Monday, December 17, 2012
A day trip to Fermanagh in Northern Ireland to see the league leaders Cliftonville pay a rare visit to Ballinamallard.
15th December 2012 Ballinamallard Utd 1 Cliftonville 3 Irish Premier c. 600 (150 away)
I was up early to get the Easyjet flight from Luton to Belfast International.
From there I drove, slowly, towards the west stopping in Dungannon and then on to Enniskillen for a ‘late breakfast’.
Ballinamallard is a village about 6 miles from Enniskillen and their team is making its debut in the top level of football in Northern Ireland.
Roy Carroll, now at Olympiakos (and see previous blog), is their most famous ex-player.
The ground has been enhanced to include a small stand and two neat areas of terrace with one allocated to the away fans.
The visitors brought a lively group who certainly added to the clubhouse coffers with their alcohol consumption.
On a mostly cloudy day Cliftonville were two up inside 22 minutes with a double from Marc Smyth, the second a header into the top corner.
They looked considerably sharper than the home side in the first half.
But the Mallards made some changes after the break and had much more of the play culminating in a free-kick goal by David Kee.
For a while it looked like they might get level but Garrett scored the third for the Reds and that sealed the win, leaving Cliftonville seven points clear at the top of the league.
It takes around 1.5 hours to get back to the International airport and I had time enough to drop off the rental car and make the return flight to Luton.
More pictures at http://photobox.com/album/1654993608
Four games in Greece including the Athens derby between Panathinaikos and Olympiakos.
8th December 2012 Atromitos 3 OFI 2 Greek Super League 2,175
Atromitos play in a northern suburb of Athens, about a fifteen minute walk from the Agios Antonios metro station.
If you arrive early, as I did, you might get invited into the chess club which is attached to the stadium.
On a fairly cold rainy evening it was a pleasant way to while away half an hour.
Inside the stadium and attached to one stand is a cafe containing some interesting old team photos.
Opposite is a covered stand and at the ends open, mostly unoccupied seating.
There were no apparent away fans.
Odd point - Veron of OFI wore the no.1 shirt, despite playing in midfield.
The match had some late drama with a sending off and two late goals with one of Atromitos’ Brazilians, Brito, evading the OFI goalie to slot home the winner in the 89th minute.
Gounaridis in the OFI goal had a poor game often unable to handle crosses or too many shots.
Overall it was an entertaining game with the occasional disagreement.
I made my way back to Syntagma via the metro for a small souvlaki and a coke.
9th December Kallithea 1 Iraklis Psachna 1 Greek League c. 700
As a precursor to the main event I made the short trip on the metro to the Petralona stop and walked to the Kallithea stadium for this second division game.
Psachna brought a lively group of fans with the inevitable fireworks.
The visitors went ahead with an overhead kick that was equalised by a shot from the edge of the area.
As usual the home crowd appealed for everything and the players had their mandatory arguments but the match had little flow, on a poor pitch.
There was only side in use with open seating at one end and another portion opposite being unused. These sections were partly connected to a large rocky outcrop above which were fans enjoying a free view.
As Petralona was on the same line as the Olympic stadium stop it was easy enough to get to :
Panathinaikos 2 Olympiakos 2 Super League 27,673
The ‘Eternal Derby’ of Athens.
You hope for a larger crowd but the weather didn’t help (very cold and wet) plus the usual ban on away fans.
For me this Olympic stadium is far from being a great football stadium being reminiscent of the old Delle Alpi in Turin with its stylish but fragmented ends, large track and poor viewing angles.
On a cold night it is far from cosy.
However Gate 13, the Panathinaikos ultras, did their best to crank up the atmosphere with their flares and fireworks some aimed at the Olympiakos players (Roy Carroll wouldn’t have had this at Wigan)
And for a derby we had quite a compelling encounter on the pitch.
Panathinaikos scored first when the excellent Mavrias shot in from the right wing.
But the league leaders replied with two quick goals from the Algerian striker Djebbour, the second a header from a corner. He was a constant threat to the home defence.
For a time it looked like the visitors would dominate but Panathinaikos, with Mavrias still a threat, fought back and Spaniard Toche got the equaliser from a right wing cross.
I guess many of the fans went home reasonably happy although it is hard to see anybody but Olympiakos winning the title.
Thankfully the rain had eased for the walk back to the metro.
10th December Panthrakikos 1 AEK 0 Super League 2,353 (c.1000 away)
An early start for the flight to Thessaloniki then a bus onward for about three hours to Komotini.
Which is a small city in Thrace, Northeastern Greece.
Walking from the bus station to my hotel at around 2.30pm it was clear there would be a decent group of away fans at this game judging by the number of yellow and black scarves around.
And so it was with their large contingent behind one goal.
The home fans were either in the covered side stand or at the other end.
On a very cold night the AEK fans showed their feelings by inverting their banners.
Otherwise they still provided good support but their team, apart from a possible penalty shout, were unable to create many chances.
They passed it around at the back but couldn’t get through the solid home defence.
Panthrakikos were much more direct with their striker Papadopoulos at the centre of the action.
When given space he was always dangerous and it was from his header, parried by the AEK goalie, that Tahitian Vahirua followed up to score the winner.
So AEK stayed at the bottom of the Super League.
I joined the locals for a kebab followed by a couple of glasses of red wine in the central square.
The next day I travelled on the bus back to Thessaloniki and eventually back to Gatwick.
To reflect on seeing, I guess in some respects, an unsatisfactory derby (Panathinaikos and AEK should move to proper football stadium)
I also saw a lot of graffiti - some political of course plus plenty of ‘Gate 7’ & ‘Gate 13’ - and numerous boarded-up shops reminding everyone of the dire economic situation.
Despite that there was still a busy throng shopping in central Athens joined by tourists benefiting from the lower cost of hotels.
Many also visited the impressive Acropolis museum, an excellent addition to the must-see sights in an historic city.
more pictures at http://www.photobox.co.uk/album/1665138879