Thursday, April 26, 2012
A long weekend visit to Corsica seeing three games including Ajaccio v Nancy and Bastia v Chateauroux.
21st April Aregno Calvi 2 Lens B 2 CFA group A c.200 (mostly kids)
This match was played in Ile Rousse rather than Calvi, not that I knew that beforehand.
I drove past the ground on my way to picturesque Calvi where I stopped to have a look around and locate what I thought would be the venue.
So thinking had plenty of time I strolled over to the ground in Calvi by about 2.15pm & began to wonder why there was nobody around.
Maybe the kickoff time had changed ?
None of the locals I spoke to could help.
Then eventually I noticed on one of the electronic street ads that the game was 24km back up the road.
So I missed the first fifteen minutes or so.
But at least there had been no goals.
The pitch was 3G and the ground had a ‘clubhouse’, refreshment area plus a few rows of open sets down one side.
You could see the ocean under a cloudless sky.
Lens B passed the ball better but were pegged back by Calvi for whom no.7 (Lesueur) looked useful.
Bela scored both the Lens goals after some good combination play.
Back at my base in Corte I enjoyed some ‘nouvelle cuisine’ whilst watching El Clasico.
22nd April Ajaccio 0 Nancy 0 Ligue 1 6,140
Back to normal (?) in France with a goalless draw.
But the second half particularly had its moments especially when the game got stretched.
As is often the case the teams failed to deliver the telling final ball or convert what chances there were.
The home side, needing a win, came closest at the end of the first period when they hit the bar.
Nancy looked like they would have taken the draw before the game started.
The stadium, out of town and fairly close to Napoleon Bonaparte airport is small and three sided.
But you do have nice views of the sea and the mountains.
The local ultras did their best.
Ajaccio fielded some very small players especially no.12 (Sammaritano) who must be one of the shortest players participating in a major league.
23rd April Bastia 2 Chateauroux 1 Ligue 2 14,121
This win effectively confirmed promotion back to Ligue 1 for Bastia.
And it triggered lots of celebrations amongst the local fans.
The home side attacked hard from the start with the flank players especially dangerous.
Wahbi Khazri and Toifilou Maoulida would get the goals, the second via a long ball that eluded the visiting defenders.
But Chateauroux did present a threat and they got a goal back when central defender Fournier glanced in a free kick.
Midfield schemer Mikael Orinel showed some good touches for the visitors who could have spoiled the party.
Bastia thus maintained an undefeated home record stretching back nearly two years.
So in the end we had fans on the pitch, red flares and lots of waving of the blue and white flags.
One of the best Ligue 2 atmospheres I can remember.
Corsica is a very pleasant, compact island with some stunning scenery and excellent restaurants and hotels.
In the summer I’m sure the roads can get very busy with the tourist influx but during April getting around is manageable.
Although you certainly need to leave plenty of time to get to the two main stadiums (and get parked)
It took me well over an hour to drive the 12km or so from my hotel (the excellent Chez Walter) to the Bastia ground.
But it was definitely worth the wait.
more pictures at http://www.photobox.co.uk/album/1243820612
Thursday, April 19, 2012
This trip comprised three MLS matches, one NBA (basketball) in Chicago, one NHL (ice hockey) in Montreal and four MLB baseball games.
I arrived in Chicago from London then travelled on to Denver the next day.
1st April Colorado Rapids 2 Chicago Fire 0 MLS Dicks Sporting Goods Park 13,152
The stadium is in Commerce City adjoining Denver and next to the prairie (but no sign of any buffalo).
It is a modern soccer specific ground with a concourse around the back of the seats, one end having a smaller seating area with a bar/restaurant
The ends are mostly open and the sides have partial cover. There is a large scoreboard behind the left end.
It was a reasonable turnout on a spring holiday Sunday with groups of ‘ultras’ at one end with their flags & drums.
As always in the States there is a constant flow of people around the food outlets.
The game was characterised by too many misplaced passes, a general lack of control and not much serious tackling.
As seems true of most of the MLS sides there is a mix of willing but inconsistent locals and some older, more skilled latin americans and assorted others.
The first half was goalless with Fire looking more threatening, especially striker Odura and midfielder Pappa.
But into the second half the Rapids took the lead when a long ball found Mullan in space & he pulled it back for Jamaican Cummings to score.
That gave the Rapids more confidence.
Despite Fire pressure the home side added a clincher late on.
This was the first defeat of the season for Chicago.
It was easy enough to get away and I was back at my hotel in Belleview by 7.45pm
On the Monday I drove out to Boulder where the hippy dream still seems to live on with shops selling beads and (medicinal) cannabis.
It was fairly cold but comfortable enough to stroll around Pearl street and one of the impressive local malls.
Salt Lake City.
I took the greyhound bus from Denver to Salt Lake City, a journey of some ten hours through Laramie and Wyoming.
On the bus I was joined by an ex-marine, a snowboarder and a guy working on a reservation who had slept rough the night before.
We stopped four or five times en route including a meal stop at McDonalds.
Arriving late into Salt Lake the centre of the city was given over to the skateboarders.
4th April Real Salt Lake 1 Montreal Impact 0 20,191
The Rio Tinto stadium is in Sandy to the south of Salt Lake City but easily reachable by the efficient light rail system.
It’s another relatively new soccer specific ground with open ends plus part covered two tier sides.
RSL have a mix of players from Argentina, N Ireland, Brazil and Canada as well as some locals.
They had one more Canadian than Montreal, who had none in their starting eleven.
The only goal came from a penalty following an Impact handball.
Brazilian Paulo Junior converted.
Montreal, with a virtually new team from last year, have become the 19th MSL franchise and though they lost there were signs of improvement in the second half. They did mount some dangerous attacks towards the end.
They were also helped by some excellent saves from Jamaican international goalie Donovan Ricketts.
RSL central defender Chris Schuler could be a name to note for the future.
So the large crowd went home happy as the Cobalt and Clarets consolidated first place in the Western Conference.
I got the light rail back to the centre, chatted to some LDS guys and stopped at a downtown bar to have a beer.
From Salt Lake to Chicago.
5th April Chicago Bulls 93 Boston Celtics 86 22,423
An evening of music, dancing, entertainment and some basketball in the United Center.
Which is not in the most interesting area of the Windy City.
On a cold night I bought a ticket ($50) and went inside early.
Although I had a standing ticket there was no problem in finding a seat in the 3rd level.
So plenty of time for some chicken portions and chips washed down with a couple of margaritas. This being America you have to suspend budgetary concerns.
My first NBA game and it would wrong to deny its not a spectacular event.
But the late finish, the numerous timeouts and the other stoppages spoil the game.
No doubt the action is fast and skillful - the Celtics led for the first half but the Bulls fought back, and the crowd became noisier.
Sudanese born (but in the GB team) Luol Deng top scored as the Bulls retrieved a second period eleven point deficit to win easily and stay top of the Central division.
By the end, as we waited for the timeouts, half the crowd had left.
7th April 12pm Montreal Impact 2 Toronto 1 MLS 23,120
Unusually for an MLS game there was a decent number of away fans with some 1,000 red shirted Toronto fans making the trip. And they did their best to create a better than usual atmosphere.
Impact are playing in the enclosed Olympic stadium whilst their stade Saputo is being updated.
Though far less than the opening game well over 20,000 witnessed their first ever MLS win in this Canadian derby.
They opened the scoring when Bosnian Ubiparipovic slotted home. The home ultras celebrated by doing a ‘poznan’.
Again goalie Donovan Ricketts played his part with some good blocks.
Toronto were up against it in the second half when they had their impressive defender Emory sent off for what seemed like a decent tackle on Gambian Nyassi.
The ten men lost another goal to a breakaway when sub. Wenger (no relation ?) benefited from a defender’s error.
Koevermans did get a late consolation for the visitors.
It was cosy enough inside the arena which has a large scoreboard at one end with the seats behind being blocked off. The smaller upper tier was also not in use.
Easy enough to get to and from the Olympic Park area by metro.
Back in the city centre the locals mingled along St Catherine street.
7th April 7pm Montreal Canadiens 4 Toronto Maple Leafs 1 NHL 21,273
Thats more like it in a nearly full Bell Centre in downtown Montreal.
I had got a ticket outside for $30 - near the back of the upper tier but at least we got a free beer.
The guy next to me, one of the Toronto soccer fans at the earlier game, shouted himself hoarse to get a free t-shirt.
It is quite a spectacle when the players first go onto the ice with the lights dimmed.
And extremely noisy when the Canadiens scored early on.
They scored another to go two up and though the Maple Leafs did get one back the locals were not to be denied with a final shot from one end to the other into an open goal.
The game is much more enjoyable (for me) than either NBA, or NFL for that matter, with two breaks between the periods but limited additional interruptions.
The sense of occasion when a team scores and the tactical development make it much more watchable.
The last part of the trip was to see four MLB games in different cities around the mid-west.
9th April Minnesota Twins 1 LA Angels 5 39,414
I flew from Montreal via Chicago to Minneapolis/St Paul.
Minneapolis is famous for having the largest mall in the US.
The light rail system takes you there and it is certainly a haven for kids, with a large amusement park and, of course, for shoppers.
Which on both counts excludes your correspondent, but you can’t deny the ‘awe’ factor.
As Minneapolis can be somewhat cold the city centre has an impressive system of covered walkways linking the major office buildings and the ballpark.
Where for the first time I saw overhead heaters at a baseball stadium and they were definitely welcome on a cold Monday afternoon.
It was also the first time I had experienced the opening day home game of any team.
This brings out the crowds and over 39,000 were present to see the Twins start badly and score just the single home run.
The Angels got 2 runs in the first innings and added another three later on to win comfortably.
That was despite the Twins having local boy Joe Mauer, the highest paid player in MLB, in their team.
Joe disappointed and most of the crowd had drifted away well before the end.
Minneapolis/St Paul is not the busiest airport and it was easy enough to go through for my flight back to Chicago.
From Midway I took a car to Cincinnati, which is a 300 mile drive via Indianapolis.
10th April Cincinnati Reds 1 St Louis Cardinals 3 17,110
Some areas of Cincinnati are not so conducive but I eventually found a Ramada hotel near the I-75 for a reasonable price.
I shared a taxi with a couple of Cardinals fans one of whom had been to about 50 stadiums - the first time I had met a US fan who travelled around that much.
Pre-game, having bought the cheapest ticket ($7), I went for a beer in a nearby bar which served the ale in large jars - a popular choice for most fans.
Inside the ground I had a decent chicken and chips washed down with a margarita.
Again it was too cold to sit down for long so I stood up.
Though the crowd were noisy when the Reds scored they were mostly quiet as the Cardinals scored an early home run and ran in two more in the seventh.
While at the game I happened to chat to a knowledgeable local who turned out to be an ex-Reds catcher (he had his own baseball card)
An early start for the 260 mile drive from Cincinnati to Detroit north on the I-75.
I arrived at Detroit by 11.30am and was able to park on the street within a ten minute walk of the ballpark. (If it had been a night game I would have put the car in a car park)
But during the day the city centre is busy enough.
11th April Detroit Tigers 2 Tampa Bay Rays 4 28,180
Again a low cost ticket could be had ($10) and as long as you were in the sunshine it was a comfortable enough watch.
The game had some unusual incidents beginning with star pitcher Justin Verlander throwing 8 straight strikes.
He would pitch for 8 innings, giving up just one hit, before it all went wrong in the ninth.
Before that we had seen two ‘balks’ (illegal motions by the pitcher), the second resulting in a run for the Tigers.
And so to the ninth when the Rays got two when the bases were loaded and two more from relief pitcher Valverde to get the win.
It was the first defeat for the Tigers.
The game finished at 3.50pm and I set out for the return drive to Chicago.
12th April Chicago Cubs 8 Milwaukee Brewers 0 36,311
Having a game at 1.20pm suited my plans perfectly.
It allowed me to drop off the hire car at Midway, get the subway into downtown, drop off my bag and go to the ballgame before taking the evening flight back to London.
This was a revisit to Wrigleyville and though it didn’t have resonance of the first occasion (a night game) it remains an iconic venue.
A cheeseburger, some cracker jacks and a pepsi seemed most appropriate.
I sat on the second level and saw the Cubs (who were 1-5) run in six in the 3rd before the Brewers changed their pitcher.
They would add another two in the fourth.
The Cubs starting pitcher, Matt Garza, nearly pitched the whole game before he inexplicably overthrew to first base with the final batter at his mercy and got relieved (to boos from the fans).
So the Cubbies won and the kids on Spring break enjoyed their day out.
I retrieved my bag from Union station ($9 - with fingerprint check) and set off for O’Hare and then home.
more pictures at http://www.photobox.co.uk/album/1230344852