Friday, 16 February 2018

SC PREUßEN MÜNSTER (Preußenstadion)


For my Friday night football fix I found myself in the North Westphalia region of Germany for a 3.Liga clash between  Preußen Münster and Hansa Rostock. Münster is a student city and is famous for the amount of bikes within the city. Everywhere you turned there was a bike and the parking station by the hauptbanhof is certainly the first thing you notice upon arrival!

I arrived late afternoon after a slight delay in my flight from Bucharest but there was still time to catch up with a mate in the Pinkus Müller brewery tap for a few beers before catching the bus to the ground.

Formed in 1906, Preußen Münster have spent all of their years below the top flight of German football apart from one season, 1963/64, when, after consistent Oberliga finishes, they were invited to become one of the founder members of the Bundesliga. They finished 15th in that inaugural season and were relegated back to regional football.

The club are currently in the third tier of German football, where they have been since 2011 but at the start of play tonight they were 4th from bottom whilst the visitors from Rostock were 4th from top, but both teams were in good form since the winter break.

Off the pitch though there could possibly be troubles ahead. At an extraordinary general meeting in January members voted to for the football department to became separate from the sports association, thus opening the football club club to investment and the possible move away from the 50 plus 1 model, where members retain a controlling interest.

This has led to Preußen Münster ultras withdrawing their support by not partaking in the things most admired in German football such as, for example, not displaying banners or constantly singing during matches. At this time though there is no apparent boycott of games.

The main home block(s) behind the goal. Note there are no flags on display.

The Preußenstadion has been home since 1926. When it was built it was one of the most impressive stadiums in Germany with a capacity of around 40,000. That is now down to around 15,000 but in my eyes it still looks a fantastic ground. There has been work done in recent times such as the building of a new grandstand (in 2009) and covering added to the far side. There are swathes of open terracing and there is still the feel of a proper 'old skool' stadium.

On a freezing cold evening, the game was a routine win for the home side however the opening goal was anything but routine. Inside the opening 10 minutes Martin Kobylański unleashed an unstoppable shot from 25 yards into the top corner to give 'Die Adler' the lead. Janis Blaswich in the Rostock goal had no chance of saving the effort.

Simon Scherder (54) headed home from close range to make it 2-0 and from then on the game was pretty much a non-event. Skipper Adriani Grimaldi had a chance to extend Preußen Münster's lead but he blazed over when clean through.

Hansa Rostock, considering their form, offered little and the game petered out. I must give credit to the Rostock supporters who, having travelled in numbers, never stopped singing and bouncing up and down all game despite having very little to cheer.

Post match analysis took place in The James and Braukunstwerk, which was an excellent way to round off the evening!

Thursday, 15 February 2018

FOTBAL CLUB FCSB (National Arena)

ATTENDANCE: 25,000 (est)

The only paper here!
Prince, Puff Daddy, Cat Stevens are a few examples of famous name changes at the height of their respective careers but how often do you hear of a world famous football club changing their name?

In 2017 Steaua Bucharest, 26 times Romanian Champions and 1986 European Champions, were forced to change their name after they lost a legal dispute with the Romanian Ministry of Defence.

Steaua Bucharest were formed in 1947 as the Romanian Royal Army created a sports association, of which football was one of the departments. The colours of the Romanian flag, red, blue and yellow, were adopted as the club colours, though the yellow was gradually phased out to leave the now traditional red shirts and blue shorts.

The club's first name was Army Sports Association Bucharest before changing to Army Sports Club Steaua Bucharest in 1961. Steaua's finest hour was in the the 1980's when, in 1986, the club became the first team from the Eastern Bloc to win Europe's top club prize, beating Barcelona on penalties after a goalless draw. They also claimed the European Super Cup in the same year. Steaua also reached the final in 1989 but even the inspirational Gheorghe Hagi couldn't prevent AC Milan running out 4-0 winners. Steaua were also domestic champions in five consecutive seasons from 1984 to 1989 before going one better in the 1990's by winning the title six times in a row from 1992 to 1998.

In was in 1998 that the seeds for today's issues were sown. In order to comply with UEFA rules the football club became separate from the sports association and became a private entity. In 2003 the club became public under the stewardship of the controversial businessman George Becali.

Prior to gaining control of Steaua, Becali was involved in a dubious land swap deal with Romania's Ministry of Defence involving land he never actually owned and which, ultimately, cost the Ministry millions. He was jailed for his part in 2013.

In 2011 the Ministry of Defence decided to sue for the rights to the name, claiming the name, badge and colours had been used illegally since 2004.  The courts ruled in favour of the Ministry and, in 2014, there was the bizarre sight of Steaua playing a home game with no badge, a change of colours and being referred to as 'the hosts'.

In March 2017 the club officially became known as Fotbal Club FCSB after more court rulings and ratification. The Romanian Army re-founded its football department in 2017 under the name CSA Steaua București and they began in the fourth level of Romanian Football. The newly formed club lay claim to the honours of the club between 1947 and 2003 but UEFA officially recognise FCSB as the continuation of Steaua Bucharest.

The Lazio fans

The decision has also split the fans with some supporter groups following the re-founded army club. Since 2012 home has been the National Arena in Bucharest, which is around 5km from the old town. The ground tonight was about half full, with about 1,500 Lazio fans travelling over from Rome.

They would be heading back to the eternal city wondering how on earth they failed to take anything from the first leg. Felipe Caicedo forced Andrei Vlad in the FCSB goal into a couple of saves before, against the run of play, Harlem-Eddy Gnohere (29) was played through and with only Thomas Strakosha in the Lazio goal to beat, he kept his cool to slot home. Lazio's Sergej Milinkovic-Savic headed against the crossbar in the dying moments of the first half but it was home side ahead at the break.

The second half continued in a similar vein with Lazio making all the running and FCSB hoping to catch the Italians on the break. Caicedo had another couple of half chances before being replaced by Immobile. Another substitute  Felipe Anderson missed Lazio's best chance on the hour when he was played through and with just Vlad to beat he fired wide.

In the final minutes of the game Lazio had an effort blocked on the line as the FCSB defenders put their bodies on the (goal) line to ensure they travel to Italy next week with a precious lead. Whether this is enough to see the Romanians through we will have to see.

The game was finished after midnight local time and by the time I returned to the old town the excellent craft beer bars were closed for night. I thoroughly enjoyed my few days in Bucharest and I will almost certainly pencil in a return visit in the future.

Torchlight from the FCSB fans as the game entered the final seconds


EDIT: Lazio won the return leg 5-1 to go through 5-2 on aggregate.

Saturday, 3 February 2018

FISHER FC (St Paul's Sports Ground)


Before I start, a confession. This was not my first choice of game, it wasn't even my second but as the rain teemed down en-route to London I began to get nervous about postponements. As the other passengers in the car were heading to the Arsenal vs Everton game I decided to join them in London, play it safe and head for a game on a 3G surface.

Looking through the fixtures, I saw that Fisher FC were home to K Sports. This Southern Counties East League Division One clash pitted 3rd versus 1st and it promised to be an enthralling encounter. Decision made. I made my way via tube and bus to Rotherhithe, where Fisher are now back playing.

Fisher FC are a supporters funded club that was formed from the ashes of the old Fisher Athletic club, which was wound up in 2009 with debts reported to be around £250,000. The original club was founded in 1908 by the John Fisher Catholic Society whose aim was to provide football facilities for under privileged children in the London district of Bermondsey. The club was named after the Catholic martyr, John Fisher therefore Fisher were one of the few football clubs in the world to take their name from a person rather than a place.

After many years playing in various amateur leagues, the club progressed up the pyramid after moving into the Surrey Docks Stadium in 1982. The club reached the Conference in 1987 and remained in the top flight of non-league football for four seasons before relegation to the Southern League. After being moved across to the Isthmian League the club gained back to back promotions in 2005 and 2006 before coming close to returning to the top flight in 2007, losing to Hampton and Richmond Borough, on penalties, in the Conference South play-off semi-final.

The site of Fisher Athletic's old ground as it is today

By this time the club had moved out of the Surrey Docks Stadium, whilst it was supposedly undergoing redevelopment, and were groundsharing at Dulwich Hamlet but the debts were growing and in November 2008 the club stopped paying players and a winding-up order for unpaid income tax issued by the High Court, leading to the club ceasing to exist on 13th May 2009. Despite dreams of a return, the old stadium has subsequently been built on and is now housing and a communal park.

The 'reformed' Fisher FC joined the Kent League in 2009 and were elected to the Premier Division. The league was revamped and renamed the Southern Counties East League in 2016 but Fisher finished bottom of the Premier Division and were relegated to the first division (step 6 of the pyramid).

Like Fisher Athletic, the new club played at Dulwich but since 2016 they have returned to Rotherhithe and home is now the St Paul's Sports Ground. The ground, like their old home, is on Salter Road and is about 200 yards across the road from where the Surrey Docks Stadium once stood. St Paul's is also home to Millwall Lionesses as the ground is managed by the Millwall Community trust on behalf of Southwark council. Like the old Surrey Docks Stadium there are the views of Canary Wharf behind the goal opposite the terraced stand.

The rain which had followed me all the way south continued to fall throughout the game but the match itself certainly raised my spirits, as did a pre-match snifter in and around London's Borough Market.

The game was everything you would expect from a top of the table clash. There was good attacking play and plenty of chances for both sides, however by the same token there were large periods when they simply cancelled each other out.

As the home side, it was Fisher started on the front foot, with K-Sports happy to play on the counter attack. It was one of these counter attacks that led to the first goal for the visitors from Aylesford. A ball into the Fisher box was headed clear but it dropped to Richard Butler (37) who hit a first volley into the bottom corner, giving Fisher goalkeeper Nic Taylor no chance.

Right on half time Fisher were level. Top scorer Mathieu Ramsamy weaved his into the box before slotting home.  Ramsamy should have gave Fisher the lead early in the second half when he raced through with only the goalkeeper to beat but he shot tamely and the 'keeper was able to comfortably smother the ball.

Fisher continued to press forward throughout the remainder of the game and in the 90th minute they scored what they thought was the winning goal. A cross was whipped into the box and waiting at the back post to fire home was that man Ramsamy. The whole team celebrated with the vociferous Fish fans in the 'Dockers End' including 'keeper Taylor who ran the length of the pitch to join in.

However Fisher's joy was to be shortlived. Somehow the referee found seven minutes of stoppage time and in the final minute K-Sports were awarded a penalty after an inexplicable handball from a Fisher defender. Caine Smith duly despatched the spot kick.

There could have been no arguments if Fisher had held on for the win as they had the better of the second period but ultimately they will see this as two points dropped. This result, along with (the now leaders) Punjab United's win, sees K Sports drop to second with Fisher a further six points behind in 3rd. There are only two promotion spots up for grabs so Fisher certainly have work to do in their remaining 12 games.

Nonetheless, a very enjoyable afternoon in South East London and in the years to come I sincerely hope to see The Fish swimming in the upper echelons of non-league football once more.

Saturday, 27 January 2018

PONTYPRIDD TOWN (University of South Wales Sports Park)


Hello and welcome back to my humble little blog. A belated Happy New Year and may I say a big thank all who take the time to read my words.

After a few week of misery suffering with a flu virus and also watching my beloved Everton flounder under the managerial prowess of 'Big Sam' Allardyce (no shots on target in three Premier league games) it was time to get back to watching some football where teams attempted to cross the halfway line and have shots at goal!

When the draw was made for the Welsh Cup 4th round back in December, there was actually only the one tie which jumped out at me and that was Pontypridd Town versus Penydarren BGC. The romanticism of an all non-Welsh Premier tie, thus guaranteeing a lower level side in the last eight and, from a groundhopping perspective, a lovely new ground to visit. 

Pontypridd began this season in a new home at the University of South Wales Sports Park in Treforest, which is 3 miles down the road from their spiritual home of the Ynysangharad War Memorial Park. Pontypridd Town had played at Ynysangharad Park since their formation in 1991, when Ynysybwl amalgamated with local league side Pontypridd Sports & Social Club to form Pontypridd & Ynysybwl FC, before changing their name to Pontypridd Town in 1992.

The club stated that they had been trying to upgrade facilities at Ynysangharad Park for over 10 years but with the ground being in a public memorial park, the council rejected their plans. The club did look at the possibility of a groundshare with the rugby team before setting up home at the University, which also serves as the home of Cardfiff City academy. Some fans were not happy with the move claiming it takes the football club out of the town of Pontypridd, even though Treforest itself is part of Pontypridd.

The reason for the move is the club have ambitions to return to the upper echelons of Welsh football but there is no chance they will be allowed to progress in the grounds current form. There is a small seated stand on the halfway line but the ground has no hard standing or floodlights. It is also a lengthy walk to the changing room block. Speaking, albeit briefly, to a doyen of South Wales football he said long term there are plans afoot to move to a 3G pitch within the existing facility, which will meet all the criteria for promotion. 

 Pontypridd's old ground Ynysangharad Park

I set off on my long journey earlier than I needed to in order to give myself time to go and take some photographs of Ynysangharad Park (pictured above) in daylight as the last time I visited the ground it was on a Friday night, in 2005, when Pontypridd beat Gwynfi United 4-0 in front of a crowd of 202.

Going off topic briefly, Pontypridd also has a famous musical heritage as it was the birthplace of Evan and James James, the Father and Son who, respectively, wrote the words and music to Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, the national anthem of Wales. I was unaware of this fact until I spotted the memorial statue to them (pictured below) whilst walking through Ynysangharad Park en-route to the old ground.

Pontypridd is also the birthplace of Sir Tom Jones and with the appalling conditions that had battered South Wales the previous 24 hours, leading to the vast majority of games being called off, it was a bonus to see a game played on the green, green grass of home, though after trudging through the waterlogged outfield my boots may disagree!

There was a huge crowd present at USW Park, along with the cameras from S4C, and all present were treated to a thrilling cup tie.

Penydarren BGC, of the South Wales Alliance League, which sits two divisions below the Welsh League Division Two, of which Pontypridd are currently league leaders, travelled to Treforest for what they were billing as the biggest game in their history.

The team from Merthyr Tydfil, unbeaten so far this season, are already in the last eight of the Welsh Trophy and were attempting to cause an upset and reach the last eight of the Welsh Cup, but this would be their sternest test thus far.

They passed with flying colours. Hat-trick hero of the last round (versus Llandudno Junction) Chris Colvin-Owens was once again the star man as he bagged a brace to put Penydarren in the last eight.

On a very heavy pitch, the Miners were fastest out of the blocks putting the Pontypridd defence under enormous pressure. It was no surprise when Colvin-Owens gave Penydarren the lead after 12 minutes when he steered a cross home from inside the six yard box, the ball squirming over the line via the post. The large following, and I mean large, from Merthyr went absolutely wild.

The lead did not last long as within three minutes the home side were level. A cross from James Hill was headed into his own the net by Penydarren defender Alex Lloyd.

The game was end to end but you could clearly see the players were struggling with the sodden pitch as conditions underfoot were incredibly slippy. Nonetheless there were chances in the first have, mainly for Penydarren, but it was all square at the break.

Pontypridd began the second half on the front foot and nearly took the lead when Gavin Beddard's shot from distance came back off the post but it was Penydarren who got themselves in front on the hour mark when a cross found Owens unmarked at the back post and he made no mistake in firing home.

Penydarren then had two glorious chances to put the tie to bed but failed to take them. Ben Jones was played through but Pontypridd 'keeper David Burnett made a fine save and Nathan Williams was unable to convert the rebound. Then Jones crossed to an unmarked Williams but his shot went agonisingly wide, when it was probably easier to score.

However Penydarren were not made to pay for those missed chances and as Pontypridd began to fade, The Miners were able to see them game out. A thoroughly deserved victory for Penydarren who remain the only non-Welsh Premier League side left in the competition. They will travel north to Bangor City in the Quarter Finals. Who would bet against another giant killing?