home fans.

As the second half develops the pace is slower and Fes defend deeper. Despite the game getting stretched later on there is no breakthrough.

Meanwhile in the centre of the city the horse and carts , donkeys and sundry mopeds mix in the streets.

Some negotiate the narrow streets of the Medina whilst in the main square the snake charmers and fortune tellers (maybe I should have asked them about the fixtures ?) draw the crowds.

Wydad strike in the Phosphates.

Khourigba 0 Wydad Casablanca 1

Khourigba is a mining town some 250 km or so from Marrakech.

My trip began and ended in Marrakech but with a story in-between.

Given that there was no bus until around midday - how do you get there in time to see the 3pm game and get back.

My decision was to negotiate with a 'grand taxi' driver for him to take me to Khourigba , wait and then bring me back after the match.

100 euros was the deal.

He would use the bosses' (better) car.

Firstly he had to get written police permission to drive outside of his regulated limit - that took around 20 minutes.

Then we changed cars (and water caps) whilst i had a look at the tyres (ok)

We set off and proceeded to go around in circles for about an hour as the police had closed all the relevant city exits due to the Marrakech marathon (i'd seen some of the runners starting off earlier)
I saw some nice and some not so nice areas of Marrakech.

We stopped two or three times to ask and it was evident that many others had the same problem.

Eventually it took an off-road manouevre and some aggressive driving to get through to the Fes road.
It was now after 11 am.

An hour or so up the road we stopped for a mint tea for me and a meal for the driver.

By now my emotions started to go from pessimism that we'll never make it then to optimism -maybe we will get there by kick off .

This went on for the next 3 hours.

Though the driver knew of Khourigba he'd probably never been there so my map, purchased earlier, was to prove useful.

But my decisions about the route lacked local knowledge and what might seem to be a reasonable road on the map (and in Europe) does not necessarily apply in Morocco , especially as it was raining.

So the driver checked with a local as we reached one town and following a slight diversion we got back on the best route.
Meanwhile I scanned the petrol gauge which seemed kind of low - this I mentioned but our man was confident we would be OK.

Sensing my concern about the time (he didn't have a watch) he pressed on and then gets stopped for speeding resulting in a 40 dirham (about £3.50) fine and further delay.

Up the road at the last town before Khourigba I say we won't make it - he says we will and asks a local policeman how far we have to go, answer 40 km.
It is now 2.25pm.

Fortunately it is a straight road and we must be going at 80 mph (though as the speedo doesn't work it is hard to be accurate)

We arrive in Khourigba and ask someone for the location of the ground - not too far.

A short drive , a short jog and I'm there 5 minutes before kick off.

Just time enough to take a few pictures and absorb the scene in the Phosphates stadium (guess what Khourigba produces)
The main group of home fans were opposite whilst the couple of thousand Wydad fans were squeezed into a small terrace curving behind the goal and in another section next to the main stand.

This felt like a typical game between a small club and much larger and more famous visitor.

Though actually Khourigba were higher placed in the league - not that it seemed like it on the balance of play. The red shirted Wydad team played more aggresively and were certainly well supported by their noisy fans.
The game was played at medium pace on a difficult pitch.

The result was determined, in added time at the end of the first half, by a controversial decision to award a goal as Doulyazal's chip was adjudged to have crossed the line.

Khourigba mostly struggled to create much apart from a few set peices and Wydad should have wrapped it up with a 2nd goal.
But one was enough.

I left, walking past various fans waiting outside and found my grand taxi for the return trip to Marrakech.
Which was not quite as fraught as the outward journey.
However I was glad not to be driving as most of the trip was in the dark and it needed keen eyesight to spot the odd horse & cart, cyclist or pedestrian along the unlit roads.
Again we stopped at a town familiar to the driver - tea for me and a break for him.

On the way out of town he noticed a gendarme this time not catching us for speeding but hitching a lift. After a discussion (and my agreement) the policeman and a colleague squeezed into the front seats.
It gave the driver someone to talk to (in Arabic) for the last hour or so and no doubt a friendly gendarme is a useful contact for any taxi driver.
It didn't stop him speeding, driving without a seatbelt or talking on his mobile whilst motoring along.

But live and let live.

more pics at

Monday, January 19, 2009

Cyprus January 2009


Its warm, bright and sunny this time of year particularly in the coastal areas of Cyprus. At times it feels like a summers day in England. And there are plenty of Brits around either visiting or resident and they are well catered for with restaurants serving english breakfast, numerous pubs, The Sun and driving on the left.

Yes the resorts do have an out-of-season feel and in some places it seems like there is a restaurant for every tourist.
However there are interesting uncrowded historic sites to visit and (rocky) scenery to enjoy.

Not surprisingly the football can offer some Greek passion.

The Right wins from the left wing.

Omonia 0 APOEL 1

Close to 20,000 packed the GSP (National) stadium, some 5km outside of Nicosia, for this local derby. Cars and scooters parked where they could and probably in places they shouldn't.
Unusually for many European derbies this one had the stadium split with a side and an end for each set of fans. The left wing greens of Omonia against the right wingers of APOEL with their Greek flags.

Most seem to mix OK apart for the younger ultras who clashed at half time needing to be separated even further by the police. More worringly there had been some violence towards Turkish cypriots in Nicosia apparently caused by extremist football fans. Altogether 45 people, including police, were injured on the day.

Back to game and Omonia played very cautiously and it was APOEL who looked more likely in the first half.

All the action came at the end of the half as Ndikumana was sent off following a clash of heads. This triggered the fighting in the stands and some serious abuse for the referee.

APOEL scored their goal early in the 2nd , predictably down the left as Kaseke, the replacement right back, was unable to stop the bandaged Alexandrou from shoooting in off a defender.

Omonia eventually had to get forward and they did hit the bar with a neat chip by Aloneftis. But despite a prolonged period of injuries and delays (including one when the referee briefly took off the players following excess smoke being on the pitch)

The win meant APOEL joined Omonia at the top of the Cyprus Premier League and to give it (unneeded) added spice both teams are currently level on 19 titles apiece.

So a more than lively derby in a stadium (track-less for a change) that could generate some atmosphere.

Even in Larnaca.

AEK Larnaca 1 Alki Larnaca 1

A lower scale of derby in Larnaca , watched by some 2,500 in the Zenon stadium (with a part covered main stand , track and open seating opposite)

Lower key but not without some passion as AEK's Megahed (sic) was sent off after two yellow cards in quick succession - a coming together of heads and for blocking a defender.

AEK came out to attack, generally with long balls , and they eventually scored a contestable goal at the end of the 1st half. A cross/shot by Gonzalez seemingly taken over the line by the goalie.

At least 3 Alki players were booked for protesting the decision.

In the 2nd the apparent injustice galvanised the away team and they had the initiave , especially after the dismissal, scoring through Lima following a passing move.

AEK , second from bottom , were probably grateful to hold on for the point.

No breakthrough in Limassol.

AEL Limassol 0 APEP 0

The Tsirion, home to AEL and Apollon, is an attractive stadium with two similar two-tier covered stands curving around the pitch. On a coldish night nearly 3,000 turned out to see this stalemate between the home team and the pink shirted visitors from Pitsilia.
Not that the game was particluarly negative as we witnessed some decent attacking play but in the end not too many decisive chances.

more pictures at

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Portugal January 2009

Cold & Damp;  Even.

Vitoria Guimaraes 0 Estrela Amadora 0

Two low scoring middle of the table teams did what comes naturally - failed to score.

Some 50km or so from Porto is Guimaraes. It has an historic centre and a stadium that was used for the Euros.

On this Saturday evening most of snow had been cleared from the pitch and over 11,000 came out to see the game.

Generally Vitoria struggled to create chances and it was Amadora who had the stand-out player in Silvestre Varela. He sped down the left and produced more danger than anyone else.
But none of his crosses were converted.
Despite an extended period of added time and various corners Vitoria couldn't get the winner.

So the White Angels, the local fans, went away frustrated.

Class from the Azores.

Oliveirense 1 Santa Clara 2

An early, 11.15am, start for this second level (TV) game pitching bottom team Oliveirense against 2nd in the table Santa Clara.

The team from the Azores treated us to two superb goals as their extra class overcame a good effort by the home team.

The prolonged injury time, needed because of the time wasting by the away team, nearly produced an equaliser as Oliveirense didn't really look like a relegation threatened side.

At least it was bright & sunny for the 740 spectators.

Navy beats Academe.

Naval 2 Academica 1

From Oliveira de Azemeis to Figueira da Foz.

In an older style ground , with just over 2,000 present, this local derby did at least bring out a good number of away fans for my second game of the day.

Though the first half was not too exciting the second speeded-up as two defensive mistakes, one by the goalie, cost Academica the game.
Substitute Sougou did chip one in for the Coimbra team but amidst the typical stoppages and delaying tactics Naval managed to hold on for the win.

O Porto

Porto 0 Trofense 0

My third game of this Sunday took me back to my base in Porto.

The Dragao was reasonably well attended on this cold night especially by the away fans - some 1,000 of them. For Trofense this is their first season in the Portuguese top level.

Their team survived some scares as Porto could have scored in the first minute and no doubt then it would have been a different game. But later in the first half the away side held their own and settled into the contest.

Into the 2nd half and it became attack against defence as Porto dominated possession whilst Trofense produced the odd breakaway. We had Hulk headers but no goals.

Just like the other games the game ended with ultra time wasting and ultimately frustration for ex-league leaders Porto.

more pics at