Monday, 31 May 2010

FC Vestsjælland

Blues are Vi-KINGS of Slagelse

FC Vestsjælland 1-2 Lyngby (30:05:10)

- Click on photos to enlarge image -

The EFW doors are wide open to most ideas. So when the family Pedersen of Copenhagen invited me for a day out to a Division 1 game in Slagelse (that's Slagelse!) on a rainy afternoon in May, I was all over it like a cheap suit. I'd met Ivar Pedersen at the New Firm Game back in March. This time around, I was to be joined by his sons; Hans & Kris plus Ivar's newphew Anders Petersen for the perfect Sunday.

Ivar chose to drive us the 100km or so to Slagelse. As it happens, I'd also been invited by the away team to travel on their supporters coaches. The Blue Vikings were subsidising travel for their fans and giving them free beer and cheap tickets in a bid to get a large and vocal travelling support in what was an important match - it worked. Ivar had also packed a ready supply of beers though so it was a win-win situation for EFW. Just how we like it.

Blokes being blokes, the five of us in the car were best mates within about two minutes. I am now the font of all knowledge on all things Danish football after spending a day with those guys. We fought only to get in our stories and funnies as made our way to Slagelse (fond of saying that place aren't you - Ed) which was a viking stronghold back in the day. Both teams with viking links then - tick.

Now I've been to lots of football grounds but one with a bar in the corner which took the form of a viking helmet? That was new on me and what's more it was bloody marvelous. There just aren't enough pubs in stadiums that are made to look like a viking helmet in my opinion. The ground also had two banks of terracing which probably wouldn't have passed any health and safety regulations but as it was, they were largely empty for this match as it was absolutely chucking it down and so the 1,253 punters all gathered in the main stand - with a roof.

Old sandy terracing which is semi-dangerous - tick.

Thirsty old work this Danish football lark.

Singing in the rain. The home ultras.

The Blue Vikings.

What with surrounding trees, terracing, novelty bars and ready supply of Harboe beer being served - I couldn't have cared less about the rain. This was the perfect Sunday and no mistake. The only thing nagging me was the Danish curse of popcorn. Popcorn does not belong at a football match Denmark. If you want popcorn - go to the cinema. If you really want to talk food, then what about garlic. Apparently, Danes have garlic on everyday aside from Wednesday & Saturday because those are the days they have sex. Arf.

Lyngby are a club on the way back after a few years in the doldrums. Their old nemesis and neighbouring club B1903 seized to exist in 1992 and merged with KB to form FCK (FC Copenhagen). They came back and rid Lyngby of their best players and guy who was also putting money into the club left as well to become Chief Executive at FCK. Lyngby filed for bankruptcy and were demoted several divisions. Since then, despite seeing their best players regularly disappear they're back and in with a sniff of top-flight football again. They also need a new ground as theirs isn't good enough at the moment (great knowledge our kid- Danish Div 1 Ed).

Roared on by about 200 away fans, Lyngby won this game with the last kick of the ball. Their fans gave their anthems a throaty airing and Hans Pedersen (age 11) dug me in the ribs and reminded me that he'd predicted that very result. Hans is already a football guru. Good on you mate! He's our new Danish EFW correspondent.

Patrick Mortensen and his pals in the background.

For the first time in what seemed like weeks, we weren't subjected to the Black Eyed Peas at the full time whistle. Wembley Stadium are all about that song "cos tonight's gonna be a good good night....I've got a feeling ooohh oooohhh..." It's living proof that football fans will sing and dance along to any old rhubarb minutes after winning a promotion play-off final at the home of football.

After stopping off for some emergency beers on the way back into Copenhagen and several airings of the Amateur Transplants I was biding farewell to my Danish pals and back for a night out in town which inevitably ended up with 25 locals singing traditional drinking songs long into the night.

When I started EFW two-years ago, my vision was to unite some like-minded fans from around Europe. Those who prefer a beer and a laugh to a fight. I've met some great people on this journey. The Pedersen family and the lads I met in Malmo the day before were great company. Here's to European Football Weekends all round in 2010/11. Join us for the ride why don't you?

Popcorn on sale in the club shop.

Pub in the corner is a viking helmet, terracing, old skool floodlights and a few trees. What's not to like?

Hans across Europe. EFW's Danish correspondent.

Cheers lads! Kris, Hans. Ivar and Anders.

Pass us another beer.

Leafy surroundings.

For lots more photos from the day CLICK ME

- Feel free to post a comment below -

IFK Malmo

IFK - The Pride of Malmo

IFK Malmo 3-2 Nosaby IF (29:05:10)

- click on photos to enlarge image -

Don't stress yourself too much about getting a match ticket for IFK Malmo. Their average crowd of around 100 can fit quite comfortably into the Malmo Stadion - capacity 27,500. They're a club who subscribe to the old 'fallen on hard times' chestnut. As they've plummeted down the divisions, nearly everyone has given up on them. That is, aside from a few nutters. Hi ya!

With Sweden having failed to qualify for the World Cup, football wasn't uppermost in the thoughts of the people of Malmo again for this game - in the fifth level of Swedish football. Talking of the World Cup though, IFK do have quite a claim to fame in that department. In 1958 (stick with this one - Ed), Germany played Argentina in Malmo. Germany's kit clashed with Argentina's but they refused to change it (typical Germans eh Fergie!) and therefore Argentina had to play in a borrowed kit from - IFK Malmo. I bored everyone with that story over the weekend.

This was a bonus match for me. I hadn't actually flown in especially for this game but as I was in the area with my wife and Sister then, weeeell....why not take in a game eh? Beats shopping that's for sure. As I wasn't initially with any lads, my pre-match routine of working through a menu of beer was replaced by drinking in some local culture instead. The Oresund Bridge, Turning Turso, Western Harbour, Malmohus Castle, Slottsparken, Lilla Torg and Stortorget were all ticked off before I drew the line at shopping and headed off for the football.

The Malmo Stadion. Choose any seat you like but remember the history.

One man and his cap.

Hello.....anybody home?

EFW is making a bit of a name for itself in Sweden after being featured on the SvenskaFans website a couple of times lately, which is the biggest football site in the country. As such, news of my visit had attracted the attention of both Per-Gunnar Nilsson (who has his own very good football website) and Sven Persson - the later of which is part of the Scandinavian Barnet Supporters Club. No really, it's true. I met both lads before the game.

Sven drove me to the game and we bonded instantly because within four minutes of meeting him, he made a small diversion to IFK Malmo's old IP Stadium. Nowadays it is used by LdB FC Malmo in the Swedish Women's Premier League. After a routine snap on the pitch we moved onto another stadium which was adjacent to the actual ground we were going to. Are you keeping up at the back? Simon Inglis would have been having kittens. Three grounds in 30 minutes. Phwoar!

Malmo FF are the big cheeses of Malmo. They recently moved out of the Malmo Stadion (where IFK now play) and into the all singing and dancing Swedbank Stadion - literally next door. I asked a couple of people if I could have a look inside but they refused. What a pompous, jobsworth bunch of absolute knob-jockeys. I hate Malmo FF - for now anyway. "Shove your Swedbank" I said, I'm off to see a proper club - IFK.

And with that, we headed next door for the IFK v Nosaby game and within seconds were personally greeted by the Chairman Lars Holmberg and a number of other staff who simply couldn't do enough for us. Shove that up you ars....(alright that's enough - sensible Ed).

How many grounds of this size have a mobile club shop that is wheeled in by four lovely old ladies in a shopping trolley? That's IFK style and they had biscuits (biscuits!) as well. No beer though. Oh.

The electronic scoreboard was erm.....switched off for the day.

Sven and Per-Gunnar soak it all up.

Come 'ere you! Malmo go 2 up...

...make that 3-0.

Per-Gunnar had come 65km for this game. He actually works with he Nosaby Manager and three of the away teams players were his pupils -he being a teacher. They thought he was a mentalist for coming that far to see them play. When he then told them I'd come from England to watch, they were so dumbstruck, it took them 74 minutes to recover. By then they were 3-0 down. Arf.

Nosaby normally play at grounds that are nothing more than roped off pitches. So when they took to the pitch in this - to them - enormous ground, they were all nudging each other and giggling like school children. They walked to the centre of the pitch and waved to the non-existent crowd - chuckling with their every move.

You don't want me to talk you through the game do you? (nope - Ed). I'll just say that the first half was scintillating, swashbuckling football like on the Nike advert and that. Actually, it wasn't great but in fairness, things picked up in the second half and 5 (five) goals later - the crowd of around 70 were on their feet applauding what - in the end - had been a belting game of football.

IFK are a historic team and this stadium has bags of history. It's a real shame to see a club that was once amongst the elite in Sweden sink so low. They need to move grounds and that's for sure. It's just too surreal seeing them play at that place. I'm not too sure what the future holds for them but unlike the snobs from Malmo FF next door, they'd made EFW feel really welcome and for that reason alone - on this Saturday afternoon anyway - they were in my eyes: the pride of Malmo.

PGN's fine panoramic photo of the Malmo Stadion. Click to enlarge and enjoy!

For more photos from the day CLICK ME

Feel free to leave a comment below

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Denmark and Sweden

Nordic News Extraaaaa

I'll be in Scandinavia until Monday. I've assured the wife it's a cultural trip and that but rules are rules as you know. As such, I've managed to negotiate the squeezing in of a couple of games in Denners and Sweden respectively. On Saturday I'll be at Malmo IFK v Nosaby IF and on Sunday I travel with the Blue Vikings of Lyngby to FC Vestsjælland. The later is in a town called Slagelse. Nothing funny about that. Arf.

You can follow my adventures on the EFW Twitter feed which has suddenly gained a few hundred new followers after recent mentions on The Guardian website and our interview with the Football Ramble.

In the meantime, can I point you in the direction of a fantastic new blog which has surfaced prior to the World Cup. A couple of lads are buying up beers from all 32 competing teams and aim - after several bouts of watery mouth - to find the world's best beer. The blog is called Cup of Good Hop it's bloody funny.

See you on the other side.

Monday, 24 May 2010

The Football Ramble

Hooooooo-way the Lads!

Surreal brilliance and an antidote to the glossy, predictable and sycophantic outpourings from some of the more established sports media. No, it's not another Guardian review of European Football Weekends - this is what cool cats are purring about the Football Ramble. The podcast, website, Facebook Group and Twitter feed that fans are lapping up in their thousands.

The multi-award winning podcast is presented by Fulham fan Marcus and features three other lads; JamesorJim (Arsenal), resident Geordie Pete and Portsmouth fan Lukey Moore who EFW had the fine pleasure of meeting and interviewing:

A bulging trophy cabinet full of awards and record amounts of listeners. It's all going rather swimmingly for you chaps right now no? - Haha, that's very nice of you to say so. We're enjoying making the show, and it's great when people like it so much that they tune in every week. The awards are great as well, but they're obviously not the reason we make the show. That said, it's flattering and encouraging when you win them; it means you must be doing something right.

Be honest, how often do you check to see where the Ramble is in the itunes chart?
Haha! I undoubtedly check it more than the other boys, I'm always keen to find out where we are. The other chaps are bored to tears when I email them every day saying 'We're 4th in the Sports charts!' or 'We're 34th in the Podcast charts!' I'm sure, but then to be fair I get bored when Pete emails me a load of photoshops of my face on farmyard animals, so it's tit-for-tat.

How does the Football Ramble differ from Football Weekly and TheGame podcast from The Times? - I don't actually listen to The Game anymore, so it's hard to say. But we're different from Football Weekly as far as we're not as serious; we try to be more of a celebration of football than an authority on the game. We clearly don't have the contacts within the game that they have, and we're not going to beat them on breaking transfer stories or news. We're more about the entertainment value (I hope).
The Fab Four: Luke, Pete, Marcus and JamesorJim.

Is there a simmering rivalry between The Ramblers and Football Weekly team? Not at all. We're all big fans of their work, and we wouldn't even be making a show if it wasn't for James Richardson's Gazzetta Football Italia. He greatly inspired us. I know that at least one of the FW boys listens to the show as well because he tweeted me correcting me on some factual error not so long ago. Also, we were going to sort a five-a-side game out with them at some stage, but it's not happened just yet. We're all so busy. Maybe we'll make it happen after the World Cup. Failing that, I'm sure we'll go for a beer instead.

You've all got full time jobs, how much time and effort do you put into the Ramble each week?
A lot. More and more these days. We're doing a lot of stuff for the World Cup build up, and we also have to meet/email/phone each other all the time to make sure we all know what we're doing etc. Then there's the website which can take quite a bit of time. Yeah, quite a lot.

It is still a lot of fun though eh? -
Of course. I'd never complain about it. We're busy because the show is popular. It's important to remember that, I think.

Hats off for getting Kenny Pavey (the modern day Robin Friday) on the show. What was he like? Yeah, he's a good lad. A nice fella as well. I'd hate to play against him, he'd be terrifying.

Which other players have you had on?
Er, we've had a number of players and managers do little idents for us. In terms of actual interviews, just Dean Windass I think. Our type of show tends to rule out having a load of players on though. We think about getting them on and then realise that we'd probably just take the piss out of them for ten minutes and they'd inevitably get pissed off. It's best that we're outside of that circle of people, I think. That way we can be more objective. Having said that, Marcus got Joe Kinnear to do an ident once. He only had to say his name and 'you're listening to the Football Ramble' and he kept forgetting it. It was hilarious. Poor old Joe, he's not the brightest.

You like to pull a few stunts on the show, any that stand out?
We sent Jim's hair to Peter Kenyon when he was Chelsea Chief Exec. He didn't reply. Other stunts tend to revolve around Pete bullying me. Over the last six months he's punched me in the bollocks in an airport departure lounge in Barcelona in front of about 200 hundred people, put my phone down his boxer shorts, and taken a picture of me half-naked and put it on the internet. And those are just the ones I know about. He comes across as a lovable, cheeky joker when in fact he really is an awful human being.

Tim Lovejoy is a God discuss..
- A God of what? Haha! Seriously, every time I do an interview with anyone, Tim Lovejoy gets brought up. I have no idea why. He's a terrible football broadcaster and comes across as massively arrogant. I don't actually know him, though. I'm sure his Mum loves him and loves washing his Watford and Chelsea shirts when he goes to visit her.

Has it always been hunky dory at Ramblers HQ or have you had any fallouts?
- We have disagreements all the time, about what should go in the show and what shouldn't, especially. But in terms of personal fallouts, no. We're all pretty reasonable people, I think. Either that, or the other three are just amazingly tolerant of my outrageous demands. But I'm hoping it's the former.

Have you had any criticism from listeners about aspects of the show?
- Yes of course. People email in from time to time saying we're wrong on a particular issues, or that we've got a fact wrong here and there. That's all good though, I'd rather someone emailed in and told us than just kept quiet. Otherwise we'd go through life thinking we're right all the time. Which is obviously not the case. Oh, and there was that time when you told me that you thought the Hall of Fame/Profile feature was 'boring', Danny. Don't think I've forgotten that. Let it be known that agreeing to do this interview after that jibe is a measure of how reasonable I am.

Did I really say boring? I was just keeping you on your toes. Will this do to make up for it?

You interact with the listeners on Twitter and Facebook which is great. How much correspondence do you get a week?
- I'm not sure, but it's a lot. We always try and reply to emails, JamesorJim looks after that and he does a great job. I think we get something like 700 interactions a week on Facebook and then there's the Tweets and the emails on top of that, so it's a lot, yeah. Again, this is a good thing though. So no complaints from us there, either.

You're off to the World Cup. I'll say that again 'You are off to the World Cup' You must be like a dog with two appendages?
- Yeah, it's pretty amazing. We'll be out in Johannesburg for the final. I've not been to a World Cup before, so it's something I'm really looking forward to. I hope it's a tournament that's remembered for footballing reasons, rather than something unsavoury.

How much output can we expect from you lads during the tournament?
Oooh, lots of blogging, videos, Rambles and things like that. I am sure we'll think of lots of other things to get up to while we're there, too. We could do a webchat or something. I don't know, I'm making up as I go along. But definitely the first bit, the blogs and Rambles and videos; we're definitely doing those.

Pete spins the wheels of steel at XFM and you're known for your musical taste as well. What should we be illegally downloadi....sorry, where should we be spending our itunes vouchers these days?
- Am I known for my musical taste? Is that actually true? Probably not. (check out Luke's personal Twitter feed for the truth. New Pornographers this and Band of Horse that - Ed) this However, at the moment I am chiefly listening to Japandroids and Syd Barrett. Separately. They never did a record together, to my knowledge. They're both great though, and The Madcap Laughs by Syd Barrett is the best summer album ever.

Can you recommend a good place for a *ahem* European Football Weekend?
Barcelona is a great one, but you've probably already been there (yep - Ed). Other than that, what about Portsmouth!? No, hang on, wait, come back....

And finally, The Ramble all started in your kitchen. Where will it all end?
- We're not going to stop until one of us is Prime Minister, one is presenting Match of the Day, one has a knighthood for services to LOLS and Pete has learnt how to tie his shoelaces.

Evidently, The Football Ramble is big in Barcelona.

The Football Ramble has teamed up with Man Month for the World Cup. Competitions and all sorts of Ramble goodies can be found on their website.

EFW interviews with Barry Glendenning, Sid Lowe and Gabriele Marcotti.

Follow the Football Ramble and EFW on Twitter.

Are you part of the Ramble Force?

- Feel free to comment below -

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Gabriele Marcotti

The Italian Job

Who better to talk football and Italia, Italia, Italia with than Gabriele Marcotti? The man with an encyclopedic knowledge who writes about football in The Times, Corriere dello Sport, Sunday Herald, SportsIllustrated and La Stampa and can be heard on the Times Podcast and on BBC Radio 5 Live. He's also written three books - Paolo Di Canio: The Autobiography, Capello: Portrait of a Winner and The Italian Job with Gianluca Vialli. And relax.

I decided against dressing up as a woman and saddling up to Marcotti in a covert operation to interview him. The heels proved too much in the end. Instead I opted simply to dial him up. Take that Mail on Sunday. Back at ya Lord T.

So pull up a chair then as Marcotti and I discuss all things Italian, Paolo Di Canio (mad as a box of frogs obviously), Fabio Capello beating up journalists and *adopts serious voice* Why Michele Padovano is a horrible person.

You were born within a gnat's crotchet of the San Siro. Was it there that you saw your first ever match and fell in love with football? No, my first match was actually in, of all places, Tokyo. Juventus v Argentinos Juniors for the World Club Cup. Platini scored a great goal which was disallowed, Juve eventually won. Like many, I fell in love with football well before that. My parents are not football fans, but I watched most of the 1982 World Cup (which turned out rather well for Italy, so it wasn't hard to "fall in love") on TV. Actually it was somewhat interesting because we were living in Germany at the time and that made the final even sweeter.

You're a Chelsea season ticket holder and follow Inter but Monza are your actual team right? It's a bit complex. I followed Inter as a kid because my grandfather, the only football fan in my family, was an Inter supporter. And I started going to Chelsea when I was in high school, between 1989 and 1991, simply because they were my local club. I sort of always liked Monza because their ground is near where my grandparents live one the outskirts of Milan. Later I sort of adopted them.

Why? Because to me being a fan means unconditional, unquestioning love. And, equally, loathing of your rivals. (Yes, it's not very mature, but that's how I see it). But when you work in this industry and you actually meet the people cover you might find that some of the guys you're supposed to support are nasty, unpleasant people. And, conversely, some of the ones you're supposed to loathe are actually great, admirable guys. So now I basically cheer for individuals I like and admire and leave it at that. I don't particularly like Barcelona, for example, but I adore Xavi, Guardiola and Pique. I didn't like Inter's football under Cuper and Tardelli or Chelsea's under Mourinho or Scolari. But I love the way Arsenal play and I like William Gallas, Fabregas and Van Persie, while disliking Ashley Cole. All this confusion tells me I can't really call myself a fan of a big club. Which is why I can support Monza from a distance... I don't really know those guys. I do have season tickets at Chelsea but I also go to the Emirates a lot (a friend has a box).

Deep breath now; poor attendances, antiquated stadia, outbursts of violence, stressful policing and the odd corruption scandal. Are you sick of these tired old cliches about Serie A? Well they may be cliches but they're largely true. Attendances aren't what they should be or could be, though there are a lot of reasons for that and lack of passion or attachment isn't one of them, so I'm not that concerned. I don't really care about antiquated stadia, I don't go to watch a football for the amenities. (Though I do care about bad sightlines, etc.). The policing is pretty crappy, but it's improving, slowly. What really annoys me - and this goes hand to hand with the corruption - is the impunity. But that's a reflection of Italy as a country, it's going to take a long time to change that.

The ultras in Italy are passionate beyond belief and bring noise and colour into the stadiums. They also carry some excess baggage that is said to be putting families off attending games. ID cards aren't the answer though are they? No, they're not the answer, but they can help and the opposition to ID cards isn't based on something rational like Big Brother civil liberties (as it is in the UK), after all, we all have national ID cards in Italy, I don't see how this is different. Opposition is based around wanting impunity. And that's what bugs me. If you misbehave you should be punished. I don't think the Ultras put off families going to games as much as people suggest. I think it's the bad policing coupled with the misceants who use the Ultras as cover. The Ultras need to do a better job policing themselves and the cops need to do a better job policing period.

What do you think is the main differences between Italian and English fans? Let me plug my book here, The Italian Job, in which Gianluca Vialli and I go into this at length. Maybe the biggest difference is that English fans have a different sense of loyalty to the club as a whole: the players, the manager, etc. That's why they continue to support the team even if they're playing badly (unless they really really stink). Italian fans really only care about the club colours and the crest, nothing else. They don't feel like they have to support if the team aren't producing. They feel the players and the manager are sort of the keepers of a sacred flame, but that does not make them immune to criticism. I guess it's the difference between believing in God and believing in the Church. English fans tend to back the Church, Italian fans back God, while reserving the right to be critical of everything the church does. The other big difference is that, broadly speaking, English fans reward effort, Italian fans reward performance, even if the effort isn't there.

The Italian Plug.

The twinning of Italian football clubs is fairly unique. Is there any real love there or is it a case of 'my enemy's enemy is my friend'? It varies to some degree. But generally the twinning is among the sets of fans, not the clubs, so it's often quite genuine.

What is your favourite Paolo Di Canio story? Wow, there are so many. Attacking his brother with a barbecue fork and impaling it in his back... having an anxiety attack while seeing a psychiatrist in Rome and running out into the streets with half the youth team chasing him... making Baresi and Maldini dance like puppets on a string when he was at Napoli... getting into a near fistfight with the late Tommy Burns and then breaking down crying, both men hugging each other in a rainy Glasgow... threatening to kill Ian Ferguson... scoring on his derby debut and winding up the Roma fans and then doing the same thing 15 years later... taking a pay cut to go back to the club he loves... putting fishheads in Peter Grant''s bed and basically making him have a nervous breakdown... ripping the ball from Lampard's hand to take a penalty while at West Ham... being cast to play young Zorro in a film as an eight year old...

What would he have made of Lazio supposedly rolling over against Inter towards the end of the Scudetto just to annoy their bitter rivals Roma? He would have absolutely hated it. But he would have understood why they did it.

Paolo Di Canio - Where to start?

"Those who love me follow me, those who hate me chase me" Jose Mourinho of course. Are you a follower or a hater? I can't give anybody the unconditional love he demands. So I guess I'm a hater. I just wish he would grow up and realize that you don't have to be rude and pick fights for people to respect you. And I wish he would not rewrite history at every turn.

I'm not sure if you've heard but the World Cup starts soon in South Africa. Does the World Cup still get the Marcotti juices flowing? Absolutely. There is nothing like it. And if you've been fortunate enough to witness your team winning it - as I have been, twice in my lifetime - there is nothing like it.

What is your favourite World Cup memory? I'll give you two involving Italy, just because they were so personal. Watching Italy v Brazil in 1982 in my little suburb of Frankfurt and seeing Zoff make that late save, that was special. But also the semi final against Germany at the Westfalen stadium, when Lippi brought on the two strikers even as Germany was battering us. And then seeing Lehmann beaten and try to kick Gilardino. Wonderful. As for non-Italy related memories, obviously Maradona's second goal against England, as well as that brilliant reverse pass with his right foot to set up Caniggia against Brazil in 1990. Rashidi Yekini collapsing into the back of the net and praying after scoring for Nigeria. There are plenty others.

Italy stuck two fingers up to the world by winning it in 2006 after their preparations were dominated by domestic match fixing allegations. Did that galvanise both the team and the fans? It galvanized the team, it took the fans a while to get on board. Lippi had annoyed many by having so many closed practices. Plus, Italy fans, especially those at home, are notorious bandwagon jumpers. They're hypercritical and negative and then, if the team does well, they jump on the bandwagon and try to share the glory. Basically, we're pretty crap fans.

There is a huge furore about where the 2018 and 2022 World Cup should take place. Does it actually matter to you where they're played? Yes, I do care. I think the World Cup should be held in a country that loves football and is accessible and affordable to as many fans as possible. It should not be a promotional tool for a country, it's not the Olympics.

If England don't win the 2010 World Cup, it'll be the media's fault for bigging them up too much right? Yeah, but the media always big up England. It depends how England go out. The fact of the matter is that luck and happenstance play big roles. You don't necessarily need to be lucky, you need not to be unlucky.

Tell us something we don't know about Fabio Capello. People don't realize just how good a footballer he was. Most of what I know about him is in my book. He once beat up a journalist who criticized him. How's that? (pretty pretty good - Ed).

Which football journalists or presenters do you admire? Hugh McIlvanney is an inspiration for his writing. Martin Samuel is outstanding, though I don't always agree with him. I like a lot of the people who put in a a lot of hard work to get stories and, among those, I'd include Matt Hughes, Neil Ashton, Ian McGarry and Sam Wallace. Jonathan Wilson is possibly the most intelligent guy I know (though he shocked me once by not knowing who Jim Thorpe was). Guillem Balague and Rafi Honigstein are good friends as well as good journalists so I'm probably biased there. As for presenters, it's a particular skill, I think most are pretty polished. Don't really have faves.

Are there any that you dislike particularly (nobody reads this so you can tell us Gab)? Yes. And I'm not going to tell you who they are because it annoys me when fellow journos have a go at me too. I think it's fair for fans to criticize us in public, but colleagues should steer clear of that. But there are two I absolutely hate, largely because I think they're mean-spirited and allow themselves to be used as pawns. I mean, nobody is fully objective and if a source gives you a story, you're bound to look on them favourably. But there are limits and these guys regularly cross the line.

How much football do you watch a week? Usually two games in person and maybe another ten on TV. (I have three screens in my office and a magic satellite dish). *note to self: order two more screens and magic satellite dish for EFW office*

Who has been the most difficult footballer you've had to interview? The nastiest was Michele Padovano, just a horrible person. But he knows what I think of him. If you're talking difficulty in terms of obtaining the interview then there are many, including the ones I failed to get.

And finally, we obviously love our European Football Weekends. If you could recommend one city or one ground in Europe to watch some football in, what would it be? I guess you guys don't consider yourselves part of Europe, right?

Wrong, we're all about Europe here at EFW. One big party with everyone invited. Ok, I'd say Fulham for the scenery and Celtic, Leeds or West Brom for the fans. Off the top of my head, I'd say Venezia for the surreality of it all, Schalke for the experience and, on a good day, the Rome derby.

You can follow Gabriele on Twitter at @Marcotti & EFW on @DannyLast

His books are available HERE, THERE and EVERYWHERE.

Download TheGame Times Podcast for free each week HERE

Also in this series of interviews Sid Lowe and Barry Glendenning.

- Feel free to comment below -

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Oxford United v York City

Love lift us up where we belong

Oxford United 3-1 York City (16:05:10)

- click on photos to enlarge image -

Squeaky bum time in the Football Conference and a chance for either Oxford United or York City to claim the last available place in League Two. The Conference play-off final is fast becoming our favourite day of the year here at EFW. And that isn't just because we're afforded a Wembley Stadium press pass for the day either. Ok, it's a fair cop - that's exactly the reason.

Little did Petula Clark know that when she penned 'I will follow' in the 60s it would turn into a terrace classic some 50 years later. It has and its spawned a monster. A monster so big that once you hear it it'll be in your head all bloody day. York City's Ultras (as previously featured on these pages) the Jorvik Reds were once again the pioneers in England and have been airing this song for a while. Don't worry, it's coming to a ground near you next season.

Oxford United are the best supported club in the Conference both home and away. Their ultras were formerly known as the Giallo Esercito (Italian for Yellow Army) but have since simplified their name to the Oxford Ultras. Although fewer in number than York, they've been a growing influence since they were formed midway through the 2008/09 season. On matchdays at home they gather at the back of the Oxford Mail Stand and at away games, well, I'll let this video do the talking:

Sadly, adopted strictures from the men in suits don't allow for any such thing at the home of football. The two sets of ultras knew beforehand that they weren't allowed to take anything resembling "fun" into the stadium and as such they concentrated their efforts on the vocal side of things to get behind their respective teams.

Over 28,000 Dundee United fans had turned Hampden Park into a sea of orange in the Scottish Cup Final the day before this match. Oxford United went one better. Actually, they went several thousand better. Over 30,000 U's fans were inside Wembley and they'd left a sold out club shop back at their 3-sided Kassam Stadium. They'd even sold 500 yellow sponge hands according to the 16-page pull-out in the Oxford Mail. They were known as foam hands in my day.

I'm fairly new to this press lounge lark. Unlike my colleague Mr Fuller who - unhappy with the selection of sarnies on offer - sent the chef scurrying back into the kitchen for something other than 'egg mayo'. Their most difficult customer since Mark Lawrenson by all accounts. Inside the press box, we were sat next to The Guardian Chief Football Writer Paul Doyle. A bit ironic after I'd interviewed Sid Lowe and Barry Glendenning from the same organ recently. Brilliant I thought, he could write a proper match report and I could sit back and relax.

The only time I can recall a period of silence from the crowd inside Wembley occurred before the game when once again they insisted on wheeling out opera singer Martin Toal. It was 15 minutes before the match, the crowd were bubbling and wanting to sing their songs and yet, we're continually subjected to this chap, brilliant within his field I'm sure but not what we want at a football match. A football match Wembley. That's what you were built for. Get to the back of the queue opera singers. And you Muse. And American Football (ok that's enough - Ed).

The match was an absolute belter. Normally, days out like these are spoilt by the actual 90 minutes of football - not today. Oxford took the lead with a couple of quality goals. Goals that nearly burst my right ear drum thanks to the deafening noise created by the U's fans. Yellow and blue flags danced furiously and lung busting versions of "Yellows" and more ambitiously, lusty versions of "Come On You Yellows" bounced around the stadium. What could possibly go wrong now they thought.

Jimmy Jimmy. Jim Smith and Jim Rosenthal occupy the big screen as a 'Wall of Yellow' fills Wembley.

Just before half time Ryan Clarke's world collapsed around his ears. The player of the season for Oxford ensured that James Nesbitt's agent will once again be commissioning another of his "hilarious" footballing bloopers DVDs. In came a fairly innocuous York City cross, up popped Clarke for a routine catch, flapped at it and whoops - into the net in went. 2-1 at half time. Initially, I thought he must have been barged into the net like Steve Sherwood of Watford who felt the brunt of Andy Gray in the 1984 FA Cup final. Not a bit of it. He'd goosed it up. Game on.

That Ryan Clarke flap.

York are back in it.

Jorvik Reds momentarily delighted.

Normally, I'd have a pint at half time but not today. It was luxury biscuits with chocolate and cream, coffee, moisturiser and the best hand towels in Europe in the bogs (so that's where the budget went - Ed) and a quick catch up with the Twenty20 where England appeared to be on the verge of giving the Aussies a lesson in cricket. England World Champs? Surely not.

York took the game to Oxford in the second half. Our friends from the Jorvik Reds responded with several versions of 'I will follow'. Lyrics for this little ditty: We love you! We love you! We love you! And where you go we'll follow, we'll follow, we'll follow! We'll do it for you City! You City! You City! And that's the way it should be, it should be, it should be. WhoaaaaahWhhoah Whoooooa (repeat to fade). Believe me, you will all be singing it soon. Every one of you.

As it was Alfie Potter sent the Oxford fans into ecstasy and his team into League Two with a goal that I will always remember. Why is that? Well, I found the video function on my camera, switched it on for the first time and hey presto:

Off to the post match press conference we went. Oxford gaffer Chris Wilder stole the show in there. He is still bitter about the 5pts United were deducted last season. Talked additionally about how it annoys him that fans think they've got a big budget and put "Your Lutons and your Oxfords" in the same sentence. And then went on about "Your Morecambes and Your Dagenhams next season". Asked how he was going to celebrate he said "Anyone who knows me will tell you I'll rip the arse out of this for two weeks". Everyone laughed.

There was a bizarre end to our afternoon. Mr Fuller and I got locked inside the stadium with seemingly every door locked and no escape. We'd been fannying around for a bit - who wouldn't when given the virtual freedom of Wembley - but this was ridiculous. I can think of worse places to spend the night. It wasn't as if we were going to ruin the turf by pitching up the EFW tent on the pitch. As it was, after what seemed like a dogs age, we were marched out past the team coaches by security along with some of the bemused staff who'd also found themselves locked in. In fairness, it was better than the Wembley Tour. Cheers!

Not a bad little view for EFW.

Love lift us up where we belong.

"Anyone who knows me will tell you I'll rip the arse out of this for weeks" Wild Wilder in the press conference.

Top scorer AND appearing on EFW. What's not to like..

- For lots more photos of the day CLICK ME -

The Ball is Round report from Mr Fuller

*Feel free to comment below*

Sid Lowe

Hang on a minute....

Occasionally here at EFW HQ I get to wind my neck in for ten minutes and let someone who knows what they're talking about take to the stage. Stepping up to the mic today is Spanish football guru Sid Lowe, who - in between penning articles for the Guardian, Four Four Two, World Soccer Magazine and talking down the phone on the Football Weekly Podcast - was good enough to give us some of his time.

Sid has been reporting back from Spain for the thick end of ten years in which time he's translated for David Beckham, Michael Owen and Thomas Gravesen at Real Madrid, worked on Real Madrid TV and occupied a seat in every press box in La Liga and beyond. He's often mocked on the Football Weekly Podcast for continued usage of the phrases 'Rubbish', 'Caveat' and 'Hang on minute' whilst trying to control his dog in the background.

So pour yourself a caña, have a nice long siesta before waking up and reading Sid explain why Michael Owen isn't gay, Barry Glendenning is screwed, that Real Madrid bike, his recent Twitter addiction and why he will shortly be receiving Five FIFA stars in the post from EFW for laying the boot into Formula One.

Fans outside of Spain who travel to the Bernabéu and Camp Nou often complain about the lack of atmosphere, is there a game in Spain you can recommend that raises the roof in terms of noise? The Bernabéu and the Camp Nou can make a hell of lot of noise on big occasions (with 78,000 and 93,000 capacities how could they not?), but yeah I agree … Sevilla, Sporting Gijón, and Athletic Bilbao’s San Mamés are usually pretty good. Sevilla against Real Madrid (and, naturally Betis – who also tend to pretty noisy) is fantastic. And Madrid’s trip to San Mamés is always fantastic. Since returning from a decade away, Sporting’s fans have introduced the first division to a new phenomenon: away fans. Speaking of Sporting, it’s worth mentioning the Asturias derby too: Real Oviedo versus Sporting’s B team in the Second Division B (a level below the Second Division and made up of four twenty-team divisions, essentially a kind of Conference level) had over 16,000 this year. That was more than six first division games that same weekend. There are some others that stand out: Osasuna: close to the pitch, hostile, and very loud. Cádiz: funny. Similar at Xérez. And Tenerife’s fans have been great this season. Atlético: there are few noises like the Calderón launching into an big deep roar of: “Atlééééééééééééti”. And the return to a stadium of their own has made a real difference for Espanyol. Earlier this season Getafe were presented by the LFP with the award for the best fans in the league … in front of an empty stadium. Which says it all. I went to six consecutive Getafe games earlier this season. I think that makes me about their most loyal supporter. And I don’t even support them. I sometimes think the LFP are deliberately taking the piss.

Getafe fans collect their LFP 'best fans in La Liga' prize.

In my experience, Real Madrid fans aren't the most vocal in Spain, in fact, there aren't even the best in Madrid (Atléti and even Rayo Vallecano fans create more atmosphere). Has the fan base at the Bernabéu noticeably changed in recent seasons? Yes, to an extent. It’s got a lot more expensive and to some extent more gentrified. It is full most matches now but rarely makes as much noise as you might expect. There is a theory that says that one of the reasons why there is more noise on Champions League nights is that season ticket holders (who don’t necessarily chose the European option) don’t go so Madrid fans from all over Spain do (bear in mind that you can prepare a trip to the Champions League games and you can’t for league games because the LFP doesn’t even fix kick off times or dates until eight days before) and they are noisier and, as less regular visitors, more up for it. It’s also true that because of UEFA rules there is much better banter because there are actually away fans there – and lots of them. Taking away standing areas of course makes a difference too. the first game I ever went to in Spain was at the Bernabéu with 115,000 there against Zaragoza. Now, that was noisy.

I went to see Getafe play over Christmas and was astonished at the cost of match tickets. €40-80 to see them play Valladolid. Spain must be one of the most expensive countries in Europe to watch football nowadays no? Yes, it’s changed massively. A few years ago I bought a Rayo season ticket for the equivalent of £38. Madrid and Barcelona in particular have really increased but other clubs too. There is no uniform pricing structure either so smaller clubs hike prices like mad (and adopt the truly criminal policy of Día del Club whereby even season ticket holders are obliged to buy their seats) against the big two. All they achieve is a half empty stadium, and the half that is there supports the other team. Oh, and pissed off fans. Getafe are amongst the worst, price-wise.

Is it true that there is more Live English Premiership football than Spanish La Liga coverage on Spanish terrestrial television? On terrestrial TV in Spain you get one La Liga game a week: on La Sexta/autonomous region channels on Saturday night. And you normally get two English games: one on TVE and one on Teledeporte. If you buy Gol television you get a whole load more English games but you also get more Spanish league games – as many as four more per week. *interviewer rushes off to ring Spanish father in law*

The Marca and AS (predominantly) football papers are incredibly popular in Spain. Their output leans towards the English version of a tabloid, whereas El Mundo and El País don't really cover football in depth. Where do you head for intelligent football debate in Spain? Good question … actually, in fairness El Mundo and El País have increased their coverage recently and it is mostly very good. El Mundo now have a Monday sports supplement. I’m very impressed with a lot of the writers on those papers – Diego Torres, David Gistau, Cayetano Ros and more … Santo Segurola is at Marca, too, and he’s excellent. The problem with Marca and AS or El Mundo Deportivo and Sport is, in my onion, not so much that they are tabloid in style (they’re not always) but that they have sides. And that they have agendas that are so comically obvious, so utterly shameless, that you wonder if it’s all a big wind-up. Marca has taken a massive nose-dive lately. It is worth adding something here: those papers are mostly very good at what they do. Much as I dislike certain things about their editorial line, their self-importance, and the ludicrous ‘Villarato’ campaign (in which they accuse the refs of being in cahoots with Barcelona), AS is an impressive paper in some ways.

The actual dates and kick off times of matches in Spain are only decided a week or so before they take place. This makes any sort of pre-planning a logistical nightmare for fans. Is that why there are virtually no away fans at most matches? It certainly doesn’t help. I think it’s a complete shambles. But it’s also partly a cultural thing, partly the fact that Spain is so much bigger than, say, England. Spain is very passionate about football but that does not necessarily translate into attendance at games.

You've worked as a translator for Becks and Michael Owen. Any anecdotes about those two you'd care to share with EFW? Tragically, the best one has already become public and has done the rounds on Spanish telly. Basically, I used the wrong form of the verb ‘to be’ and had Michael Owen saying that Frank Lampard was, well, sexy. I suppose the best, nearly right but importantly still very wrong comparison would be me having Owen saying “Lampard is fit” but not meaning that kind of fit. Everyone fell about. One magazine asked the question: Is Owen Gay? No, it said, asking its own question, but his translator might be. I saw Michael in England a few months after he had signed for Newcastle and pretty much the first thing he said to me was: “hey, tell my dad what it was you said about Lampard.” David was always keen to do as much as he could in Spanish and actually worked at getting it right in preparation for press conferences but wasn’t comfortable in Spanish – not in front of a big audience anyway. He did try. The one that I found the funniest was translating for Tommy Gravesen. He just kind of growled angrily at everyone. It hardly needed translating and I was trying very hard not to laugh.

It wasn't too hard for EFW to track down Sid.

Real Madrid also gave you a fold-away bike did they not? Have any other gifts been forthcoming? Bizarrely, yes. At Christmas press meals they always give presents out. Mostly it’s relevant stuff – pens, phones, books, that sort of thing. And then one year Calderón handed out fold-up bikes. He must have had a job lot of them knocking about somewhere that he couldn’t shift. Should I admit that I haven’t used it? (Yeah, it's no big deal, we've all got Real Madrid bikes knocking about in the shed - Ed).

They've started playing "Sid Lowe Bingo" on the Football Weekly Podcast and Barry Glendenning told me (in jest before anyone writes in) to "defunny" your answers in this interview. Do you have a message for the boys back home? Well, that’s Barry screwed then, isn’t it? I deliberately defunnied my own answers so he wouldn’t have that satisfaction. If I remember rightly, the bingo didn’t go too well, despite them trying to take me down lots of dark alleys and serve up some caveats, woofs and hang on a minutes. The other day I was watching the elections on UK TV, by the way, and it was a caveat landslide. They were all at it. Dimpleby, that arrogant, argumentative tosser on Sky, even Mandelson. I’m just claiming back a much maligned word. Or maybe I missed my real calling? In truth, it comes from living in Spain. Caveat is the best translation of ‘matiz’ which in Spanish sounds nowhere near as poncey as it does in English. Someone mentioned to me the other day that they had used it twice in a Masters degree thanks to me … I was proud. Or at least I was until I checked my PhD and found that I hadn’t used it. Not bloody once in 147,000 words. I didn’t eat for days. As for the pod: I’m at an unfair disadvantage: I’m just down the phone, the sneaky bastards. And then they get producer Ben or Pete to edit it so they look good. And sabotage me. Now, that is when Barry defunnies my answers.

You've finally got onboard the good ship Twitter. Good fun or a pain in the arse? A bit of both. I’ve got to stop. It gets addictive but, as I have found out recently to my immense cost, it can be, well, costly.

Do you report or are in you interested in any other sports? I’d love to say yeah I’m an all-rounder me but not really. When I was younger I had spells of being really into tennis and even a bit of cricket, although I haven’t played either for over a decade. I used to do a lot of running too – cross-country and track but my interest in athletics as a spectator sport has largely faded. At moments, I can watch most sports and almost get excited. I went to the Olympics in Athens and absolutely loved it. But that was partly the event itself and partly the sense of discovery with some sports. I was trying to work out what it was that made me like sports or not and I think I came to the conclusion that I liked fast, aggressive sports: the water-polo was sensational. I hadn’t realised how bloody dirty it was. Volleyball was very enjoyable, even handball. And I loved track cycling. On the roads I find it a bit dull – they just fly past you – but on the track I found it fascinating. I have always liked basketball (mainly because my brother played properly and I used to be a regular at the Sheffield Forgers/Sharks), so it was fantastic to get to see the US team play. But the king of sports is weight lifting. And I really do mean that. It was just brilliant. It does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s great drama … you can see the pressure all over their faces which look like they’re going to explode. And then afterwards, they were in the bar smoking tabs and drinking beer. Brilliant. Actually, am I allowed to plug an old piece of mine here? (Oh go on then - Ed) I loved it. I still wear my weightlifting t-shirt with pride. But I also actively dislike some ‘sports’. Like Formula 1, for instance. Which is bollocks. When Hamilton and Alonso were having that spat, I kept getting asked about it and had to show some vague interest but not only did I think it was tedious, distasteful (the way the two presses handled it struck me as embarrassing – so much so that I found it hilarious when NEITHER of them won) and vaguely pathetic, I also just didn’t give a toss. Then there’s that horsey thing in the Olympics when all the horse does is ponce about a field wearing a pretty bow and occasionally cocking its leg. What’s that for?

"..there are few noises like the Calderón launching into an big deep roar of: “Atlééééééééééééti”

Do you have a view on bullfighting? I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I have a view on it in the sense that it doesn’t massively preoccupy me. But, put it this way, I have lived in Spain for a decade and never been to a plaza de toros … at least not to watch a corrida. I’ve seen a few concerts.

In retrospect, the Spanish Olympic basketball teams "eye-catching faux pas" was a little ill conceived no? I thought so. Although it is also true that my handling of it might have been too. The removal of one key paragraph from the reporting on it didn’t help, either. Pau Gasol made one very interesting remark that went almost unreported but I thought was significant: “We didn’t think it was a good idea but the sponsor insisted and insisted.”

Do you support a Spanish or English football team? Yes. Both.

Oh, Which Spanish ground do you most enjoy reporting from then? Oh, ok, the answer to the last question is Real Oviedo. And in England, I think I’ll hold my peace. But most people know. There is a point that’s worth making here, mind you: in most cases, who journalists support really isn’t relevant. I’m not sure I understand the obsession with working out who we support. I’ve been accused of being blatantly pro-Madrid and obviously anti-them, rabidly Barcelona-biased and a Catalan hater… I’ve got it in for Atlético, I clearly love Atlético, and so on and so on … all of which might be a good sign. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, bias is even more. Andoni Zubizarreta said something this season: “As fans we demand accuracy and fairness … but with one caveat [yes, he did say caveat. Well, matiz]: that it is in out favour.” He was talking about refereeing but he could just as well have been talking about readers. I think it’s a brilliant quote. He wasn’t a bad goalkeeper either.

Rabidly Barcelona-biased? Catalan hater? Neither, he's just a bloody good journalist.

How much Spanish football do you watch each week? Far, far too much. Usually four live La Liga games plus everything that happens mid-week. And sometimes it’s dreadful.

You've waxed lyrical about Danny Alves and Racing Santander's wonderkid Sergio Canales, any predictions on the next star to illuminate La Liga? I’m not sure how unknown they are but I do like the look of Ander Herrera at Real Zaragoza and although most people have seen a lot of him by now Javi Martínez at Athletic is very, very good. Keep an eye for that Leo Messi kid too: he’s pretty special.

Talking of predictions, Spain should win the 2010 World Cup shouldn't they They should. But, hey, shit happens … one slip and they could be out. Del Bosque said something very important: Spain shouldn’t let themselves get into a dangerous state where it’s either win the tournament of be a failure. I think they are the best side in the world but who knows if they will actually win it. Torres and Villa will be vital.

What do you make of England's chances? I have a feeling that England might go one step further than normal this time. So, quarters or semis, then. We might actually beat one genuinely good team. I wrote about this earlier this season and I find it hard to avoid the feeling that with England success or failure depends on the teams that await once it gets to knock out rounds, rather than how well we really play. I wrote:

The bottom line is that England have not beaten a ‘big’ country in a knock out game at the World Cup for years. England have been remarkably consistent at the World Cup and yet the reactions have been very different. In 1998 they fell at the first hurdle. In 1990 they were gloriously close to the final. There’s always a hardluck story; a robbery, a villain but there is also an inescapable fact. Since 1986 (in 1982 the format was different), England have gone out to the first ‘good’ side they have played. Argentina in 86, Germany in 90, not even there in 94, Argentina in 98, Brazil in 02 Portugal in 06. The sides they had beaten in knock out games? Paraguay, Belgium, Cameroon, Denmark, Ecuador. It’s not really glorious. Yet 1998 was a failure, 1990 a triumph. The difference is who they played. In 1990, after a dreadful group phase, a late goal from a set-play took England through against Belgium and a couple of dodgy penalties beat Cameroon. Then it was Germany and Arriverderchi. But it was a glorious, heady summer in England.

Rooney or Ronaldo? Ronaldo. I think he takes bad decisions but is such an astonishingly talented and physical imposing figure that he is genuinely special.

That's it Sid, thanks a million for speaking to EFW and muchas gracias por todo and especially for putting some meat on the bones of our La Liga coverage. Pleasure.

You can follow Sid on Twitter at @sidlowe

You can read his work in The Guardian HERE and also catch him in Four Four Two and World Soccer Magazine.

You'd be bonkers not to listen to the Football Weekly Podcast

Read the EFW interview with Barry Glendenning HERE and our Spanish reports at AD Alcorcón, Alicante, Atletico Madrid, Barakaldo, Barcelona Athletic, Barcelona, Gava, Getafe, Portugalete, Rayo Vallecano & Real Madrid, Real Mallorca.
- Feel free to comment below -