Monday, 30 March 2009

Relegation's what you need

Forest Green Rovers 4-1 Lewes (28:03:09)

- Click on photos to enlarge image -

Birmingham way!? Somewhere around London!? Shropshire!? These were the sort of answers I was getting at my football - albeit Premiership - obsessed office in Sussex the week before this fixture, when I walked around with a clipboard asking football fans 'Where do Forest Green Rovers reside'!? Time simply flies by at my place of work.

Evidently, two coach loads of Doncaster Rovers fans were also clueless as to the whereabouts of 'The Little Club On The Hill' (nod to Wikipedia) some years back as they'd arrived in London for their away fixture with FGR. Whoops/snigger.

They are actually based in Nailsworth, Gloucestershire, lying in one of the Stroud Valleys in the Cotswolds. It's a delightful village and one which would grace any pre-match drinking session. Hell, you could even take your wife there when - get this - there wasn't even a match on. It has a bit of a reputation of being tricky to get to but in reality, it's not that hard. Only 90 minutes out of London Paddington on the train (hello Donny fans) to Stroud and then a 4 mile bus/taxi/*cough* walk to Nailsworth. It's worthy (Nailsworthy?) of the trip.

Lewes approached this match in pretty good shape. I say that but they'd actually lost their last - gulp -17 games in a row. They were also (thumbs through little black book of excuses) without half of their first team squad including, shinning light/man of the season/all round class in a glass David Wheeler who was away playing for England (schoolboys). Their manager had also resigned a few weeks beforehand, the club had only just batted away the threat of administration, they'd been relegated during the week and resorted to scratching around other teams apprentice players to gather a squad together for this match. Apart from that they were in fine shape.

On the previous Saturday, Forest Green Rovers had scored 5 (five!) goals in just one half (one half!) of football away (away!) to Altrincham. To put this into a smidgen of perspective, it had taken Lewes 1625 minutes of football to notch up their last five goals. Unfair sides or what!?

The Lewes away support this season has become stuff of legend. Turnouts include; Altrincham (5), Salisbury (3), Torquay (4), Wrexham (13), Burton (15) etc etc...if Noris Mcquirter was still alive, surely he'd be jotting these figures down in his Guinness Book of Records notebook. For this match Lewes actually had a respectable turn out of 13. 10 on the club mini bus and 3 of the European Football Weekends team; Cynical Dave, Big Deaks and myself who had travelled to the game by train from Brighton.

We were met upon our arrival in Nailsworth by EFW Facebook member and FGR fan Phil Sheppard and his merry band of mates. These lads were spot on and a pleasure to spend the day with. We kicked off with a couple of pints in the Village Inn, walked across to The Britannia and then, like men we walked up (up!) the steep hill to the ground - actually because we'd missed the bus - and had another couple of pints in the clubs own pub 'The Green Man' attached to the main stand.

Our new pals from Forest Green Rovers.

FGR's 1982 Wembley Triumph. Still talking about it now? (tick).

Clubshop fully stocked (tick).

Inside the Green Man we were joined by members of the Forest Green Rovers Ultras who go by the name of the 'Rockwool Army' - named after the stand that they reside in during games making no little noise in the process. Fans were getting misty eyed as they chatted to us about winning the FA Vase at Wembley (1982) and their rivalry with Gloucester City.

Lewes took the lead in the game (I'm sorry, run that one by me again - Ed). Yes - it's true - we witnessed it all with our very own mince pies, Lewes actually took the lead. Joe Keehan opened the scoring in the 5th minute when he unleashed a shot downwind that flew into the bottom corner of the net. 1-0 to The Rooks. If only York City hadn't sent us down in the week. All we'd have had to do is win the next seven games in a row with York, Ebbsfleet and Grays not gaining a further point and outscore the aforementioned Ebbsfleet by 52 goals to boost our goal difference and we'd be staying up. Nuts.

Don't panic Mr Mannering. Normal service was shortly resumed. Rovers scored four times in reply, Lewes had two players sent off and conceded their mandatory penalty. Still, in fairness, Lewes didn't disgrace themselves and their youthful looking team can be fairly pleased with their afternoons work, save for the sendings off. The first one was fairly dubious as skipper Anthony Barness pulled down hatrick man Andy Mangan. Some say he got the ball but the ref thought otherwise and as he was the last defender he had to go. The 2nd was fully deserved, Stefan Cox stamped on Rovers substitute Paul Lloyd and I'm not too sure that's in the rules. Red card son.

Andy Mangan converts a penalty.

How many grounds can you say that the sheep on the hills get a good view!?

The Rockwool Army

Lewes fans invade the pitch. Cynical, Danny and Big Deaks.

Bradley the Badger. Club Mascot or at least I think s/he is.

Welcome to sunny Gloucestershire.

Jack Russell - all round(er) legend.

During the 1st half the EFW team actually sat next to ex-England cricketer and now famous for his works of art - Jack Russell. Jack attends every home match and is a top man. He's known for being very eccentric but that's what I like about him. If you are reading this Jack, I'll doff my battered old flowerpot sunhat to you my friend. Actually friends aren't invited to Jack's house. On the rare occasions that they are, they're said to be blindfolded to keep the whereabouts of his abode a secret. Brilliant!

So leaving our new friends behind - who'd agreed to attend the EFW Oktoberfest in Holland and Belgium - the EFW team made their way back to Brighton. It was still jauntiness personified on the way home despite the inevitable defeat and relegation. Relegation is actually no bad thing for Lewes. Beer will be allowed back on the terraces next season (hurragghh) and we can change ends at the half time interval of every game (hurrraggghh). Relegation's what you need.

Jauntiness personified!?

Cynical Dave - or is it!?

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Harrow, Harrow, we are the Tooting boys!

Harrow Borough 0-0 Tooting and Mitcham (21:03:09)

Despite only being 17 miles apart this match is not seen as a local derby by either side. With this being London Town, there are umpty thrumpty grounds in between the two clubs. Tooting and Mitcham - let's call them The Terrors for now - have Carshalton Athletic, Sutton United, AFC Wimbledon and Kingstonian all within a gnats crotchet of their splendid Imperial Fields Stadium. However, none of those come remotely close to Dulwich Hamlet in terms of rivalry. There has been a bit of bad blood between those two over the years due to incidents on the field and a dislike of each other off it.

Cynical Dave, Big Deaks and I decided to become day members of the Tooting Popular Front and follow The Terrors on their travels to the Earlsmead Stadium in this Isthmian League Premier Division encounter. We didn't really need an excuse as to why but the fact that they once knocked Swindon out of the FA Cup - in 1975/76 season - by two goals to one - provided us with one.

I say 'Tooting Popular Front' - something their fans are probably sick of lazy hacks referring to - however, the T&M hardcore are actually and if you would factually known as the 'Bog End Army'. They're famed for their outrageous goal celebrations and named after a their infamous 'bog' at their much loved old ground at Sandy Lane. Power to the People indeed (that's enough - Ed).

Discovering non-league football to us here at European Football Weekends has been like finding God. In short, we've become obsessed. If that seems a bit over stated then sue us, we'd win. To us Harrow Borough v Tooting and Mitcham was set to be the biggest face off since Michael Jackson found his nose in his hanky.

To kick off our day we'd arranged to meet a group of our friends from Belgium - who follow Royal Antwerp - in a pub in Shepherd's Bush, as you do. They were in town to see QPR v Bristol City. For a nano-second the three of us had considered accompanying them to Loftus Road but then we remembered our recent grass (not artificial) roots obsession. Why pay £30 (+ £3.50 booking fee) to see QPR when for less than a third of the price you can have upwards of two thirds more fun!?

Our pals from Royal Antwerp: Stefan, Pieter, Jordi and Roland.

Two pints were downed in the Central Bar and another 'one for the road' in The Green. With QPR playing at home, The Green was a 'members only' bar for the day. We negotiated our way in though with a secret password. Don't tell anyone but that password was "We're with the Belgians". After that we were soon on our jolly way to the Earlsmead Stadium, home to The Boro. Not before Cynical could restore some colour to his face though by having a (losing, three out of four though Danny, so unlucky, same story every week) bet in William Hills.

With it being hotter than Greece, we were forced to have another couple of nice cold pints before the match. We holed up in the Jim Rogers bar at the ground and got chatting with the locals. Tony Venus and Andy Turner gave us a potted history of the club. I don't think they've ever really fully recovered from the semi final defeat Harrow suffered at the hands of Telford United in the FA Trophy during the 1982/83 season. Harrowing.

By now the 'Bog End Army' had arrived in numbers. We got talking to a number of them including the leader of the pack 'Bog End Tim'. They were a great bunch, enthusiastic, knowledgeable and thirsty for a few beers. Why not!?

Andy Turner. Stadium announcer. Awfully nice chap and winner of the best seat in the house award.

Silverware, silverware, our trophy cabinet's not bare.

Big Deaks at the turnstiles.

The Bog End Army - vocal throughout.

The match itself - lets be honest here - wasn't the greatest. It was too hot for any meaningful football. The visitors did have a few players that stood out though. Billy Marshall - who looks like an extra from Quadrophenia - did some sterling work down the right hand side. Aaron Goode lived up to his name as well but my man of the match was Terrors skipper Allan 'Sully' Mcleod. Nothing went past Sully all day. A touch of class. Different gravy Sully lad. Five FIFA stars to you me old mate.

On the head - Billy Marshall in action.

Harrow defenders keep 15 goal Paul Vines quiet (for once).

Here's here, he's there, he's every chuffing where. Billy Marshall, Billy Marshall.

The Terrors gaffer.

Harrow to you. Two (two!) stands. Fancy.

After the game our shoulders slumped at the prospect of a 30 minute walk back to Northolt Tube Station. This is when our old mate Bob stepped in to save our day. We'd chatted to Bob earlier in the bar. Bob pulled up in his car and near insisted he gave us all a lift back to the station. This is the non-league remember - stuff like this just happens. Good old stuff.

So that was it. 0-0 and both teams look set to remain in the Ryman Premier League next season. The closest we did get to a goal came late on when Harrow hit the bar. Hitting the bar in fact seemed like a splendid idea. There's no better place to do that than back at EFW HQ in Brighton and that's where we ended up drinking Guinness and talking (more) nonsense long into the night. Cheers!

EFW Man of the Match - Allan 'Sully' Mcleod.

Harrow Borough boss David Howell. The best in the non-league according to Tony Venus in the bar before the match.

Tooting and Mitcham boss Billy Smith - full (EFW) house - Yeeeees!

Tuesday, 17 March 2009


Not sure how long this sorry experiment will last but you can follow us on Twitter now if you really must by clicking:

European Football Weekends Twitter Feed

Follow us tomorrow as we depart EFW HQ for the dizzy heights of Harrow Borough v Tooting and Mitcham in the Isthmian League Premier Division.

Like a twit, I shall be signing in at various stages of the day to bring you a live (live!) feed of unfolding events. That's providing the technology and lets face it the beer doesn't hinder my progress.

If you don't have a Twitter account - and why would you - you can follow proceedings by scrolling down to the bottom of the menu on the right hand side of this (home)page.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Forza Kiddy

No report as such this weekend due to the routineness of our day. A few pints in the Kings Head in Lewes with the whole of the away support for company. A quick one in the Lewes FC clubhouse before watching The Rooks slip to their 15th (15th!) consecutive defeat at the hands of Kidderminster Harriers (0-1). Back to EFW HQ post match - drink Guinness - repeat to fade.

A couple of photos here for you of the away support - who brought with them an impressive flag selection - including an a rather splendid 'Forza Kiddy' offering. (click on any photo to enlarge the image).

Normal service to be resumed next weekend as the EFW team continue their grass roots tour of England with a visit to Harrow Borough v Tooting and Mitcham. Power to the people.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Your European Football Weekends

Welcome to the new Belgian section of the EFW website. Belgium join The Netherlands, France, Germany, Italy, Scotland and Spain in becoming privileged enough to hold down their own section in the 'Your European Football Weekends' category. I'm certain PM Herman Van Rompuy will shortly announce an additional annual public holiday in Belgium as a result.


EFW favourites Royal Antwerp away to UR Namur anyone!? (yes please - Ed).

As usual the travelling Royal Antwerp fans outnumbered the home fans.

Royal Antwerp won 3-0 against the already relegated UR Namur.


Our Antwerp mates drank the best beer in the world before the match!

These were the scenes when the EFW beer stocks ran dry.

There are certain grounds in Europe that tend to stir the emotions more than most. Forget four banks of similarly coloured seats in an all new identikit stadium. These grounds are loved for the OSF (Old School Factor). One such ground is the Stade Joseph Marien, home to Royale Union Saint-Gilloise and located within the suburbs of Brussels.

Both Andrew (England) and our old pal Stephane have been there this year and here is a small sample of their photos. A wider selection can be found on our EFW Facebook site which now has approaching 1,000 photos from your trips. This is the Union end. A huge open terrace which everybody loves.

They play in the Belgian Third Division A...

....and have been knocking about in Belgium since 1897.

And here is the real reason everybody loves going there! Sam is seen here holding a tray full of lovely beer. Rumour has it, he downed the lot leaving Stephane and Christophe dry. Want to know more about football grounds in Brussels!? (Yes please - Ed) then head here.

Anybody fancy a local derby in the Belgian Division 4B!? (yes please - Ed)

EFW Gold members Pat and Steven went to the Tubantia Borgerhout v Berchem Sport derby in the suburbs of Antwerp (08:03:09).

The famous 'club 64 bar' at the ground was packed throughout.

Even the players ran to get a beer at half time (see above).

Tubantia Borgerhout here we come.

Our pals from Royal Antwerp travelled to ROC Charleroi for the match at the Stade de la Neuville (01/03/09). As is the norm with Royal Antwerp, the away fans virtually outnumbered the home faithful.

What's not to like!?

Here's a few of our mates from Antwerp. Football and beer = happy days!

How did Mark Hirst choose to celebrate his 40th birthday!? With a Belgian EFW of course. We can claim a slight assist here at HQ as we pointed him the right direction regarding match tickets for him and his mates. First stop for him was KV Mechelen v KAA Gent which finished 3-3 on Valentines Day. LOVEly.

Then they popped over to Charleroi for their local derby with RSC Anderlecht (15:02:09).

The RSC Anderlect fans.

The only complaint Mark has is that he can't stop singing the fans songs still. It's a common problem for us here in the office as well.

Giant flag - tick.

So what else did he get up to!? Well naturally he went to the Constant Vanden Stock, home to RSC Anderlecht, found the magic door, got on the pitch, sat in the dug out and finally got chased off the pitch. The perfect EFW. Here is Hirsty (left) on the bench with his pal Martyn Clarke. Happy birthday mate!