Sunday, 24 April 2011

Merksworth Park (Dalry Thistle v Musselburgh Athletic)

I went to Dalry today for the second leg of the semi-final of the Scottish Junior Cup. Dalry is a village in North Ayrshire and 23 minutes by train away from Paisley. Just like the other semi-final played today (Bo'ness United v Auchinleck Talbot, I was at the first leg last Saturday) this was an East against West confrontation. The other semi-finalists have eleven Scottish Cups between them whereas Dalry have never reached the final and Musselburgh have won the coveted trophy only once, in 1923 (as Musselburgh Bruntonians).

After a 23-minute train journey I got off at Dalry. Normally it is a 10-minute walk to the ground but a badly timed orange walk caused some disruption to the traffic in the village. Kick-off was delayed by fifteen minutes to allow all supporters to be inside the ground before kick-off. Although temperatures were around 27 degrees in London today according to the BBC website it was only about 12-13 degrees in the west of Scotland and it had been raining all morning as well. Luckily the rain had stopped at around 2pm and at around 3pm the sun even came out providing a suitable backdrop for this semi-final.

Musselburgh went into this second leg as the favourites. They had won the first leg 1-0 and ply their trade in the East Region's top division. Thistle were relegated from the West Region Super League First Division last season and now play in the Ayrshire District League, which is the third tier of the West Region. When Scott Gibson scored for the Burgh after 25 minutes things started to look really bleak for Thistle but being 2-0 down on aggregate at half-time meant a comeback was still possible.

In the second half Dalry looked much stronger but somehow they were unable to score. Even when they were awarded a penalty, Craig Menzies hit the post, despite sending the keeper the wrong way. With fifteen minutes to go Dalry were awarded a free-kick, about 20 yards out, and James Canning curled it past the wall beautifully: 1-1 (see this YouTube link). This was also the final score as both sides squandered a few more good chances. No first Junior Cup final appearance for Thistle on 29th May but what a great run it has been for them.

An orange walk took place when the supporters were making their way to Merksworth Park causing disruption to traffic and delaying kick-off by fifteen minutes.

The home supporters' entrance to the ground with the orange walk going past.

A healthy crowd had turned up today, I estimate about 2,000.

Musselburgh seemed the more composed side in the first half...

...and were 1-0 up going into the interval.

The enclosure at half-time.

Again the packed enclosure in the second half.

Musselburgh supporters, on the left, had turned up in numbers.

Dalry's James Canning steps up to take a free-kick fifteen minutes before time...

...and curls it in beautifully.

Saturday 23rd April 2011
Emirates Scottish Junior Cup semi-final second leg
Dalry Thistle 1 Musselburgh Athletic 1 (agg: 1-2)
Dalry: Canning 75.
Musselburgh: Gibson 25.
Attendance: 2,000 (est.)

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Beechwood Park (Auchinleck Talbot v Bo'ness United)

On Saturday I went to Auchinleck, East Ayrshire, for the first leg of one of the Scottish Junior Cup semi-finals. The other semi played was Musselburgh v Dalry but I opted for the match in Ayrshire since I had not been at Beechwood Park and the journey was slightly shorter. To travel from Paisley to Auchinleck by train you have to hop on the train to Glasgow Central and from there catch the train to Carlisle. Auchinleck is the first stop after Kilmarnock and since the Ayrshire village is very small it was a short walk to Beechwood Park.

After I paid my £7 to get inside I quickly realised that the ground was actually segregated and I had somehow ended up in the away end. Since this was the 'boring' end as far as the ground is concerned I quickly walked over to the home end. Most supporters (there were about 2,000 of them) were inside well in time as there seemed to be high expectations from both sets of fans; even the teams kicked off two minutes early.

Beechwood Park is a well looked after junior ground with fairly large uncovered terraces on one side and behind one of the goals (today's away end). There is a small covered terrace behind the other goal. This is where the vocal younger Auchinleck fans congregated (and drank their tonic wine). The large stand on the other side of the ground holds 500 and used to be part of Hamilton Accies' old Douglas Park. Talbot, who play in the West Region's top tier, have won the Junior Cup eight times, which is a record.

A tenth cup final appearance (Talbot were runners-up only once) looms for the Ayrshire club after last Saturday's match. The game was turned on its head after 20 minutes when David Forrest pulled down Auchinleck's David Gillies just outside the box. Referee Barry Cook gave Forrest his marching orders but Talbot did not score from the resulting free-kick. However six minutes later Brian Young put the Ayrshire club 1-0 up. Immediately after the interval David Gillies made it 2-0. Talbot had a few chances to all but book their place in the final but somehow were not able to score a third. It will be a tough ask but Bo'ness are still in with a chance when the two teams meet at Newtown Park for the return leg on Saturday.

After the game I walked back to the railway station and it turned out that even junior football attracts its share of nutters who are not too interested in the football itself. Despite a large police presence in the village I still witnessed a few minor scuffles.

The large terrace opposite the stand was packed.

1,914 crammed inside Beechwood Park.

The Loons are a group of fanatical Auchinleck supporters. Note the eight stars above the club crest, which represent the eight Junior Cup wins.

The covered enclosure.

The stand, which was purchased from Hamilton Accies, holds 500.

Bo'ness United fans in the far end.

There was a supposedly strict alcohol ban however, as this picture taken in the enclosure shows, this was not enforced at all.

Despite playing with ten men Bo'ness had some chances in the second half.

The large terrace after the game.

There was a large police presence in the village (population: 3,500) and unfortunately I witnessed a few, undoubtedly drink-fuelled, ugly scenes.

Saturday 16th April 2011
Emirates Scottish Junior Cup semi-final first leg
Auchinleck Talbot 2 Bo'ness United 0
Goals: Young 26, Gillies 47.
Att: 1,914

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Koning Willem II Stadion (Willem II v Roda JC Kerkrade)

On Saturday 2nd April, whilst in the Netherlands for a few days, I paid my first visit to the Koning Willem II Stadion, the home ground of Willem II. I had been at Helmond Sport the night before but this game was my main reason for visiting my home country twee weeks ago. For some reason I had not been at Willem II before and the club from Tilburg now look certs for relegation to the Jupiler League.

Willem II were close to the drop a few times in recent seasons, but when they finished second bottom in 2006 and 2010 they managed to stay up by winning the promotion/relegation play-offs. It seems very unlikely now that the Tricolores will even reach the safety net of the play-offs as the bottom team in the league will always be relegated. This will be a loss to the Eredivisie: Willem II have been playing in the Dutch top flight for 23 consecutive seasons now and were runners-up in 1999. This meant qualification for the 1999/2000 UEFA Champions' League. The Tilburg side also qualified for the 1998/99 and 2004/05 UEFA Cup tournaments. The fans have remained loyal and the game against Roda was still visited by 12,000 supporters.

As there are still quite a few grounds in the Netherlands that I have not visited I tend to prefer Roda JC away games. Travelling to Eredivisie away games is different from away days in Scotland however. For most games you cannot just hop on a train or drive to the away team's town, visit a few of the local pubs and walk to the ground. Instead you have to get a so-called combi ticket: you book a seat on a supporters' bus and you will get you match ticket when you are on the bus. The bus will then drop you off at the away end.

Again I travelled by 'combi' bus two weeks ago. Eight buses filled with Roda fans made the journey to Tilburg. This is an unusually high number as these trips are not everyone's cup of tea. You are not exactly treated like royalty upon arrival at the away ground, although some clubs are friendlier than others. I remember being treated to free coffee and rolls at Heracles Almelo but the reception at Willem II was unwelcoming even by Dutch standards. Kick-off was scheduled for 7:45pm and we arrived at the Koning Willem II Stadion at 7:30pm. Plenty of time to get everyone in in time you would think however all Roda fans were supposed to enter the stadium through a single gate and everyone was being searched (normal in the Netherlands), one person at a time (not normal, especially considering the number of stewards at the gate). The steward, or rather 'stewards' as I was searched twice, did not appear to be able to speak and did not even give me the obligatory 'Enjoy the game.' All this carry-on meant I was in my seat ten minutes after kick-off. No programme sellers to be seen either, which is a certain way to get me really annoyed. However Willem II redeemed themselves here when I was sent a programme through the mail last week after I had sent the club an email about it.

Luckily I had not missed much much of the action but there was plenty to come. After half an hour Roda defender Pa-Modou Kah fouled Jan-Arie van der Heijden. Referee Richard Liesveld did not hesitate and pointed to the spot. Andreas Lasnik converted the penalty and the home team were 1-0 up at the interval.

In the second half both teams really went to town. Only minutes into the second half Kah redeemed himself and scored the equaliser. The Norwegian could consider himself lucky he was still on the pitch at that time as Liesveld had not booked him for the second time after a reckless foul in the first half. Eight minutes later Bart Biemans scored 2-1 and Willem II were in the lead once more. Five minutes later Morton Skoubo equalised again. Another two minutes later Ruud Vormer put the men from Kerkrade in the lead for the first time on the night. Dave de Fauw scored 4-2 with 15 minutes left on the clock and Roda seemed to have secured the three points. However Lasnik pulled one back for the Tricolores: 3-4. Ruud Vormer then scored his second of the night before Maceo Rigters scored the final goal of the night 4-5.

This result meant that Willem II could not escape the bottom-three anymore and some of the Willem II fans turned out to be bad losers. Objects were thrown into the direction of the away end but we now know that the large netting is not just there to obstruct the away fans' view. Somehow however some 'supporters' managed to open a fence and got access to the away stand and missiles were thrown once more. A few of the Roda fans were hit and, typically, a few of them were young girls who will probably not be allowed to go to an away game again. After the game I heard some of the Willem II fans had felt 'provoked' by taunts from the Roda fans referring to what now seemed like certain relegation for the Tilburg side. Apparently they had forgotten about their own chants two years ago when Roda were staring relegation in the face.

After being pelted with pointy metal objects at FC Den Bosch a few years ago I had already decided I will never take my wife to an away game in Holland again. Police and stewards were nowhere to be seen and it cannot be a surprise that away games in the Eredivisie are basically only visited by young men (I still count myself amongst them...) as families, women and people who, probably rightly, feel they are to old for this s*** will not bother. It is often said: 'if you treat people like animals, they are more likely to behave like them.' I think that definitely holds true in these circumstances. Some individuals, on both sides, would have embarrassed the monkeys at Edinburgh Zoo.

Still, you make the best of it. Roda had won another three points and are now on their way to the play-offs for a Europa League spot. I also had a great time with my Dutch mates, whom I do not see that often, the weather had been great and I am already looking forward to the next away trip, perhaps in six months' time or so.

We arrived at the ground fifteen minutes before kick-off.

A long queue at the away end. Everyone was searched one by one.

This picture of me being welcomed by the Willem II stewards was taken by my mate. Note how only one person was searched at a time. This did not prevent the next steward from apparently not noticing I had already been searched and I was submitted to the same procedure once again.

I had not come across this on my travels before but not all stands at Willem II have names. I call this one the 'South Stand.' Note the large netting.

The Eretribune or Main Stand.

Another stand without a name. Let's call it the 'East Stand'.

The Kingside Stand is the stand populated by the more fanatical supporters. Stands in Dutch stadium are often called 'sides' when they are in fact 'ends', see also the Bunnik Side at FC Utrecht.

The 'South Stand' after the game.

The Kingside Stand.

The East Stand.

The Eretribune.

Saturday 2nd April 2011
Willem II 4 Roda JC Kerkrade 5
Willem II: Lasnik 30 pen, Biemans 57, Lasnik 80, Rigters 90.
Roda JC: Kah 49, Skoubo 62, Vormer 64, De Fauw 75, Vormer 83.
Att: 12,000

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Lavans Stadion (Stadion De Braak) (Helmond Sport v FC Emmen)

Last weekend I was in the Netherlands for a short football trip. The 'main event' was going to be Willem II v Roda JC (report to follow soon!) on the Saturday but I had decided to also see a match in the Jupiler League, the second tier in Dutch football. The Jupiler League teams all play their games on Friday nights. I usually stay at my parents' in the town of Heerlen when I am over and this somewhat limits the teams I can see as I usually travel by train and Heerlen is tucked away in a southeastern corner of the Netherlands, near the Belgian and German borders. This means I cannot go to grounds that are too far away because I would not be able to catch a train back, which basically rules out clubs like Veendam, Go Ahead Eagles, Cambuur and AGOVV. Helmond, near Eindhoven, is one of the towns with a representative in the Jupiler League that are near enough to travel back and forth to on a Friday night.

A return ticket from Heerlen to Helmond cost me €32, which I thought was quite dear for a journey roughly the equivalent of Glasgow-Edinburgh. After an hour I arrived at Eindhoven station where I had to change and after a 10-minute journey I got off at Helmond. The walk to the stadium took me about 25 minutes. Helmond Sport's home ground used to be called 'De Braak' but was renamed 'Lavans Stadion' last year for sponsorship reasons. Upon arrival at the ground I took a few pictures and bought my ticket for the North Stand, which only set me back €9.50. There was a healthy crowd of well over 3,000 inside the 4,100-capacity stadium but the atmosphere was quite subdued as is the norm in this league. Nevertheless the lads on the North Stand were putting in a good effort now and then.

Helmond Sport are one of these quintessential Jupiler League teams. I could not remember them ever playing in the Eredivisie but, according to Wikipedia, they had a short spell in the top tier during the 1982/83 and 1983/84 seasons. Helmond have been reasonably successful so far this season, sitting in third place, and a place in the promotion play-offs looks as good as certain. Tonight's opponents Emmen have never played at the highest level. They only started playing professional football in 1985 but were close to promotion a few times in the late nineties and early noughties. The last few seasons, including the present one, have been rather disappointing for the Emmen fans.

Presumably the Helmond fans had expected a win tonight but it was not to be. Eldridge Rojer scored the opening goal for Emmen in the sixteenth minute. Marc Höcher equalised fifteen minutes later and the half-time score of 1-1 seemed fair. In the second half Helmond upped the ante but were unable to find the net until Ilja van Leerdam scored 2-1 minutes before time. Since Emmen player Jeffrey de Visscher had received a second booking five minutes previously the three points seemed to be in the bag for Helmond. Emmen were not giving up however and Randy Wolters stunned Helmond four minutes before time with the equaliser. I have to say goalie Wouter van der Steen, who replaced the injured Robert van Westerop, looked suspect for both goals.

After an entertaining game I made my way back to the train station and was back at my parents' before midnight.

The Noordtribune or North Stand was built in 2000.

The Oosttribune or East Stand.

The Westtribune or West Stand.

Again the Noordtribune.

The Oosttribune.

The Emmen fans can be seen in the faraway corner. The lads on the pitch were taking part in some competition where they had to shoot a crate off the crossbar in two attempts. I think three of them actually managed to do so, I have no idea what the prize was.

Both teams entering the pitch.

There is no stand in the southern end of the ground. There used to be terraces but these were demolished in the 1990s.

The Noordtribune seen from my seat.

This injury-time free-kick did not go in and the night ended disappointingly for Helmond.

Friday 1st April 2011
Jupiler League
Helmond Sport 2 FC Emmen 2
Helmond: Höcher 30, Van Leerdam 82.
Emmen: Rojer 16, Wolters 86.
Att: 3,117

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Haarlem-stadion (HFC Haarlem)

Last weekend I was in the Netherlands again. Apart from seeing my family, my main purpose of this trip was the Willem II v Roda JC game on Saturday. After having arrived at Schiphol Airport my first stop was the city of Haarlem, where I had planned to visit Haarlem-stadion, the former home of HFC Haarlem. Haarlem, founded in 1889, played their final match on 22nd January 2010, a 3-0 defeat by Excelsior at Stadion Woudestein in Rotterdam. Three days later the club were declared bankrupt. The stadium is a twenty-minute walk from Bloemendaal train station. Unfortunately it was absolutely pouring and I arrived at the ground soaking wet. I was delighted the gate to the stadium was open but because of the horrendous weather I did not take as many pictures as I would have done on a sunny day.

Haarlemsche Football Club Haarlem won the Dutch Cup twice, in 1902 and 1912. In 1946, before the introduction of professional football in the Netherlands, they were crowned champions of the Netherlands. After the start of the professional era in the 1950s Haarlem played a rather meaningless part. Their relative heydays were the 1970s and 1980s during which Haarlem played mostly in the Eredivisie, the Dutch top flight, and even managed, with a squad that included a 19-year-old Ruud Gullit, to finish in fourth place in 1982. This meant qualification for the UEFA Cup. Belgian side AA Gent were eliminated in the first round and the opponents in the second round were Spartak Moscow. Although Spartak won both legs, the events on the pitch were, although only in hindsight, overshadowed by what happened in the stands of Spartak's ground, the Lenin Stadium (now Luzhniki Stadium).

The Luzhniki Disaster was a human stampede in which, according to the official statistics, 67 Russian fans were killed. Many estimates of the actual death count are much higher however, some estimate as many as 340 were killed in this stadium disaster. The Soviet authorities tried to keep a lid on the tragedy and it was not until much later, after Gorbachev had become leader of the Soviet Union, that it was talked about openly in the Russian press. Initially the authorities, as was often the case and not just in the Soviet Union, blamed the football fans for the disaster. It was not until much later that a completely different picture was painted. Some Spartak fans were throwing snow balls at policemen who were stationed inside the ground. The large football crowd acted as a relatively secure cloak of anonymity and provided some people with a rare chance to have a bit of fun at the expense of the authorities. The police were not amused however and after the game they closed off several exits to make it easier to find the culprits on their way out. Not surprisingly the police were never held responsible for the tragedy. The stadium manager, who had only been in the job for a couple of months, was made a scapegoat and spent 18 months in a labour camp. The Haarlem players who played in Moscow only found out about the disaster years later.

In 1984 Haarlem ended the season in fourth place once more although this time fourth place did not mean qualification for Europe. In 1990 the Roodbroeken ('Red Shorts') were relegated to the First Division from which they never managed to escape. Even though they even finished bottom of this league a few times, relegation from the Dutch First Division was not possible at the time, a set-up followers of the Scottish Third Division will be familiar with. It was decided that from the 2009/10 season two First Division teams would be relegated to the newly formed Topklasse and Haarlem were 'favourites' to be one of the first two clubs in almost forty years to make the drop from the second tier in Dutch football. Instead they became the first club to disappear from Dutch professional football altogether since both FC Wageningen and VCV Zeeland folded in 1992.

Only months after the demise of the club amateur side Nieuwe Haarlemsche Football Club Haarlem was founded. They merged shortly after with HFC Kennemerland. Haarlem-Kennemerland, who now call Haarlem-stadion their home ground, currently play in the Tweede Klasse, the sixth tier in the Dutch league pyramid.

The overgrown terrace in the east end of the ground had already been closed for a while.

The Kick Smit Tribune. Kick Smit (1911-1974) was a Haarlem player who was capped 29 times and scored 26 goals for the Netherlands. He represented the country at the 1934 and 1938 World Cup finals.

The Noordtribune or North Stand.

View from the Oosttribune or East Terrace. The Westtribune was demolished only a few months ago.

Again the East Terrace.
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