Sunday, 21 May 2017



The final leg of this weekends triple led us back across the border to Luxembourg. After spending the morning wandering around the fabulous Stanislas Square, another UNESCO world heritage site, in the centre of Nancy we caught the train to Luxembourg City in order for our next football fix.

Cards on the table, you can write my knowledge of Luxembourg football on the back of a postage stamp so when discussions were taking place as to which ground to visit my input was limited. The choice basically came down to a game with the championship riding on it, Jeunesse Canach v F91 Dudelange, or a dead rubber at what looked liked the best ground, Racing FC Union Luxembourg v Progres Niederkorn. We all agreed on the latter.

After enjoying a spot of lunch in the main square (Place d'Armes) in the old town we headed on foot to the Stade Achille Hammerel, the home of Racing FC Union.

The club was formed in 2005 when three clubs from Luxembourg City came together as one club. These were Spora Luxembourg, Union Luxembourg and CS Alliance 01.

When you consider that all three of those clubs also came about as a result of mergers (Spora Luxembourg was formed by the merger in 1923 of Racing Club Luxembourg and Sporting Club Luxembourg; Union Luxembourg was formed by the merger in 1925 of US Hollerich Bonnevoie and Jeunesse Sportive Verlorenkost; CS Alliance 01 was formed by the merger in 2001 of Aris Bonnevoie and CS Hollerich) there certainly is a complicated historical timeline!

Therefore as a result the club can lay claim to 27 Luxembourg National division championships, though they have not won a title since the 2005 merger.

The Stade Achille Hammerel, bathed in glorious sunshine today, is a rather pleasant spot to watch a game of football. The large main stand is in the centre of two large banks of terracing. Opposite is another uncovered small terrace. The clubhouse in the corner was doing a brisk trade in Bofferding lager as fans quenched their thirst in the heat.

I had absolutely no idea what to expect in terms of the actual football, but I could go as far as to say it was one of the best games I have seen this season. With nothing at stake, both teams threw caution to the wind and produced an absolute thriller.

Tarek Nouidra (8) opened the scoring for Racing with a 25 yard screamer into the top corner before a delightful run and finish from Remi Laurent (10) quickly levelled things up. Laurent (16) and Sebastian Thill (32) then put Niederkorn 3-1 up.

Florik Shala (42) scored with a flick over the 'keeper before tapping in from close range (45) to ensure the game was all square at the interval. Despite the heat it was raining goals!

Laurent completed his hat-trick from the penalty spot (55) to restore Niederkorn's lead and, after the home side had missed a spot kick of their own, he made it 5-3 in the 78th minute.

Johan Bellini (86) pulled one back for Racing to set up a grandstand finish but they could not find an equaliser, which I think they definitely deserved.

From the ground it was a straightforward five minute walk back to the main train station and bus terminal where the bus to the airport departed.

There was plenty of time for some post match analysis to reflect on a fantastic weekend of football and the conversation revolved a repeat of this journey sometime next season. With some tremendous grounds in the Saarland region of Germany, the regular evening kick offs in France and Sunday games in Luxembourg it seems an absolute no brainer.

Until next season auf wiedersehen, au revoir and goodbye!

Remi Laurent completes his hat-trick from
the penalty spot

Saturday, 20 May 2017

AS NANCY-LORRAINE (Stade Marcel Picot)


For the second game of the day our merry band of groundhoppers crossed the border into France for a Ligue 1 clash as AS Nancy-Lorraine were hosting St Etienne at the Stade Marcel Picot.

We were very lucky to make the kick off though as our train from Trier plodded along the track to Luxembourg City meaning we had approximately 90 seconds to leg it across the platform to reach our connecting train to Nancy. It was a pretty close thing!

The home ground of Nancy is in Tomblaine on the edge of the city and is easily reached via tram line number 1. The ground is a 5 minute walk from the stop. There was plenty of time for a Merguez and a pint of Amstel en-route to the stadium.

The Stade Marcel Picot was inaugurated in 1926 and was originally known as Stade du Parc des Sports du Pont d’Essey until 1968 when it was renamed in honour of Marcel Picot, who was the former president of FC Nancy. The ground was completely rebuilt between 1999 and 2003 to make the ground all seated with a capacity of just under 21,000. An artificial pitch was installed in 2010.

The ground was earmarked as one of the grounds for Euro 2016 but the funding to extend the capacity to 30,000 could not be found so the application was withdrawn.

Photos courtesy of John Higgins

The current AS Nancy club were formed in 1967 from the ashes of FC Nancy, who were dissolved in 1965. After gaining promotion to the top flight within two seasons of formation, the club were back in the second tier for the 1974/75 season when the club won the title, its first major honour, with the team inspired by a young Michel Platini (who was guest of honour at the ground this evening). The club won the Coupe de France in 1978 with Platini once again playing a major role in the team. By the mid 1980's Platini had gone and the club were back in the second tier.

Nancy are what you could describe as a yo-yo side who have historically spent periods in the top flight followed by seasons in the second tier. The club have won Ligue 2 on five occasions in their history.

The club spent most of the 1990's flitting between the divisions. Irish international Tony Cascarino was part of the team that won promotion in 1998, but again their time in top flight was short lived. The club returned to Ligue 1 in 2005 before dropping down again in 2013. The club were promoted as Champions last year but now face an immediate return back.

Unfortunately after last weekends defeat to Dijon, Nancy's fate was out of their hands as they needed a win, as well as being reliant on other results going their way, i.e Lorient and Bastia losing, and a two or three goal swing depending on the respective scorelines. Even then the best they could hope for was to reach the relegation play-off with the third placed team in Ligue 2. The odds were certainly not in Nancy's favour.

The evening got off to a great start when news filtered through that Bordeaux had taken an early lead at Lorient so, when Nancy made the breakthrough after 17 minutes, Alexis Busin slotting home, the Stade Marcel Picot erupted.

The noise levels went up a notch further when Modu Diagne headed home after 59 minutes as Nancy now had the 3 points and goal swing to lift them into the play-off spot. However this joy was short lived when Lorient equalised after 69 minutes

Any hope of salvation was further extinguished when St Etienne halved the deficit on 74 minutes, Arnaud Nordin scoring. The visitors had a goal disallowed for an innocuous foul in the build up to finding the net but Nancy restored their two goal advantage after 84 minutes when Faitout Maouassa raced clear to fire home.

The home crowd, knowing this game was more or less won, began chanting "Allez Bordeaux" but sadly for them there was no miracle as Lorient held on for the draw and Nancy were relegated. Disappointment for the home supporters but given the history of the club you would not bet against them bouncing straight back in 2018.

The headline - No miracle: ASNL relegated!

The St Etienne fans

The disappointed Nancy fans disappear into the night



After much deliberation I decided to join a couple of fellow groundhoppers on another European weekend that involved taking in three games in three countriesin 39 hours. A new route from Birmingham to Luxembourg was launched last year and this was the first time I had taken advantage of this. From Luxembourg City there are a myriad of doubles and trebles available within Luxembourg, Saarland and Lorraine.

So for this particular treble, the first port of call was the city of Trier in southern Germany.

The direct train from Luxembourg to Trier took less than one hour so there was time to pay a visit to the famous city attraction, Porta Nigra, the UNESCO world heritage site, which is a Roman city gate dating back to 200AD.

From there it is a 20 minute walk to the Moselstadion where today the local football club Eintracht Trier were hosting Waldhof Mannheim in a Regionalliga Sudwest game. 

As we approached the ground we noted the heavy police presence surrounding the visiting fans, which made us ponder as to whether Waldhof Mannheim have a bit of reputation?

It seemed a bit much for an end of season dead rubber as the game had nothing riding on it. After losing 2-1 to Stuttgarter Kickers last weekend, Trier's bid to avoid the drop into the Oberliga for the first time since 2009 was unsuccessful, whilst Mannheim's bid to win the title for the second year in succession failed but they have secured runners up spot and a place in the promotion play-offs for 3.Liga (they lost to Regionlliga West champions Sportfreunde Lotte in last season's promotion play-offs).

The Eintracht Trier in existence today was formed in 1948 after a merger of SV Westmark 05 Trier and SV Eintracht 06 Trier. The highest level the club have reached is the second tier of German football as on two occasions they have had a spell in 2.Bundesliga.

The first period was from 1976 to 1981, when the league was split into north and south, but when the two leagues merged in 1981, Trier missed the cut and were dropped back into the Oberliga. They were back in the 2.Bundesliga in 2002 but were relegated after three seasons. The club dropped to the fourth tier of German football in 2006 and have remained there since, but will obviously start next season in the fifth tier of German football.

The Moselstadion, built on the banks of the river Mosel that flows through the city, is another superb example of grounds that can be found in the lower reaches of German football. 

Originally opened in 1930 the ground has a capacity of around 10,000. There is a large seated main stand, with wooden benches in the lower section. The other the three sides of the ground are terracing, of with one side is covered. Tremendous set up, even allowing for the athletics track!

The drinks kiosk was doing a roaring trade in bottles of Bitburger as the famous brewery which started brewing in Bitburg, a city which is just 25 miles north of Trier. I had to partake in a couple. It would have been rude not to.

The game was watchable enough as both teams went on the attack but the end product was woeful, especially from the visitors. On another day Mannheim could have scored three or four goals but they were let down by some poor finishing. However they did finally find the net three minutes from the end when a headed clearance dropped into path of Sebastian Gärtner who shot home from inside the area. The result meant Trier finished second bottom of the league and went down with a whimper. Waldhof will now play Regionalliga Nord Champions SV Meppen in the play-offs.