Sunday, 31 July 2011

Brighton & Hove Albion v Tottenham Hotspur

American Beauty

Brighton & Hove Albion 2-3 Tottenham Hotspur (30-07-11)

Brighton's new stadium is landmark architecture, designed to inspire. Premier League calibre. Beautiful inside. A mansion for the homeless. Paul Hayward

I didn't actually want to attend this match. I'd waited so long - 14 years to be precise - to see Brighton play in a "proper" home stadium again that I promised myself one more week wouldn't hurt and I would save that emotional, magical moment for the Seagulls first league game at Falmer. Friendlies are bobbins after all, no matter what stadium they're played in. And then, like everyone else, I got swept up in all the hype and hoopla, cracked, and before I knew it, the cash had been hoovered up from my pockets and sucked straight into the clubs coffers.

A stadium costing £90m, million pound (million pound!) players and Brighton & Hove Albion mints (mints!) for sale in the new club mega store. Jesus H. Christ, this is going to take some time to sink in. It's not all cats kissing dogs in Sussex though; one fan had complained on the fans 'North Stand Chat' forum that his new season ticket, smart card if you will, had already started attracting traces of dust and fluff. No really. Get that hoover back out. No doubt cometh the season we'll all be moaning about having to pay £30 for Portsmouth away tickets. Actually, that's already started as well. Football fans eh?

Dabbing away tears isn't my normal pre-match routine, but that's what happened as I strolled up to the new place for the first time. All those years of protest, marches, fans united, pitch invasions, letters, petitions had paid off. Good things do come to those who wait. Brighton are officially back. And it feels good.

Walking up the ground you pass the Albion legends gallery. It's brilliant. You marvel at the giant new club badge positioned high up on the outside - They've gone back to the old badge this season, but with a modern twist and I could have kissed them on the lips for doing so - it's ruddy superb. There's the aforementioned new Seagulls Mega Store. I bought mints. And then we reach the supporters bar, "Dick's Bar" in fact. Laugh all you like but this bloke [Dick Knight] that helped rescue the club in its darkest hour. Fans can toast a drink to him every day in this place. It's a fitting tribute, and if opposition fans take the piss, then so what? We do things differently at Brighton.

He shot, he scored, it must be Peter Ward. 

The old badge*. *With a modern twist. Lovely. 

[Dick] Knight in shining armour. 

A swipe of my smart card - happily devoid of dust and fluff - later, and I was in. The concourse at the back of the West Stand is plush and - Watford take note - spacious with high definition plasma televisions everywhere you look. There's frothing pints of Harveys Ale for sale to wash down the butternut squash pies. I'm not making this up. Honestly, if you took along a deck chair, sat in the concourse for 90 minutes watching Jeff and the boys on Sky, and not watch any live football, you'd return home and say you'd had a tip-tip afternoon out. Possibly.

These mobile Harveys pubs were the stars of the show. I want one for my garden.

This chap was caught trying to steal a framed photo from the wall. 

My season ticket for 2011/12 is in the North Stand where the club expect the majority of vociferous, and dare I say raucous, fans to gather. I know this because, upon closer inspection, it's the only bit of the ground where they've pinned up protective covers on those plasma screens; presumably in case they meet with a disproving shower of ale following news of an unlikely Crystal Palace victory elsewhere filtering through on Sky Sports News. Anyway, I was in the West Stand for this match as it's the only opportunity I'll get this season. I will save my North Stand experience for that game with Donny Rovers next Saturday.

Not even "England's Winning Tenor", Martin Toal operatic nonsense could dampen my mood as I took my seat. I've slatted him on these pages before so I won't go into it again. Nothing against him personally, I just don't think he belongs within a country mile of a football stadium. In truth, today he sang "Abide With Me", and it sort of fitted the bill perfectly. There wasn't a dry eye in the house.

And what's all this? Noise? At a Brighton home game? Yes sir. Our vocal support away from home is right up there with the best, but it's barely registered on our own patch since we left the hallowed turf of the Goldstone Ground. The acoustics are magnificent. They were factored in during the design of the ground, and it's one of a number of attentions to detail that set this place aside from the modern "identikit" stadiums. Small touches like projecting images of opposition legends onto the concourse walls of the away end, guest ales from that clubs region, seats the size of a bus, and proper blooming food for once means it gets 5 (five) Fifa stars from me.

Water bout that then? The North Stand faithful get a pre-match soaking. 

Brighton are back

Ah, the actual match. Yes, well this day was always going to be more about the occasion and the stadium as opposed to the football. Pre-season friendlies as we've already established are normally turgid affairs. Danny Baker reckons clubs shouldn't even charge for them. But having said that (nod to Larry David) here was a game that ebbed and flowed with goals raining in willy nilly. The pick of the bunch was a LuaLua special in the second half; he cut inside Corluka and unleashed an unstoppable drive from twenty-five yards. Delicious. I wouldn't have got carried away if we'd have won this match (I probably would), and I didn't mind losing. It was, however, thoroughly entertaining.

LuaLua's effort prompted the singing of a song for a full twenty minutes which looks set to split opinion among the Albion faithful: "We are the North stand, the North stand, the North stand,The North stand of the Albion, the Albion, the Albion, The Albion of the Sussex, the Sussex, the Sussex, The Sussex by  the sea, the sea, the sea". Controversial because it's an adaptation of a tune made famous by our bitterest of rivals, Crystal Palace. These guys to be precise.

I'll wager that not one Brighton fan will refer to our new gaff as the 'American Express Community Stadium'. It'll be either The Amex or simply, Falmer. But after those 14 years of nomadic existence, I'll readily take it as my new home. To me, for now anyway, it'll be referred to as the "American Beauty". Cheers Tony Bloom.

Up for the cup

Got any spare change mate? EFW meets Albion's new million pound man, Craig Mackail-Smith.

A couple of arty ones from The Ball is Round's Stuart Fuller to finish with.

For lots more photos from the day CLICK ME.

Discuss this and more on the EFW Forum

Sunday, 24 July 2011

The Real Stoffers

Introducing The Real Stoffers....

You get to meet a few people in this game. We've have had the pleasure of raising a glass with quite a few "colleagues" from this football, travelling and writing business but few are as passionate and committed to the cause than Michael "Stoffers" Stoffl.  A huge 1860 Munich fan both in terms of his size (Stoffers is the tallest man in Germany at 8 foot tall*), and his support for his side we have had the pleasure to travel to various places across Europe to watch games and thoroughly enjoy his company both on the terraces as well as on the dance floors of Havant.  So when Stuart Fuller and I recently bumped into him in the transit lounge in Munich we thought we would sum up the world of Stoffers in a thousand words or so.

If ever someone summed up the ultimate travelling football fan, it would be you wouldn't it? When was your first trip and to where? That’s a bit over the top. I’d rather leave that title to someone else.  Anyway, on my first away trip I was only 10 years old. My dad and three of his mates went to the 1982 German Cup Final in Frankfurt and tagged me along.

A cracking game. Nürnberg were 2-0 up at half-time but Bayern turned the match around and won 4-2. I remember the ridiculously packed terraces and some crowd trouble after the match. And a very long ride home. I loved it but still chose 1860 Munich to become my team.

Stoffers the man, the myth the legend. Tell us something that we don't know about you that may shock and surprise your fans? I’m a big fan of Afro-Caribbean music – with a focus on 1970’s roots reggae, northern soul, ska, soca, samba, salsa – you name it. Only a few years ago I started to explore the African music scene. So many different styles; there’s still a lot to discover.

There is a general impression that you live in airports based on the amount of travelling you do. How many games did you see last season? Around 75. I don’t tend to count them but I do keep my match tickets. I managed games in over a dozen countries including a trip to the Asian Cup where I met up with the legendary Dagenham Dan and Brian of the Dagenham Diary fame.

Qatar Heroes: The Real Stoffers and Dagenham Dan at the AFC Asian Cup.

You must have covered a game in most countries in the developed world by now. How do you determine where to go next? A combination of factors come into play. Either I’m picking a particular match I’d like to watch and build something around it. Or I find a cheap fare to some destination and then check out what would be feasible in the area. Recommendations by others always play a big role, too.

What is the ultimate aim?  What game or place would you consider to be the pinnacle of your footballing travels? Always dreamt of a footie break for a week or two in Buenos Aires, and will probably make this come true early next year. But my ultimate dream would be to go on an extended overland tour through Africa, Asia, and/or South America, taking in as many countries and games along the way as possible. I’ll definetely make this come true before I’m getting too old for it.

Your life on the road would make a great film.  But who would play Stoffers? Hmm, maybe John Candy, but since he’s dead I’ll pick John Cleese.

Not everywhere in the world is as open and accommodating as some of the places we have visited like Spakenburg or Budapest.  So have you ever been in a situation when you have thought - "this is my last European football trip "? No, never. I’ve been doing well so far to avoid dodgy situations. And I’m never getting tired of combining travel, football and having a good time.

What one item could you not do without on your travels? Apart from the obvious (money, passport, my glasses), I’m always carrying a can of Swedish snus to keep me relaxed.

Snus Party: Stoffers relaxes after a good pinch of Swedish snus.

You must have been to some cracking games though.  What has been the best atmosphere you have experienced? I don’t have an obvious favourite: Flamengo v Fluminense at the Maracana. In the away end at Ibrox for an Old Firm derby. Ghana beating Nigeria after being 1-0 down and Mensah sent off (quarter-final of the 2008 African Nations Cup). And 1860 Munich promoted to the Bundesliga after 12 years on the last day of the 93/94 season at SV Meppen (10,000 away fans in a 15,000 capacity ground 800km away from home). And there are few better experiences than an Istanbul derby.  I have been lucky enough to be at Besiktas v Galatasaray.

For every great ground there is always one at the other end of the scale.  So time for the truth.  What is the worst place you have seen a game? FK Rad Beograd. Security forces collected my phone and my door keys to be picked up after the match. I complied but picked everything up and left at half-time as I was really pissed off.  Otherwise, Belgrade is a top destination for football. Just don’t go to FK Rad.

The three components of a great weekend away are Football, beer and bingo. Pick three destinations for a classic European Football Weekend? Prague, Warsaw and and one of the highlights this season was when around a dozen of us met up for the Berlin and Leipzig derby weekend in February. Generally speaking I love Eastern Europe but never actually been to a match in France, Spain or Portugal (Ed - faints onto the floor in shock)

Apart from your talents as a bingo caller as we all remember from THAT coach trip in Slovakia, we've heard you are a bit of a mover on the dance floor, who is your inspiration? Haha. That’s got to be Leroy ‘Horsemouth‘ Wallace in the classic 1978 Jamaican movie called ‘Rockers‘.

*Shameless plug time*....On the subject of German football, fan ownership has been established for many years.  Have you signed up yet for the fantastic Community Ownership scheme Lewes FC? I can be an owner of the club for just £30 per annum?  Where do I sign up? (Here - Ed.)

So the new season is upon us and I bet you cannot wait to get your teeth into a game or two.  So what's up next for Stoffers? Start of the 2. Bundesliga next weekend. Braunschweig away for me, then I’d like to get most out of the domestic matches in Germany during some weekend trips during August.

And finally, we know that you have recently joined the Twitterset, so sum up Stoffers in a 140 word Tweet. A humble man believing in the victory of good over evil, spending his money on experiences rather than earthly goods (apart from pin badges)

We have known and loved Stoffers for many years.  His enthusiasm for the game is hard to beat and his is one of the most helpful people you can ever want to deal with.  He can be found on Twitter here and his website is

Life's A Flag: Stoffers conducts the Spartak Trnava ultras orchestra.

Stoffers is the author of one of the most popular ever articles on EFW.

Lead photo: Stoffers, Danny and Stuart Fuller at the Spakenburg Derby.

* He isn't really 8 foot tall or the tallest man in Germany but he is bloody big.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Bangor City v HJK Helsinki - Champions League

Day Trip To Bangor Rhyl

Bangor City 0-3 HJK Helsinki (13-07-11) 
Champions League Qualifier

"Oh my God, I've married a nutter" said my wife as I diverted the car towards Farrar Road, home to Welsh Champions, Bangor City FC. It seemed like the most natural thing in the world to have a cheeky look around,  even though, granted, it was 24 hours before the match - which was being played.......35 miles away. In Rhyl. 

We were in North Wales for a weeks holiday. A chance to unwind in the glorious countryside; to soak up that magnificent and varied scenery by day, before popping on my Real Betis slippers ('tour treasures' from a recent EFW), and fully recharge the AA Alkaline's by night. Pah! Who am I kidding?

A few weeks prior to this trip, I had dispatched a warms set of balls to UEFA for them to use in their forthcoming Champions League qualifying draw. Incidentally, these are the same set used by the Scottish FA to keep Rangers and Celtic apart in cup draws. I sat and watched the draw unfold, mopping my brow as the men in suits pulled out.....a home tie for Bangor City, the nearest team to my little holiday cottage in Pont-y-pant. A success. My wife for one couldn't have rolled her eyes any further into her sockets as I broke the tremendous news. We were off to our first ever Champions League game, together. Who said romance is dead? I did a little dance before sliding across the kitchen floor on my knees. I'm 39. 

The game had been moved to the Belle Vue - home to The Citizens arch rivals Rhyl - because Bangor's current stadium doesn't have enough seats to cope with demand for a match of this magnitude. I've always dreamed of working for UEFA in the role of grading stadiums, so, as part of my application form for that job, I did, as I say, pop in to have a nose around at their current set up. With it's excellent transport links - right next door to the station, no less - and for having bags full of character, I'd have given it 5 stars any day of the week. As I type, however, I've yet to receive a reply back from Nyon regarding my new job. Tsk.

Farrar Road. Unfit for Champions League football according to UEFA suits.

Not even a neat bit of paintwork and a yellow hose could make them change their minds. 

I've heard bits and bobs about this Champions League lark, and so to drink in every aspect of this magical occasion, we arrived in town six hours early. I'd been tipped off that the Bangor City 'Fan Zone' was already in full swing in the Vegas Bar near to Argos on Bodfor Street. But in an attempt to secure a few wife-pleasing-points in the calm before the storm, we opted first to go for a walk up the River Clwyd for a shag or two. It was great to see them spreading their wings as they dried off the water after a long flight. 

A pre-match shag along the River Clwyd. Recommended.

The Champions League was just another notch on every conceivable type of entertainment you can enjoy in this popular holiday resort on the North Wales coast. It's got a fine sandy beach, an indoor (indoor!) Sun Centre, and if static caravans are your thing, then you've hit the bloody jackpot here in the Welsh equivalent of Las Vegas.

Arriving at the ground we asked around for the clubhouse. "I don't work here" said one steward, "This is my first day" said another, shrugging his shoulders. And finally "They haven't got a bar mate, they're in the process of building one," said a friendly local bobby. So up the road we trooped to the local alehouse. Once we'd swung through the doors I immediately doffed my Stone Roses 'Reni' sunhat to the 20 or so HJK fans present. They'd flown into Manchester from Helsinki, hired a mini bus to take them to Wales, and were now sinking pints and bottles of wine at great speed. Overhead clapping to you chaps, you did your team proud.

During the week, I'd inadvertently become the official Bangor correspondent for the Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE. No really, it's true. I took the opportunity to tap them up for information on the opposition in the process. So back off Wikipedia, here's the EFW guide to HJK: 

I) They normally goose up their European games against "weaker" opposition.
II) Their holding midfielder, Alexander Ring (18), is one of the best talents in Finland at the moment.
III) Striker Teemu Pukki (21), played well for the Sevilla B-team a couple of years ago and was another 'player to watch'.
IV) HJK played in the Champions League group stages in the 1998-99 season. The only time a Finnish team has ever done so.
V) I was under orders to abuse midfielder Aki Riihilahti who had previously become a legend among, spit, Crystal Palace fans.
VI) What's this? Only the greatest Finnish player of all-time, Jari 'Litters' Litmanin plays for HJK. But these days, only when he feels like it. And this wasn't to be one of those days, sadly.

Fully oiled refreshed after a pre-match with the Finns, we entered the ground past, Brian and his pal...Brian selling programmes, and made our way to the temporary Bangor City club shop. Yes of course replica shirts, yes, yes, souvenir Champions League T-shirts. But the third and only other item for sale on the night: boxer shorts (boxer shorts!). Not Bangor City boxers either. "It's the only time blokes ever go shopping for clothes" said my wife. A very good point well made. I purchased two pairs.

Replica shirts? No thanks, boxers shorts all-round. 

The two teams took to the pitch in glorious sunshine. Sadly, not to the tune of the Champions League anthem. They didn't have official Champions League balls, either. UEFA had sent a new flag to fly over one of the stands, but evidently their budget doesn't stretch to a CD and a couple of Adidas footballs. Another letter has gone out in the post to Nyon. This won't do.

UEFA had failed to send a shipment of CL balls, so we had to make do with the Macron, Super Brilliant 09. 

Erm......not quite.

"Singing aye, aye, Bangor, Bangor, aye...." sang the "home" faithful. "Helsingin Jalkapalloklubi – Helsingfors Fotbollsklubb, clap, clap, clap clap clap clap...." retorted my new friends from Finland. The bulk of the Bangor fans even changed ends at half time. The Champions League eh? A competition I'd previously thought was on the bones of its arse, during the groups stages, anyway. And here I was, in my new pants, loving every minute. 

Bangor certainly didn't disgrace themselves, far from it. In fact they were the better team for large periods of the match, and pretty much dominated the second half. The visitors - seasoned European campaigners, and confidence oozing off the back of a ten match winning streak - had three shots, and scored three goals. Two of them came from the prolific former Leeds United man, Berat Sadik making it 17 goals in 19 games for him this season. (£3 on the match programme well spent there - Ed.).

And it's LIVE! (on S4C)

In true CL-style, HJK keeper Ville Wallen rolls around on the floor. The home faithful are unimpressed. 

Still, Bangor fans left Rhyl with their heads held high. Despite the scoreline the whole night had been a success. It's ludicrous that a crowd of this size should rattle around at Wrexham's Racecourse Ground, which was the alternative venue mooted for this match. Here, at Rhyl, it felt like an occasion. Closer to home for those vocal and passionate City fans as well.

"Do you still think I'm a nutter?" I said to my wife after the match. "No, and furthermore, I thoroughly enjoyed it as well" she replied. Just as well, because I fancy going back to see Bangor City in their splendid Farrar Road ground next time. Young love eh?

Bangor City: Unity is Strength.

For loads more photos of this game and Bangor City's Farrar Road stadium CLICK ME

Further reading: EFW goes to Llanelli v Motherwell. And 'Should Welsh teams be banned from Europe' asks @ffwtbol

Follow European Football Weekends on Twitter and discuss this and more on the new EFW forum.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Neath's Euro exit is one of waste but not of disgrace

With Danny half way up a mountain, the publishing tasks have been given to our office junior.  So any diversion from our normal style is all down to him and he will be sacked on Danny's return.

Mark Pitman reports from The Gnoll as Neath fall at their first European hurdle against Kjetil Rekdal's Aalesund FK.

The famous Welsh rugby landmark of The Gnoll played host to European football for the first time as tenants Neath welcomed Norwegian outfit Aalesund FK to South Wales for this UEFA Europa League 1st qualifying round match. The visitors arrived with a comfortable 4-1 lead from the 1st leg and their progression into the next stage of the competition seemed nothing more than a likely formality against a Neath side competing in European competition for the first time in their short history. It would not prove to be a comfortable evening for the Norwegians and their manager Kjetil Rekdal however, and Neath are now left to focus on their preparations for the new Welsh Premier League season, wondering what might have been.

Gnoll's House Party

With a comfortable lead from the match in Norway the week before, Aalesund named an experimental side but still filled with enough quality and experience not to leave the eventual outcome of the tie in doubt. That was at least the theory of manager Rekdal as the team bus pulled up outside The Gnoll early on Thursday evening and his players stepped onto the well-maintained playing surface in the bright South Wales sunshine. Joining the squad on their travels to South Wales were around fifty of the clubs 'Stormen' supporters club members who made themselves known to the local community and publicans in the build-up to the match.

Neath manager Terry Boyle had watched his side pay the price of conceding two goals in three first-half minutes in Norway and made one change of his own as striker Craig Hughes replaced Chris Jones in a strength-over-speed choice. Neath would need to score at least three times without reply if they were to overturn the scoreline and another attacking line-up was preferred by Boyle and his backroom staff as the two sides began to warm-up on their respective sides of the pitch. With kick-off an hour away, supporters and curious neutrals made their why through the turnstiles, many immediately gaining a negative impression when they were informed that the club had already sold out of programmes an hour before the match would begin, having put less than a hundred on general sale.

Although programmes were in short supply, commemorative scarves were readily available outside the ground as sellers lined all routes to the stadium. The merchandise proved as popular as lager with the visiting fans as the Norwegians invested in a souvenir of their short time in South Wales. Neath's high-profile striker Lee Trundle had called on the supporters of his former club and now neighbouring Premier League side Swansea City to come out and support him and his new team in Europe and a healthy crowd had arrived at The Gnoll as Belgian referee Christof Dierick lead the two sides out to some polite hand-clapping.
The Green Green Grass of Home

Photographers gathered around for the respective team photo's as Boyle and Rekdal took their places in the dugouts. The dozens of travelling fans had begrudgingly staggered from the clubhouse around to the stand on the cricket ground side of the stadium and began the first of many chants and choreographed moves that would eventually prove more entertaining than long periods of the game. In the main stand Crystal Palace assistant and former Cardiff City manager Lennie Lawrence was the most recognisable face in a sea of Welsh football who's-who as captains Lee Trundle and Peter Orry Larson met in the middle of the field in their respective number ten shirts ahead of kick-off.

For most people inside the ground, Neath were simply playing for pride against their superior opponents, and emerging from the tie with their pride intact would realistically be the best possible outcome for the Eagles. Aalesund forced the early possession with the influential Michael Barrantes orchestrating the midfield and offering a regular supply line to Jamaican International and former Stoke City midfielder Demar Phillips. The final ball proved poor for the Norwegian side however and Neath quickly grew in confidence as their talisman Lee Trundle became more and more involved in his sides build-up play.

Trundle made his career in the Football League as a showman with an library of tricks at his disposal. Now playing behind lone-striker Luke Bowen, he became the target of all of goalkeeper Lee Kendall's kicks, and caused a series of problems for the Aalesund defence as he tricked and flicked his towards goal while linking up with Bowen and midfielder Paul Fowler to create a number of openings for his side. In the build-up to the 1st leg, Aalesund had dismissed the possible impact of Trundle, but he answered his critics in Norway with the opening goal. Now quickly becoming the star of the 2nd leg, Aalesund became rightly concerned over his influence and resorted to conceding free-kicks inside their own half in a cynical approach to calming his impact on the game.

With the opening half reaching the midway stage, Neath had settled into the game and were matching their opponents in all areas of the park. Aalesund had forced free-kicks and corners of their own but, like their crosses and final-balls before, they could only waste the set-piece opportunities that were presented to them. Neath sensed the complacency in their opponents play and striker Luke Bowen twice came close to handing his side the lead with both a header and a superb run that saw the recent Neath signing weave his way past two Aalesund defenders before curling his effort narrowly wide of the far post. A penalty appeal followed as Bowen appeared to be brushed aside inside the area and the tension in the Aalesund ranks became common knowledge through the animated antics and verbals of Kjetil Rekdal.

Another free-kick on the edge of the area for Lee Trundle brought a save from Jonas Sandqvist in the Aalesund goal but he could only parry the ball into the path of Craig Hughes to present the striker with a golden opportunity. Under-pressure from back-tracking defenders however, Hughes failed to find the target, and Neath began to realise how many chances they had wasted and how few more they were likely to create. At the other end, Lee Kendall made a fine save of his own when he stopped a well-struck effort from Jonathan Parr  before the break to keep the score level as referee Dierick signalled for half-time.

Both sides left the field frustrated, Neath from having missed enough chances to have reduced the deficit from the 1st leg and Aalesund from having allowed Neath to create enough chances to have reduced the deficit from the 1st leg. As Katy Perry and Lady Gaga shook the speakers from the main stand roof, a mini-football match featuring two local junior teams provided further entertainment for those in the crowd without a programme to read. The low sun of the first-half was then replaced by torrential rain as the junior players quickly lost their enthusiasm and the two teams re-emerged from the changing rooms to a dark night of heavy drizzle for the second-half.

If the Neath team-talk had been to keep playing the way they were playing, the discussion in the away room would have been the opposite. Neither side decided on making any changes before the second period and after a slow opening few minutes the sun returned to dry out the playing surface. The competitiveness of the tie turned on 53 minutes however when Michael Barrantes, competing with Trundle for the man of the match award, drilled a low shot from the edge of the area that zipped past Lee Kendall on the wet surface and into the far corner of the net. The crucial away goal meant that Neath would now have to score four just to have a chance of taking the game to extra-time, and as they ball shook the net, the home side immediately conceded defeat.

Minutes before the goal Luke Bowen had seen his long-range effort edge the wrong side of the post and his frustrations soon became apparent as he was booked for a late challenge a minute after the re-start. Manager Terry Boyle then decided to bring something different to Neath's game with the introduction of diminutive striker Kerry Morgan in place of Craig Hughes. Morgan proved to be a lively addition to the game and he wasted little time in becoming involved in his sides attacking play. His arrival proved constructive and another addition of pace was made as Chris Jones replaced Paul Fowler. Neath had to score quickly to have any chance of turning the tie around but as Trundle's influence became less apparent, so did Neath.

As the second-half wore on Neath's opportunities became less and less, while at the other end Aalesund continued to prove hugely frustrating to Kjetil Rekdal as his frantic actions continued on the touchline and he began to take on the look of a manager willing to put his entire squad on the transfer list the next morning. The tie was then taken out of Neath's reach on 79 minutes when Magnus Sylling Olsen scored the second goal of the game for Aalesund and the two sides played out the remaining ten minutes with little point or purpose. All the energy in the stadium was now being used solely by the travelling fans on the far side of the ground as they sang their side into the next round of the competition.

Although not outclassed by any means on the night, Neath's European debut offered a steep learning curve into what they can expect on the biggest stage. A 6-1 aggregate reverse will be hard to accept from the chances they created in the opening-half but their failure to take advantage of what was presented to them proved to be the difference between the two sides. Aalesund now return to domestic action, currently being in the middle of their domestic season, while Neath will take a few days off from their new full-time schedule before beginning their pre-season campaign.

Neath have invested heavily to qualify for European competition but the only justification for their substantial spend will be in making European progress. A little more composure on the night could have made all the difference as the Eagles would have been good value for at least a two-goal lead at the break and such a scoreline would have seriously shocked their opponents and their travelling fans. By comparison, Aalesund will be pleased with what appears a very comfortable double-victory, and they can now turn their attentions to Hungarian giants Ferencvaros who await them in the second round.

Mark writes about all good things Welsh here and can be found on Twitter here.

Don't forget you can have your say on Welsh football, or any other issue over at EFW Chat, especially all of the transfer gossip about Nasri, Tevez and Fabregas because we just cannot get enough of that

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Adidas interview with European Football Weekends

Adidas meets EFW

I did a "twinterview" with Adidas today on Twitter which I thought I'd relay to you on these pages, because frankly it's not an everyday occurring for me and, furthermore, I quite enjoyed it.

I should make clear at this juncture that I never wanted the EFW Twitter feed to be called @DannyLast, I wanted @EuropeanFootballWeekends, obviously. But that was deemed too long by the Twitter police, and hence I ended up looking and sounding like John Madejski - not the best look eh?

Anyway, this is what happened when Adidas met EFW:

@adidasfootball Let's get started. Sell us the European Football Weekends concept in a tweet.

EFW: Tales of travels that celebrate the underbelly of life whilst raising a glass to the wonderful world of football.

@adidasfootball What's been your favourite of those tales of travel so far? Any recommendations?

EFW: Istanbul. A trip out to see Fenerbahçe before popping across the Bosphorus on a ferry to Beşiktaş is absolute perfection.

@adidasfootball And your most unusual European Football Weekends experience?

EFW: After that Fenerbahçe match, Colin Kazim-Richards gave me his shirt. Up there with my wedding day in terms of cheesy grins.

@adidasfootball The new season is approaching - what should we be expecting from EFW in the coming weeks and months?

EFW: Lens at the Stade Félix Bollaert, then Belgium for KAA Gent v Standard, and hopefully a game in Luxembourg in between.

@adidasfootball If you had to choose the EFW to end all EFWs, where would you go and why?

EFW: Can I cheat and say the Superclásico between Boca Juniors and River Plate? In football terms, that's my lifetime ambition.

@adidasfootball Nice choice. While we're talking Argentina, what's your Copa America highlight so far?

EFW: Sergio Aguero's sweet volley? No, it was the small dog who trotted onto the pitch during the Brazil v Venezuela game. Woof.

@adidasfootball And who's going to win it?

EFW: Argentina are goosing things up, so they might as well hand the trophy over to the relatively free-scoring Uruguay now.

@adidasfootball Back to EFW. Another feature is a superb interview series. If you could pick one person to interview who would it be?

EFW: Danny (@prodnose) Baker. A Godlike comedy genius and no mistake.

@adidasfootball And our final question. If you could be one footballer from history, which player would you choose?

EFW: It would have to be a striker, so let's go for "the complete centre-forward" Robin Friday. That man didn't give a....hoot.

@adidasfootball Our thanks to @DannyLast from the excellent and award-winning European Football Weekends - Thanks Danny!

EFW: My pleasure. Cheers.

You can follow both European Football Weekends and Adidas Football on Twitter

Discuss this and more on the new EFW forum.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Banik Ostrava v AC Sparta Prague

Banik On The Streets Of Ostrava

Banik Ostrava 0-2 AC Sparta Prague

Iain Thomson with another installment on his footballing adventures in the Czech Republic...

Following my trip to Plzeň the previous Saturday, my itinerary took me to the Czech Republic’s third city, Ostrava, where I was to attend the real ‘big match’ of the weekend, FC Baník Ostrava v. AC Sparta Prague.
Ostrava is a city I know very well, having spent a year studying there in 2002-03. For this reason Baník remains my favourite Czech club, albeit not the first one I ever went to (that honour goes to Brno).

Following the discovery of rich deposits of coal and other minerals in the region in the 18th century, Ostrava (located 350 km from Prague, in the north-eastern corner of the country) became one of the major centres of heavy industry in, successively, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Czechoslovakia. Unfortunately, this industry went into sharp decline in the 1990s following the collapse of Communism, and the region still suffers from high unemployment. However, the cityscape is still dominated by two massive steelworks (one of which, currently owned by Arcelor-Mittal, is still operational) and a number of disused mining towers dotted around the city.

Ostrava’s major (and now, following the bankruptcy of FC Vítkovice in the winter, only) professional football team is FC Baník Ostrava, originally founded as SK Slezská in 1922 in the Silesian part of the city. The club enjoyed its best years in the 70s and 80s, culminating in three league titles, won between 1975 and 1981 (adding a fourth in 2004-05). Famous names associated with the club include Luděk Mikloško, Pavel Srníček, Tomáš Galásek, Marek Jankulovski, Milan Baroš, Libor Sionko, Marek Heinz and Václav Švěrkoš.
With FC Vítkovice existing for decades in Baník’s shadow, a true city rivalry never developed and Baník’s main grudge match is now against Sparta, and to a lesser extent Slavia, as well as Sigma Olomouc and Brno. Games against these clubs regularly draw the largest crowds, with Baník taking anything from 1,000-2,000 away fans with them.

So I made my way eastwards – not, it has to be said, in expectation of a great spectacle, or even a home win. Having challenged for the title virtually up until the last day in 2009-10, Baník have recently been, frankly, crap, to the extent that they finished season 2010-11 only one place above (albeit six points clear of) the relegation zone. Still, it was Baník and, having missed out on the Sparta match last year due to not being able to get a ticket, I was quite keen to attend this one.

Sadly, it all turned out as expected. Sparta won 2-0 thanks to two goals from their Cameroonian striker, Leonard Kweukwe. Baník were rather uninspiring and Sparta did what they had to do. The official attendance was a disappointing 8,133 (capacity: 17,372). As usual, the police were out in force for what was a ‘high-risk’ game. In the end, only a hundred or so Sparta fans turned up, which didn’t stop a police helicopter buzzing overhead for the entire duration of the game.

The main talking-point of the game was the fan protests: Baník’s stadium, Stadion Bazaly, dates from 1959. While still an impressive arena, and my favourite in the country, it can now best be described as ‘crumbling’. At any rate, it will soon no longer come up to league standards and must be replaced. A year or two back, the mayor of Ostrava stated that he was 100% certain that a new stadium would be built by 2013, only to announce earlier this year that, in fact, they’d merely renovate the existing athletics stadium in Ostrava-Vítkovice (where FC Vítkovice used to play). This did not please the fans, and the ultras in particular, with the major sticking-point being the fact that Vítkovice is not in the Silesian part of the city, where the club has its roots. The athletics stadium in question is also a rather dreary facility in any case. So after some discussion, the chosen form of protest for the Sparta game was to withdraw support for the first five minutes of the game. No club anthem, so vocal support, nothing. Encouragingly, this was observed by the entire stadium – including the away end. A similar point of protest was chosen for the next home game (which I also attended): on the 30th minute, everyone left the stand and stopped supporting until half-time. Sadly, but predictably, none of this has had much effect and the club is still on course to leave Bazaly at the end of next season. The fate of Bazaly itself is still uncertain, but here’s hoping it’ll continue to at least host reserve games and the like...

Discuss this and more on the new EFW forum

You can follow European Football Weekends on Twitter

Sunday, 3 July 2011


The Cradle of The Game
Want to win the best football book known to man? Then pull up a chair. The Cradle of the Game is the work of a genius, namely Stuart Roy Clarke. "Clarke's love of the game is evident in the evocative, shamelessly nostalgic and absorbing images of place and people in this book" trumpeted The Guardian newspaper. "These mesmerising images will make you remember why you got into football in the first place" declared Sabotage Times. And they're not wrong...

Once you've been invited in through its red gated cover you'll spend hours marvelling at his visual dollops of humour, patriotism, self-deprecation, loyalty…and sense of occasion. "If you don't like these photos you probably don't like football" said European Football Weekends Editor Danny Last. (get on with it - Ed.)

You can see images from the book courtesy of The Guardian newspaper HERE

For unbridled joy, tap the name of your team into the search engine on The Homes of Football website and hit enter - you'll be richly rewarded I promise.  

To be in with a chance of winning the book (RRP:£35) just post a comment here or on the brand new European Football Weekends Forum, and I'll pick a winner out at random on Sunday July 17.