Thursday, 28 May 2009

Coming soon....

El show debe continuar (The show must go on)

So the season has ended has it!? Has it 'eck as like. We are committed to squeezing every last sinew out of this season here at European Football Weekends. Hence we are off to Spain this weekend in preparation for the Alicante v Hercules derby match on either June 6th or 7th.

Amusingly, we dialed up both clubs from the EFW office this morning and neither knew when the game would take place despite the fact it's only 8 or indeed 9 days away. It's always a bit in Spain and God bless them for it. Well, that is unless you are trying to organise a European Football Weekend.

There is certainly no love loss between Alicante and Hercules, not least because they reside in the same City and also currently share the same stadium. The match itself is potentially huge with Hercules one place off an automatic promotion spot - into La Liga - whereas Alicante are doomed to relegation. It could be the last derby for some time and as such it could go off with a bang.

So what else have we got lined up for you over the coming weeks!? (I'm sure you'll bore us with the details - Ed). We have got some Football in Finland, a possible encounter with darts legend John Lowe, more EFW logo galleries (photos still flooding in), some ICC Twenty20 World Cup gubbins, the obligatory 2008/09 season review and the launch of the inaugural EFW t-shirt.

In other news, an email flooded into the office this week. I've been asked to mention a pre-season friendly which has been arranged in the Southern Polish City of Krakow. The match is between Hutnik Krakow and Sheffield FC. Nikers play in the Nova Huta part of the city and were formed in the 1950's as the steel-works team. Sheffield FC proud boast is that are the oldest football club in the world. The match takes place on Saturday July 25th with a 3pm kick off should you be passing through.

Talking of European Football Weekends, least not forget that as soon as the Dutch and Belgians announce their fixtures for 2009/10, we'll be swinging into action and arranging the 'EFW Oktoberfest'. This is set to be the social event of 2009 with fans from all over Europe attending a feast of football, beer and laughing. You are all invited so keep a space free in your diary for the end of October.

Until then folks hasta luego!

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Super, smashing, great day out ruined by 90 minutes of football.

Gillingham 1-0 Shrewsbury (23:05:09)

- click on photos to enlarge -

Our cousins from overseas must be affording themselves a giggle/scratching their collective heads at the ticket prices for what was - in old money - a Division 4 match. Bank managers look away now when I tell you that the cheapest tickets for this League Two Wembley Play Off decider were £31.25p each (each!) rising to a staggering £61.25 each (each!).

Fact is though, 53,706 punters turned up. Where else in the wide world of sport would you get such a tremendous showing for a game in the nether regions of the football league!? I'll tell you where, nowhere that's where. (bit touchy today Lasty, got a hangover!? - Ed).

1st prize for the winners of this match was quite a considerable one. With Southampton, Norwich City and Charlton Athletic all relegated from the Championship, League One next season reads like a who's who of fallen giants. By comparison the runners up would be jogging out at Burton Albion.

Shrewsbury had reached the final courtesy of an outrageous match against Bury in the semi finals. Bury threw the proverbial kitchen sink at The Shrews for the entirety of their 2nd leg at Gigg Lane but keeper Luke Daniels excelled with his vorsprung durch technic you know and became an instant Shrews legend in the process. That reminds me, mental note to self *cut down on my porklife, mate, get some exercise!*.

The League Two Play Off final has become something of a traditional day out for Mr Green and I. There are a couple of Shrewsbury fans on the European Football Weekends Facebook group and hence we leaned towards Salop rather than Kent in terms of lending our vocal chords worth of support.

In sharp contrast to last weeks shenanigans when I was making a nuisance of myself in the press box at Wembley, I approached this match as an actual fan. The subtle difference being beer and plenty of it.

You might think that running this website is all fun and games but sometimes you have to put in the hard graft. For example on this sunny Saturday morning -in the interests of research and photographing shiny happy people laughing - Mr Green and I had to arrive at the Green Man pub at Wembley a full 4 (four!) hours before kick off. It's a hard knock life for us.

Around 1,500 Shrewsbury fans had the same idea. The pub was Bobs Full House. We were told in no uncertain terms that this gathering of Shrews fans in Salop would have had the local police wetting themselves. As it was, fans sang, beer was sunk in vast quantities, cats ended up kissing dogs and it was an resounding success. Good luck to the landlord of that place who is now probably sitting on a beach in the Caribbean as a result of his days takings.

Mr Green and our new best mate Mike Davis.

Harry, Kevin, Hanah and Harry fully coloured up.

The Grant Holt (Superman) fan club.

Stuttgart Shrew aka Perks.

Only at Wembley!

Perks Senior, Perks and Lee Vaughan amongst others enjoying their pre match bevingtons.

Mr Green is the Green Man.

Matchdays in and around Wembley are actually superbly organised. Each pub was designated as being either a 'Shrewsbury or Gillingham pub' and whilst this rules out any exchange of banter it also rules out any chances of bother and we all like our football with no bother don't we.

As Mr Green and I took our seats in the beer garden, we were joined by Wolves season ticket holder Mike Davis. Mike turned out to be fantastic company regaling us with tales of Billy Wright, his appearance at the 1966 World Cup Final and the fact he met his wife 50 years ago on the steps of Wolverhampton Town Hall - at 5pm - after a reserve match!

As the pub filled up to capacity we were also joined by EFW Facebook members and Shrews fanatics David Perks and Lee Vaughan. Perks had travelled over from Germany especially for the match. He has lived in Stuttgart for five years and earns himself 5 FIFA stars for being the proud owner of a 'Kickers Stuttgart' season ticket. Good on you our kid!

Anyone who knows and goes to football will know this feeling: the pre-match fun and japes are the best bit about going to a football match. The actual game itself (very) often fails to live up to the expectation. How often does the football get in the way of a good day out!? This was very much the case on this day. The match was and lets be brutally honest about this 'bobbins'.

Shrewsbury had thumped the Gills 7 (seven) nil in their home match earlier on in the season. As we know though, football of course rarely follows any conventional wisdom and it would have been spurious to suggest that that result would have any effect on this Wembley get together.

As we took our seats in the Shrews end for afternoon the high octane thrills and indeed spills were notable by their absence. It took 31 minutes before some Nutter had a shot at goal. Gills John Nutter was that chap and his long(ish) range effort forced keeper Luke Daniels to put down his book and get his shorts dirty.

Both teams looked nervous both were struggling to retain possession and was a blessed relief to all and sundry when Clive Oliver blew his whistle for half time forcing Mr Green and I back to the bar for a welcome pint of turgid weak Wembley lager.

Things slightly improved in the 2nd half. Shrewsbury were the better side and were growing in confidence which is a preference for the habitual voyeur of what is known as parklife (that is enough, final warning for you - Ed).

Ben Davis - who had earlier in the week been photographed with his breadknife in the local paper wearing a pair of marigold gloves - delivered 1 x rasping volley which forced Simon Royce to put down his book and produce 1 x splendid save. Many Shrews fans were sporting marigold gloves by the way in homage to the Davismeister.

What tactics did Town gaffer have hiding up his blue and amber sleeve!? Well, with the game seemingly heading into extra time he threw on David Worrall and Omer Riza. As it was though, Gillingham's 20 goal hero Simeon Jackson was to have the last word. He chose the very last minute of the game to announce his arrival. Prior to this moment he'd done nowt. Josh Wright swung in a corner and Jackson lept like a salmon and headed Gillingham into League One.

So the Gillingham fans got to dance to Status Quo whilst the Shrews massive were left to reflect on another Wembley disappointment. Mr Green and I let the crowd die down by sinking a few more bevies in The Bear public house before returning to Brighton for an evening in EFW HQ. It had been a splendid day out in the big smoke ruined only by 90 minutes of football. Cheers!

Fancy some more photos from the day!? (Oh go on then - Ed):

Monday, 18 May 2009

Access All Areas

Cambridge United 0-2 Torquay United (17:05:09)

- click on photos to enlarge -

I'm not sure who was more surprised to be sitting at Wembley on this breezy, overcast Sunday afternoon. The 20,000 Cambridge United fans of whom even the most optimistic must have thought they'd blown their chances of promotion into the Football League after goosing up their Play Off Semi Final 1st leg (losing 3-1 to Stevenage) or myself. To my great delight, I'd managed to trouser a press pass two days prior to the match. Three cheers to Assistant General Manager of the Football Conference Keirina for sorting all that out. Hip hip...

Logic dictates this match shouldn't really take place at Wembley. The crowd of 35,089 could have shoehorned into pretty much any of London's many other football stadiums rather than filling just over a third of the new Wembley. Many actual Cambridge fans would like to have seen it played elsewhere but the thousands of day trippers with their jester hats and horns would beg to differ.

So Wembley it was to be. The home of football and the home of legends but moreover (surely) there was going to be a splendid array of biscuits on offer for the assembled media types backstage? It was built at a cost of £798 million making it comfortably the most expensive stadium in the world. I was hoping that a a slice of that budget had been set aside for the all important BB (Biscuit Budget).

So for Freeman and Mcnulty read Cambridge and Torquay for this was going down to the Wire. A match to decide who was to take the last available vacancy in the Football League proper. Fasten your seatbelts for the ride, cabin crew, doors to manual and cross check.

First things first though. With my appearance in the press box assured, I'd decided that my usual pre-match meal of five bevingtons should be sacrificed. My companion for the day; Mr Stuart Fuller of The Ball is Round and The Budget Airline Guide to Football fame suggested a trip to Lords, the home of cricket for a couple of hours. Middlesex were playing Somerset in the Friends Provident Trophy and Stuart being the good chap he is had negotiated us both a press pass for their space age media centre.

Aside from football, cricket is my other sporting obsession. I really had to pinch myself to believe that I was sitting in the best media facilities (it really is top draw) in the most famous cricket ground in the world chatting to amongst others my old mate; ex-England cricketer and current managing director of Middlesex Angus Fraser. It was that sort of day.

Not a bad little view.

Cheers Gus! (Liverpool fan by the way).

After watching left handed Australian Philip Hughes - set to be the backbone of the Aussies bid to retain the Ashes this Summer - nonchalantly notch a half century (whilst helping myself to complimentary sandwiches and drinks), it was time to head on. Thirty minutes later, Stuart and I were signing our names in at Wembley, handed a free programme and presented with a press pass the size of a bus to wear over our necks. To be honest, I don't think I could have been any happier had the security chap placed an Olympic Gold medal over my - increasing in size - head.

Most of the national press in the media area seemed a bit miffed to be there. To them it was probably a pain in the arse to have to cover this match. To me though - in a season where EFW has been promoting the game at grass roots level - it felt fitting to be there. It was quite hard to maintain a cool persona. I let this slip a little bit when upon entering into the area, I spotted some free pastrami rolls and sprinted Linford Christiesque (justifying my gold medal) to lay my hands on one. No sign of biscuits though. Half time maybe!?

As for the toilets! Well, ladies and gentlemen I give you.....drumroll......LUXURY hand soap AND (!) moisturiser!! Couple that with a hand drier that actually worked and you can see where the 800 million quid went. Fantastic.

So clean as a whistle and fully moisturised I made for my seat in the Media Block 1 - West - Row 2, Seat P37. I only had my own flat vision screen, a swivel chair (quite hard to negotiate yourself in and out of these incidentally) and a desk. I was sat next to Stuart on one side and Andrea from the official Cambridge United website on the other.

That'll do nicely.

The pre-match was marred by some opera singing from that chap Martin Toal who Wembley insist on wheeling out for every game. Aside from that though we had a 'keepie uppies' competition to enjoy in which Jack from Basingstoke bagged 10 grand plus the two respective club DJs whipping up each set of fans into a frenzy. The Cambridge fans actually were a credit to their club, bouncy bouncying their way through the afternoon, making a helluva noise in the process.

Amusingly, the aforementioned Cambridge fans welcomed their team onto the pitch with a very impressive ticker-tape reception. I say amusing because due to an over enthusiastic PA announcement, they went a bit early. Thousands of yellow pages were thrust into the air just as no teams took to the pitch.

So to the match (finally - Ed). Even early on in the game it was clear Tim Sills was going to be the centre of attention. Arguably, the striker should have been sent off after 7 minutes when he - the man in the iron mask for the afternoon - clearly elbowed Cambridge defender Wayne Hatswell in the boat race. I know because I saw it - as clear as day - a minute after the incident on my flat vision monitor. Hatswell returned the compliment ten minutes later with a splendid bone crunching tackle on Sills which earned him 1 x yellow card.

Around the perimeter of the ground, Wembley has those annoying advertising hoardings that change every two minutes. Annoying in the sense that once you notice them, you become obsessed and can't keep your eyes off them. I see Brut (for real men) are back in business. Slap it all on 'enry.

After 31 minutes (I was surrounded by clocks) Gulls keeper Michael Poke produced a splendid one handed (one handed!) save to deny Cambridge No.18 *checks teamsheet* Robbie Willmott from his moment of glory.

The Torquay end - they had just over 10,000 fans.

No need for the third tier.

20,000 Cambridge fans in fine voice.

Man of the Match Tim Sills. For you he will be 'The Man in the Iron Mask'.

Three minutes later Torquay skipper, hairy Chris Hargreaves opened the scoring with an absolute screamer into the top corner, just like he must have done in his dreams the previous evening. 1-0 to Torquay who then - after being outplayed in the early exchanges - began to beam with confidence and even had the audacity to start playing to ball around in 'triangles'. Nice.

Half time duly arrived. It has a habit of doing so after around 45 minutes of each game. After applying another layer of luxury moisturiser, I made my way to the table in the press room that I had earmarked out earlier in the day for being the favourite to house our biscuit selection box. I wasn't to be disappointed. Deep breathes now everybody. They had jammy dodgers, bourbons, custard creams the lot. You name it, they had it. Biscuit heaven.

Oh my God!

On entering the media section at half time I was stopped by security. They asked to see my press pass. Not a problem old boy. In fact if that chap wants to see my pass he can - every day for the next two years because I'll still be wearing it!

After 69 minutes (fnar fnar) of the second half, any chance Cambridge had of turning things around went out the window when Philip Bolland pulled down Elliot Benyon. His second bookable offence earning him 1 x marching orders and 1 x early bath from the referee.

Tim Sills sealed (I'm contractually obliged to say that) victory for Torquay six minutes later. He got his nut on the end of a cross thus heading his 21st goal of a memorable season for him. Cambridge had lost their second play off final in a row and Torquay were on their way back to the Football League.

Danny Last in total heaven.

Danzel anyone!?

Goal! The scoreboard stating the bleeding obvious.

After a quick boogie to Rocking All Over The World by The Quo with the Torquay fans I headed off for the press conference. Firstly we were all ushered off to the Mixed Zone. I thought this might be an after show party with Fatboy Slim spinning the wheels of steel but it turned out to be an area where hacks could choose and interview whoever they liked.

A fixer came round and set the order. First dibs went to the BBC, then local radio and tv, *ahem* European Football Weekends, Sky Sports and then the fabulous Non League Paper. I chatted to Cambridge boss Gary Brabin who seemed quite chipper considering they'd lost. He thought they were "the better side, could have easily won, played good football even with 10 men, was proud of the team and thought they had a lot to build on". What he didn't tell me was that he was leaving the club. This emerged the next day after Chairman George Rolls told the world he'd given Brabin permission to talk to another club, higher up the league ladder.

After a quick stroll through the players lounge and generally feeling quite at home it was off back to Brighton. If you are reading this Miss K Rowland, Assistant General Manager of the Football Conference, can you pencil me in for next year please!? Many thanks.

Cambridge United boss Gary Brabin fielding questions in the Mixed Zone.

Well, you'd all do the same!

The press conference room.

See you next year!?

Friday, 15 May 2009

European Football Weekends - The Gallery - Part 2

Everybody's doing the logo-motion

- click on photos to enlarge image -

Pure self indulgence or just a bit of a laugh!? The EFW logo has been kicking out the jams at a variety of places in the last few weeks. Since we launched the Gallery (part 1) in April, I've been sending them out and you've been sending them in. So jump onboard the good ship EFW as we sail through from Axminster to York stopping at all stations in between including Sihanoukville, Cambodia naturally:

(Jesus H Christ he wasn't joking - Ed)

We certainly weren't joking Ed. Sector Lane home to Axminster Town FC launches the second installment of the EFW Gallery. Thanks to Graeme Holmes.

Glossop North End fans join the EFW party before the FA Vase final at Wembley.

Hello to you from the Forest Green Rovers club shop.

Bradley the Badger - Forest Green Rovers mascot joins our club.

Didn't have a lovely time the day we went to Nailsworth.

Stadio Artemio Franchi, A.C. Siena.

Same place but with a crowd.

Our friends from Chievo in the Piazza del Campo, Siena...

...which looks a bit like this.

We laid our cards on their (very nice) table.

Walton Casuals FC

And in the interests of fairness - Walton and Hersham FC

On the pitch at VfL Wolfsburg.

Taking over railway stations in Rostock.

It's upside down lad. FC Hansa Rostock fans get in the mood.

FC Hansa Rostock

They've changed their tune in Berlin. The Jesse Owens Allee is it now.

On the pitch (again) in The Olympic Stadium, Berlin.

You've got some cheek.

Jack the lad! Jack McLellan proudly sporting his EFW badge at the Man City v Hamburg UEFA Cup Quarter Final.

Phil Blackman at his local club - Crowborough Athletic FC.

We should be so Locky! Merstham goal machine Kevin Lock.

EFW Team of the year - Merstham FC. A team photo complete with EFW logos (my dream is complete - Ed).

Alright Skip! Merstham FC captain courageous Craig Vernon.

Our man Tias at the Bordeaux-Vannes, French league cup final at the Stade de France.

Hands across Europe. Bordeaux-Vannes, French league cup final at the Stade de France.

A hatrick of different coloured logos at the French League Cup final!? Yeeeeees or should that be Ouuuuuui!

Cynical Dave at Wheatsheaf Park (28:04:09) for the Staines v Sutton Ryman League Play Off Semi Final.

Big Deaks snapped the EFW logo at Wheatsheaf Park for the Staines v Sutton Ryman League Play Off Semi Final.

The Stadion Florian Kryger, home to Pogon Szczecin of Poland.

DKB Arena - FC Hansa Rostock.

The Brandenburg gate in Berlin anyone!?

Making ourselves at home in the Friedrich Ludwig Jahn Sportpark where FC Union Berlin have just helped themselves to the title.

The EFW team in Wolfsburg.

Outside the Olympic Stadium, Berlin.

And inside.

Annan Athletic in Scotland. Superbly snapped by Andy Challen.

10/10 for positioning Mr Challen.

EFW legend Patrick Van Puyenbroeck at the Bollenfalltor Stadion, SV Darmstadt 98.

Debbie outside Valley Parade, Bradford City.

And inside, Cheers Debs!

A legend in his own lunchtime according to Wade Moreton. Davie Turner outside the Blue gates at Ibrox. Talking of blue, you should have seen the other photos those lads submitted. They can now be found on our pay per view service (see me for details - Ed).

The EFW logo and a Merstham FC scarf sunning themselves on Bamboo Island, Sihanoukville on a holiday in Cambodia.

Sunrise at Pattaya pier, Thailand April 2009.

The good ship EFW sailing off the coast of Sihanoukville, Cambodia. Thanks to Wade Moreton for these non X-rated offerings.

Mr Holmes we presume! Our Graeme at Fiorentina.

Martin Baines took us to Boundary Park, Oldham to see his beloved AFC Mossley.

Malcolm Walker put us on the map in Malta at the Hibernians Football Ground...

...which he was directed to by Maltese Matt. Cheers lad!
Five FIFA stars awarded to our pal Mark Griffiths for this shot at the Racecourse Ground.

Here is Marks son Ben Griffiths-Trevor at Kettering Town. BGT is a football obsessive who has already ventured out on EFWs to Barca and Freiburg and has notched up a fair few Conference grounds following Wrexham FC. Good lad - welcome aboard Ben.

Do you want to show of the EFW colours at your club or on your travels!? Contact us at and we'll post you out a logo. What's not to like!?

The Antwerp lads in Holland at the Cambuur Stadion, home to Cambuur Leeuwarden.

Pat in the posh seats at Royal Antwerp FC

The EFW wheels took the lads from Antwerp to Hamburg.

Jordi and his pal at Hamburg.

Who are ya!?

Patrick Van EFWbroeck.

Glory glory Royal Antwerp.

It's Firhill for Thrills for Phil Blackman.

Inside at Partick Thistle FC. Mmmm......

UR Namur v Royal Antwerp FC Belgium - 2nd Div. (Stade Commnunal)

Fancy a brew!?

These lads do (or did).

Sam Lock at Meadow Lane, home to his beloved Notts County.

Expert snapper Mr Challen with his offering from Penrith Football Club.

Loving your work Andy!

Torsten Bunde walked around his local ground, the Rudolf-Kalweit-Stadion in Germany.

It's a non-league ground in the 5th league called the Oberliga Niedersachsen West.

Cheers Mr Bunde(sliga)!

Patrick outside the gates of FC Twente in Dutch Holland.

England cricket star Jimmy Anderson who chose to celebrate career best figures for Lancashire by joing the EFW team. Welcome aboard Jimbo - now go on and win us the Ashes our kid!

Talking of winning the Ashes these two lads know what it's all about. Danny (left) who saw England beat Australia and Jack Russell (right) who played in an Ashes winning team.

Binsy and Zuzka never leave home without their EFW logos.

Lewes starlet David Wheeler. The gift that keeps giving.

Who's the Daddy! Living legend Danny Cullip.

Steven Van Rompaey at SV Kozakken Boys. Dutch 3rd Division in Holland (Zaterdag Amateurs Hoofdklasse B since you're asking).

SVR inside the LTU Arena in Dusseldorf.

Greame Holmes at the School of Science.

York City goal machine Richard Brodie joins EFW. At time of going to press Brodie has scored 18 goals for City firing them to a place at Wembley in the FA Trophy.

York City manager Martin Foyle joins the growing list of A-list celebs happy to board the good ship EFW. Nice chap as well. Cheers Foylers.

So that concludes the EFW Gallery - Part 2. Want to feature in Part 3? Of course you do. You know what to do. See you then.