Thursday, December 08, 2011

Spain December 2011

A three game visit to southern Spain including seeing Granada defeat Real Zaragoza in La Liga.

Elche 3 Barcelona II 0 9,487

Elche have a good sized two-tier stadium decked out in the club colours of green and white.
For this match against Barca ‘reserves’ there was a reasonable turnout to fill most of the lower tiers.

Actually it was more Barcelona lite than regular Barcelona as they struggled to create chances despite the inevitable well honed passing game that no doubt pervades every level of the Catalan club.

Two strikes from Danish forward Bille Nielsen and a neat left footed free kick from full back Edu Albacar and Elche had it done by half time.
The home side were ultimately stronger and more direct than the visitors.

The result meant Elche moved up to second in the Segunda league.

I strolled back to my hotel and chose a substantial Asian buffet whilst watching Spain play Argentina in the Davis Cup.

Ejido 0 Melilla 2 300

Ejido are rock bottom of their group in Segunba B (3rd level) and they had a hard time making progress against a solid Melilla defence.
The away team had scored early after a defensive error and they added a header just before the break - both scored by the useful striker no.9, Chota.

This early kickoff was played in bright sunny conditions though it did get cooler later as I watched from the main stand (with views to the mountains)

The ground has open seating opposite and at one end, where there were a couple of small local ultra groups.
The ‘African’ visitors did have some support and Ejido were particularly egged-on by an elderly cheerleader who constantly berated the officials, all to no avail.

So I drove on towards Granada.

Granada 1 Real Zaragoza 0 22,000

I had planned to see three games on this Sunday but due to some rental car trouble going over the Sierra Nevadas I never made it to my planned second game, at Jaen.
Instead I settled for a double with the late game in Granada.

Where the home side secured an important win against one of their fellow strugglers.

Nigerian Ighalo scored the winner from close range just before the break after a period of home dominance.
The visitors did sustain some late pressure giving the home side, and their fans, some concerns but Granada held on for the three points.

It left Zaragoza bottom of La Liga but judging by this game both teams may well struggle during the rest of the season.

The home supporters, in what seemed like a sellout crowd, provided decent noise led by a couple of ultras groups.

The ground itself does somewhat resemble a real life subbuteo stadium with its three smallish tiers plus the addition of temporary looking filled-in corners.
However it is fairly cosy, at least in the ‘main stand’ which helped on a cold December night in Granada.

Tired after a late finish I had an early night.

more pictures at

Friday, November 11, 2011

Brazil October/November 2011

Seven games in Brazil including the Recife derby, a great game in Bahia and a Serie D match in Juiz de Fora.

Hot & steamy Recife.

Nautico 2 Sport Recife 0 17,164

A typically breathless local derby played in the Aflitos stadium.

The match not only satisfied local pride for the ecstatic home fans, it also helped to move Nautico towards Serie A and dented the hopes of Sport doing the same.

Two first half goals, the second an excellent solo run and shot, did it assisted by a red card for a Sport defender in the second half.
The game was always frenetic despite the hot weather.

Another feature was some long range shooting some by the dangerous Sport no.10.

The compact stadium is surrounded by apartment blocks from which numbers of fans watched the game.
Most of the home ultras were at the right hand end with around 800 or so away fans in a section to the left.

According to the local paper there were over 900 police keeping order - which went off OK as far as I could tell bar the chanting and fireworks.
So the red and whites beat the red and blacks - N A U T I C O.

I took a taxi back to my hotel in Boa Viagem and enjoyed some beer and steak near the beach.

Cool and rainy Curitiba.

Coritiba 3 America (MG) 1 10,962

My third visit to a stadium in Curitiba and each of the three is worth seeing.

Atletico´s being a rareish example of a European style ground in Brazil and a location for 2014 World Cup games.
Parana´s home, near the old railway station, was a location for 1950 World Cup games.
And the Couto Periera with its mix of three tiers and a smaller side suitably decked out in dark green is another worth visiting.

The match started well enough for bottom of the table America, backed by a handful of fans, as the speedy Kempes shot home left footed.
But soon after Coritiba equalised and they went ahead with an excellent move finished by Davi and involving the useful Marcos Aurelio.

It was a particularly torrid evening for the away defenders as they tried to control the tricky home winger Rafinha who had scored the first and was a constant threat.
He effectively caused the sending off of defender Gilson later in the 2nd half.

A header from a corner sealed a comfortable win for the home side and left America further adrift as the Serie A lanterna.

The match was played in cool rainy conditions in quite a contrast to Recife.

Via Florianopolis to Criciuma.


Criciuma 1 Portuguesa 1 9,535

Portuguesa would have a little longer before being crowned Serie B champions after being held to a draw by Criciuma.
They brought 50 or so fans from Sao Paulo who made the longish journey south (not quite comparable with the 30,000+ Corinthians fans expected to make a similar length of trip to watch their team play America (MG) in Uberlandia the next weekend)

The visitors started slowly giving possession to the home side straight from the kick-off.
Soon after Criciuma scored from a corner and their speedy forwards went hard at the league leaders.

It took Portuguesa about 20 minutes to begin to take control going very close near the end of the first period.
About half way through the second 45 minutes they equalised, sub.Cleiton poking home a left wing cross.

Then we had a pulsating finish as the Criciuma Tigers poured forward in the last few minutes playing with maybe five strikers and a ´rush goalie´.

They had missed a number of chances to win and despite the late scrambles just failed to get the decider.
The atmosphere was also excellent, reminiscent of Argentina, in a European style, rectangular, covered stadium.

I walked back to my hotel and enjoyed a bottle of vinho tinto whilst watching some Copa Sudamericana on TV.


Vitoria 5 Salgueiro 1 26,216

From Coritiba back to Florianopolis then a flight, via Sao Paulo, to Salvador.

Where I revisited the Barradao to see Vitoria move up into the Serie B top four.

They never had much trouble with about to be relegated Salgueiro who only had a near post header just before half time as consolation.

The stadium is certainly one of the harder places to get to particularly on a busy Friday night.

I started out allowing plenty of time but the combination of the first taxi driver taking me in the wrong direction and the second being stuck in horrendous traffic pretty much the whole way made it a frustrating evening.
As you near the stadium the roads become increasingly potholed, narrower and jammed with cars.

I finally made to the stadium by about 8.35 (for a 8.30 kick-off) but with hundreds outside I didn´t make inside until about ten minutes later, by then Vitoria were two up.

However once there the stadium, being a natural amphitheatre, together with their excellent ultras makes it a superb atmosphere.

I did see Vitoria score their third and two more in the second half against a well beaten visiting side.
The crowd, a season record for Vitoria, were allowed into the away section as Salgueiro (a very small club) only seemed to have a few directors as supporters.

At the end I managed to work my way out the ground and after a struggle got a taxi back to Rio Vermelho were some beer and chicken and chips helped me to relax.


Bahia 4 Sao Paulo 3 31,230

In this one Bahia, the other main team in Salvador, came back from 3-1 down for a famous victory against one of the big teams in the Brazilian league.

And how the fans enjoyed the experience.

Sao Paulo scored two picture book goals, first Wellington lobs it over a defender and volleys in for 1-0. Then the excellent Lucas slams in a 25 yarder.

But in the second half, with sub Junior making a difference, a spirited Bahia team came back to deny the big names.
Coach Joel Santana whose other substitutions were criticised by the fans was completely vindicated.
The result may have been different without some great saves by the home goalie particularly from a Luis Fabiano effort.

Bahia scored from left wing moves to get them back to 3-3 and an own goal by an Sao Paulo defender deflecting in another cross with ten minutes left took most of the crowd into delirium.

This time my travels went well albeit on a quieter Saturday in Salvador as I arrrived about two hours before the 7pm kick off.
So I was able to sample the atmosphere outside and when seated amongst the socios watched the fans arrive.
The ground is three sided, horseshoe shaped, with views to the Pitaucu wilderness beyond the right hand goal (with its elevated scoreboard)

The rest of the ground is mostly open terracing with the well supported away contingent in part of the side opposite.
Though the atmosphere was dampened by the visitors scoring first it had become ecstatic by the end.

I negotiated a quick exit and got a taxi back to the hotel for some red wine and an early night.

As I had a 4am start to get my flight to Rio.


Tupi (MG) 3 Oeste (SP) 1 7,416

This was a Serie D semi-final 2nd leg with Tupi 3-0 up from the first encounter.

And the home side went further in front on a very bumpy pitch after about 14 minutes as they cut through the Oeste defence with ease.
A similar strike folllowed on the half hour and that was pretty much it.

A third involving a nice move and cross from the right - put home by the no.9 had the outcome decided by half time.
A very limited and demoralised Oeste just had a header from a corner as consolation.

I´d arrived early enough to sample some local wine in a pleasant restaurant close to the stadium overlooking the valley below.
The ground, in a wooded area, is substantial and again 3-sided with massive curved terracing.

So plenty of room for the best crowd of the year with no away fans visible.

Many of the home fans were listening to Serie A games on their radios - highlighted by the cheers as the Flamengo goals went in.
The city clearly has many Rio club fans judging by the number of Flamengo/Fluminense and Vasco shirts being worn and there is also a Fla fan shop.

So a lower key game especially given the score but it was another large Brazilian stadium to admire.

Back in the centre of Juiz de Fora I had a couple of beers, a salad and a churro.
The locals mingled amongst the street vendors.

Juiz de Fora is a 3 hour bus ride from Rio through some stunning scenery with superb views of the wooded mountains and valleys.
The central area of the city feels friendly and vibrant (though not so much on a Sunday evening)

As always outside of the centre there are the ever present favelas dotted around the valley and you see the odd person sleeping on the street.

During a free day I visited the small but well laid out railway museum connected to the impressive old station noting that they had more passenger trains through here in the 19th century than in the 21st (none so far)


Duque de Caxias (RJ) 1 Vila Nova (GO) 1 72

This match was played in Volta Redonda - a city that probably doesn’t see many tourists having a massive industrial complex right in the centre of town.

And it doesn’t attract many spectators for lodgers Duque de Caxias’ games either.

The medium sized ground, with Volta Redondo picked out in black along the side, is fairly modern with a covered main stand and partial cover opposite.

The visitors did bring a small group of fans and they cheered as their team went ahead early in the second half via a far post header.
With the home side getting a man sent off it looked like an away win but Duque fought back and eventually equalised from a penalty with about fifteen minutes left.
They had by far the best player on show - the speedy right wing back (no.2)

Despite having Ben Hur and John Lennon in their lineup Vila Nova had to settle for a draw and relegation to Serie C.
Duque de Caxias had long since been confirmed as demoted.

So a surreal ending to my trip

I took the bus, a two hour ride again through impressive scenery, to Rio and eventually the flight home to London.

Overall I enjoyed some exciting games in mostly great atmospheres played out in some interesting stadiums.
As long as you can cope with the transport infrastructure, the crowded cities and few people speaking English compensated by the hot weather (I guess) Brazil delivers.

more pictures at

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Rubin Kazan v Spartak Moscow October 2011

Rubin Kazan 3 Spartak Moscow 0.

16th October 2011 23,650. Russian Premier.

Red buses, pubs and the Premier League on TV - it could be London but it is really the Republic of Tatarstan.

Kazan is 700km east from Moscow, an hour or so by plane, but its just up the road in this massive country.
And many fans from Moscow made the journey, lots seemingly for the first time.
Like me they spent time photographing the very impressive Kremlin with its mosques, towers and walls.

The Spartak red scarves thronged the main pedestrianised street with its mixture of part-demolished and newer buildings.

A fifteen minute stroll up the road was the Central stadium where the 4,000 or so away fans filled a large part of the left hand end of the ground.
They produced plenty of noise but their team failed to deliver much in return.

After a fairly cagey first half of few chances Rubin came out with more purpose in the second period and scored early through the excellent Ecuadorean Christian Noboa.
Ryazantsev added another soon after and Spartak got into more trouble when Nigerian striker Emenike was given a second yellow.

The Moscow side never looked like getting back into it and a deflected shot cum cross by Bibras Natcho in added time sealed their fate, much to the locals delight.

Rubin were in good form based on a solid defence and strong midfield but whether they will do as well against the likes of Tottenham in the Champions League only time will tell.

For Spartak the likes of Aiden McGeady and the Brazilian Welliton couldn’t produce much to endanger the home goal.

The atmosphere was enhanced by flares and smoke from both sets of ultras and in the city centre the fans seemed to get along OK, watched by the local police.

Afterwards I settled for a kebab served, in an overstaffed restaurant, by girls who would not have been out of place on a catwalk.

Most of the Spartak fans drank their beer and hung around McDonalds.
Some were still enjoying Grolsch in the airport prior to the 9.55 flight back to the capital.

As you would expect in Russia at this time of year the weather was not warm, especially when facing the wind, but Kazan is definitely worth a visit.

Back In Moscow, amongst the huddled masses, I travelled the metro to Arbat, visited Red Square and the impressive National Historical Museum (everything from mention of Bronze Age communes through relics from Napoleon’s 1812 visit to pictures of Brezhnev and Stalin)

Maybe Russia itself is becoming more inviting (once you have a visa and can afford the hotel prices) for visitors as the younger generation takes over more of the customer service - more inviting but not necessarily better or more informed.
However the security stays in evidence though perhaps more relaxed than previously.

Quite what it’ll be like in (say) 2018 is open to question with still few concessions to signage in English or indeed not that many people speaking any language other than Russian.

But the fascination remains with this visitor, of being in a vast, powerful and hedonistic country.

More pictures at

Monday, October 10, 2011

Montenegro, Germany and Croatia October 2011

Three games starting in Germany, from there to Montenegro and ending in Croatia.

Early Worms late Kickers.

Stuttgarter Kickers 1 Wormatia Worms 1 2,360.

Limited options on the way to Montenegro for the England game so I chose this Regionalliga (4th level) game in Stuttgart.

As it happened I had seen the Kickers play at the Neckar stadium some years ago when they were, briefly, in the Bundesliga

Their regular home is in the south of the city, easily accessible by U-bahn, and comprises medium sized terracing with one stand of seating.

The visitors brought about 50 fans and they were placed at the right hand end.

The weather was warm and dry and the pitch looked good.

Worms started well and scored after five minutes when Toch shot in from a corner routine.
As time went on the very young home side (oldest player - 24) passed the ball reasonably well and edged the possession without making many chances.

The best hope for the Kickers always seemed to be from a set play and so it proved when they equalised, via a header from a corner, in added time.

By then it was nine men versus ten as three had been sent off, two for a scuffle in the second period. That was when Worms had begun to frustrate with their apparent ‘injuries’.

I then travelled via Cologne/Bonn to Dubrovnik and on by car to Podgorica.

Rooney sees red.

Montenegro 2 England 2 15,000

And so we qualified for the Euros, as did Montenegro after Switzerland lost to Wales.

But the Montenegrins certainly enjoyed it more than we did with a pitch invasion and a celebration with some of their own players.

We came away looking somewhat ill prepared to go far in next years finals after losing a two goal lead and having our best attacker, Rooney, sent off.

It had seemed like a routine win after a promising start with an Ashley Young far post header and
a tap-in for Darren Bent.
But a response by Montenegro just before half time and a generally moderate second period performance by England allowed the home side to equalise in the last few minutes.

The rain increased as the match wore on and after the final whistle became torrential.
So this was one time when it was no bad thing to be kept in as the downpour had eased when we were finally let out.

I managed to negotiate my way back to my hotel through the flooded roads to contemplate where we had gone wrong.

As to Podgorica, well the city itself is not blessed with many impressive sites however the surrounding mountain scenery does tend to compensate.

No.21 scores.

Konavljanin 1 Jadran LP 0 c.70

On the Saturday, after the international, I chose a Croatian 3rd level match played in Gruda close to the Montenegrin border.

The basic ground (a few rows of seats and a small covered area for the cameras) is in a picturesque valley within an attractive mountain backdrop.
Unfortunately the valley does get rather windy so it was a cool watch.

The winner was scored by the best player on the pitch, the home sides no.21, a nominal left back who played more as a winger.

Konavljanin had more of the ball although the visitors had some decent chances, one blocked by their own player.
On a very poor pitch it was unlikely to be a classic.

more pictures at

Friday, September 30, 2011

USA & Canada September 2011

A ten day trip to the USA and Canada to see three football matches, one NFL game in Miami and five baseball games.

Fort Lauderdale Strikers 1 Atlanta Silverbacks 1.

The last home game for the Strikers in the regular season.

On a warm but breezy Florida evening a decent crowd, given as 4,688, assembled at the Lockhart stadium to see the Strikers confirm their place in the NASL (2nd level) play-offs.

The Silverbacks had long since given up any hope of making them being rock bottom for a while.

Although they did look in better shape than when I watched them back in June.
Particularly Nicholas Colaluca who scored their goal with a great run and shot in off the post.

That was in the last minute and it gave the Silverbacks the lead but straight afterwards sub. Garrado crossed for Shriver to slide in the equaliser.

Before all that the Strikers had passed the ball better and created chances - all missed.
In the second half it had been a more even contest culminating in the action in the last few minutes.

The attendance was boosted by a large number of kids who also spent time in the fan park across the road from the ground.

The stadium itself, also home to the old version of the Strikers, comprises lots of open seating of a semi-permanent style.
For this game only one side and one end was open for the fans.

Miami Dolphins 13 Houston Texans 23.

My first ever live NFL game, at the Sun Life stadium in Miami.

I sat next to Bill - I knew his name because the lady who I bought the ticket off (outside the stadium - $50 for a $87 ticket) had told me I would sitting next to him.
Bill helped with some of the nuances and I felt able to appreciate the importance of ‘defense’.

As it turned out the Texans were better at that, and also in attack.

But for a while the home team, under pressure having lost their first game, kept the score fairly close.
They were helped by over 100yds rushing by Daniel Thomas (you could see why these running backs only last about 5 years in the sport)

Then in the final quarter the Texans ran down the clock and easily held on for the win.

By then most of the crowd had left - to negotiate their way past the hundreds of tailgaters.

Overall the experience was certainly noisier than a typical baseball game, with a far larger crowd (51,000) and more razzmatazz.

However the sport itself doesn’t flow as well due to the frequent stoppages.
And sometimes its not easy to see the play partly due to the mass of forwards and also due to the large numbers of people along the sidelines.

Though I might plan to see a few more games it didn’t make me want to watch much live NFL.
Although the college games, also given plenty of prominence on TV, probably offer a better experience, atmosphere and larger crowds.

I’d managed to find somewhere to park outside of the expensive regulated places and fortunately my car hadn’t been towed away when I returned over 3 hours later.
I then found my way back up the I-95 to Fort Lauderdale for some fish & chips plus a frozen margarita in Champps.

In a parallel universe you could see yourself enjoying a Fort Lauderdale lifestyle... the yachts, the
surroundings and the sunshine.

The weather, despite the usual slight possibility of thunderstorms had stayed warm and dry.

Florida Marlins 6 Atlanta Braves 5.

Back to the Sun Life for some baseball and there was quite a transformation as the stadium was
orientated for another sport and there is far less people around.

The official attendance of over 20,000 meant there must been about 10,000 hiding somewhere nearby.

The good news for the fans is that the Marlins will have a new state-of-the-art baseball specific stadium ready for next season.
And it will have a retractable roof - which would have been handy on this evening when the rain started to fall later in the game.
However they played on, perhaps this being Florida they knew it wouldn’t last long (it didn’t)

Though there weren’t many fans to see the actual game it had a dramatic conclusion and
a good number of home runs including two by Stanton of the Marlins.

The Braves had overtaken the Marlins lead when scoring 4 runs in the seventh and it looked like they would prevail.

But with two men out in the bottom of the ninth the home side were about to lose when a Braves fielder failed to hold a drive allowing a runner to get to first base.

Then Omar Infante smashed a two run walk-off homer for the 6-5 win.

The result dented the Braves chances of making a Wild Card spot despite being very well positioned.

At least this time there was not much traffic to negotiate as I drove back to my hotel near to Miami airport.

From Miami via Charlotte to Toronto.

Toronto 1 Tauro (Panama) 0.

Just one goal - a brave header from Dutch striker Danny Koevermans - decided the outcome of this Concacaf Champions League group game.

Toronto had Torsten Frings as sweeper and they edged the first half although the smaller visitors showed better passing skills in the second period, without creating too much.

The BMO field is part of the Toronto exhibition complex and the stadium, open medium sized seating, offers excellent views of the city skyline.

The home ultras amongst the 10,000 mainly congregated at the right hand end whilst there was a handful of away fans including a bull mascot.

I took the streetcar back to my hotel in the Spadina area.

Toronto Blue Jays 2 LA Angels 7.

Back to baseball and a visit to the Toronto Skydome (or Rogers Centre)

The roof was closed to keep out the rain from the 15,000 fans inside.
By chance I sat in the non-drinking section (preferable to the all-you-can-eat area) up on the cheaper 5th level.

The Angels went ahead and added runs at regular intervals with only a single HR and a late run as replies.
The visiting pitcher, Haren, threw for 8 innings before getting hit by a drive.
He had done enough to secure the win.

Subway back to my hotel via 7-Eleven for some beer and nuts.

I would definitely look back on Toronto as a place to re-visit with its vibrant city centre, vast range of restaurants and impressive Royal Ontario Museum, in which I spent about 3 hours prior to the ballgame.

Cleveland Indians 11 Chicago White Sox 2.

Not too far away across the Great Lakes is Cleveland.

Where in the afternoon I visited the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Like many people I was dismayed that some of my musical favourites (e.g Capt Beefheart and Arthur Lee of Love) hadn’t made it onto the list of inductees.
But you can’t deny the experience provoked spine tingling memories of music from the last 50 years for this visitor.

Meanwhile in the evening I watched the ‘Tribe’ hit two quick home runs only to be pegged back by the White Sox in the fifth.
But after that they dominated with Cabrera scoring a three-run homer and Travis Hafner making his 1,000 hit.

The Indians inner-city stadium is in the newer style with dark green seats and great views of downtown Cleveland. Nearby is the Browns NFL stadium.

Pittsburgh Pirates 4 Cincinnati Reds 3.

I took the Greyhound to Pittsburgh passing through some fairly depressed areas (e.g Youngstown) during the three and a half hour journey.

This time it proved difficult to get a reasonably priced downtown hotel so I ended up at the airport and commuted to the ballgame from there.
At least they have an impressive dedicated bus lane for most of the route.

Despite a morning of persistent rain the weather relented for an enjoyable evening of baseball in the PNC Park, another centrally located stadium.

Prior to the game I indulged in scallops wrapped in bacon washed down with a couple of pints in a bar near the ground.

In the game the Pirates went ahead but the Reds (who had a decent number of fans) fought back and it stayed close.

The drama came in the ninth when, with the bases loaded the Pirates pitcher hit the batter and the Reds got the tieing run.

But with the tension being cranked up by the playing of Keira Knightley’s speech from one of the ‘Pirates’ films the fans waved their (free) t-shirts and raised the black Pirate flags.

And as it should be in American sport pinch hitter Ryan Ludwick hit the walk-off single and we had the textbook rousing finish.

Via Charlotte to Tampa.

Tampa Bay 2 Fort Lauderdale Strikers 0.

The last match in the regular NASL season for these two teams.

It was mostly a case of positioning for the play-offs (6 of the 8 teams made it so getting through was hardly too onerous) and some Florida pride.

Tampa Bay FC play at the Al Lang stadium (or Progress Energy Park), a small baseball stadium in St Petersburg.
Don’t expect a great view as the only stand is wrapped around one end and part of a side.

The crowd was typically well filled with kids and a small group of ‘ultras’ from either side.

They saw the home side take charge following the sending off Puerto Rican Arrieta after an over-the-top tackle.
Two second half goals sealed the victory.

Fort Lauderdale at times showed good passing but they were generally second best.

Tampa Bay Rays 5 Toronto Blue Jays 2.

Also in St Petersburg Tropicana Field (another enclosed dome) hosted the Rays in their quest to qualify for a Wild Card place in the American League.

The Rays had at one time been nine games behind Boston in that race but now they were closing in on an unlikely qualification.

And it was a great start for the home side with two quick home runs including one inside the ballpark after a Jays fielder collided with the backboards.

Although the visitors got two runs back Tampa went further in front with another homer and as Boston were losing the home fans had plenty to celebrate.

And it subsequently transpired that Tampa would make it to the Wild Card place with a late win against the Yankees (after being 7-0 down), as the Rod Sox went down to the Orioles on the night of the 162nd games.

Afterwards I headed back to my hotel, had a couple of beers and some food in a Hooters-like restaurant whilst watching some NFL, before having a welcome early night.

more pictures at