Tuesday, June 30, 2009

USA July 2009

"I gotta ask you a question - where do you come
from ? "
"Ingerland ... i knew it."
"Is it true they all dress up smart in Ingerland..."
"I wanna go to Ingerland..."

New York.

New York is hot and for once passport control is quick and painless.

New home win.

New York Yankees 8 Seattle Mariners 5

At the new Yankee stadium - opposite the old one but without the memories.
At least the old site will not become the usual car park but will revert to a park with sports facilities, hopefully with some of its original structure preserved.

We had an hour of rain delay before the start - time for a couple of drinks to get in the mood.

The ballgame was slow to get going but had a great finish with the Mariners equalising at 5-5 before the home side scored three in the bottom of the 8th to complete the win.

A late 11.30pm finish, the subway from Queens and some sleep before an early flight to LA the next morning.


Three days based in Carson, LA for a mix of baseball and football.

Bees stopped play or Houston we don't have a problem.

San Diego Padres 2 Houston Astros 7

It takes around 2 hours to drive south from LA to San Diego - past typically evocative place names like Long Beach, El Camino Real and Mission Viejo.
On the way I stop some surfers and ask where I can get a coffee - its somewhat different here than New York.

San Diego Petco Park is centrally situated and once inside you have a nice view of the downtown skyline.

For this afternoon game it was kids day. One way to ensure the many empty spaces were filled and also - tickets at half price ($7.50)
The (presumably larger than normal) all-you-can-eat seats were not full either.

Yet another delay - this time of about 50 minutes. Amazingly caused by a swarm of bees gathering around a jacket left on a chair near left field.
A pest control guy was called and eventually he administered the appropriate spray.
Frustratingly this happened in the 9th innings, not that it made any difference to the progressive Astros who had been well in control throughout.

The later finish meant enduring the rush hour traffic up highway 5 back thru Orange county to LA.


The Gold Cup is a biennial event involving 12 teams qualifying from the North American, Central American and Caribbean regions. It is usually won by Mexico or the USA (Canada being the only other champion)
It began at the Home Depot stadium in Carson.

One Ali.

Canada 1 Jamaica 0

the first of the double headers.

A single goal by ex-MK Dons striker Ali Gerba was enough to beat the Reggae Boys.

Both sides created chances and generally Jamaica edged the possession but the single goal clinched it. Canada produced a competent defensive performance.

El of an atmosphere.

El Salvador 2 Costa Rica 1

Home Depot livened up considerably for the second part of the double header as thousands of blue shirted El Salvador fans filled most of the stadium , generating plenty of noise using their own version of the vuvuzela (see South Africa blog)
Their team did them proud.

El Salvador closed down the favoured Ticos scoring first through Romero, getting pegged back in the second half, but then capitalising on a defensive error for a great win.

Definitely not a typical Home Depot atmosphere.

Pre-Beckham win.

Chivas USA 0 LA Galaxy 1

This MLS 'Superclasico' bore little resemblance to any in South America. Nor did it compare to being with the El Salvador fans the previous weekend.

But it was a better than normal MLS atmosphere with the Chivas 'ultras' at both ends of the stadium and a contingent supporting LA G in the right hand corner.
Inevitably we had the 'best dressed man feature' , many late arrivals and a soccer-mom singing the National Anthem.

Apparently the man himself watched from the stands as the Galaxy secured their win via a Edson Buddle header after about half an hour. Generally Chivas struggled to create chances although Atiba Harris (St Kitts) looked useful.
23,409 attended - not a sell-out.

Toto, I've a feeling we are in Kansas.

But is it Kansas City , Kansas or Kansas City, Missouri ?

Confusing it may be but there is definitely much less traffic than in LA amongst the wide open spaces of each Kansas City.

Kamara strikes the pose.

Kansas City Wizards 0 Houston Dynamo 1

In the Community America ballpark - a minor league stadium with awkwardly placed stands.

We had fireworks , it being 4th July , Harleys, US flags, military personnel and obviously the star spangled banner. It was back to a typical family orientated MLS event complete with an all-you-can-eat-section.

Many of the mums would probably have related to Kei Kamara putting on a white glove and striking a Michael Jackson pose after heading in the winner.
Some orange shirted fans from Texas ('Texian Army') had made the trip to see the high flying Dynamos win a decent game with both sides creating good chances.

Still in Kansas City (one of them) and back to the baseball.

Impressive scoreboard.

Kansas City Royals 6 Chicago White Sox 3

To the Kauffman stadium - 36 years old but the sixth oldest stadium in major league baseball.
It has a very impressive scoreboard, fountains and a waterfall.

Just a smallish turnout over the holiday weekend to see the generally underperforming Royals finish this series of games with a win. There were two home runs - one for each team.

Very pleasant weather and this time no interruptions for rain (or bees)


Lets go Cubbies.

Chicago Cubs 4 Atlanta Braves 2

I walked down Clark to Wrigleyville.

For surely one of the best atmospheres and suroundings in baseball.

An historic venue. The adjacent streets with the roof-top views and the ivy clad walls.

A full house to see the Cubs win.

They bring out the 'W' flags to signify the result and all stay behind to sing the song - Hey Chicago whaddya say , the Cubs are gonna win today....


The flight to Columbus was not full.

Small crew.

Jamaica 0 Costa Rica 1

Not too many in the 'soccer-specific' Crew stadium (with a concert stage at one end) for these games. Those that watched saw Costa Rica get the win over an unlucky Jamaica who had a man dismissed.

Canada 1 El Salvador 0

Canada defended well as El Salvador couldn't create much. Again it was Ali Gerba who got the winner - a chip over the goalie. The El Salvador fans turned out in reasonable numbers amongst the 7,000 crowd.


I stayed near the awesome Texas Medical Centre - the largest such centre in the world.

The area is thronged with medical staff (and patients)

Nearby downtown is mainly, well, downtown with many of the shops being underground and air-conditioned against the hot conditions up top.

Meanwhile in Reliant Park the Astrodome waits - aloof and still apparently preserved.

Next to it is the impressive , air conditioned (it was 37 degrees outside) Reliant Arena where we see the next Gold Cup games. The record crowd was set when one Miley Cyrus gave a concert (see later)

Guadeloupe are good.

Guadeloupe 2 Nicaragua 0

Guadeloupe passed well and looked like a competent side, not too surprising as they have various players in the French league.
Nicaragua were moderate and didn't do much better when Guadelopue had man sent off.

Captain Auvray and Ludovic Gotin got the goals.


Mexico 1 Panama 1

Some 47,000 tickets were sold for this second game.

And to continue a theme we had a prolonged delay, not for rain (we were indoors) or bees, but when Ricardo Phillips of Panama refused to leave the field after being sent off. His route to the dressing room being bombarded by unhappy Mexican fans.
Phillips was the third man to be dismissed in a game where the two sides didn't get on too well.

Mexico had scored first from a Dos Santos (of Spurs) pass.
But Panama fought back with striker Perez (of Pachuca) getting the equaliser.

It was a disappointing performance by the Mexicans.

Incidentally Phillips had been sent off for pushing the Mexican coach (Aguirre - who was also dismissed) when retreiving a ball from the touchline.


Meanwhile in Miami (via Fort Lauderdale for this visitor) a smallish university stadium hosted the final group games for Costa Rica and co.

No vice.

Costa Rica 2 Canada 2

Goals though.
The Ticos brought plenty of fans to see their team draw with an understrength , already qualified, Canadian side.
They saw four first half goals including a classy free kick from captain Walter Centeno.

No goal, no cry.

El Salvador 0 Jamaica 1

El Salvador had the fans but their team underperformed, succumbing to a late winner by Omar Cummings of the Reggae Boys.
It meant that Jamaica would squeeze through to the semi-finals despite being very wayward up front.
17,000 eventually made it to this stadium in steamy conditions.


finally to the desert and the cactii - Phoenix, Arizona - renowned for its heat and it didn't disappoint - at a scorching 43 (or 110) degrees.

As in Houston the games were (thankfully) played in an indoor air-conditioned arena , the 60,000 University of Phoenix stadium, home to the Phoenix Cardinals NFL team.
From a distance it looked like a large spaceship had landed in the desert.

Beginning with a sparse crowd the attendance built up to over 23,000 as the Mexicans came in.

Like many stadiums in the US it isn't that easy to get to unless you have a car - a factor that must affect the crowds at these kind of events.

Panama stroll.

Panama 4 Nicaragua 0

Easy for the Panamanians after they got the first goal.
Nicaragua had a man sent off and never threatened. The strength of the taller Panama team told as they converted the crosses against the smaller Nicaraguans.

More dismissals.

Mexico 2 Guadeloupe 0

Guadeloupe decided on a cautious approach against a determined Mexico side with something to prove. Both had already qualified for the next phase but Mexico needed to build some momentum both for the Gold Cup and, more importantly, the upcoming World Cup qualifiers.

Again the team playing Mexico had two men sent off.
Obviously it didn't help any possible Guadeloupe comeback after Mexico had taken the lead.
They had been one of the more watchable and capable teams but this night wasn't one of their best.


In the USA you tend to see the future - so look out for 'Fatburger' and 'Potbelly' restaurants and all-you-can-eat sections in stadiums.

Perhaps we'll be speaking even louder on our mobiles (cellphones) like the lady on the train in Houston -

"I'd like to get my kitten neutered"
"ok - I've got that date - can I ask a question"
"the cat is very wild - do you know how old it is "
" 4 weeks - and its ...feral..."
"what if I can't get the cat under control..... euthanasia..."
"I don't want that"
She ends the conversation and speaks to one of her children.
"can you look up 'feral' on the Internet please and call me back, oh and find out how long it takes to break in the cat"
(just before my train stop)
"it means its wild - why did they let us have a wild kitten ? and it might take over a month to control it .....i want to keep the cat ...." (phew)

And in Hooters...

"I gotta ask you a question" "where do you come from" "I knew it ...Ingerland"
"I love Ingerland.... I'm 21 and I wanna go to Ingerland"

"Is it true they all dress up smart in Ingerland ?"

And so the tip was (slightly) higher.

more pics at http://www.photobox.co.uk/album/144026400

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Confederations Cup in South Africa 2009

Highveld Drifter.

Johannesburg .

I declined the offer of a small gun on my first evening in Johannesburg.

A satnav would have been more useful especially when negotiating the downtown area in the dark after an evening game.

The signs to the stadiums are reasonably prominent but the general city signage is very poor.

But the weather, during my week or so, was pleasant enough - it might be winter but it generally felt more like a typical English summer.

You see stadiums that are reasonably crowded considering this is not the World Cup though tickets were relatively expensive for the locals.

The atmosphere was, inevitably, noisy with the vuvuzelas (horns) a constant backdrop.


South Africa 0 Iraq 0 at Ellis Park.

Ellis Park is near to downtown Jo-burg and does need a bit of smartening up but it can generate some atmosphere.
Prior to kick-off we saw a fairly basic but effective opening ceremony followed by some speechs , first by a passionate Sepp Blatter, then briefly by president Jacob Zuma.
Perhaps more entertaining was the Mamas football game as seen in an advert on the large screen - very funny.

After a moderate, error strewn, first half the hosts picked up their play and dominated the defensive Iraqis.

But they couldn't score.

The crescendo came when Bafana Bafana nearly scored but for their own player stopping a shot on the goal line.

Head Homos.

Egypt 1 Italy 0 at Ellis Park.

Before the start they had been trying to cover the prominent bare patchs on the pitch.

Some 52,000 tickets had been sold for this one and both teams had their support though the locals favoured their fellow Africans.

A header by new man Homos (given man of the match) got the Egyptians their first ever win over World Cup holders Italy. He had covered plenty of Ellis Park - nearly 12km.

But it was their goalie El Hadary who produced some great saves to secure the win. Much as Italy tried , especially Iaquinta , they couldn't break through.


Pretoria is somewhat easier to negotiate than Jo-burg. Again it has a well established stadium, in a rugby hotbed, located near to the centre. Again it feels like it needs a bit of updating.

But the surroundings are OK with some restaurants/coffee outlets within a short walk.

Double Rossi.

Italy 3 USA 1 at Loftus Versfeld.

Italy had good support in the 34,000 at Loftus for their initial encounter with the USA. The Americans played most of the game with 10 men after having a man (harshly) sent off.
However they did score first through a Landon Donovan penalty.

It took the substitution of New Jersey born Guiseppi Rossi to change the game. His two goals, the first a cracker, and another great strike by de Rossi sealed the match for Italy.

Samba stroll.

USA 0 Brazil 3 at Loftus Versfeld.

A comfortable win for Brazil who started quickly with a goal by Felipe Melo. This was followed by a second from Robinho.
We sat back and enjoyed some Kaka magic.

The impressive Maicon clinched the victory in the second half.

Again the Americans suffered a sending off , not that it affected the result.

Italy fail to deliver.

Italy 0 Brazil 3 at Loftus Versfeld.

In this final group game Italy needed to at least equal the Egypt result to progress to the semi-finals. Thats what we thought - not expecting the turn of events that allowed USA to jump ahead of both.

So it was a lacklustre effort by the World champions - a game too far maybe.

A sellout crowd of around 41,000 mainly supported the Brazilians and they watched the yellow shirts score twice through Luis Fabiano and finish off with an own goal by Dossena.


Some 4 and a half hours down typically straight roads from Jo-burg is Bloemfontein

The Free State stadium is another enhancement of an existing structure.

Arguably the best atmsophere at this event was in this stadium with the local Celtic fans leading the singing and dancing that eventually circulated the stadium.
The vuvuzelas were less evident.
And the small groups of Spanish fans, along with other foreign visitors, enjoyed the occasion.

Just one is enough.

Spain 1 Iraq 0

Iraq parked the bus setting out to defend resolutely and hoping to pinch a goal.

They did the running - an average of 1km more per player than Spain.

It took the European champions 54 minutes to complete the victory with a Capdevilla cross being glanced in by David Villa.

That was enough.


Even farther away for a day trip Durban is some 6 hours each way from Jo-burg.

The test is to stay alert along the quiet roads amongst the early morning fog and the odd speed camera.


South Africa 26pts British & Irish Lions 21pts.

Compare and contrast : Rugby vs Football.

Large hospitality areas , cars parked close to the stadium, with barbecues set-up, as against a large cordon sanitaire at the Confederations Cup football games.

Jugs of beer for the larger rugby fans.

Plenty of red shirted Lions fans arriving in groups very prominent in the 47,000 crowd.

However there were significant numbers of empty seats due to the very high prices (around £85)

But the most significant clue came as I wandered around outside the stadium .

Here you could buy a receiver through which you could listen to the referee as he gave his decisions.

Within a minute of the start it was obvious why this was important as the first penalty mystified many including this inexperienced rugby watcher. The theme would continue with much play being shrouded in doubt.

The video replays too were hard to discern and often took ages to decide.

The Lions players themselves spent some time asking for clarification from the referee regarding his penalty decisions.

Football has far more clarity.

It also doesn't tend to produce the sort of one sided score that we saw in the first half. Even though the Lions did get back into the game in the second half to provide some late drama.

Apart from during the anthem (just one) the noise levels were moderate and the many Lions fans didn't seem to sing much.


So overall the time went well with some decent games in noisy, vibrant stadiums.

And the comparison with rugby proved once again that football provides the superior experience.

Clearly the challenges for 2010 will be to maintain a reasonable level of transport facilities and logistics to serve the much larger number of visitors. And keep them safe - at least from major incidents.

Unlike most World Cups a lot of this one will be experienced in the dark southern hemisphere winter.

As in most places in Africa you have to adapt to prosper.

But in the stadiums it will certainly be a World Cup to remember.

more pictures at http://www.photobox.co.uk/album/129428944

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Kazakhstan v England June 2009

Easy enough in the end.

Kazakhstan 0 England 4 played in Almaty.

Contrary to some reports this match was not sold out and there were plenty of tickets available on the day of the game.

The locals produce some atmosphere early on (especially when the disallowed goal went in) but generally were subdued and not intimidating.

But for twenty minutes it did look somewhat dodgy for England as Kazakhstan started quickly.

However when Ostapenko went off injured - he had headed the disallowed goal - the momentum seemed to shift.

When Barry had headed in at the far post and Heskey had followed up Gerrards clever shot for a 2-0 half time lead it became comfortable.

The Kazaks couldn't really hurt England anymore.

A spectacular Rooney overhead and a decisive Lampard completed the win.

So South Africa is now very close - are we one of the favourites - judged on qualifying results we might be.

Almaty was hot and often sunny for most of my days in the city.

I'd travelled via Istanbul , for the London to Turkey trip amongst numbers of Red Bull engineers and associated staff going to the Formula 1 race (and surprisingly - as this was an Easyjet flight - one Jenson Button)

You do a lot of walking in Almaty - the grid like streets are well spread out. And it has no conventional centre.

The city view from the cable car is uninspiring - various tower blocks and some greenery but nothing to make the heart beat faster.

You would need to venture further out into this vast country to experience more spectacular scenery though the snow capped mountains to the south of Almaty provide an attractive backdrop.

For culture the State Art Museum presents some modern Kazak art (again uninspiring) and the much more interesting genre art plus inevitably some Russian paintings.

The larger and more impressive National Museum captures more of the spirit of the country.

So, as long as you didn't take a taxi ride into the forest, the visit was satisfactory enough with a flattering result and another big step towards the World Cup finals.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Lille 30th May 2009


Lille 3 Nancy 2

As a precursor to the game I enjoyed the sunshine and some fine Belgian beer whilst watching the FA Cup final in an Australian bar.

In the evening it was a short metro ride to get to the Metropole stadium and join the close to capacity crowd for this final game of the league season.

Most waved their flags (apart from the Nancy fans)

Lille had the better of the first half scoring through Vittek and Rami though Nancy did pull one back from defender Ouaddou near the break.

Then Youssouf Hadji squeezed in a free kick to equalise for the visitors.

However all turned OK for the locals when Plestan converted from a corner.

Lille thus confirmed their place in the next seasons Europa League.

The following day I returned (flagless) via the Eurostar.