Thursday, 19 February 2009

Rook bottom

Crawley Town 5-1 Lewes (24:02:09)

So where does this Sussex local derby rank amongst the UK's most passionate!? In my eyes, it comes in third, just behind the Old Firm (Celtic v Rangers) and the Old Farm (Ipswich v Norwich). I flew back from France for this match - well you would wouldn't you!?

I arrived in Crawley eleven (!) hours before the game. Actually, this was because despite the fact I follow Lewes, I work in Crawley, near to Gatwick Airport if anyone is interested - I'm not. With work done it was time for the big match. However - in true EFW style - with it being 'Thirsty Tuesday' we were in need of beer and plenty of it.

I met up with the gang (Cynical Dave and Big Deaks) in the pub of their dreams, The White Hart in the old part of Crawley. Dreamy in that it sold Harvey's at £2.50 a pint. Harvey's is a beer brewed in Lewes - this was clearly a sign. Victory in the Sussex derby would be ours - Cheers!

After a couple of hours we (reluctantly) left the White Hart and made our way to the Broadfield Stadium. We couldn't help but pop into the Half Moon pub 600 yards from the ground first though and likewise we were helpless when it came to downing a few pints in CTFC's own Redz Bar just before kick off.

Cynical and Deaks having a ball before the match

Lewes had gone ten games without a win so drastic measures were called for. So with that in mind I wore my lucky red Fred Perry shirt. Lucky in that the last time I wore it - Lewes scored a goal (Joe Keehan's immense strike away to Oxford).

The Rooks plans to keep things tight at the back and possibly park a bus in front of the Crawley goal lasted precisely 120 seconds. That's all it took for Crawley to open the scoring when John Shaw popped one in after good work from the more than useful Danny Forest. In fact by the time we'd walked around and taken our positions behind the goal, we were two down. Lewes gave away their mandatory penalty - happens every game these days - and Sam Rents converted.The goals in this game -like a horny baker - were coming in a roll.

In previous games, Lewes have claimed an absence of natural justice, in this match however they were - in the managers own words - 'pathetic'. Only in the first half mind you, in which they conceded (say it quickly) four times. 0-4 at half time then *sigh*.

Shaw-ly not - John Shaw fires home to make it 4-0

Too easy for The Reds

Respectability was somewhat restored in the second half. Joe Keehan scored for the Rooks which justified me wearing my luck red Fred Perry. There were also a couple of other plus points for Lewes. David Wheeler is the gift that keeps on giving. He came out with credit as did Stefan Cox who clearly has a Coca-Cola Soccer Skills badge. Late on however, Crawley completed the humiliation with Adam Quinn joining the home fiesta with a tap in to make it 5-1. Five bloody one.

It's all too much for Cynical Dave

The police stop the Lewes fans from leaving at half time

There were a couple of reasons to raise an eyebrow during the evening. Firstly, the crowd was bobbins. Only 600 turned up (83 from Lewes). Like George W Bush with a model plane kit, the stay away fans were glued to the box - watching the Champions League. Also, the stadium announcements were accompanied by what seemed to be canned applause being pumped out through the speakers. I'll put the later down to me having had a few beers because surely that didn't happen.

The Lewes ultra

There was more disappointment upon our return home to Brighton after the match. The dreaded quiz night was taking place at EFW HQ which mean we had to go to our backup pub The Prince Albert. Discussions naturally turned to who'd be having the pleasure of our company next. Hampton and Richmond v Eastliegh in top of the table Conference South clash!? Not arf - see you there.

St Etienne

Les Amis Reunis

St Etienne 1-1 Bordeaux (22:02:09)

- click on photos to enlarge image -

Hands up who - outside of France - knew that St Etienne and Bordeaux fans were the best of friends? I certainly didn't until the week before this match. This sort of stuff doesn't occur in England but apparently can be fairly commonplace abroad. This stems from a bonding of two of the ultra groups; The Magic Fans of St Etienne and the Ultramarines of Bordeaux both of whom favour their politics to the left.

Politics and football go hand in hand in France and Italy unlike in England. I can't imagine myself down at the Withdean Stadium, Brighton quoting from the Tony Benn diaries and receiving a standing ovation. More likely, I'd be on the end of a bout of short shrift, blank faces, much shoulder shrugging and classed as a mentalist.

On the morning of this match we awoke in Grenoble after watching GF38 v PSG the previous night. Such was the quality of the beer - taken seriously abroad and lacking in chemicals - that we didn't have hangovers. We still had to blow away the cobwebs though so it was decided that we'd walk up to the top of La Bastille, a fortress atop a small mountain (475m) overlooking the City. I say walk, actually we let the famous 'bubbles' (cable cars) do the work.

After that we strolled through the French food markets before jumping in the car and driving to St Etienne for the big match, naturally with the best of St Etienne pumping on the stereo. We collected our tickets and headed over to the Casino Cafeteria next to the ground for some welcome beers. The casino retail stores built in St Etienne in the 19th Century were the first of their kind in France. The man behind these was Geoffroy-Guichard. I mention this only because a) it makes me look as though I've done some research and b) This is the chap who the stadium is named after.

I've wanted to go and see St Etienne for years. For someone of my age (36) they are one of the great names of European Football. During the 70's they were regularly there or thereabouts in the European Cup in the days when the European Cup was good and not obsessed by money. In the 1976 final at Hampden Park, Glasgow they outplayed but eventually lost to Bayern Munich. That night they hit the post twice. In those days Hampden Park famously had 'square' goal posts. If they'd have been the standard round ones, St Etienne would have won. As such, the 'square goalposts of Glasgow' are still talked about to this day. St Etienne are underachievers/ underdogs and that's why I like them.

The Geoffroy-Guichard Stadium is known as The Green Cauldron. I now know why. There was a cacophony of noise from start to finish. At one end of the ground you have the 'Magic Fans' and at the other you have the 'Green Angels 1992'. We were on the half way line in with our friends from another ultra group the BB42. Also surrounding us were lots of Bordeaux fans. They were in the home end as well as their own section but nobody gave two hoots. I've only seen the noise, singing and general fan behaviour bettered once on my travels and that was at Besiktas.

The Green Angels 1992

The Magic Fans

BB42's newest member. My good self.

A BB42 flag keeps an eye on proceedings

A bit of action

Some of the Bordeaux fans

Bordeaux fans on fire

Friends reunited

Danny Last of European Football Weekends

There is nothing worse on these trips than brilliant goalkeepers. We want to see goals and plenty of them. So with respect to the ASSE stopper Jermaine Janot and FCGB keeper Matthieu Valverde, you two chaps nearly ruined my EFW. Both made outlandish one handed saves and by and large performed heroics all day. It was going to take something pretty special to break the deadlock. Luckily, help was at hand in the form of Blaise Matuidi who - in the 54th minute - opened the scoring with a 15 yard effort using the outside of his boot which screamed into the top left hand corner. This prompted two enormous surges down each terrace at either end of the stadium (fantastic) and a silly dance from the players (not fantastic).

During any article on Bordeaux these days, one is contractually obliged to wax lyrical about midfielder Yoann Gourcuff. He is attracting more clubs than a baby puppy seal and is definitely the new Zizou. That's probably been said a trillion times in France before but this time it's for real. This wasn't his day though. He injected a little quality into the game at times but overall he was strangely out of sorts and was eventually substituted by Bordeaux boss Laurent Blanc midway through the second half.

Laurent Blanc wore jeans (jeans!) during the match. Previously, I've written letters to UEFA demanding teams be deducted points if their manager wears jeans. Blanc however is a World Cup winner. Rumour has it that so excited was he at scoring France's golden goal winner v Paraguay in the 1998 World Cup, he wet himself. So on reflection, I've decided to let him off. Fans of Bordeaux can breathe a sigh of relief. No points deduction for you. Lucky chaps.

Late on in the match, Bordeaux keeper Valverde got smacked in the nose by a swift knee resulting in an outpouring of blood onto the pitch. I couldn't help thinking this was justice and that karma had intervened. How dare he have his best game of the season in the presence of the EFW team. Only joking mate - get well soon.

Bordeaux ended up rescuing a point in the last minute when following a corner, Marouane Chamakh flicked on to Cavenaghi who headed in from close range. The away fans around us lept to their feet, the home fans stopped singing for the first time in 90 minutes and that was that 1-1.

After the match, Nick the wheels drove us back to Lyon where a bizarre hotel incident ensued. We'd booked a hotel there as we had to fly back from Lyon Airport early on Monday morning. On arriving at our hotel, Basil Fawlty let it be known that his hotel was full and we'd not booked anything with him. The Lonely Planet book had printed the wrong phone number but correct hotel description in their book. The owner said that this happened to him all the time. He told us he wasn't too sure where our hotel was. Three minutes after walking out of there confused we were unpacking our bags in the Hotel Paris opposite. Our hotel was actually 20 seconds across the road. Fawlty could have told us that but claimed he didn't know.

With it being late on a Sunday we broke one of our own EFW golden rules and did a pub crawl of English and Irish bars in Lyon. There was nothing else open in the vicinity and so places such as the Wallace Bar and the Albion had the pleasure of our company. A word of warning if you are thinking of going to Lyon. It's a lovely place but it costs over £5 a pint. Still, we drank like men until closing time and agreed that the great EFW meeting in Tilburg in October will be named the 'EFW Oktoberfest'. Fans from all over Europe are set to attend. So if you have ever wanted to join us on one of these trips then this is your chance. What are you waiting for!? Get in touch.

Big Deaks, Myself (Danny) and Nick the Wheels

Sincères salutations sportives!

On the piste in Grenoble - God Alps us all

Grenoble Foot 38 0-0 Paris Saint-Germain (21:02:09)

In the run up to this game - I hated Grenoble Foot 38. They withdrew internet tickets sales for the match, didn't answer any emails and refused to answer their phone. They became the most inaccessible club in Europe.

So why did they do it!? Well, evidently the world and their wives are scared of the Paris Saint-Germain fans. They have a - some say justified - reputation for hooliganism. Opposition clubs, the National Gendarmerie, Inspector Clouseau and even the government are wary of them.

In the end we were indebted to Stephane Lievens for sorting us out with tickets. Our (French speaking) friend from the EFW Facebook site worked tirelessly for weeks trying to get hold of someone at GF38. Eventually - a couple of days before the game - they gave in to his persistence and agreed to keep three tickets by for us to pick up at the stadium. We had to be there five hours before kick off to pick them up mind you or the deal was off.

Blimey, I've been serious now for a record equalling three paragraphs....and relax. So where on earth is Grenoble and who are Grenoble Foot 38 - surely one of the most splendid names in football!? Well, the City is situated in Southeastern France at the foot of the Alps and the football team was formed in 1997 after a merger of Olympique Grenoble Isere and Norcap Olympique. Why all the 'Olympique' references I hear you ask (really!? - Ed) - that'll be because the City of Grenoble once hosted the Winter Olympics in 1968. I thank you. The '38' refers to the postal district of Grenoble. I thank you once more.

To get there - Big Deaks, Nicky Boy and I flew into Lyon Airport from Gatwick at a very unsociable 06:35am. Easy Jet got us there early (early!) doors, which was nice. We then picked up a hire car and Nick 'the wheels' Waterhouse drove us down to Grenoble. First impressions were very favourable. It's a stunning place surrounded by mountains - as one might expect in the Alps. However - we hadn't come here to ski or become gays on trays (snowboarders) - we were here for some European Football.

First up we had to pick up our tickets. After all the fuss it was anyone's guess if we'd actually lay our hands on them. The ground looked a picture with the sunshine bouncing off from the solar panelled (hello to you) roof. The stadium was situated next to a large park which had red squirrels running around dealing with their nuts. The moment of truth had arrived and I was in the zone. Armed with my best French accent I dealt with the ticketing issue in hand and without any complications we were in. Three lovely match tickets in the bag. We would go to the ball after all. Lovely job.

Solar panel roof - tick.

Hotel admin completed we headed down by the riverside to a family run restaurant and helped ourselves to some local cuisine and a couple of well deserved beers. After that we had five hours to fill before the match. A pub crawl anyone!? Rather. First up we were served some reassuringly expensive pints of Edelweiss by former Smiths miserablist, veggie sausage jockey, sardonic lyric liking Morrissey or rather by someone who looked quite like him.

More and more pubs followed as we slowly made our way to the ground. There appeared to be a large mountain at the end of every street. It really was a delightful setting for a pre-match session. At one stage - between pubs - we found ourselves joining in on a Communist march through the streets. When in France eh!?

At the ground there were 350 police on duty for this Grade A match. A helicopter flew overhead and there were reports of some trouble before the match which was later confirmed in the local paper. We didn't see any violence though and everybody we met was as good as gold.

All looks rather nice doesn't it!?

Once inside, we made our way to the VIP section (as I say, beer had been taken) and pulled out our EFW business cards. Nick the wheels asked if we could have a look behind the scenes just for a giggle. What followed surprised me somewhat. The head of security said he'd heard of the European Football Weekends website and that this wouldn't be a problem. So in we jolly well went. Luckily, the comment Nick made about it all looking a bit 'sterile' was lost in translation. We made our way through all the sponsors areas and eventually ended up in the players lounge. A bright white room with some ghastly looking sofas and five bottles of champers on a table.

The players lounge (nb players not in picture). L-R Big Deaks, Myself (Danny) and Nick the wheels.

As usual I won't dwell too much on the match itself. There was a brief outbreak of football in the last ten minutes but aside from that it wasn't the best. Grenners Footers (as they are not known as) were well chuffed with their good point well made though. As well they might be as PSG had won their previous four matches in a row and were in serious danger of removing Lyon from top spot in Ligue 1 for the first time in umpty thrumpty years.

Lets get ready to rumble.

On European Football Weekends, you can normally always rely on the fans to provide some alternative entertainment to the football. They didn't disappoint here I can tell you. It was relentless, non stop singing, flares, pyrotechnics, the works for ninety minutes. FANtastic effort from both teams. Behind the goal where the hardcore GF38 fans sat were two flags which to the uninitiated looked like drawings of both Tommy Cooper and Juliet Bravo. What's not to like!?

Tommy Cooper (left) and Juliet Bravo (right) flags. Possibly.

The PSG fans.

GF38 fans.

After the game we walked back into town and embarked in another welcome pub crawl. The pubs got better and better. We'd been up for 22 hours but I'm happy to report we did make it until closing time and furthermore we weren't really that drunk AND we could still see. This might have been something to do with downgrading our beers to Stella at the end of the night from the Leffe we'd been quaffing earlier. Sensible.

Big Deaks in his beret.

So a huge tick in the box to Grenoble and all the fans, bar staff, Morrissey look-a-likes and punters we met there. A really nice City with friendly people and a fancy new stadium to boot. Next up for us the following day was another match in Ligue 1, namely St Etienne v Bordeaux. Good old life!

Grenoble from above.

Very nice to.

Oh really, do you have to!?

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Coming soon....

It's Week-end de football européen for us next week. Big Deaks, Nicky Boy and I are off to French France to see:

Grenoble Foot 38 v PSG (21:02:09)

Followed by:

St Etienne v Bordeaux (22:02:09)

I've also had time this week to update the Your European Football Weekends section of the this site. There are so many treats in store for you there it's embarrassing. We have:

Snowball fights at Inverurie Loco Works in our Scottish section

The Lyon v St Etienne derby in the French section

Asian Football weekends anyone!? The Rest of the World section

Solar-powered floodlights (I know!) in the Spanish section

More San Siro shenanigans in our Italian section

Local derbies and fan displays in The Netherlands

And finally, the feel good story of 2009 in the Germany section

In between all this, Cynical Dave and I have been going to non-league matches here in England. Now I didn't want to publish this but my press officer insisted. It's a quote that appeared on the Dartford FC fans forum after Cynical and I had been up to cover their local derby with Maidstone a few weeks back. Here it is then. The Duke wrote this. Those of a nervous disposition look away now. In fact everybody look away aside from maybe my own Mother:



There we go. A credit to non-league football. *blush* Not a dry eye in the EFW office I can tell you. We are not ones to get carried away/blow our own trumpets here but there is talk in these parts that we may get the slogan 'A credit to non-league football' made up into a t-shirt. What do you think!?

So that's it for now folks. See you in France.

Sincères salutations sportives!

p.s. If you want to comment on the above or any of the nonsense I write on these pages, it's very easy to do so. Just click on the word 'comments' below here and write away. You don't have to register or any of that gubbins.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Rain, sleet and snow!? Pah! It's on with the show

Lewes 0-2 Wrexham (07:02:09)

We've been all over promoting football at grass roots level lately. Where to!? Merstham, Dartford, Oxford and Havant and Waterlooville. It's our little campaign to keep football real. We're sticking two fingers up to the Premiership with it's money, money, money for nothing and their chicks for free. As we'll keep saying until we are Egyptian blue in the face; we're 'Against Mod£rn football' here at European Football Weekends.

So it was back to our new spiritual home on Saturday to see our favourites Lewes FC take on the mighty Wrexham - not before we've had a few pints mind. Cynical Dave and I took up our regular seat at the bar of the Kings Head just around the corner from the ground. We had company as well, lots of it. Two coach loads of Wrexham fans had a thirst to quench after setting off from North Wales at 07:30am and so we chatted merrily to them before heading to the home of football.

We seem to be a magnet for A-list celebrities these days. Frank Sidebottom has joined our Facebook group (fantastic) and upon our arrival at The Dripping Pan we bumped into the politically sound, British socialist, author, columnist, questionable football team supporting funnyman Mark Steel. Turns out he's a nice chap. Evidently he was there making a programme about Lewes (the town not the team).

I've had to add an element of sepia to this photo as I didn't want to offend anyone with Mr Steels choice of neck wear. Five FIFA stars to the Steelmeister for proudly holding the EFW logo though.

As if that wasn't enough, next up came a meeting with Wrexham boss and assistant Welsh manager Dean Saunders. Dean made 75 (75!) caps for Wales and played for all the greats; Liverpool, Aston Villa, Benfica, Galatasaray and Brighton amongst others. Would he be to big a celeb to turn down the chance of a glamour appearance on these pages!? Of course not:

Sombreros off to Dean 'top man' Saunders.

The match was typical of The Rooks season. Lewes battled liked caged tigers for 90 minutes with little or no return. They are simply unlucky week in and furthermore week out. What chance did they have of beating Robins keeper Gavin Ward when on a perishing cold day he opted to wear short (short!) sleeves. Cynical once again became clinical in suggesting that the short sleeve goalkeeping trend was started by Sunderland shot-stopper Lionel Perez circa 1996/97.

Cuddles o'clock at The Dripping Pan.

Lewes starlet David Wheeler weaved some magic as did our man of the match Kieron St Aimee but ultimately it was Wrexham who collected the points (three). In the 64th minute Jon Brown popped in a corner which Marc Williams decided to nod into the net. Then seven minutes from time Lewes Defender Sam Fisk dithered/fannied around/faffed for a bit whilst Wrexham sub Wes Baynes removed him of the ball, did a few tricks and smashed the ball home ala Roy Race. 0-2. I'm afraid Sam was like a Fisk out of water.

One for the Ken Loach fans amongst us.

A bit of the old action.

A bit more action man. Note the short sleeve wearing Iron man Gavin Ward.

The Wrexham fans.

The Lewes faithful.

Flag action.

As if to rub salt into our wounds, Wrexham then did something that was a little unsporting. They brought on a Cameroon International (International!) off the bench. Patrick Suffo has played in the World Cup for Christ sake. Unfair sides or what!? How the other half live.

We'd been joined at this stage by ex-Manchester United fan and all round good egg Robin. Robin had ignored the recent criticism of the catering down The Pan and opted to purchase a cottage pie. His findings were nothing short of astonishing. The pie contained herbs and a bit of spice (spice!) and was immediately awarded the coveted Five FIFA stars. We'll be saying aye to a Lewes pie in future.

Our day ended like all good domestic days out should by topping up the profits of our EFW HQ - The Lord Nelson public house in Brighton. The game had been in doubt all week due to a combination of rain, sleet and snow. There we discussed our newest EFW invention which at this stage is only in it's embryonic form. Our new bit of kit is called the 'EFW postponedometer'. If you find yourself en route to a match which has fallen foul of the weather, this is where our new invention steps in. You punch in your location to our machine which then tells you the ten matches that are taking place nearest to you. That my friends is where we will be making our first million - which we will be distributing out the poor, needy, a few pints of Harvey's and a battery for the Lewes FC scoreboard. I thank you.

Lewes FC scoreboard. Anyone know where we can purchase a battery!?

This is how the pitch looked just four days prior to the game.

EFW Headquarters.

Monday, 2 February 2009

The year of the Ox

Oxford 2-1 Lewes (01:02:09)

We're not ones to spurn the opportunity of a celebration here at EFW Towers. On Monday the Chinese were toasting their new year and the start of The Year of the Ox, so we thought it only apt that we should join in the fun and head to Ox-ford. Tenuous maybe but ever such good fun.

I was joined on this trip by European Football Weekends regular 'Big Deaks', occasional EFW attendee and loyal Brighton fan (still!) 'Greeno' and our favourite football statistician 'Cynical Dave'. Together we accounted for 8% of the total away support for the day. Lewes had 50 fans at Oxford in total. A magnificent effort from the EFW team I'm sure you'll agree. We were proud anyway.

Anyone who has had the pleasure of visiting a non league ground recently can't have failed to appreciate their atmosphere of friendliness and comradeship. It's one reason why we've started going to these games and to be honest, I'm totally hooked on the non-league now. Obsessed.

Lewes are our absolute favourites. They are hopeless (this season) but we love them. In the run up to this match with all conquering Oxford United, they'd managed to lose their previous seven games in a row without troubling the opposition's net once. Oxford United in comparison are huge. People have heard of them for Christ's sake.

To be honest with you, this didn't feel like a non league match. The three sided stadium was all seated and they charged £17 to get in. Credit is currently being crunched Oxford. You couldn't walk around the ground or change ends at half time. Mental note to self; pen letter to OUFC suggesting they build fourth stand, make it a terrace with a roof, charge £8 to get in, home fans one side, away fans the other and I fancy Bob would indeed be your Uncle.

We noted another thing which sets Oxford apart from other non league clubs we've been to lately. In the pub across the road from the ground before the match there was a Premiership game on the telly and everyone was watching it! They cared. They were shouting at the telly and everything. Oxford fans haven't quite grasped the concept of the non league just yet. They are newcomers to this level of football. In a few years time they'll see the light and be sporting 'Against Mod£rn Football' t-shirts like the rest of us.

Actually - aside from the telly - the pub was a corker. It's called The Priory and thank the Lord it was there because there is nothing else around for miles near the ground aside from a horrendous bowling complex. They even had a little note chalked up on a beam to welcome us:

However, they obviously underestimated the numbers in the EFW camp. Welcome to the 2 Lewes fans!? We changed it after a few beers to 4.

Once inside the ground I overheard someone saying it was so soulless and boring that the two teams should have entered the pitch to the sound of Radiohead blearing out of the PA. A bit harsh that. Once they've built the fourth stand it will be ok. Especially if that fourth stand is a terrace influenced by my letter.

Cynical and Big Deaks soaking it all up.

I don't often bang on about the game too much in these reports unless something remarkable happens. In this match it did. After 689 minutes without a league goal, Lewes scored (scored!). Stefan Cox squared a near perfect two yard pass to Joe Keehan (the managers son) and he smashed in a shot from 20 yards which to everybody's amazement went in. Pandemonium in the away end. The four of us engaged in a bout of star jumps. Enormous fun.

Who are ya!?

After that Oxford scored twice, Lewes missed a penalty and had a player (Wilkinson) sent off for nothing (headbutt). They'd done us proud. Plucky underdogs, we all love those don't we!? There is a video here of the penalty miss. It's a bit shaky as I'd had a few beers and was excited. Afterwards I pan round and you can see Cynical (shocked), Big Deaks (giggling) and Greeno (also giggling):

After the game we headed back to The Priory pub to celebrate the Lewes goal. Again Oxford fans were watching a live Premiership match (Liverpool v Chelsea - yawn). We sank a few beers and then headed back into town to catch a train back to Brighton.

We wanted to get back quick as we'd shipped in a case of Bud and wanted to watch the Cincinnati Backflips v Chicago Slidders in the Superbowl. We didn't though did we. American football!? No thanks. Instead we went (predictably) to EFW Headquarters and partied like it was 1999 again. It had started to snow at that point so we stayed until closing in the vein hope that we'd get snowed in and have to stay there the night. Happy days (and nights). Until next time.....

p.s. Ignore these two videos below. They are the same as the one above. I just don't know how to get rid of them!