Wednesday, May 28, 2014

UEFA Champions League final 2014

Si se puede - but it was Real close.

24th May 2014 Real Madrid 4 Atletico Madrid 1  Champions League final in Lisbon. 60, 976

‘Anything is possible with Simeone’ the Atletico fan told me outside the Estadio da Luz.

Well nearly.

They came in 135 aeroplanes and on eight hour bus rides from the Spanish capital to see the first ‘derby’ final in Champions League history.

We chose a route via the less exotic delights of Stansted to Porto and a steady drive south.

Where it was comfortable enough to park the car and relax in the shopping centre pre-game.

Inside the Estadio perhaps the historic implications got to the players as the match, though  always intriguing, lacked quality.

You could admire the heroic Atletico defending but worry about the way they gave the ball away.
You might expect Real Madrid to be more fluent and though there were snatches of sparkling play mostly they fizzled out.

For much of the time it looked like Atletico would prevail after they benefited from a Casillas first half error.
But Sergio Ramos headed the very late equaliser and Los Blancos then surged ahead in extra time thanks to Bale, Marcelo and Ronaldo.

It was obviously hard on Atletico but definitely deserved.

As to the crowd - I thought the choreo was moderate - surely they could up something better than ‘vamos Real’ - although, perhaps surprisingly, there was some pyro.
And the Atletico fans seem to make more noise (and they stayed, despite the defeat, to appreciate their teams’ efforts) although our seats were much nearer their end.

However it was undoubtedly an historic night in the Estadio da Luz and you could see how much the victory meant to the Real Madrid contingent.
Being one quarter Welsh I was glad Gareth Bale played his part and, incidentally, it would be nice to see more British players venturing abroad.

We stayed for the presentations and eventually travelled back to Fatima for an overnight stay and a visit to the famous sanctuary, with the other pilgrims, the next morning.

more pictures at

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Turkey May 2014

Two matches in Turkey including the Cup Final and a play-off encounter.

Wesley pounces for Aslan.

7th May 2014 Eskisehirspor 0 Galatasaray 1   Turkish Cup final. 22,456 (split about 50:50)  

I made a very late decision to go to this one because it is likely to be one of the last big games at the Konya Ataturk stadium.

And it was worth it.

Having arrived overnight via Istanbul and Ankara I walked from the railway station to the nearby stadium at around midday as the souvenir sellers were getting ready.
Further on I passed fans strolling around the centre - plenty in both red & black and red & yellow.

Though they seemed to mix well enough eight hours before the start nearer match time, with the fans channelled toward different ends of the stadium, the tribalism began to kick-in.
And that means opposition scarf and flag burning followed by sirens blaring and running around.

Marching to the ground is accompanied by flares.

Inside there were a lot more (I wonder if they coordinated the displays like the Belgrade ultras?)
A particular Galatasaray fans’ firestorm caused the game to be paused for about three minutes for the smoke to clear.
This was hardcore pyro plus the noise, with marginally more of that coming from the ES-ES supporters.

Inside the fans were roughly split 50:50 although it seemed, perhaps surprisingly, that Eskisehirspor had brought slightly more.
Maybe it meant more to them as they had just the one cup triumph - back in 1971.

While Roberto Mancini’s men were winning a record fifthteenth title.

That was delivered by ex-Spurs midfielder Wesley Sneijder.
He converted a ball from the right with the ES-ES defence stretched.

But ES-ES certainly played their part, coming closest after a scramble with a shot cleared off the line.

Though they missed Drogba’s presence up front Gala still had the edge on quality and despite some late pressure, with the ES-ES goalie coming up for corners, Galatasaray were able to break up play and waste time sufficiently to secure the win.

I remained for a short while as the players celebrated but didn’t wait around for the inevitably prolonged presentations.

After a  twenty minute walk back to my hotel, past no bars, I had an early night.

Samsun strong enough.

9th May Samsunspor 1 Ankaraspor 0  League 1 play-off first leg  c. 15,000 (negligible away)

From Konya via Ankara to the Black Sea port of Samsun.

Where the flags were out on the streets as the local team were aiming for the Super League again.

I’d spent the morning firstly around the centre seeing the fine representation of the historic visit by Ataturk to Samsun in 1919, then via a tram ride to a park where I enjoyed a coffee, conducive background music and a nice view of the Black Sea.

Perhaps not a ‘Moment in Time’ but pleasant enough.

The 19 May stadium was a 40 minute stroll from my central hotel.
Along the way I sampled a ‘durum’ (kebab) and practised my Turkish ‘thank you’ - appreciated by the amused locals.

Again the stadium will at some point be replaced a modern version, out towards the airport.
But as it stands it’s reminiscent of various others with low level, curving, cover.

A handful of away fans, to the left, were protected by police while the home side were supported by groups of ultras at either end with the bulk of the fans in the eye-catching French (?) style side stand opposite.
From where they produced the pre-match choreo (though no pyro).

In a game of limited chances both sides eventually hit the ‘woodwork’ before a long free-kick eluded the Ankaraspor goalie and Yilmazer Musa headed in the winner from close range, to start ecstatic celebrations.

They were due to play the second leg some days later.

I’d had some breadsticks and tea at half-time and followed that with a couple of Tuborgs (there are slightly some more alcoholic options in Samsun) on the way back to the hotel.

On a very pleasant day for watching football, with a temperature of around 19 degrees, I rested early before getting the early morning flight back to the UK via Istanbul.

more pictures at

Monday, May 12, 2014

Serbia April 2014

Two games in Belgrade including the big derby.

Lack of atmosphere made up for by drama.

No, just kidding.

26th April Partizan 2 Red Star 1  Serbian Super League  27,000 (7,000 away)

It was mild and breezy in Belgrade for the ‘Eternal Derby’.

Beforehand I sampled some pre-game culture and an historical update in the Ethnographic and National Museums.

Then we made our way to the Partizan stadium passing ever increasing numbers of police along the way.

What makes this derby particularly impressive and intense and a popular trip for many English & German fans is the number of away supporters  - in this case some 7,000 or so supporting Red Star.

From my viewpoint, in the side, they were positioned towards the right with the black & white contingent to the left.

Apparently the ultras agree beforehand to coordinate the pyro so that they don’t light up at the same time.
So we had typically impressive fireworks, especially from the visiting fans at the start of the second half.

Impressive noise too - but not so the quality of the football.

However the drama was top notch with league leaders Red Star missing two penalties in the first half.

Serbian soccer is not short of conspiracy theories and they were no doubt enhanced by the award of those spot kicks (the chants from the Partizan fans to the Red Star-supporting Prime Minister were not too complimentary)
But Red Star missed those opportunities although they did equalise an excellent home free kick opener early in the second half.

Then, after a long period of disjointed play at 1-1, Partizan sub. Nemanja Kojic connected with a cross to secure the win for the title holders in the 90th minute.

Cue plenty of home enjoyment afterwards, as both sets of players went to their respective fans to either commiserate or celebrate.

So a battle win for Partizan but those in red are still likely to regain the Serbian title.

Certainly a derby to see, not least because of the large numbers of fans from each team,  many going to the game with their scarves concealed and, needless to say, its best to wear black to blend in.

However I felt in a different stadium (say at Fenerbahce or Olympiakos) the experience would be even better.

Personally none, however, have the same feeling of passion as a big clasico in South America.

Nevertheless its easy to see why Partizan are ‘partnered’ with PAOK and Red Star with Olympiakos.
All have fearsome, intimidating reputations.

No atmosphere but a decent game.

27th April  OFK Belgrade 2 Javor-Matis Ivanjica 1  c.400  (no away) Serbian Super League

Somewhat less intense at this one with just a small group of ultras and a few hundred others in the ‘main stand’ area.
Other parts of this old-style stadium were unoccupied.

Despite the subdued atmosphere it was a decent match with OFK going ahead followed by an equaliser from the visitors and then a winner for the home side via a penalty in the second period.

OFK are clearly in the shadow of the big Belgrade clubs - their best days being back in the 1930’s.

So two contrasting matches in the Serbian capital - a city that can offer good value restaurants and hotels.

Judging from wandering the centre it seems to attract  few tourists from outside the Balkans.
History, of course, plays a part but for a football fan the ‘Eternal Derby’ should be included amongst the leading European ‘clasicos’.

Afterwards a meal (meat and chips is a local favourite) and the next day a stroll around the Belgrade fortress with its impressive river views.

Incidentally our party stayed at the Majestic Hotel, the location that Manchester United used following their fateful match against Red Star back in 1958.

Perhaps one of us slept in the same room as Duncan Edwards ?

more pictures at