Monday, 24 May 2010

Rugby Park (2010 Scottish Junior Cup Final)

So the football season was not over yet after all. Last Sunday I decided to take a train to Kilmarnock for the Scottish Junior Cup Final, Largs Thistle v Linlithgow Rose, which was staged at Rugby Park. Kick-off was at 4pm but unfortunately I just missed the 02:12pm train at Glasgow Central. There is only one train an hour to the Ayrshire town on Sundays so I now arrived at Kilmarnock station 5 minutes before kick-off. I ran almost the whole way to the park and took my place amongst the Largs Thistle supporters at 4:04pm. Luckily I had not missed any goals.

The Emirates Cup Final, as the Scottish Junior Cup Final is called nowadays for sponsorship reasons, is the biggest cup competition organised by the Scottish Junior Football Association (SJFA) and all 160 junior teams compete in it. 'Junior' does not refer to the age of the players, these are not youth teams, but means they do not meet the 'senior' teams on a regular basis. 'Senior' football is played in the professional and semi-professional Scottish Premier League and Scottish Football League and in the three senior 'non-leagues', i.e. the Highland League, the East of Scotland League, and the South of Scotland League. The junior teams do not automatically compete in the Scottish Cup however nowadays four junior teams are in the hat for the first-round draw. Irvine Meadow XI even managed to reach the 4th round of the Scottish Cup this season.

The supporters from Linlithgow were allocated the Main Stand and the Theestle fans were given the East Stand. I sat amongst the Largs contingent as they were the underdogs today and I spent my first few days in Scotland in a B&B in the Ayrshire town in 2001. As an added bonus the East Stand was the sun-drenched side of the park which ensured there was an excellent 'cup-final-in-May' feel to the occasion.

The East Region team were the favourites today but Largs made a good fight of it. Eventually Rose full-back Kevin Donnelly scored the only goal just short of the hour mark. Despite ending the game with ten men, Stevie Manson was sent off after a reckless challenge on Alan McCabe, the Rose showed their experience (this was their fourth Junior Cup Final in nine years) and made it through to the end without any real problems.

Theestle were applauded off the park by the 3,000-strong contingent from Largs after a brave performance but it was the team from the east who were handed the cup by first minister Alex Salmond.

For pictures of a Kilmarnock FC game at Rugby Park see this post.

Theestle fans in a sun-drenched East Stand.

Linlithgow get ready to take a free-kick.

The Chadwick Stand remained closed today.

Linlithgow Rose fans in the Main Stand.

Supporters from Largs in the East Stand during half-time.

Linlithgow fans celebrating Kevin Donnelly's goal.

Thistle players thank the supporters. The empty Moffat Stand can be seen in the background.

The Largs players collect their runners-up medals.

A 45-minute wait for the train back to Glasgow so a short stop at the local Wetherspoon's.

Sunday 23rd May
Emirates Junior Cup Final
Largs Thistle 0 Linlithgow Rose 1
Goal: Donnelly 54.
Att: 5,788

Thursday, 20 May 2010

VfL-Stadion (VfL Wolfsburg v Roda JC)

Again some old pictures I found. These were taken at the first and unfortunately last Roda JC European away game I have been too. Although the result was disappointing it was an unforgettable experience. The first leg in Kerkrade had ended goalless and again in it remained 0-0 for a long time in the second leg. Charles Akonnar broke yellow and black hearts minutes before time in typical German fashion even though Roda were the better team in the second half. Unfortunately once again no 'Europa League' next season...

Some of the Roda supporters who had travelled to the north of Germany.

Wolfsburg's stadium reminded me of Roda's Kaalheide. So did the paltry attendance figure of 7,677. In 2002 Wolfsburg moved to the Volkswagen Arena although the VfL-Stadion is still used by the Wolfsburg amateur team.

The local constabulary apparently thought we were hooligans. I remember their presence in our section as needlessly provocative. I do not believe there had been any trouble on the day.

Roda players thanking the fans for their support.

Tuesday 2nd November 1999
UEFA Cup 2nd round (2nd leg)
VfL Wolfsburg 1 Roda JC 0 (agg: 1-0)
Goal: Akonnor 87.
Att: 7,677

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Sclessin (Denmark v Czech Republic)

Now that the season is over some old pictures I found of Sclessin, or Stade Maurice Dufrasne as it is officially called, the home ground of Belgian side Standard Liège. However it was not Les Rouches I had come to see ten years ago but the Euro 2000 group D game between Denmark and the Czech Republic.

I still lived in the Netherlands at the time the tournament was hosted by both Belgium and the Netherlands and I remember that I thought it was quite exciting to have a big tournament just outside your front door. I had applied for tickets for several games but unfortunately I was not allocated any but just before the tournament started tickets for some group games had become available again. I got tickets for the game in Liège and also for the Group B game between Sweden and Turkey which was played in Eindhoven. I remember I had to pick the tickets up in Rotterdam which was over two hours away on the train for me...As I lived in Maastricht at the time I picked these games because both were easy to get to by train and, more importantly, I would be able to take a train back home after the game, something I would not be able to do had I opted for any of the games in for example Rotterdam or Amsterdam.

I took the train from Maastricht to Liège after work and after barely 30 minutes I arrived in Belgium's third city. Unfortunately the game I went to see, the third group game for both teams, was meaningless as both teams had lost their first two games and were unable to qualify for the the quarter-finals. I had met some Czech supporters in an Irish pub in the city centre who were good fun and I decided to be a Czech supporters for the night, I even bought a Czech scarf. The Czechs were still hurting from the 1-0 defeat to the Netherlands. Frank de Boer's spot-kick in the 89th minute ensured at least one of the two hosts qualified for the quarter finals. Referee Pierluigi Collina controversially awarded the penalty after Ronald de Boer's shirt was pulled by Jiri Nemec.

The Czechs were clearly intent on restoring some pride and Vladimir Smicer, who played for Liverpool at the time, scored both goals in the second half. I remember the atmosphere as pretty good considering the fact both teams had nothing to play for anymore and Sclessin was an impressive ground with steep stands and loads of character.

Approaching Sclessin. There were free shuttle buses from the city centre to the stadium.

Both teams before kick-off. As far as I know the stands do not have names only numbers (someone please correct me if I am wrong...). We are looking in the direction of Stand III here. All pictures were taken from my seat in Stand IV.

Czech fans on Stands I and IV.

Quite a number of empty seats but still a good atmosphere. This is Stand II.

Wednesday 21st June 2000
UEFA Euro 2000 Group D
Denmark 0 Czech Republic 2
Goals: Smicer 64, 67.
Att: 25,000

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Station Park (Forfar Athletic v East Stirlingshire)

Today I visited a sun-drenched Station Park to see Forfar Athletic v East Stirlingshire, which was the second leg of the Second Division play-off semi-final. The first leg had ended 1-0 to Forfar and the Loons were favourites to make it through to a two-legged decider against (probably) Arbroath. East Stirlingshire had a good season, giving league winners Livingston a serious challenge until their form collapsed towards the end.

Station Park in Forfar is, despite its name, not near the local railway station. In fact the nearest station is 14 miles away, in Dundee. Forfar's station was closed years ago as part of the Beeching Axe. Of the 42 Scottish League grounds, four are not located anywhere near a train station which makes them more awkward for me to visit. The first of these four I visited two weeks ago (Bayview Stadium), the other two are Glebe Park (Brechin City) and Balmoor (Peterhead). Luckily I was able to travel to Dundee from Glasgow today with a half-price return ticket obtained through ScotRail's Advance loyalty scheme but this still set me back £16. In Dundee I had a pint in The Capitol, a Wetherspoon pub near Seagate Bus Station where I took the number 20 bus to Forfar (£6 for a day ticket, cheaper than a return according to the driver). After a pleasant 35-minute bus journey I got off at High Street East in Forfar. From there it was a ten-minute walk to the ground. The turnstiles did not open until 2:30pm so I took a few pictures outside the stadium first. After entering Station Park I made sure I tried one of the famous Forfar bridies first and I must say it did not disappoint.

The ground did not disappoint either, a pleasant old-fashioned football stadium with an all-seater main stand, a roofed terrace on the other side and terracing behind both goals. The Forfar fans were a bit quiet today but the boisterous Shire contingent were in good form.

James Bishop put Forfar 1-0 ahead in the 4th minute and I feared the contest was over already but East Stirling did not give up and it was all-square 15 minutes before time courtesy of two Andrew Rodgers goals. 'Away goals' do not count in these play-offs and extra time was looming until Stephen Tulloch scored the equaliser for the Loons. In the dying minutes East Stirlingshire were reduced to ten men when Edward Forrest was sent off after receiving a second yellow card.

Forfar will now play Arbroath (who beat Queen's Park 6-2 over two legs) on Wednesday. My bus just outside the ground arrived bang on time at 4:56pm and I was able to catch the 5:51pm train back to Glasgow.

A pre-match Erdinger in The Capitol.

The Main Stand before the game.

The Station Park turnstiles.

The Forfar bridie can definitely be recommended.

East Stirlingshire's boisterous travelling support.

The Shire are getting ready to take a free kick.

The Main Stand at half-time.

The East Terrace.

The covered South Terrace.

The West Terrace.

I was lucky to catch Forfar's equaliser on camera.

Saturday 8th May 2010
Scottish Football League Second Division Play-Off Semi-Final (Second Leg)
Forfar Athletic 2 East Stirlingshire 2 (aggregate: 3-2)
Forfar: Bishop 4, Tulloch 82.
East Stirling: Rodgers 49, 76.
Att: 745

Friday, 7 May 2010

New Douglas Park (Hamilton Academical v St Mirren)

Last Wednesday I visited New Douglas Park to see Hamilton Accies take on St Mirren. I had already planned to see this match as a St Mirren fan anyway but the decision of the Lanarkshire club to cut down the gate price to £5 removed all hesitations I might have had. As per usual I took the train. It is a 20-minute journey from Glasgow Central and an off-peak return ticket from Paisley is only £4.90.

It was a good thing I did not have to pay full price (which is a staggering £22, no wonder Accies have the lowest crowds in the SPL...then again only just over 3,000 fans turned up tonight) because this end-of-season affair surely was not worth much more than a fiver. I could have witnessed a twelve-goal thriller a couple of miles down the road at Fir Park for a tenner but it was not to be. Had St Mirren won they could have leapfrogged Aberdeen in the final league table (the Saints are welcoming the Dons tomorrow) but to be honest the Buddies did not deserve the three points. Marco Paixao's 40-yard shot, only minutes into the game, was the highlight of the game. The ball hit the crossbar and bounced towards the line but no Accies goal was given. From what I have seen on the telly the referee's decision was correct as the ball did not appear to cross the line completely but it was very close.

After last Saturday's 1-1 at Falkirk it had already seemed highly unlikely that St Mirren would go down however after this 0-0 draw it became official: the Saints will play in the SPL for at least another season. Happy days!

For other pictures of New Douglas Park see this post.

The Reid Furniture Stand before the game.

Outside the ground.

St Mirren fans in the North Stand.

Still no stand on the southern end of the ground.

The Reid Furniture Stand housed the home support.

The temporary stand which I have never seen in use.

Wednesday 5th May 2010
Scottish Premier League
Hamilton Academical 0 St Mirren 0
Att: 3,102

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Celtic Park (Celtic v AZ)

Last Wednesday night I watched Celtic take on Dutch league champions AZ in an almost empty Celtic Park. The friendly had originally been planned for Wednesday 21st April but the volcanic ash cloud from Iceland meant the club from Alkmaar were unable to travel to Scotland. Despite the fact that season ticket holders could see this game for "free" only about 2,000 fans bothered to show up. Celtic had organised the friendly because they had played no Scottish Cup home games this season and basically owed their supporters one game. As a follower of Dutch Eredivisie football this fixture immediately appealed to me but this sentiment was apparently not shared by most of the Celtic fans.

I went to the game with two guys from my work, one of them an AZ fan, so I got tickets as close to the away section as I could. About 14 AZ supporters had followed their club to Scotland. From what I understood more fans had planned to travel to Glasgow on the 21st but the postponement had made things difficult for many of them. We took a train from Glasgow Central to Dalmarnock train station from which it is only a ten-minute walk to Celtic Park. I immediately noticed that it was very quiet near the ground. I even forgot to buy a programme because I did not see any vendors. It later turned out that programmes were sold but I was unable to obtain one after the game so I am trying to source one on eBay now!

The game was a typical friendly with not much of an atmosphere coming from the sparsely filled stands. The biggest cheer came when it was announced that Celtic had beaten Rangers to win the Youth Cup Final at Hampden (another reason cited for the small crowd tonight). The highlight of the game for me was when one of the Dutch fans took of his AZ shirt and put on a Celtic shirt which was applauded by the Hoops fans on the Lisbon Lions Stand.

On the pitch, Georgios Samaras gave Celtic the lead, but Graziano Pelle equalised before half-time and Jonathas scored from the penalty spot in the second half to give Dick Advocaat's men an undeserved lead. Celtic created many chances but were very wasteful and never managed to equalise.

For more pictures of Celtic Park see this post (v St Mirren),this one (v FC Utrecht) and this one (v Rangers).

Approaching Celtic Park.

The Lisbon Lions Stand.

Samaras puts Celtic 1-0 ahead.

Jonathas scores the winning goal from the spot.

The North Stand.

The small contingent of AZ fans.

The South Stand after the game.

Wednesday 28th April 2010
Celtic 1 AZ 2
Celtic: Samaras 36.
AZ: Pelle 40. Jonathas (pen) 75.
Att: 2,000 (est.)
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