Saturday, 29 January 2011

Watford v Brighton

The Seagulls That Kicked The Hornets' Nest

Watford 0-1 Brighton (29:01:11)

It was so nice of Southern Rail to get in on the act. They chose to celebrate the Seagulls progression into the 4th round of the FA Cup proper by laying on a fleet of (Gus) buses to ferry 3,649 Brighton fans to Vicarage Road. Well, very nearly. They actually dropped us off in Three Bridges, 60 miles away, but the thought was certainly there. After all, hands up who's not keen as mustard for a bus replacement service to kick start their Saturday.

The train took the strain from Three Bridges to Watford. Britain's busiest train as it transpired. Just the four carriages were laid on for the heaving mass of singing Seagulls. Only a few hundred were able to squeeze on our train and the rest were left to frantically scroll through their train timetable applications on their iPhones.

Long gone are the days when I'd put a tick next to a few pre-match beers in an O'Neills, Wetherspoons or Walkabout pub on the High Street with a couple of police riot vans parked outside for company. It's quite hard to get misty eyed about those ten-deep rugby scrums at the bar.

We're all about meticulous preparation here at European Football Weekends, so we opted for a few real ale pubs outside Bushey Station, twenty minutes from the ground and full of a mixture of home and away fans happy to eat, drink and be merry rather than entertain the notion of a toe-to-toe fight.

Cup fever reaches WD18.

No place like gnome.

Our first pub of choice, The Rifle Volunteer promised us Panini's from 10am. I hadn't collected those stickers for years, but I was happy they were still be traded in the WD postal district, even though I had forgotten to bring my swaps. Actually they turned out to be of the bread variety. And not even two metre meat bread at that. Sigh.

Next up was The Railway Arms were we'd arranged to meet some Glory Hornet Boys. Step forward Mike and company from the excellent "From The Rookery End" podcast. Also supping pints of Abbott Ale were Damon and Simon from the equally excellent Real FA Cup blog and six or so Brighton fans who formed the EFW team for the day.

Sadly, The Rookery End boys failed to bring along 'Xavier' the lucky snowman. A small model with WFC hat and scarf, named after Xavier Gravelaine. Or for that matter, their knitted version of Watford legend Wilf Rostron (see their podcast for details).

My last visit to Watford FC to see Brighton play was in the old Division 2 at the back end of the 80s. You no longer have to yomp through an old cart track through Arthur Fowler's allotment to get to the away end. There used to be a little vulpine-esque avoidance trick of paying to get in the Rookery (home end) before explaining to a local bobby that you'd inadvertently goosed up. He or she would then march you along the side of the pitch and into the away section thus saving you a twenty-five minute walk.

So what's changed? There's no longer an enormous scoreboard at the back of the Vicarage Road terrace. This has been replaced by video screens. The curved shallow terracing elsewhere and bright yellow bench seats have also been filed under bin. The East Stand is still a bit of a shambles though. Health and safety gurus now ensure this section is only good for the press, players, Elton John and Graham Taylor. Fans aren't welcome there. I've no doubt about that in my mind*. *Nod to Graham Taylor.

Through the electronic (electronic!) turnstiles we went, negotiated our way through Hertfordshire's tiniest concourse - not suited to nearly 4000 fans, or 400 for that matter - and out into our seats. We did have a choice of seat - red or yellow.

A hat-tip must be offered to Watford Football Club with regards to the price of the match ticket for this tie. Despite the obvious fact this was their cup final, they'd seen fit to reduce the cost to a very agreeable £15. There's a bit of FA Cup magic for you.

Seagulls, flying high.


In the previous round, Watford had notched three of their four goals by a move involving players cutting in from the touchline. Piero Mingoia's effort being a 20 yard effort - on his debut. Brighton are made of sterner stuff than Hartlepool these days though, and Gus, like EFW, had done his homework. Brighton's back four had the inform Danny Graham in their pocket and young whipersnappers Buckley and Sordell didn't get any change out of my man of the match Liam Bridcutt - who pulled more strings than Geppetto.

Brighton deservedly took the lead on 16 minutes when Ashley Barnes drilled in a shot that had Gillmartin - in between the Watford sticks - flapping Robert Green-style. An absolute howler from the lad. 0-1. Star jumps were the celebration of choice in the away end. A brilliant way to both celebrate and keep warm at the same time. Some cruel Albion fans mocked Gillmartin - not a regular starter - with the Mitchell Johnson Barmy Army song, "He dives to the left, he dives to the right, that Gillmartin, he's f*cking sh*te."

In the words of Rookery Mike "football may as well not exist if we can't treat ourselves to the occasional gloat." So, here goes: The blue and white wizards were superb. They played total football (hello to you, Ajax) in large spells of this game. And. Triangles. The only thing threatening stopping their champagne football was a combination of a bobbly pitch and a local power cut, which cut the supply to the "golden boys" floodlights for much of the first half.

The large solar panel on the East Stand reignited the floodlights.

The green, green grass of Vicarage Road.

We can see you sneaking out.

I must admit, that Abbot Ale does wonders for loosening the vocal chords. I rolled back the years and started a song. Picking my moment to perfection, I bellowed out "From the South..." and seconds later the best part of 4000 fans were singing "We are Brighton, super Brighton, we are Brighton, from the South," Not a note out of tune either. You never really lose your SSS (song starting skills). Good old life.

As well as being in the hat for the 5th round proper, Brighton and Hove Albion FC can also be very proud of something else this week. Football clubs change their club crest willy nilly these days, and there are some horrific examples of how this can go very wrong; Arsenal, Fulham, Morecambe, Shrewsbury, QPR, Northampton, Manchester City, Leeds United - in fact the list goes on and on. Brighton are changing theirs again. The excuse? They're moving into a new stadium. Fair enough. Thing is, they've got it very right. I was never comfortable with the current badge - hate in fact. But the new effort, which is a return to the old school design, but with a clever, subtle and modern twist - a yellow beak - is absolutely spot on. All we need now is for the club to dig out the four towering floodlights from the Goldstone Ground, and fasten them onto the corners at the new stadium in Falmer and we really will be able to sleep tight at night. Sweet dreams.

Further reading Brighton v FC United (Round 2), Brighton v Portsmouth (Round 3).
For lots more photos CLICK ME.

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Friday, 28 January 2011

Kay Murray interview

Special K

If ever there was a time to be putting a bit of fun back into the world of football broadcasting it's now. Step forward Kay Murray, described in various quarters as an intelligent, articulate, witty, talented and experienced TV presenter.

Known to her legion of fans on her blog and Twitter feed as Football Barbie - a parody of her real self, such a moniker could not be further from the truth - Murray works for Real Madrid TV and appears on numerous football podcasts and radio shows.

Hi Kay, thanks a million for talking to EFW. Who was your inspiration for breaking into the almost solely male dominated world of football media? Denise Van Outen is actually my TV idol even though she has nothing to do with football, but I was still at school when the brilliant Big Breakfast hit our screens and I just loved the way she was really glamorous and fun, but still good at what she did. She was never afraid to have a laugh at herself and be a bit cheeky. But when it comes to women in the football media I suppose Gaby Logan and Helen Chamberlain showed it could be done and I was and still am a big admirer of Amy Lawrence.

How did you end up signing for Real Madrid? I originally screen tested when the International version of the channel started up, but I didn't get the job and I think it's the only knock-back that I have ever really let get to me, though looking back now, the experience I gained in the year before I did move out here has proved to be invaluable so I think it was meant to be. As it turns out a couple of people I knew ended up working for the channel in its first year and they contacted me at the end of the first season when a position became available. I sent off my stuff and got the job and the rest as they say is history, though I am forever grateful to the two of them for putting my name forward.

You work with the most successful football club of the 20th century and fly with the team to away games. Do you have the best job, ever? I always say I have the best job in the world. It's one of those jobs you don't think exists and so you make it up in a drunken conversation down the pub!

A: "Imagine if you could have a job right, where like, you get paid to watch football. But it would have to be somewhere hot so it would have to be abroad in a hot country, yeah, and you would want to see good football, so you work for....say a massive club like Real Madrid, and you get to go to all the games, home and away wherever they may be and you also interview the players too....."

B: "Yeah, that would be nice, wouldn't it?.....Another pint?"

Is there a downside? Of course there are. Being away from your family and friends for a start. People just see the glamorous side of the job and forget that more than seventy per cent of the time we are studio-based and office-bound. The hours can be very, very long as we have to work on all the build-up to the games, during them and then once they are over, we are working on all the post-match stuff. Even after the mixed zone interviews, we are back at the TV cutting images and editing our interviews. Losses also put a massive downer on anything as directly after the game, everyone who works with or around the club are disappointed and the the whole vibe back at the studio is a bit flat. Players that you got on well with, leaving, can be really sad and funnily enough the weather can be a nightmare. You promise yourself you'll do 32 good deeds a day to give something back when you are sat pitchside in 32 degrees celsius, but during the winter months you curse the day you ever took an interest in working in a job that requires that you spend most of your time outdoors.

With all due respect to Manuel Pellegrini, you must have skipped down the Gran Via when José Mourinho rode into town. Does he make your job that much easier given there's so much to talk about as far as he's concerned? Actually I cartwheeled, and I didn't stop at Gran Via, I continued right up the Castellana all the way to the Bernabeu. We were so excited when Mourinho came in and he has so far lived up to all our expectations. His pre and post-match press conferences are a joy to be at and he very rarely fails to entertain in them. But aside from that, it's knowing what he is capable of as a manager that really adds an extra boost to working here.

I've seen your work on RMTV as well as some YouTube footage. You seem fairly fond of a post match pitch invasion...Yeah, I don't mind a pitch invasion at all. That night you have seen on YouTube was back in the 2007/2008 season when Madrid won their 31st league title-coincidentally up at the Reyno de Navarra in Pamplona, where they play this weekend. As was the case for Barca in 2008/2009, it ended up just being a matter of time until Schuster's lot did win it. Mathematically, all the boys had to do was win their next game and there was every chance it would happen in Pamplona against Osasuna that night. Well, that was until Fabio Cannavaro got sent off and Gabi Heinze gave away a penalty. The heavens opened, we had no brollies, the fans were throwing things at us and it seemed that it wasn't meant to be.

"Oh well, we'll win it back at the Bernabeu next week in front of the home fans," we said, "better that way, anyway."

Arjen Robben and Gonzalo Higuain had other ideas though. The Dutchman levelled things out with just three minutes to go and it seemed that would be that, but then Pipa popped up in the 89th minute to win the game and the league. It just went crazy. I looked at my cameraman and started laughing. I was delighted but knew that we now had a lot more work to do, first of which was to get on the pitch and interview the champions. Problem was, we were at the opposite end to where the celebrations were taking place and the stewards had formed a human wall to stop anyone invading the pitch. We had to just run until we found a gap and when we did we pegged it across the pitch which was one of the best feelings I've ever had in my life, especially because we were being chased! I didn't stop until I grabbed my first player, Wesley Sneijder and even during my interview with him I had a steward handling me to try and drag me off the pitch. Arjen Robben came next and his reaction, which you can see on that footage, says it all really! It was an absolutely incredible and unforgettable night. Later outside the away dressing room, we had just started to dry off when Casillas and Cannavaro came out and sprayed us all with champagne! Put it this way, I've had worse nights.

Here's a bit of gossip for you: Iker Casillas is stepping out with sports journalist Sarah Carbonero. Any of the other players catch your eye or vice versa? They're all a little young for me, I prefer my men to have been born in the seventies and to be a lot more anonymous.

Is it possible to form a friendly relationship with the players or are they protected by a shield of steel these days? It's definitely possible to form very good working relationships, but generally you have to remember that these footballers aren't your friends, at best they are work colleagues you get on well with.

Match tickets at the Santiago Bernabéu aren't cheap (€40-100). Would you pay that to watch Los Blancos even if you weren't on their payroll? To be fair they are much cheaper for cup games. But yes I would pay that to watch them play. Decent seats are still a lot cheaper than most Premiership clubs charge and it's rare to leave the Santiago Bernabeu unentertained.

30:11:10 - Barcelona 5 Real Madrid 0. Can we talk about that game or is it a case of lo que paso, paso (what happened, happened)? I'm okay to talk about it, but I don't really know what you want me to say. Barcelona played brilliantly and Real Madrid played badly. I speak to Andy Goldstein at talkSPORT each weekend about la liga and he said he thinks a 5-0 defeat is better than a 2-0 defeat, as with a 5-0 you can write it off and say it was just one of those crazy, freak things that happens, whereas 1-0 or 2-0 is analysed to death. I liked that theory.

You wore an interesting garment during that Queen's speech video on Christmas Day with In Bed With Maradona. It was a Real Madrid and Barcelona dress (or similar). That must be the first of its kind, no? They all mocked when Jodie Marsh put those two belts across her chest and went out. Little did she know what she had started!

It was actually just two football scarves. I bought the Barca one at my first ever Clasico at the Camp Nou, which incidentally, Real Madrid won! IBWM deserved something as original as they are and I really like being a part of the revolution!

Talk us through your daily routine. Do you kick off with chocolate con churros and the daily newspapers? I am actually addicted to tostado con tomate, which is just half a baguette sliced down the middle, lightly toasted and drenched in chopped tomatoes, olive oil and rock salt. I prefer AS (great name, we've already exhausted the jokes) over Marca too. My working week depends on the day. If I am not working on the morning news shift or the production of one of the shows I present, then I am out filming Top Goals at some hotspot in the capital or hosting Extra Time - a talkshow with not an ex-footballer in sight!

Matchdays start with a scour of the sports dailies, interviewing the fans and working on a match preview before positioning ourselves pitchside at whichever end Real Madrid are attacking. Once that's done, we hotfoot it to the private mixed zone to catch up with our players for an interview and then it's back to the TV to cut it all.

On a brilliant, brilliant day I may just find myself invading a pitch or sat on a private jet to Switzerland with the World Cup winning captain!

And in the evening it's out down La Latina for cañas y tapas right? Guess where I live? Yep, that party hotspot that everyone loves, La Latina. Cañas usually take precedent over the tapas round here though!

Sunday mornings down El Rastro swapping football stickers with the old blokes, and Sid Lowe? Going down El Rastro is a lovely way to spend a Sunday morning. I do collect football stickers as it goes and I am mates with Sid Lowe. Though usually I spend my time picking his brains for la liga football knowledge. He's 'un fenomeno' when it comes to Spanish football.

Aside from Madrid, which other city would you recommend for fans to take in a Spanish European Football Weekend? Sevilla is right up there....not geographically though as it's actually in the south of Spain. It's a gorgeous city known as the frying pan of Spain as it is so hot - just like the atmosphere in the Sanchez Pizjuain stadium. The bar-hopping in Sevilla is great and even in January the weather is the type that would have us Brits donning flip-flops and shorts for the day. So about 21 degrees!

What's your favourite stadium in Spain? Easy, the Santiago Bernabeu, honestly, in fact it's one of my favourite places in the world. Just being there and knowing what I have witnessed there and of course, the history it holds and the players that have graced the pitch with their presence over the years always makes me feel better. But if I had to pick another, I would say El Molinon, which is home of Sporting Gijon. The fans are fabulously good fun and never, ever stop singing, win, lose or draw. The city is also another that is well worth visiting. Gijon boasts great nightlife, a beach, divine 'pour your own' cider and great seafood.

And the worst? Sevilla's other stadium the Ruiz de Lopera is without a doubt, the stadium I like least. I'm sure others may have/have had a great time there, but personally I have experienced some very testing times there. Most of the fans I tried to interview before the game were drunk, a policeman pushed me out the way from a moving van when the team coach arrived as people were throwing things at it and the most charming moment of all came during a game there when I felt something hit my head. It was a ball of spit from a delightful dweller in the stands. Elsewhere Athletic Bilbao's San Mames is amazing but very scary to be at as a Real Madrid reporter as it's so hostile and Osasuna's Reyno de Navarra (the pitch I invaded) is terrifying.

I saw Michael Robinson in Brighton a few weeks ago. He's a huge star in Spain now in his guise as a football pundit. He gets mobbed everywhere he goes, apparently. Do you ever cross microphones with him? I actually saw him the other day in our cup game with Atleti but I don't know him personally. It's so impressive to see how well he's done for himself out here though. The credits to his old show El Dia Despues are immense and to be fair I genuinely enjoy the stuff he does now on Canal Plus. Big up the Brits!

I found out recently that rising Real Madrid star Álvaro Morata is, in all probability, a distant cousin of mine (in-laws family name is Morata and, well it's a long story...) can you tell us a bit about him? Morata is only 18 years old but he is now in his third campaign with the Real Madrid cantera having spent time at two other Madrid based clubs Atletico de Madrid and Getafe. He's a modern-day striker who's good on both feet, capable of getting out into wider positions and drawing defenders out. He made his debut in December, where he almost scored after coming on in the 89th minute in Real Madrid's 3-1 away win over Zaragoza. He also came on in the 8-0 Copa del Rey win over Levante and ending up setting up the last goal of the game - after almost scoring it himself. Morata turned his defender and took a shot which Levante keeper Munua parried straight to Pedro Leon – who put the final nail in the coffin for Levante.

Mourinho was impressed by the young striker in the early stages of the preseason when cantera players were called up to first team training sessions to make up the numbers in the absence of the international Madridistas who had played in the World Cup. Although it was his ability and maturity that earned him a spot on the first team preseason tour to the States, Mourinho says he's not yet ready to be counted on as one of Madrid's main strikers, but that he is a big talent with a very promising future ahead of him.

Who's that team they call the Boro? You tell me as I'm not so sure anymore! They went against the latest trend of conceding in the closing minutes the other week when they beat Bristol City 4-0 at Ashton Gate but they picked their new habit right back up when they hosted Preston North End, letting in a late equaliser in a game they should have won. But us Boro fans are no strangers to hard times which is why we remember the good times so fondly. I was in Cardiff when we won the Carling Cup in 2004 which was amazing and there's no denying that the UEFA Cup run of 2005/2006 was a classic. I still cry when I watch video highlights of it on YouTube.

What do you miss most about the North East whilst you're lapping up the clear blue skies in Madrid? My mam, though it must be said that although I am from Middlesbrough and very proud of my roots and my accent, I lived in London for almost eight years before I moved to Madrid. I'm well proud to be a Smoggie though; there's a sense of humour in my hometown like no other I've experienced and despite the hard times that may fall upon us or knock-backs we may receive, people from Middlesbrough know how to battle through adversity-it must be the parmos!

Do you have ambitions beyond working for Real Madrid TV? I certainly do. Like a professional footballer's dream is (usually) to play for their country, mine would probably be to work alongside the England team in a big tournament. Remember I'm a Boro girl I can deal with hard times and knock-backs!

But away from that I am desperate to bring some fun back to football broadcasting. The Football Ramble tick this box, which is why I am working with them on a new project at the moment, making video reports on la liga. I love their podcast and their website so I was delighted to get involved with them as I think they are really going somewhere.

Backheels or high heels? That's like chocolate or icecream...icecream for the record. But I'll say high heels, because although I love a backheel, I could not live without a stiletto. Though had you asked me that question in Spanish I could have had both: taconazo means both a brilliant backheel and a supersized stiletto.

Prepare to roll your eyes: Messi or Ronaldo? I'm not going to avoid the question but there is an obsession with comparisons in football which does my head in sometimes. I think the two are completely different players who each boast different qualities, but I'm a Madridista so as much as I marvel at Messi on a weekly basis, I do watch Ronaldo live week in, week out and it is a sight to behold, so for that reason, I would pick Ronaldo. I also think a lot of people don't like to admit just how amazing he is because they don't like him.

You're wonderfully interactive on Twitter, not easy with 12,000 followers, and you've got a brilliant name (@FootballBarbie1), it's horribly addictive though, isn't it? It's so addictive and so fantastic. I cannot believe the opportunities it has brought to me and the doors that it has opened. Thanks to Twitter, I regularly contribute to the upcoming Football Pubcast and the brilliant and unique Beyond the Pitch podcast-as well as their website. On top of that every weekend, I feature on Andy Goldstein's Sports Bar on TalkSPORT, which I love doing, and he too found me on Twitter! I think it's a great marketing tool and also the best way to get all your news in one place.

I am as interactive as possible as it works both ways. You can't expect to be promoting something you have done and people to take notice of it if you are giving nothing back. It is also the perfect way to interact with fans of the channel. Facebook can be a bit to personal while my blog allows me to share the best parts of my job with the masses, but is a little impersonal, Twitter sits somewhere between the two.

On Friday nights on Twitter, myself and a couple of fellow old duffers like to reminisce about the old days. Yes, we know how to live. Our last topic was 'most embarrassing gig'. Can you beat Michelle Gayle in Huddersfield (nod to @Hartch) or Steps, Lolly, Atomic Kitten and many more (@gibfootballshow) or even Berlinda Carlisle at G.A.Y. (@damon-th)? I actually can't beat any of those, but then at the same time, I am not a music snob as I think people should be allowed to like what they like, so don't feel bad about your choices boys, be proud.

And finally, In a tweet of 140 characters, what would your ideal Ken be like? It would actually b Action Man. He's fit. Big, strong, brave & sports a masculine non-hairstyle. Born in 66 tho, 4 yrs 2 early. Grt yr tho :D

Follow Kay Murray on Twitter

Read more at Kay's Football Barbie blog.

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Thursday, 27 January 2011

Cardiff City v Watford

Cardiff City 4-2 Watford (22:01:11)

by Mike Parkin

"You can't always get what you want"
- Mick Jagger, 1968
"I want, I want doesn't get"

- My Dad, to me, all the
"Sometimes you get what you didn't know you wanted"
- Me. Just now.
Three pieces of undoubted wisdom, from three doubtful characters. They feature here partly because I always like articles that start with a quote or two. They seem to add weight to a piece, give it a sense of credibility. Admittedly one of the quotes is from my Dad and the other is mine, but quotes are quotes.

The main reason for their inclusion is their apt summary of my current feelings on Watford, brought into focus after a trip to watch them take on high flying, loan addicts Cardiff City. Allow me to explain.

Ahead of the trip to Wales, Watford were flying. Leicester, QPR, Cardiff City, Portsmouth, Scunthorpe, Hartlepool and Derby had provided the Hornets last seven opponents and each had been handed beatings of various severity. Seven wins in a row and for the first time in a long time, eyes were beginning to look up the table instead of down. In hushed tones, Watford fans were beginning to ask the question, to dream of the impossible.

Anyone that knows me will tell you that when it comes to football I'm a hopeless pessimist. I will suck all the joy out of even the most commanding of leads, assuring all around me that even at 3-0 up with minutes to go, 'We still need a fourth here...' I know why I do it. It's self preservation. I want my team to do well so badly, that I daren't even let myself believe they can win. Sad isn't it? Anyway, even I have been forced to enjoy Watford's recent run of form and ahead of the trip to Cardiff, which was made with my fellow 'From the Rookery End' podcast hosts Jason and Jon, I was clear on my stance. Get something from this game and I'll believe we can challenge.

Before I talk about the game and what the result means for Watford's season, a little bit about the trip. Determined to do things in the true awayday spirit, our little sojourn took in not just Cardiff, but the hotspots of Weston Super Mare and Barry Island too. Barry was the perfect place to begin. With most buildings shut fast, solid shutters preventing access, the bleak appearance of the seaside town seemed to mirror my own inner football feelings. Whilst I don't dare to believe my team can win, these beleaguered premises didn't dare to dream that a cold January morning could deliver any paying punters. Anyway, one of the places that was open just happened to be a pub. You can guess the rest.

From Barry we got a delightful little train to Cardiff. The train itself seemed to be a hastily remodelled bus, with a few minor modifications allowing it to operate on train tracks. A Japanese bullet train it was not. No matter, we were sold tickets by a friendly conductor and we set about recording a segment of the podcast as we trundled towards Cardiff.

The stadium itself was much as I had expected. Big and soulless from the outside, cavernous and uninspiring once inside. Having said that, it was comfortable. The facilities were fit for purpose and the view was OK. There's a lot to be said for grounds with 'character' but as you get older, there's even more to be said for grounds with good toilets and easy access to the bar. The locals were relatively friendly and inside the ground there was the occasional indication of what the atmosphere could be like, should the assembled masses (23,000 for our visit) put their collective minds to it.

Perhaps on this occasion the atmospheric apathy could be attributed to the fact that the game appeared to be done and dusted after 30 minutes. Goals from Bellamy, Chopra and Bothroyd put Cardiff into what looked like an unassailable lead. A minute later however, it was 3-1. Will Buckley, the December choice for 'NPower Championship young player of the month', slotting home from close range. Danny Graham, the leading scorer in the division, missed a fantastic opportunity to add to his impressive total just before the break, and we sensed that Watford weren't quite done yet.

The start to the second half further fanned the faint flames of hope with another of Watford's in-form youngsters, Marvin Sordell clipping the ball over the stumbling Cardiff keeper and into the top corner. 48 minutes gone and it was game on.

Watford continued to push for an equaliser and totally dominated proceedings. Will Buckley continued to prove influential - the number of times he was on the wrong end of a crude challenge testament to his involvement. Indeed it was Buckley who had the ball in the back of a net, finishing with a deft back heel, only for a marginal offside call to go against him. The male linesman was correct. Just. The same player then clobbered a fine effort against the left upright with Tom Heaton beaten.

Predictably, the waves of Watford pressure couldn't last and eventually Cardiff got the fourth goal needed to bury the game once and for all. Revenge for their 4-1 defeat at Vicarage Road in December was sealed. I'd come into this game wanting a result. Something that would allow me to start dreaming about an exciting future for my team. I didn't get it. I got something far more valuable.

In witnessing this defeat, I saw the true colours of the 2010/11 Watford vintage. I saw a fearless, confident, competitive group. A team with talent and tenacity in equal measure. An organised defence, a tough midfield, tricky wingers and on song strikers. They are a team that simply does not give up.

I'm sure someone famous said something about learning more about people in defeat than in triumph, and it was Watford's ultimately fruitless efforts in Wales that made me realise it isn't important where we eventually finish this year. What matters to me is that the team I support are giving it 100% whenever they pull on the shirt. I care deeply about Watford Football Club and this trip showed me that the current crop of players do too. You know what? That'll do for me.

Follow Rookery Mike on Twitter

You can read more of Mike's work and hear his Watford FC podcast 'From the Rookery End' by visiting

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Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Hertha Berlin v Union Berlin

The derby with no history?

In a weeks time European Football Weekends will join 75,000 fans in the Olympiastadion to watch Hertha take on Union in the Berlin derby. David Tunnicliffe, an Englishman living in Germany, gives us the heads up on the history, or lack of it, between these two great teams.....

As Die Welt put it in September last year in the run up to the first ever competitive meeting between Union Berlin and Hertha Berlin, this is a “derby with no history”. To wrap it up in a sentence, it's all to do with where the two clubs are from: Union Berlin are based in the district of Köpenick which was formerly a part of East Berlin, capital city of the German Democratic Republic whilst Hertha originate from Charlottenburg in the north-west of the city and were a part of West Berlin and therefore West Germany.

When you think of city derbies you immediately think of pure hatred, passion, constant oneupmanship, but in Berlin everything was different. During the times of a divided Germany, East Germans were, of course, not permitted to travel to the West unless under special circumstances. The same did not apply the other way round, however, and it was often the case that Hertha BSC fans would make the journey over to Köpenick to watch Union Berlin matches or they would travel to away games elsewhere in the GDR together. Union fans would also accompany their Hertha counterparts if Hertha played a European match somewhere where the dear old SED ruling party actually them allowed to travel (in other words, anywhere east of the Iron Curtain). When Germany was reunited in 1990, the teams even played a friendly in the Olympiastadion which attracted over 50,000 spectators. The fans stood together, drank together and sung together. Further friendlies followed through the 90s, followed by regular matches for Union against Hertha's amateur team throughout the 2000s as the former meandered their way through the 3rd, 4th and even 5th tiers trying to avoid going bust. Perhaps Union Berlin's most famous and memorable match at the Olympiastadion did not even involve Hertha: On 26th May 2001, they contested the final of the DFB-Pokal as a third tier team against Schalke 04, losing 2-0.

As the respective country's leagues developed in the late 50s and 60s, the Bundesliga in the West and the Oberliga in the East, rivalries obviously developed at the same time. Ask 99% of Union Berlin fans who they believe their arch-rivals are and they'll say BFC Dynamo, or Dynamo Berlin as they are more commonly known. This rivalry developed from the fact that Erich Mielke, the then Minister for State Security (or Head of the Stasi) happened to be a BFC fan and 'helped' them along the way to 10 GDR Oberliga titles in row between 1979-1988, which was a record. BFC are now in the 5th tier and this season are enjoying a couple of 'derbies' against Union's reserve team. As for Hertha's rivals, being 200km from the rest of the country was certainly not conducive to the development of any territorial rivalries during the GDR/FRG times. There is a strong dislike of Schalke 04 dating back to the 70s, although no-one really knows why. Some say it's because Hertha were forcibly relegated from the Bundesliga in 1964/65 for cash payments and illegal bonuses whereas Schalke were allowed to remain in the division after committing the same crime in 1971. They do have a fan friendship (something which is kind of difficult for an English football fan to understand, I must admit) with Karlsruher SC resulting in games between the two being some kind of mass singalong love-in.

In more recent times, the Union and Hertha had not really considered the thought of playing seeing as Hertha had been Bundesliga stalwarts since the mid-90s with a succession of top-ten finishes whilst Union flirted between the 2. Bundesliga, the third-tier and the fourth tier during the same period. Even when Hertha had financial troubles (something they have still not shaken off) in the early 90s and went down, Union were nowhere to be seen and as Union took home the inaugural 3. Liga title in 2008/09, that was the season Hertha were battling for the title and only missed out on Champions League qualification on the final day of the season. For Hertha, the following season was a nightmare. They quickly sank to the bottom of the Bundesliga and stayed there for the rest of the season. Once Union secured their 2. Bundesliga status with a 3:0 victory over Arminia Bielefeld with a couple of games to spare, the fans could really start looking forward to “the derby with no history”.

In June the fixtures were released and the matchday was set for the first 'true' Berlin derby in 60 years and the first competitive fixture between the two in a national league. The game would take place on the weekend of 18th /19th September and Union advertised season tickets with the slogan “The only way to guarantee a ticket for the derby”. In fact, I know of Hertha BSC fans who bought season tickets at Union Berlin just to be sure of a ticket for this match. It was surely going to be a sell-out and the Union board knew this. There were rumours of the game being switched to the Olympiastadion, something which would have netted Union an estimated additional € 1m in gate receipts. Fans were understandably not happy. The first reason was purely that they would be sacrificing home advantage for the sake of business and the second was that it was the fans themselves who had voluntarily devoted over 16,000 working hours during the 2008/2009 season to completely redevelop the aging Alte Försterei stadium in order to make it fit for a second division side. Sure enough, during a pre-season friendly, it was announced that the game would take place in Köpenick.

The build up to the match was intense to say the least. It was almost as if the first three games of the season didn't count – this was the big one. Indeed Union probably wished the first three indeed hadn't counted, as they lost 2 and drew 1. Hertha had won all 3 and were joint top but, despite the form coming into the match, a cracking match finished honours even. The Ultras of both groups of fans both put on impressive displays, with the Hertha fans unveiling a banner echoing the words of Ernst Reuter, mayor of Berlin at the time of the Soviet blockade after the Second World War, roughly translated as “People of the world, look at this city”. Union fans played on the reputation of there being a rather large “prawn sandwich brigade” in the Olympiastadion on match days with an impressive choreography showing a man trying to make a decision about which S-Bahn train to get on as two of them arrived at a station, one towards Köpernick and one towards Charlottenburg . The banner read “Football culture shall take its course. What train do you get on?”. On the Hertha train, the fans were portrayed as corporate 'customers' (e.g. with vuvuzuelas) whereas the fans on the Union train were portrayed as true football supporters.

“Football culture shall take its course. What train do you get on?”

“People of the world, look at this city”

Since the first meeting between the two, Union have improved slightly. They won their first away game for more than a year away at probably-already-relegated Arminia Bielefeld (a result which cost former Tottenham 'legend' Christian Ziege his job at Bielefeld) and picked up points at home against teams like Aachen and Karlsruhe. They lie 12th in the 18-team 2. Bundesliga and are only 5 points above the relegation playoff place. Hertha, on the other hand, have remained at the top of the league, despite four defeats in five in November and early December. Promotion this season is key for them. They were almost denied a licence to play in the 2. Bundesliga at the start of the season due to their financial situation. The city senate decided to defer the payment of stadium rent for a season, something which has also heated up the atmosphere between them and Union, with the latter believing that the taxpayer has granted Hertha an unfair advantage. With this being the derby with no history, you can't help but think it's being created right now.

Fans of FC Union are meeting three hours before kick off at the Alexanderplatz.

Like this? You might like The Leipzig Derby.

- Who to support? Feel free to comment below -

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Kenny Miller Bursaspor

Oh, my God! We've got Kenny.

Konyaspor 0-0 Bursaspor (23:01:11)

Ulas Gürsat continues his brilliant weekly column for European Football Weekends. Ulas is a football reporter for the Turkish daily Haberturk Newspaper and was on hand to witness Kenny Miller lack punch on his debut for Bursaspor:

The Turkish Super League is back from a mid-season winter break. Once again I was on the road with current champions Bursaspor for their long trip to Konya, in the Central Anatolia Region of Turkey, to play Konyaspor in the Konya Atatürk Stadium. Of course the "Atatürk" Stadium. A popular name for a Turkish football ground, no?

The media circus was in full swing because of the £400,000 signing of Kenny Miller from Rangers to Bursaspor. Kenny's debut was to kick off in bizarre fashion.

Before matches in Turkey, the fans have a tradition of calling out their favourite players name during the warm up. The player in question then comes to the front of the stand and punches the air three times. The fans respond with cries of "Ole, ole, ole," Kenny didn't answer their call. He didn't have a clue what was going on. The fans had to call for team captain Omer Erdogoan to get Miller to go to across to them. He explained the procedure and Kenny responded, punching the air three times. We all laughed.

Konya isn't a real football city. The locals don't seem to care much for their team. The Anadolu Kartalı (Anatolian Eagle) very rarely fill their 22,000 capacity stadium. They've got just one main fan group called Nalçacılar which means, erm, actually I don't even know. Answers on a postcard please.

Around 600 Bursa fans made the six hour journey by coach. They probably wish they hadn't bothered.

The Nalçacılar of Konya. Whatever that means.

Six hours for this? The Bursa fans question their loyalty.

Another tradition in Konya. Fans in wheelchairs hold up signs declaring 'We used to be like you' - they do it before every game. They want - not unreasonably - to be treated with respect by the rest of society.

The game itself was turgid. It finished 0-0 and Kenny Miller was only brought on for the last twenty minutes as Bursa threw everyone forward. He barely got a touch. Frustrating. Before the game, even the Konya fans were intrigued with him and chanted his name as he departed from the bus. What must he have made of his first week in Turkey? Mobbed at the airport by a media scrum, and fans, thousands of whom also turned out to welcome him at the stadium.

Miller was attracted here in the first place because of those fans and the club. Either that or the mentions of "irresistible offers", "lucrative contracts" and "£50,000 a week". Not sure which. There will be no hiding place for him here, but having played for both Celtic and Rangers, will that bother him? Who has the more passionate fans - The Old Firm clubs or those in the Turkish Super League? That's one for the comments section I fancy.

So what of the local food in Konya? May I be so bold as to recommend two things. First up is the Konya Firin Kebap (Konya Oven Kebab). It's a young lamb cooked in the oven. Turks don't like to consume old lamb. They usually eat them when they're no more than a year old. This is served on pita bread and it's more than delicious. When I say kebab, that's not a Doner kebab in bread. There are hundreds of types of kebabs in Turkey.

A Konya Firin with all the trimmings please my good man.

The other thing to eat in Konya is of course the Etli Ekmek (Meat Bread). It's a speciality of Konya and a bit similar to a Turkish pizza called Lahmucun. It's basically mince or meat on a long thin bread and you simply have to try it. When you order a Etili Ekmek it comes in at just under two metres (two metres!). But don't worry, you'll eat it all.

Roll up for two metres of Meat Bread. (Where do we sign - Ed.)

Note to self: three punches and a goal next time. Simples.

Meanwhile, back in Bursaspor, Kenny Miller makes his home debut against Galatasary next Saturday. Remember Kenny: punch the air three times before the game, score us a goal and you'll be a fan favourite for ever. And you can keep the 50 grand a week. Sağlığınıza!

Are Turkish fans more passionate and vociferous than their Scottish counterparts? What do you make of Kenny Miller and his move to Turkey? And hands up who is up for a two metre meat bread. Feel free to comment below.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Queens Park Rangers v Coventry

Taarabt's Too Good For You

Queens Park Rangers 2-1 Coventry (23:01:10)

The plan here was to pen an article about QPR without solely concentrating on their billionaire owners and that helipad that comes out of the centre circle on non-matchdays. I'd also planned not to dwell on the R's prestigious talent, Morrocan international Adel Taarabt. That was going prove a much more difficult proposition.

It's not often that EFW rubs shoulders with 13,185 Championship fans, 464 of whom were from Coventry. In fact, this is the first game we've ever covered in this division, and we've been knocking around for the best part of three years. Have we become bored with visits to Spartak Trnava all of sudden? No, don't be daft. It just suited our schedule.

The Rangers faithful have been singing 'We're Queens Park Rangers and we're top of the league' for pretty much the whole of this season. This should carry a postscript of 'but traditional kick offs are a thing of the past'. Granted, it's not very catchy. But a quick flick through the (£3) match programme revealed this statistic: between their home game with Cardiff City back on November 27 and the visit of Leicester City on March 5, QPR would have played no home games on a Saturday at 3pm. Nothing. Nada. I'd give Norris McWhirter a bell if he was still with us. This must be a record?

So with The Hoops chief conjurer, Taarabt (second mention - Ed.) supposedly off limits, what can we talk about? Pubs any good to you? There's plenty of them in Shepherd's Bush. It's undoubtedly one of the reasons the BBC chose to build Television Centre here in the 1960s. What in life isn't better after two pints? My colleague, Huddo Hudson and I had the pick of these pubs before and after the match. All of which were within a Dave Challinor throw-in of Loftus Road.

The Green, Uxbridge Road. QPR fans only (in fact most of them are and won't always welcome Queens Park Strangers). A couple of likely lads who get in here, but in the main it's a thinking fan's boozer, with quite a few older supporters who frequent it. A few real ales, including some guest beers.

The White Horse, Uxbridge Road. A little more lively, with a pool table and mixture of QPR fans and locals, many of who are Irish. It's also a shrine to both Queens Park Rangers and, erm, Newcastle United. Fact.

The Coningham, Uxbridge Road. Much further down the road, this is another Irish QPR pub straight out of the 1970s. You're more likely to hear a few renditions of favourite Rangers chants past and present in here.

The British Queen, Uxbridge Road. Opposite the Coningham (see above for details) this is the pub of choice for old hooligans and young upstarts. When Millwall paid a visit earlier in the season, this is where problems occurred. As such, we put a line through it on the EFW notebook and moved on.

The Defector's Weld, Uxbridge Road. On the opposite corner to The Green is your archetypal middle-class establishment, with cool tunes, laid-back bar staff and pricey drinks. If you're looking for football banter, this is probably not for you.

The Springbok, South Africa Road. The nearest pub to the ground and as such is always rammed. It has been done up in the last couple of years so your feet don't stick to the carpet any more, but word is the banning of away fans has killed the atmosphere in here a little. A few unruly types occasionally pop in here to bait visiting supporters as they walk past. Plastic glasses on match days as well.

And if you want something to soak up the beer, then look no further than....

King Solomans, Uxbridge Road. It's a modest Lebanese cafe-cum takeaway which serves up fresh and inexpensive foodie delights.

So sporting my Sunday best Loftus Road trousers and man bag, I swung through the doors of the salubrious QPR press lounge with Mr Hudson and signed my name next to Barney Ronay (Guardian) and Simon Brotherton (BBC). Out came a tray of hot pies which were snapped up quicker than a new Argos catalogue. There was also a vat of soup on offer along with free coffee and beer. As we're professionals at EFW, we didn't touch the beer. And then we thought better of it and filled our boots.

Making your way into the back row of the press box is easier than it sounds. I had to climb over a couple of chaps from the radio and across the lap of Ivan Speck from the Daily Mail. As I looked up, slightly flustered, upon reaching my seat I noticed a fan with a large Mexican sombrero, Moroccan flag, hooter and rattle. You couldn't not notice him. He's the R's version of John Portsmouth Football Club Westwood. And he's bonkers.

Where to start? Good on him though, eh?

Free flowing football at Loftus Road, tick.

QPR's vocal element mainly congregate in the top corner of one of the stands. It must be the worst view in the ground. But they're Queens Park Rangers, and they're top of the league. I know this because they sang it throughout the game, along with some anti-Chelsea chants (eff off Chelsea, West London is ours), several very loud renditions of 'Taarabt's too good for you' and lots of references to Marlon King and his jail sentence for groping a woman in a nightclub and breaking her nose. 'She said no' they sang, 'She said yes' retorted the Coventry fans.

Marlon King, of course Marlon King, opened the scoring. Considering the frightful abuse he was getting, his celebration was fairly muted. It was a goal that had the football correspondents around me typing 'against the run of play' into their keyboards. Coventry were at it again against QPR. They're their bogey team and had only lost once in the previous seven meetings with the Rs (research skills - Ed.).

If you want a cathedral we've got one to spare. 464 Coventry fans in the top tier.

Early frustration for Taarabt. He'd have the last laugh though. Oh yes.

Just before half time, Adel Taarabt produced a piece of magic that had everyone purring with delight. He curled a 20 yard effort into the top corner the net for the equaliser. Off the bench leapt Neil Warnock and waved his arms in the air like he just didn't care. The tannoy played a blast of Pigbag and the crowd joined in 'da da da HOOPS da da da da'. It could be worse. I'd heard the previous day that Norwich City used to play songs on the PA whenever they got a corner.

QPR had the better of the second half. On came Ishmael Miller who produced a fingertip save from the excellent Keiren Westwood in the Coventry goal. At the other end, Paddy Kenny made a fine double save from Marlon King. Warnock pushed Taarabt out to the wing, with debutant Wayne Routledge taking up a more central position and, well, listen to me banging on about the actual game for a change. This Championship lark could catch on.

And then it happened. A moment of pure magic from Taarabt which will be talked about in W12 for many years to come. He produced a pinpoint 40 yard pass with the outside (outside) of his right boot. It landed at the feet of Routledge who controlled it perfectly with his first touch and lashed in the winning goal with his second. It was the sort of pass that made you want to stick your boots on and try and recreate the magic straight away. But it was getting dark already and we had to meet Paul Finney from the Independent R's website for a few post match beers.

First up was an entertaining press conference though. "He [Taarabt] is an exceptional player," bemoaned Aidy Boothroyd "I was tempted to run on and kick him myself," he continued. "I'm not jealous and don't want to complain about all their money...." he said jealously, whilst complaining about their money. He then carried on talking about Taarabt. Everyone was talking about Tarrabt. "I hate to say it but you have to admire him. You also have to ask why is here? I'm sick of talking about him, he has pissed me off all day."

Next up was Warnock. "You won't see a better ball than that in the world, never mind the Championship," he said with a big grin. "He [Taarabt] has some baggage with him. When I was younger, I wouldn't have entertained him, he thinks he should be playing for Real Madrid, but now he's got to help me finish my career. I look at his good side rather than the one or two bad things."

Warnock was quick to note that EFW had sneaked into the press conference.

QPR shouldn't have any problem filling those 4000 or so empty seats next season. They will be in the Premier League after all. They've got the money to give that league a good go as well, because of those billionaire owners. But we don't want to talk about them, do we? Today was all about Adel Taarabt and that pass.

For lots more photos from the day CLICK ME.

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Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Manchester City v Leicester City

Meditation's what you need

Manchester City 4-2 Leicester City (18:01:11)

I'm delighted to welcome David Bevan from The Seventy Two back to European Football Weekends. As a fan of the Foxes, he's still coming to terms with the Thai-kover at Leicester City as well as pondering a conversion to Buddhism. What would "the awakened one" make of this Cup Thai at Eastlands between City and, erm, City:

For most football writers, the meeting of Manchester City and Leicester City in the FA Cup third round provided an opportunity to tell the tale of an age-old friendship between Roberto Mancini and Sven-Goran Eriksson. Fair enough. Their time together at both Sampdoria and Lazio certainly provided an interesting background to proceedings. But there was a distinctly Eastern flavour to the events over the past four years that reunited Mancini and Eriksson.

In early 2007, Mancini was in the midst of a successful spell as coach of Internazionale and Eriksson was still plotting his next move following his departure from the post of England manager after the 2006 World Cup. To cut a long story short, the former Prime Minister of Thailand, Thaksin Shinawatra, led a takeover at Manchester City and brought Eriksson to the club, setting in motion the timeline of heavy investment that would eventually make possible the appointment of Mancini by City's current owners in December 2009.

The Thai influence at Leicester City is more current. Less than twelve months ago, there had never been any connection between Thailand and Leicester City. Fast forward to the present day and Leicester's takeover by the King Power Group has already resulted in a trip to the country to face the Thai national team in a mid-season friendly, while holidays to Thailand are currently being dished out during half time at every Leicester home game.

And so, in an FA Cup draw that made this particular correspondent yearn for the days of Bert Millichip's velvet bags, both Noel Gallagher and Serge from Kasabian plucked balls representing the teams they support from a slow-motion food processor and Mancini and Eriksson were back together for one evening only.

Well, two in fact. Because Mancini willingly fielded Jo and Shaun Wright-Phillips in the 2-2 draw at the Walkers Stadium, before ditching both for the replay in favour of players with a sensible quantity of letters on the back of their shirts - the ultimate compliment to a Leicester side that more than matched their wealthy visitors for the entirety of the match. Andy King's opportunistic equaliser demanded an afternoon of annual leave be taken for the midweek trip up the M6 to Manchester.

I've also been influenced by the East in recent times, to such a degree that a seemingly straightforward cup tie against a Premier League team could not be given such little thought. For the last eighteen months or so, I've been toying with the exploration of Buddhism. It's currently a mere flirtation with qualities that I have begun to admire in my brother, who has turned his life from something which was heading inexorably for drug-fuelled disaster into a rather enviable existence managing a small cafe with few cares in the world. While I can't imagine ever admitting that football doesn't matter, it has certainly made me look at the game in a different way. Or try to, at least.

The good, then.

Attempting to remain objective, which is a hell of a lot easier after sleeping on it, paying fifteen quid to watch world-class players like David Silva and Carlos Tevez was a privilege. The recent saga over Tevez's possible departure left a nasty taste in the mouth but the challenge he offered to Jack Hobbs and Souleymane Bamba was a useful exercise for Leicester's new partnership at the back. Because, after all, the league is the priority and always will be. If Leicester can learn from their two outings against some of the world's best, it will benefit the intended assault on the play-off places over the second half of the season.

I also enjoyed visiting Eastlands. You can call it our big day out, our cup final, our highlight of the season - whatever you call it, it is essentially enjoyable purely because it is a break from the norm. When you've spent the best part of eight years having to make an annual trip to places like the Ricoh Arena, rocking up somewhere like the City of Manchester Stadium makes for a nice change as much as anything else. Personally, I'd have preferred going somewhere like Hereford or Peterborough but Manchester City away was an acceptable alternative.

And then there were our two goals, of course. The first was a dubious penalty won by one of Lloyd Dyer's numerous scampering darts into the area. Paul Gallagher's now customary spot kick style even merited a Twitter comment from Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas, who came off the bench the following night at Elland Road and enjoyed a similar effect to his compatriot Silva. Fabregas also commented on Leicester's "impressive" start to the game and that we were taking the game to our lofty opponents. Cheers, Cesc. Always liked your work. Gally smashed the ball past Joe Hart to level the scores, Tevez having fired an excellent opener in past Chris Weale at our end. Decent celebrations from the 6,000 Leicester fans and, thankfully, a goal to savour from our lengthy trip.

The hosts then scored twice in the space of two minutes to head into half time with a comfortable lead, a Patrick Vieira tap-in and Adam Johnson's cool finish making life extremely difficult for us. We kept the lead down to two until deep into the second half when Tevez's clever off-the-ball running won a penalty and the tie looked all over when he stepped up to take it. Improbably, Weale made a save with his legs and Dyer then cut the deficit when he ran onto a superb pass from Yuki Abe and slotted past Hart. Aleksander Kolarov eventually wrapped things up for the home side with a long-range shot in injury time.

It had taken over three hours of football to definitively separate the sides and most right-minded Leicester fans stayed to applaud our players off the pitch. A few buggered off, as was their prerogative. I tried to selectively clap most of our lot, with the now traditional pause for Matt Oakley. Should have taken out Tevez in the buildup for their fourth, but chose to trot obediently alongside him instead and, five seconds later, we lost out on the chance of a grandstand finish.

I kicked the seat in front of me in frustration. Ah yes, Buddhism.

Every game these days, I'm trying really hard to look at the bigger picture. Someone's got to go home disappointed, so it's only right that it's not the opposition every time. We're forking out a big wedge for players as a result of our Thai-keover (oh yes!) in the same way that Manchester City are supposedly attempting to buy a title. Why should I get annoyed with Yaya Toure's £200,000-per-week salary accounting for my team's FA Cup dream? We're effectively doing the same at a lower level by chucking tens of thousands of pounds at Yakubu to try to beat Doncaster and Scunthorpe. And that's the unease that's eating away at me as I try to support my club's promotion push. I enjoyed travelling to Yeovil and Carlisle a couple of years ago. The supposed lure of the Emirates and Stamford Bridge cannot match my desire to return to Leyton Orient. It helped that we won at most of these places, admittedly.

Regardless of how I feel about what is currently happening to my club, I defy anyone raised on "the wonder and terror of soccer", as Run of Play so beautifully puts it, to distance themselves from all partisan leanings. It's bastard impossible. Two days later, I will quite happily admit that Manchester City deserved their victory, that Silva and Tevez were a class apart, that Dyer dived, Mark Halsey was a key component of our second goal and some of our fans were complete idiots for singing Manchester United songs just because we were playing against their rivals (I know, I know...) But in that moment when Richie Wellens is squaring up to Tevez, I want Wellens to knock him out. And if he does, I'll berate the referee for sending him off. Or blame Tevez for provoking him. I've got an awful long way to go, haven't I?

I'm beginning to take an alternative tack with the whole Buddhism thing. I feel confident that I understand football is not important in the grand scheme of things. We can all take enjoyment from it to differing degrees but, as long as we retain that perspective, it should be fine to let out the odd cry of anguish when some bloke who will kiss four different badges in his career thumps a free kick straight out of play. It's a form of meditation. When things are going wrong off the pitch, you can lose yourself in what is happening on it for ninety minutes every once in a while. If you've got this far, you've lost yourself in my writing for a good five minutes or so. Another ninety won't hurt this weekend. Try to just sit back and enjoy it if you can...

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Kingstonian v Bury Town

Kingston ‘Buryed’ after 10k challenge

Kingstonian 1-1 Bury Town (16:01:11)

Its been far too long since we covered a non league match on these pages, so here's Jamie Cutteridge putting that to rights with his debut article for European Football Weekends:

Every good story starts with a pun, this is where Moby Dick and Pride and Prejudice fell down, yes we remember their opening lines, but their stories? Well they went nowhere, and the authors were never heard from again. And so whilst ‘Kingston ‘Buryed’ after 10k challenge’ might not be the best pun in the world, buried is misspelt and nor is it factually accurate, but it is a pun and I’m sticking with it.

One of the joys of ‘European Football Weekends’ is the variety of games that they entail. Yes I’m sure the Spakenburg Derby sounds very exciting, but how often do you get to see a top of the table Ryman Premier clash between the pride of Surrey and Suffolk as Kingstonian took on Bury Town. The two teams have both suffered patches of inconsistency in their seasons thus far, but both knew that three points here would put pressure on leaders Sutton, but secretly felt that a point would suffice. As a side note, if you fancy a delightfully middle-class footballing weekend can I recommend Bury Town. Kingstonian’s opening game of the season was there and were met friendly locals, the smallest pub in the country with an impressively dull 90 minutes sandwiched somewhere in between.

Perhaps the most striking thing about Kingsmeadow, is that it is too big a stadium for the level Kingstonian play at. Your average Ryman level ground consists of a couple of open ends, a bit of shelter, and one, small stand, Kingsmeadow is banked on side by one large stand, whilst all the other 3 sides provide stepped terracing. The reason for this is two-fold. At the beginning of the Millennium Kingstonian made their push for league status, finding themselves at the upper echelons of the Conference, as well as winning back-to-back FA Trophies, as such the ground as at a level appropriate for the club’s. Unfortunately, reality kicked in, and the club lurched towards financial oblivion, with a fair degree of mismanagement, and exploitation thrown in. Eventually a stable backer was found, and couple with the need for a home for AFC Wimbledon, the ground was saved, though now under the ownership of the re-located Dons, leaving Kingstonian tenants in their own home. Whilst some bitterness still remains between sets of fans (predominantly emanating from Ks supporters), the rationality suggests the Kingsmeadow, with a superb set of facilities, would be untenable without AFC’s ownership. Big questions still exist about the future of the ground though, as the Womble’s push to league status may see them outgrow it. Being a little outside of the non-descript town centre of Kingston, the only pre-match drinking option lies in the club bar, but this does an adequate job, as I’m sure Danny and Cynical Dave will attest to.

So much of the sport’s coverage that day was focused on the sanitised cess-pit that is Premiership football as a few derbies and a primadonna show filled the gaps between Andy Gray and Jamie Redknapp’s philosophy corner, however the canny football fan in Surrey knew where the real action was. This was proved as upon arriving at Kingsmeadow as the bar was busier than normal pre-match, people knowing that only by arriving early would they get a good view of....Liverpool Vs Everton on the screen. Yes, as pleasant as a non-league high horse is, it is one mainly supported by hypocrisy, my tardiness to the bar was due to watching Villa Vs Birmingham City at home, whilst this website’s editor was in prime of place and was enjoying the super-ist of Super Sundays. I like to convince myself that hypocrisy does not count if it is couple with self-awareness, and this was further proved as much of the discussion in the first half of the game was about the Liverpool/Everton game unfolding with text updates on our mobile screens. There is nothing punk or subversive about the non-league game if it is merely a stop-gap between voyeuristic looks at Andy Gray’s jowls. (Ironically after this ‘bordering on rantish’ paragraph, I should inform you that Gray’s partner in chief, Martin Tyler is a coach at Kingstonian, a well-known fan of the non-league, and a true gent).

The game began in earnest, and after just 30 seconds Kingstonian midfielder Simon Huckle spooned a volley over from 6 yards. This was to be as good as it got for the hosts early on, as they were then subjected to some heavy Bury pressure, predominantly from corners. One shot was cleared off the line, whilst a goal was disallowed for the perennial shoving within the penalty area. So little action was occurring at the end where the Kingstonian fans congregated that the dominant areas of conversation were the goals in the previously-mentioned game at Anfield and the apparent departure of one of the Ks’ midfielders (Jean Silvain Dossou) to Lewes (a fact reported by Cynical Dave, but one that the club’s press officer seemed unaware of, ah the joy of duel-ownership). This news was greeted by surprise amongst Kingstonain supporters, as the player in question had failed to set the world alight after a promising start, and hence a move up the division seemed nonsensical. In fact perhaps Dossou’s greatest legacy will be his posting under an alias on the club’s forum claiming that Dossou was the answer to the club’s weakness in midfield and how he HAD to be started soon.

Kingstonian fans do have a reputation within the non-league for their loud support and the full repertoire of songs was out in force for this game. From (Monday, Tuesday) Matty Gray, through to Don’t cha (wish your keeper was Rob Tolfrey) every player on the pitch seemed to have their own song (though hearing a group of beer-fuelled supporters trying to get out the words to ‘Bird is the word’ in honour of fullback Tom Bird is rarely a joyful experience). This certainly adds something to the atmosphere and pre-match experience of a game at this level, and is something that makes a Ks game worth the trip in itself.

As the half seemed destined to end goalless, a long ball forward let to the Bury goalkeeper (known only as Marcus) having to head the ball away from just outside of his area, before casually strolling back to his goal. In the meantime new signing Alan Tait had collected the ball for Kingston, and put a cross in on a plate for top scorer Bobby Traynor to nod in to give the Ks the lead. There was even time before the half for Ks keeper Rob Tolfrey to pull off ‘one for the cameras’ to ensure the lead was maintained at half time.

Obviously the non-league stalwarts made a bee-line at half time to catch the end of the Merseyside Derby before leaving the bar in time for the second half. Whilst Bury began the half looking for an equaliser, Kingston looked comfortable. This all changed as the hosts were reduced to 10 men as fullback Dean Hamlin was dismissed for tangling with the Bury striker, and as the last man, the decision was as predictable as it was game-changing. There seemed to be little grievance from the home supporters, however replays (yes, the game was filmed, don’t sound so surprised) suggested that contact was minimal. The initiative was with the visitors and it took just 5 minutes for them to draw level as striker Sam Reed flicked in a header from 8 yards out. It now looked as if Bury would go on to win, but a tactical change from home manager Alan Dowson seemed to re-establish the Ks footing in the game and the remaining half an hour ebbed and flowed from one end to another (just mentioning Sky coverage seems to have filled my head with clichés) and both sides had chances to win it. As it was, it remained level, a result both sides may well have taken pre-match, but in the context of the game, perhaps both sides left disappointed, Kingstonian with throwing away a lead and a dodgy decision, Bury for failing to take advantage fully of the extra man. It is difficult to imagine that these two will not be in and around the playoffs come the end of the season.

So a good game of football, a decent ground, good company and good atmosphere, what more could you want? For a start, a headline that works, Kingstonian were far from buried thanks to this result, but the need to avoid ‘Special Ks’ at all costs left me short of options. However Kingsmeadow is situated near the A3 so there was plenty time to rush home in order to catch the end of Super (sickening) Sunday, which makes up for a shoddy headline. Because that’s what it is all about surely?

N.B. It’s not.

You can follow Jamie Cutteridge on Twitter

For more match photos CLICK ME.

Lewes v Staines match poster

Yes, yes the date is wrong (the game is actually on the 22nd of January, this Saturday) but who can't fail to be impressed by another winning match poster from Lewes FC. See you there....

Monday, 17 January 2011

AFC Asian Cup 2011 in Qatar

Have Qatar, will travel

Not strictly speaking a European Football Weekend, but when the legend that is our big hearted German friend Stoffers, rides off to Qatar for the Asian Cup, then we're willing to waive the small print:

I must admit I still haven't fully recovered from the moment when Sepp Blatter opened that envelope some five weeks ago to reveal Qatar as hosts of the 2022 World Cup. Not that any FIFA decision should still surprise me, but honestly, why would anyone in their right mind award a major football tournament to tiny peninsula with a single city, where summer temperatures of more than 45°C are not unheard of? A place where football still ranks way behind falconry and camel racing as the #1 sport? Or even dune bashing (more about that later). Well, we all know the answer, don't we?

Who needs camel racing when we can get your mitts on this?

Anyway, I started to develop some interest about the place and consulted the interweb to learn more. And behold, I found out that Qatar will also be hosting the 2011 Asian Cup finals this January – a much better time to play football in the Gulf region anyway, with daytime highs of no more than 25°C (and apparently someone must have told FIFA by now anyway). Well, that would actually make a nice break from the terrible winter here in Berlin, I thought, and so I called up a few people who might feel likewise. With a clash between Iraq and Iran waiting for us, the two Koreas participating (not in the same group though), and footballing minnows like Uzbekistan or India mingling with big weights like Japan and Australia, it became clear: We had to go on our first ever QFW - Qatari Football Weekend! (Haha! Very original –Ed.)

I teamed up with Arminia Hannover's top boys Bundestorsten and BTH-Jens as well as with EFW lifetime member Nashdog from the Embassy of Bochum at Barnet (or was it the other way around!?). Three days later flights, hotel and match tickets were booked and so the four of us took off for some fun-packed days in Doha. The fine people at Türk Hava Yolları (a.k.a. Turkish Airlines), our preferred carrier, provided us with a 5-hour layover in the great city of Istanbul – just enough time to head into town to have a Döner Kebab and wash it down with a some draft Efes. Incidentally, these were to be the last beers on the entire trip! Not that I didn't spend hours of dedicated research during sleepless nights before the trip to gather as much information as possible on where to get my hands on a pint in Doha at what price – only to find out that we would be looking at prices in the 5-10 euro range in some of the posh 5-star hotel bars that are licensed. And bringing alcohol into the country is illegal. Anyway, we love to do as the locals do, and so decided to stay tea-total for our entire sojourn.

Captions you thought you'd never read on these pages Part 1: EFW goes tea-total.

After all, we came here for the football – but not just for that. Some people may say I have no clue about football anyway as I don't even support a successful team. I don't like these people. They don't know what they're talking about. Still, I rather leave match reports to the real experts. Go to Al-Jazeera Sports for line-ups, tactics and goal scorers or – even better – The Ball is Round, who sent their own correspondents for some more in-depth coverage about the AFC Asian Cup. I'll focus on what you may – or may not – experience in Doha as a foreign visitor and football tourist.

After arriving in the wee hours of 2am at Doha International Airport, we first noticed that the entire staff at the passport controls were women clad in black burkas. Initially I concluded this was to demonstrate that women have indeed equal rights in what is a monarchy with a rather traditional interpretation of Muslim laws. However, I always wondered how a fully veiled woman could actually go through airport security. And then it occurred to me that in Islam it's customary that only a woman may ask another woman to unveil her face to check it against her passport photo. For us, entering the country didn't pose a problem at all: Visas good for 30 days were issued on the spot against a credit card payment of 100 Qatari Riyals (approx. £20). And off we went to the Arrivals hall to meet up with Abdul, a helpful local bloke I got to know through one of the backpacker travel forums. He offered to pick us up at this unholy time, drive us to our hotel across the road, and be available any time this week in case we run into an emergency. Nice gesture.

We had booked ourselves into a newly opened business hotel and took advantage of an introductory offer that gave us 2 suites with a total of 3 bedrooms (all with their own bathroom), a kitchen, a huge sitting area and flatscreen TVs in every room but the loo. All for a mere £25 p.p.p.n. The advertised rooftop pool was still under construction and some of the staff obviously never worked in the hotel business before. But some minor shortcomings aside (like the daily quest for towels), it was a top place to stay! Congratulations, if you're still reading this. Now let's continue with some football, shall we?

EFW on tour.

Scraping the barrel.

Having booked our selection of match tickets online beforehand, we only needed to pick them up from one of the ticket outlets conveniently located in the city's shopping malls. Now this is where a minor schoolboy error comes into place: After arriving at Doha's biggest of that kind, the City Center Mall, I noticed that I had left the booking confirmation at the hotel. As we already spent some considerable time queuing behind clueless Indians who were overwhelmed by the amount of decisions to be made in order to determine the perfect combination of match/day/stadium/section/ price category, we simply bought another set of tickets for today's match. Prices were very reasonable: The equivalent of 3, 5 or 8 euros for the category of your choice. The most expensive, a VIP ticket for the final, would set you back a whopping 30 euros.

This AFC Asian Cup in Qatar was to be played in a total of 5 different stadiums, 4 of them located within Doha. So we opted for a match in each of the five, leaving us with enough time to get to explore the rest of the city. Our first match was scheduled for Qatar Sports Club, only a short 20 minute stroll from the mall, so we decided to walk. It proved that Doha is clearly not designed for pedestrians. Anyone can afford to drive with petrol being available at 14 cents a litre. But without any major hassle and after crossing a couple of dual carriageways we made it to the QSC.

Match 1:
Japan 1, Jordan 1
Sunday, 09/01/2011
Qatar Sports Club, Doha, Att. 6,255

Tight security measures had been put on at the stadium with airport-type scanners at the gates. Drink containers and cigarette lighters were confiscated (all venues were designated non-smoking areas). The Qatari football league is made up of two divisions, with 12 teams in the Qatar Stars League, and another six competing in Division 2. Most of the clubs are based in Doha and each of them comes with their own stadium, five of them we'll see for the matches, while some others like Al-Ahli and Al-Arabi are used as training grounds for the tournament's participating teams.

QSC holds 20,000 but was only filled to a third of its capacity for our own personal opening match (the tournament kicked off two days earlier). There was quite a number of Japanese faces in the crowd, but Jordan's support clearly maintained the upper hand. It is difficult to say how many of the fans are foreign workers or ex-pats residing in Qatar, and how many actually travelled. And in regards to supporting other squads, the locals tend to rather support one of their brother nations than someone from outside the Muslim world. So I believe that the good support Jordan put on that day was helped by their fellow believers from Qatar.
On the pitch, Japan was a disappointment despite the fact I could actually recognise some well-known names in their starting eleven like Kagawa, Honda, Hasebe, etc. Jordan dominated the match but the stoppage time equaliser by Yoshida left Japan with a lucky point.

Overall, an enjoyable sunny afternoon with some mediocre performance on the pitch, and – did I mention it before? – no beer. However, there were snack stalls selling nibbles as well as water, soft drinks and the infamous Pocari Sweat. And apart from an Al-Jazeera Sports stall, no merchandise of the AFC Asian Cup was available. Not even programmes or anything with a logo on. They need to work on that. Football fans and groundhoppers like their souvenirs. So the colourful match tickets, some photographs and our memories remain the only things to take home. However, I had the chance to meet up with the likewise non-accredited correspondents of the TBIR blog, Dan and Brian, to exchange our impressions of Doha and the tournament so far.

Match 2:
India 0, Australia 4
Monday, 10/01/2011
Al-Sadd Stadium, Doha, Att. 9,783

Cheer up chaps. It's The Al-Sadd Stadium.

The next day saw us at Al-Sadd (a.k.a. Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium), a rather modern, fully covered all-seater with a capacity of 15,000 and seats painted in Fulham colours. The smallest ground in the competition still proved to be too big for the encounter between Australia and India. India are probably the weakest team in the tournament, and observing their slender players struggling with physically strong, six-foot tall Aussies was like watching a school boys' selection playing a senior rugby team. And despite the fact that Australia never really managed to convince with technical supremacy, the 4-0 result speaks for itself. India didn't have the slightest of a chance.

BTH-Jens quite appropriately commented that "watching the events on the stands is much more enjoyable than the game itself". In fact, India attracted lots of their countrymen who work in Qatar. And whenever you get a large amount of Indians in one place, there is room for hilarity. Figuring out where to sit based on the section, row and seat numbers printed on the ticket, along with the consequent group discussion, was a bit too much for some of the construction workers. Bringing oversized lunch packs for the whole family to the ground was another peculiarity. But we all enjoyed the Indian roar that came about with every touch of the ball like it was a last-minute golden chance in a cup final. They love to get excited.

Some of the their supporters' antics reminded me of previous trips to India, and for the rest of the match our conversations circled about India as a travel destination, where you'll find the good, the bad, and the ugly. You either love it or hate it. Or both. For my part, I definitely want to return many times to the subcontinent. That evening we treated ourselves to a nice Indian dinner at the humble Afia restaurant across the street from our hotel. It's more like a workers' canteen with no Western faces apart from ours. Expect to pay 2-3 euros for your choice of a literally finger-licking good curry, vegetables, rice and/or bread and a soft drink. No wine served. Spoons on demand.

Match 3:
Iraq 1, Iran 2
Tuesday, 11/01/2011
Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, Al-Rayyan, Att. 10,478

Al-Rayyan is the only ground of this tournament outside of Doha proper. It's located right by the highway in the desert, about 10 miles west of the city. We were a bit worried about the transport situation as we've heard from other resources – including a certain report from another English football blog's correspondent – that taxis are really difficult to find aside from Doha's main landmarks (read shopping malls). However, getting there was easy. And getting back was even easier: As we left the ground after the match we were immediately approached an army of taxi drivers competing for our business, with their turquoise Karwa taxis lined up neatly – probably more than there was demand.

Walk this way to the Ahmed bin Ali Stadium.

Don't try this at home. An Iranian girl in celebratory mode.

Stand up if you love Iraq.

Just before the game, we were lured into an Iraqis ambush – or guerrilla marketing campaign as it is also known. Free Iraq jerseys and plastic mini flags were handed out outside the stadium, only to be confiscated by security inside the stadium as they all came with some sponsor's name printed on it in Arabic. We were quick enough to evaluate the situation and acted fast to hide and keep our first items of merchandise at this tournament.

Again, only some 10,000 populated the 25,000 capacity stadium, and we found ourselves seated in the Iraqi section, who outnumbered the Iranian supporters by 2-to-1. The atmosphere was cheerful and at times quite noisy, generally very friendly between the two sets of fans, no animosities or even violence at all. A very entertaining evening ensued with Iraq taking the lead and looking the stronger team in the first half. To cut it short, the match between the two was the best we were to watch during our one-week stay. Their neighbours from the other side of the Euphrates and Tigris never gave up though, equalised just before halftime break and continued to score the winner six minutes from time.

On Wednesday, we had some time to kill before the evening match at the Kahlifa Stadium. And due to the lack of historic sights or anything else of touristic interest (apart from the formidable Museum of Islamic Art we visited already), we decided to head to the Villagio Mall, which happens to be across the road from the stadium.

The Villagio is not an average mall as you may imagine. Its shops are designed in a Venetian style, covered by a curved blue sky with little white fluffy clouds painted on it. And it even comes with a canal, on which you may take a ride in an electric gondola. Very European, but in fact more Disneyland than Venice. An ice rink (home to the Qatar Raiders icehockey team) located in the midst of an enormously sized food court, a ferris wheel, and even a rollercoaster keeps everyone happy who gets tired of all that shopping. Between the mall and the stadium stands Qatar's tallest building, the 980ft Aspire Tower, which would make a great vantage point. However, the viewing platform is not in use. It was built in the design of a giant torch to hold the flame during the 2006 Asian Games.

Match 4:
China 0, Qatar 2
Wednesday, 12/01/2011
Al-Khalifa Stadium, Doha, Att. 30,778

Holding my imaginary friend (beer) at the Al-Khalifa.

The Khalifa is Qatar's national stadium and currently the biggest with a capacity of 50,000. The host of a tournament usually gets the biggest crowds – it's not any different here – but they failed to sell out the opening match (37,143) as well as tonight's game against the People's Republic of China (30,778). This time some freebies were available such as Qatari flags and 80's style silk (rather polyester) scarves that actually look quite nice. We had great seats on the sideline, along with the majority of the Qatari supporters, and there was singing and clapping throughout the game. Every other section had their capo starting chants by means of a megaphone (a bit too close to our seats though for my liking).

We continued with our habit of predicting scores before the match, and apart from correctly guessing India's defeat the other day, we always failed. And we did so again tonight. Who would have thought that little Qatar can beat mighty China by two goals!? It was really nice though to see how everyone celebrated like the already won the World Cup.

There's other things in life than just football, and being not just mere groundhoppers, we also show some interest in what else a country has to offer. And in Qatar that is sand. They have lots of it. So for the next day we booked a 4x4 and a driver to head out to the desert for the day. We headed down to Khor al Adaid (the "inland sea"), an inlet of the Persian Gulf near the Saudi border. This area is only accessible off road, and so after leaving the termac half an hour south of Doha, our driver Ali deflated the tires of his Toyota Landcruiser to get a better grip on the sandy surface. We soon realised that we were not in for a mellow ride across the desert when Ali showed us what locals refer to "dune bashing": Navigating a sand dune by driving to the top of it and waiting for the perfect moment to head down its other side. Very much like a surfer is looking out for the perfect wave. It's been a hell of a white-knuckle ride before we reached the lake but thoroughly enjoyable. At times we were heading down the dunes at a spead of 60 km/h in a 45° angle. More than once did we fear that the car would roll over. An experience I'd definetely recommend to anyone who's bored with roller coasters!

After returning back to base camp after an exciting football-free day it was time to pay a visit to Souk Waqif, the new old bazar in the centre of town. It's actually the location of the old bazar, which had been torn down to build a new bazar that looks old. Probably too sterile if you like the atmosphere of bazars in places like Cairo or Sana'a. But this is Doha, one of the richest places on this planet, so it needs a market that preserves the flavour of an oriental market but with the hygiene and comfort of a mall. Plenty of people about, including numerous Saudi fans, who were the first out of the competition after losing their second match straight.

Match 5:
Australia 1, South Korea 1
Friday, 14/01/2011
Al-Gharafa Stadium, Doha, Att. 15,526

The floodies at Al-Gharafa. So that's why they got the World Cup. Fairly do's.

Sooner than we wished our last day in Qatar has arrived. One more ground to make before embarking on our flight back home in the middle of the night at 2:55am. The Al-Gharafa Stadium is basically a copy of the Al-Rayyan, i.e. the two are identical buildings with the same layout and stands. Only the colour of the seats are different.

Again, the Aussies were anything else than convincing, technically inapt and slow on the ball. I very much preferred the Koreans' agile passing and quick drive towards the goal. Unfortunately, their efforts weren't awarded with 3 points.

In the meantime we had figured out that the organisers of the tournament had arranged free shuttle buses for supporters from the stadiums to some strategic locations throught town. As most people in Qatar drive themselves, only a small number of foreign tourists availed of them.
Overall, it was a very enjoyable stay in Qatar – in many aspects much better than expected. Very welcoming and helpful people, great food at bargain prices, pleasant climate (in winter that is!). I trust them to do anything to make it a great location for the World Cup in 11 years' time – as long as it will not be held in summer. Sure, they need to work on the infrastructure and public transport, but I guess they are aware of it by now. Of course, it still won't be a major footballing nation by 2022, and much had been moaned about the lack of football history in the Gulf region. But hey, why not? For sure, it's a great travel destination. Go and see for yourself.

The bottom line is that Qatar is so rich that they will continue to buy or build whatever they like. Be it international sporting events, new desert cities or even more spectacular skyscrapers and shopping malls – and of course stadiums. One thing they can't buy, I dare to say, and which is very unlikely to ever take place in down in Doha, is the annual EFW Oktoberfest! (Think again. Everyone can be bought! –Ed).

The Stadiums

Qatar Sports Club, Doha.

Al-Sadd Stadium, Doha.

Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, Al-Rayyan.

Al-Khalifa Stadium, Doha.

Al-Gharafa Stadium, Doha.

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