Thursday, April 25, 2013

Germany, Netherlands and Belgium April 2013

A long weekend starting near Hannover, then travelling via Munster and Almelo to Brussels.

19th April Goslarer 1 Meppen 1  German Regionalliga  Nord  440 (40 away)

Goslar is a pleasant town about an hour away from Hannover.

Their ground is fairly small with a section of terrace for the away fans, some unused other areas and a cosy main stand providing a mix of seats and standing areas.
You can stand near the bratwurst grill if it gets a bit cold.

In the game the home side scored early from a corner and it became an even first period.

But Meppen got closer in the second half mainly with some headers and they probably deserved their equaliser despite it coming from a snap shot in the final minutes.

I strolled back to the centre, indulged in a weissbier then took the train back to Hannover.

20th April  Preussen Munster 2 Karlsruhe 1  3.Liga  14,465 (1200 away)

Both these teams are challenging for promotion so there was a large crowd turning out on a sunny but breezy Saturday afternoon. The home sections, especially the terraces, were packed and the visitors also brought a good sized following.

The match started at a very fast pace and Munster profited when American striker Matthew Taylor was put through on seven minutes.
He would capitalise from a defensive error in the second half to seal the win.

Karlsruhe took some time to create chances and it was only after the appearance of substitute Gaetan Krebs, who glanced in a header with fifteen minutes left, that they got extra momentum.

But with a combination of stoppages and delays the home side held on for a valuable victory.

20th April  Heracles 4 RKC 0   Dutch Premier  8,468 (50 away)

It was eminently feasible, using public transport, to travel from Munster to Almelo for this evening game without too many problems.

Heracles are trying to move to a larger stadium as they have a large number of season ticket holders who fill most of their current 8,500 capacity ground.

As they are having difficulties with the new site development perhaps they could consider adding an extra level or two to the existing structure ?
Which comprises a typical four, smallish sides.

The away section ‘wedge’ was plenty big enough for the RKC fans and the home ultras did their thing behind the left hand goal.

Though tight in the first half the game became a very comfortable win for the home side.
They went ahead on 41 minutes when the tricky Paljic burst through and was brought down.
Quansah scored easily from the spot.

Vejinovic added a second after good work down the right and the Brazilian Everton added two more including a great right foot strike into the top of the net.

By the end RKC were well beaten and they are in danger of relegation.

21st April  White Star Woluwe 3 Eupen 2  Belgian 2nd Division  400 (80 away)

Almelo to Brussels takes a while - in my case the route was Deventer, Roosendaal, Antwerp and then the Belgian capital - over six hours passed all told.
And after having a train cancelled I also endured the dreaded ‘bus replacement’ service for part of the Brussels metro journey to get to Woluwe.

The stade Fallon is somewhat quirky with its blue coloured athletics track and two covered ‘semi-temporary’  stands along one side - the Eupen fans being in one section.
Both ends are empty, apart from a scoreboard and the inevitable adverts.

Thankfully the weather was mild and the game was a good watch.

Eupen, packed with African players, pushed forward from the start and both sides provided an open encounter.
White Star scored from their first attack after a Jeremy Serwy left footer eluded the away goalie.

They added a second on 21 minutes despite Eupen having more possession.

Japanese sub. Ibusuki converted a penalty to make it 2-1 and he did enhance the visitors’ forward line in combination with the tall Kabasele.
But Serwy popped up to head in a third from a left wing cross and although Lallemand also headed in soon after the home side did enough for the win.

I took the metro, bus and then train to Brussels airport for the Sunday evening flight back to the UK.

more pictures at

Thursday, April 18, 2013

France April 2013

Three top level encounters in France including games involving Paris St Germain and Olympique Marseille.

12th April  Valenciennes 0 St Etienne 0    Ligue 1  16,004  (500 away)

The Stade du Hainaut is built close to the old Nungesser ground and conveniently close to my lodgings at the Ibis hotel.

The ground is stylistically modern with an exterior that is impressive from ground level and is probably even more so from the air.
Inside it has two tiers resplendent in bright red.

St Etienne, challenging for a European place, brought a lively group of fans and they did a good job of competing with the home fans..

Sadly the game was a slow burn without ignition.
Defences were on top with both teams limited in their attacking forays.

The Greens had more possession but failed to create many chances for lone Gabonese striker Pierre-Emerick Aubemayang.
He had one significant opening from a defensive error but lacked sufficient composure and shot wide.

Up front for Valenciennes the nineteen year old Nguette showed potential although he did, rather embarrassingly, fluff a good headed chance.
But he’s tall and quick and surely as a youngster already playing up front at the French top level is one for the future.

Ultimately despite some late home pressure the game ended goalless.

13th April  Troyes 0 Paris St Germain 1   18,648 (400 away)

A big, sellout, game in the historic and picturesque capital of the Champagne region.
And the locals came out to watch as the PSG ultras walked, flares lit, from the centre of town to the Stade De L’Aube - I joined them along part of the route.

Their team was missing top scorer Ibrahimovic through suspension but did include David Beckham as a substitute.
Replacement striker Gameiro should have scored in the third minute when through on goal but his shot was blocked by goalie Thuram.
It would not be one of Gameiro’s best games culminating in his being replaced after 64 minutes.

After a fairly even first half with rock bottom ESTAC doing OK the match was decided when a long right wing cross reached Matuidi who shot home left footed.
Subsequently PSG did enough to control the game although a good strike from Tunisian Camus near the end did test Sirigu in the visitors goal.

And Mr Beckham did come on (accompanied by a friendly reception) for the last fifteen minutes to play his part in midfield.
There is no doubt he can still deliver a cross and a free kick and, certainly from a distance, he belies his nearly 38 years.

So PSG marched on towards the title and Troyes back to Ligue 2.

I strolled back past the half-timbered houses to the centre (this time without the PSG ultras) and enjoyed some quality evening nourishment including steak, profiteroles and wine.

14th March  Lille 0 Olympique Marseille 0   47,828 (3,000 away)

Via Paris to Lille where on this Sunday it is finally warming up.

My pre-game activity was to visit the impressive Palais des Beaux Arts for some culture of a different kind.

And so on to the Grand Stade which is easily reached using the efficient driverless metro system.

Grand it is - in the modern style with two main tiers and a middle section of ‘boxes’.
Most areas were full, except for parts of the central section.

OM brought around 3000 fans situated in a corner wedge.
The home ultras behind one goal provided noisy support and everyone waved their flags.

But we saw no goals.

At least Lille did push men forward with Kalou and Payet prominent.
However the ex-Chelsea striker did miss a gilt-edged headed chance from close-in and that set the pattern for a series of great saves by the OM goalie Steve Mandanda.

Englishman Joey Barton appeared as a second half sub. for the visitors but didn’t make much impact.
And in the end both teams seemed reasonably content with the draw.

I was less happy having seen three top games and only one goal.

A characteristic of French football perhaps but at least I enjoyed some first class food and my time in the very impressive city of Troyes.

Back on the Eurostar, which was on time as were all the French trains taken on this trip.

More pictures at

Thursday, April 04, 2013

San Marino, Italy, Montenegro and Hungary March 2013

A tour, beginning with England’s visit to San Marino, taking in two Serie B games in Italy, Montenegro v England and finishing with some Hungarian top level matches.

22nd March  San Marino 0 England 8   World Cup qualifier  4,900 (3,000 away)

There were plenty of alternatives to get to San Marino for this Friday night World Cup qualifier.
I took the Stansted to Ancona route from where I drove the one hour or so along the coast, past the numerous roadworks, to the small Republic near Rimini.

In the game it didn’t take long before you were reminded of how bad San Marino are when they got the scoring going with an own goal.
After that it became a training exercise for England.

Attack versus defence.
The highlights being some training ground moves and an excellent strike by Ashley Young.

But it was in no way a contest and certainly hardly useful preparation for more difficult encounters to come, not least in Montenegro on Tuesday evening.

The only slight excitement was if England could get to double figures after scoring five in the first period - maybe they’ll do it next time they play San Marino ?

As you might expect England fans were present in most of the two-sided ground, and indeed watching from outside of it as well.

23rd March  Grosseto 1 Cesena 2  Serie B   1,450 (120 away)

Having dropped off the rental car at Ancona airport I took the morning train from Falconara across the spine of the country to Grosseto, via Rome.

There was more excitement in the first minute of this game, when Federico Barba of Grosseto was sent off, than in most of the San Marino match.
It looked a harsh decision and compounded the home side’s problems.

Problems that continued as a defensive error allowed Uruguayan Pablo Granoche to squeeze home the Cesena opener and they doubled their advantage after 40 minutes when sub. D’Alessandro poked in a cross at the far post.

D’Alessandro then went from hero to villain in two minutes as he got booked for his shirt-off celebration then followed that with a foul that resulted in a red card.

Which gave Grosseto some hope and in the second half they eventually pulled a goal back when another Uruguayan, Gimenez, scored from close range.
But despite further home pressure the visitors held on, helped by another home dismissal (Piovaccari) towards the end.

So Grosseto look doomed as the home fans vented their anger at the referee.

It had been a fairly mild, dry night and there was time enough afterwards for a pizza and some beer.

24th March Novara 1 Ascoli 0  Serie B  4,061 (8 away)

From Grosseto, via Firenza and Milan, to Novara in northern Italy.
Where the weather starts to worsen, considerably, with heavy rain throughout.

Not that it affected the game much since Novara have an artificial pitch. But if you were watching from the mostly open seating then an umbrella was a useful accessory.

As at Grosseto we had some moments of reflection (and applause) following the recent demise of the renowned Italian sprinter Pietro Mennea.

This game was decided by Frenchman Matthias Lepiller with a right foot shot into the corner of the net after 24 minutes.
He was part of what looked like a decent Novara team who were deserved winners.
Although they tended to do just enough to limit any Ascoli chances as the game wore on.

The win took the home side closer to the play-off positions.

I eventually found a bus back to the train station and was in Milano Centrale by 7pm.

Where the logical option for dinner was to dry out at the convenient Roadhouse Grill, which overlooks the platforms.
So steak and weissbier it was.

Prior to getting the overnight sleeper to Austria.

I had a few hours sleep in a crowded carriage as we passed the snowy terrain, arriving in Villach about an hour late at around 5.30am.
This was not an issue since I had plenty of time for my connection to Ljubljana.

Nice place Ljubljana but not so conducive on a snowy March morning after an overnight train ride.
But the logistics worked for my flight from there to Podgorica, despite the inclement weather.

Many of the other England supporters took the opportunity to take pictures of the snow-covered airport as we marvelled at how efficient it seemed compared to what would probably be chaos at home.

26th March  Montenegro 1 England 1  World Cup qualifier   12,000 (2,000 away)

A relatively quick return to Podgorica for England and a similar result.

And the local fans might well be able to look forward to another major tournament qualification after this draw.
They certainly created a raucous atmosphere that helped their team overcome a poor first 45 minutes, especially when attacking the main ‘ultras’ end in the second half.

Rooney (should he change his name to Roooney ?) headed England ahead after he had earlier seen his chip clip the post.
England should have capitalised more on their dominance.

But the match changed after the break and Montenegro applied the pressure and eventually equalised after some penalty box pinball.

Even after that England could have won.

But it was not to be and, in a way, it adds to the feeling evident for some time that we are a top-ten team - only.
Able to qualify for tournaments, maybe after the play-offs, but not compete when it really matters against the leading countries.

As before the England fans were kept in for half an hour and I was back at my hotel, near the station, just before midnight.

From Podgorica I took the long, and slow, train ride to Belgrade.
Fairly featureless though it is Podgorica soon gives way to some spectacular scenery when travelling north, with outstanding views of mountainous terrain.

An early morning train to Budapest followed my short overnight stop in Belgrade.

29th March  Videoton 6 Siofok 0    NB1  2,050 (no away fans)

Back after the international break it still felt very much like winter in Szekesfehervar, some one hour on the train from Budapest.

Videoton feels like a reasonably progressive club although like many their stadium is hardly cosy with its predominantly open seating.

The home team took their time taking care of the visitors and the first half ended goalless.

But after the break the goals came, helped by a red card for a Siofok defender.
The resulting penalty made it 2-0 and after that the floodgates opened.

Videoton scored a flurry of late goals including a drive from sub. Gyurcso that surprised the visiting goalie, much to the crowds amusement.

Siofok were poor, justifying their lowly league position.

Rain on the way back but a weissbier helped me warm up and there were some interesting old pictures to view on the walls of the station bar.

One beer for me but much more than that for many of the younger locals on the train back to the Hungarian capital.

30th March  MTK Budapest 1 Honved 0    NB1    1,000 (300 away)

So to a Budapest double-header.

MTK, a club with an historic past, play in an industrial area of the capital in an old ground redolent of past glories.
The Nandor Hidegkuti stadium features swathes of unused terrace and a open seating section opposite the main stand for the away fans.
Of which there were a reasonable number.

The home side, second in the league, won it when sub. Poloskei shot home early in the second period. Maybe the visiting goalie should have done better.

For most of the game Honved had more possession without making many chances.
And towards the end MTK were content to contain and play on the break.

In the final minutes there were some serious-looking injuries resulting in the home goalie fending off crosses with one arm.
It was enough.

In an echo of Argentina the home fans were kept in for about ten minutes at the end of the match to allow the Honved fans to disperse.

I walked back to my central hotel and warmed up before going to :

30th March  Ferencvaros 4 Eger 0  NB1   3,500 (10 away)

Fradi are playing at the vast Ferenc Puskas (Nep) Stadium while their own ground is redeveloped.
Large parts of stadium were unused.
The home ultras watched from the side as their team started brightly scoring after three minutes and adding another by the useful Julian Jenner on ten minutes.

Eger did hit the bar but their cause was made much harder when Mecinovic was given a second yellow for handball.
But unlike Siofok then didn’t totally crumble just conceding two more including a great run and shot by the Brazilian Somalia later in the second half.
Another watchable Brazilian, Leonardo, was often prominent in the home attacks.

Ferencvaros, like Videoton, did produce impressive passages of play albeit against ten-men and similarly ran out comfortable winners.

31st March  Debrecen 0 Ujpest 1  NB1   4,000 (150 away)

And so finally to Debrecen after a train ride east from Budapest.
Where it is fairly quiet on this Sunday afternoon, but thankfully quite a lot milder at least during daytime.

Central Debrecen features some impressive architecture, some affluent areas and a good selection of themed restaurants.
My pre-game refreshment was Hussar soup (including knuckle) and an Irish coffee.

Their current ground, a fifteen minute walk from the centre, is basic with various additions tacked on to increase the capacity.
But it does generate some atmosphere led by the noisy home ultras.

They do plan to move in due course.

Before the start Edgar Davids lookalike Luis Ramos received an award and he was active in the home midfield.
But Debrecen struggled to create and perhaps their best opportunity came in the closing minutes when the tall Senegalese Sidibe hit the post and sub. Coulibaly failed with the follow-up.

The visitors scored as early as the ninth minute when a cross from Kabat was diverted into his own net by Simac.
And in the end Ujpest did enough but no more as their fans celebrated by letting off their flares.

Post-game, with the rain falling again, I walked back to the centre and enjoyed some typical Hungarian fare with pork, potatoes and cabbage washed down with Czech Staropramen beer.

I was back home via the small Debrecen airport courtesy of Wizzair.

more pictures at