Friday, September 22, 2006

FCN Sint-Niklaas – SWI Harelbeke (03-09-2006)

Inspired by the OHL-Malinwa game of Wednesday, my friend A.H. and I decided to make another groundhop on Sunday: KVSK United-OHL. We met at Antwerp Central Station where we boarded the train for Lommel. Both excited about the upcoming game, I checked the local newspaper to see the scores of Saturday’s games in Belgium’s second division, when, to our great shock, we noticed that the game had been played on Saturday (incidentally, OHL won 1-2). After a short disappointment, we checked the schedule for today and decided that the only game we could still make was that between FC Nieuwkerken Sint-Niklaas against SWI Harelbeke in the Derde Klasse A (third division A).

Having bought a new train ticket, we entered the train to Sint-Niklaas, where we arrived some 20 minutes later. We asked several people for directions to the stadium, but to no avail. Only after a girl in a hotel has consulted her friend, we were on our way to the stadium… unfortunately, that of RS Waasland, the other team in Sint-Niklaas, playing in the second division (and away that day). After another consultation in a bar, we played it safe and called a cab, which brought us outside of the town of Sint-Niklaas, and inside the village of Nieuwkerken. At the Stedelijk Sportcentrum Meesterstraat we bought a nice ticket for the completely new main stand for 10 euro. Although it was only 15 minutes before kick-off, there were no players on the pitch.

Fortunately, there were several hundred people in the stadium, mainly in the cantina and restaurant (!); we headed for the one small snack stand, where we bought the traditional fast food of Belgian football: hamburger and braadworst (sausage). I guess there were some 500 people in the new but small stadium, some with shawls of the home team and one ‘hooligan’ with a flag.

While still admiring the closeness to the pitch, which reminded me of my youth when I would support the first team of my club (the Velpse Voetbal- en Athletiekvereniging Olympia, VVO), the home team scored 1-0 with a beautiful flying header by the number 10, whose fluoride green shoes indicated his (self-believed) star status. After the goal FCN Sint-Niklaas remained the better team, but few chances would emerge from their play. Harelbeke has a very young team and missed quality. Still, hard work and sloppy play by Sint-Niklaas kept them in the game till some 10 minutes before the end of the game the referee gave the home team a penalty which none around us could explain. I suspect a player of Sint-Niklaas was pushed, but I couldn’t see it. Belfassi scored the 2-0 and that was also the final result.

The nice thing about going to see third division games in
Belgium is that afterwards the busses are not crowded. So, when we boarded the bus in front of the stadium, 10 minutes after the end of the game, we were the only ones. And, by the time we returned to the station of Sint-Niklaas, it seemed like only we knew there had been a football game in town. Next time we visit, it will be RS Waasland.

Groundhopweekend September 2006

It had been in the books for months, and the planning had taken a lot of time, but last Friday it was finally time. At 13.00 I met with my brother and fellow-groundhopper T.M. at Schiphol airport from which we made our way to Wolfsburg in the German state of Lower Saxony. Although the distance was ‘only’ 470 km, estimated at just over 4 hours drive, we arrived at the game five minutes late! This despite the fact that the game had been postponed by 15 minutes because of an unbelievable traffic jam of some 30 km (!) between Hannover and Wolfsburg.

VFL Wolfsburg – Hannover 96 (15-09-2006)

At 20.50 we entered the ultramodern Volkswagen Arena, home of VFL Wolfsburg, still shocked by the inefficient way the bus drives people from the parking lot to the stadium. The Volkswagen Arena is a brand new multifunctional stadium, opened in December 2002, with a capacity of 30.000 people for football games. We had bought fairly expensive tickets for 37 euro a piece at Block 19, where we had a great view and were very close to the pitch. However, I didn’t take up my seat before getting a big German sausage, the main German stadium snack.

The game of the night was against Hannover 96, the other major team in the state. 26.479 people had come to see the Niedersachsen Derby, at least 3.000 from Hannover (despite the traffic jam). Both teams had a disappointing start to the season and were in the second half of the table, with Hannover already sacking their coach the week before. Wolfsburg has established itself in the 1. Bundesliga over the past decade, but has not been able to become a serious contender for European football, despite serious investments in the team and stadium.

Against the general expectation, it was
Hannover that had the best of the play from the beginning. This notwithstanding, the game remained scoreless until half time and the overall play was fairly poor. The atmosphere was not bad, although the home fans were not particularly loud. I was particularly interested in seeing two ex-PSV players perform: central defender Kevin Hofland (captain of Wolfsburg) and midfielder Arnold Bruggink (Hannover). Hofland was leading the defense and one of the few Wolfsburg players with a decent performance (except for a stupid yellow card), while Bruggink was fairly invisible in Hannover’s midfield.

The second half started ferociously. In the 51st minute, out of nowhere, Brdaric (former German international) got the ball just outside of the penalty box to put it beautifully in the net with a volley: 0-1. Just one minute later, Krzynowek equalized with a similar beautiful shot: 1-1. Several minutes later Diego “Klimo” Klimowicz had to leave the pitch injured, which was pretty much the end of the Wolfsburg chances at scoring. Two minutes later Brdaric scored his and Hannover’s second: 1-2. This would also be the final score (to the discontent of the home fans).

Although he Volkswagen Arena comes as close to perfection in terms of architecture and comfort as possible, T.M. and I agreed that this was not the ultimate setting for the groundhopper. Fortunately, this would be more than compensated the next morning… but not before we had driven another 400 km to
Szczecin (Stettin) at the Polish-German border, where we crashed in our hotel beds at 3.30.

At 8.30 we were back in our car, heading for the small town of
Trzebiatów in the northwest of Poland. Although the town is only 112 km from Szczecin, it takes almost 2 hours to get there.

GKS Rega-Merida Trzebiatów – Kotwica Kołobrzeg (16-09-2006)

At about 10.15 we drove into the town of Trzebiatów, where we quickly found the ulica Sportowa and the stadium. The game we were about to see was a local derby in the Polish third division group 2. Outside of the ‘stadium’ was a guy behind a small table selling tickets for a couple of Zloty a piece (I forgot how much, but probably the equivalent of 1 euro). It’s difficult to estimate how many (or better: few) people came to see the game, but probably 750 is a fair estimation.

We sat at one of the few benches on the long side of the pitch, having an instant breakfast, when the bus with away supporters arrived. Approximately 50 Kotwica had made the 30 km trip from the harbor town of Kołobrzeg, among them some 30 wannabe-hooligans. They did create quite a good atmosphere, however, in part by singing songs with and against the home supporters on the opposite site of the pitch.

The real hooliganism would take place on the pitch, however. From the beginning the number 10 of Trzebiatów, also the captain, got into a kick and punch struggle with the number 20 of Kołobrzeg. While the football wasn’t particularly good, the game was a true spectacle with many goals but even more serious fouls. After 23 minutes the away team got a soft penalty, and the number 10 a yellow card for complaining. They scored the 0-1, but 10 minutes later the home team equalized: 1-1. Not long after that, and at least 4-5 kicks and punches from each side, the number 10 got his red card, and a little later the away team scored again: 1-2 and half time.

The second half picked up where the first half had left off. In the 51st minute Rega-Merida equalized again, 2-2. After that we saw various chances, tackles, elbows, and fights, culminating into a fight and two red cards, evenly spread over the two teams. With 9 against 10 the home team managed to get ahead, 3-2, with only 10 minutes to go. Heroic defending notwithstanding, Kotwica managed to score the 3-3 in the last minute. How about that for a Saturday morning game?! Polish third division: a must for every groundhopper! (at least group 2 ;-).

Happily we jumped into our car to drive the same 112 km back to Szczecin, where we had half-decent food in some mall, and than made our way to the second game of the day.

MKS Pogoń SzczecinLech Poznań (16-09-2006)

We parked our car just next to the hill which houses the Stadion Florian Kryger and bought a ticket for 30 Złotych (ca. 7.50 euro) for Sector 6 on the long side of the pitch. We were quite early, the game started at 18.00, so we circled the stadium in search for a fan shop – but to no avail. The Stadion Florian Kryger is an old communist-style colossus that houses (only) 17.783; partly because the area behind one of the goals doesn’t have a stand. Despite the northern Polish weather hardly any part of the pitch has a roof.

We were extremely lucky as this was one of the nicest September evenings Szczecin will have seen. Maybe this was also the reason why so many people had made their way to the stadium: 14.000 of whom some 1.500-2.000 away supporters. Pogoń is known as the multicultural team of Poland, although it could better be described as the team of second-rate Brazilians. Seven of the eleven starting players were Brazilian (and later in the game two others would replace two of the seven). But Brazilians or not, there was precious little samba football on the pitch. In fact, as far as we did some decent combinations, they were from Lech Poznań. Moreover, Lech scored already after 6 minutes the 0-1. This was also the half time score. Pogoń had mainly excelled in poor technical and tactical play, while Lech proved to be a mediocre team.

The second half was not much better. Despite the continuing support of the home fans Pogoń played dismally and never looked close to the equalizer. In the 51st minute Lech had scored the 0-2 and some fans started to loose hope. Only the most optimistic got hope from the 71st minute goal of Pogoń, as the 1-2 didn’t lead to a general improvement of the home team’s play. The game did get more feisty, however, which led to a short scrimmage between various players of the two teams. In the 88th minute Lech killed even the hope of the most naïve home supporter by scoring the 1-3. This would also be the final score.

Sure, the football was fairly poor – and one really wonders why a team like Pogoń Szczecin buys some 12 Brazilians who with one or two exceptions seemed poorer than the average Polish player – but Poland is one of he few East European countries where football still draws fairly large and enthusiastic crowds. In addition, the games are cheap and the tickets (at least in Szczecin) are beautiful and original.

Somewhat shivering, as the warm summery weather has been replaced by a chilly autumn evening during the game, we returned to our car to head back to Germany, where we stayed in a hotel just outside of Berlin. This time we not only arrived before midnight, we could also sleep till after 9!

After a quick breakfast at a tank station we drove the 276 km to the mining town of Aue in the state of Saxony, at the border of the Czech Republic. While the weather was still pleasant, it had turned a bit cooler than the days before. During the more than 3.5 hour drive, partly because of the many building sites at the German motorways, we were getting increasingly excited about what was awaiting us, as Erzgebirge Aue, the team we were about so see, is a true Kult-Klub in Germany and one of the teams my brother and I had wanted to visit for some time.

FC Erzgebirge Aue – SpVgg Greuther Fürth (17-09-2006)

Around 13.00 we started to see a growing stream of Aue supporters in their purple outfits walking to the stadium. A few miles later we passed the stadium and entered the town of Aue. We parked relatively close to the stadium and joined the groups of fans walking to the stadium. A bit worried about it being sold-out, we arrived at the Erzgebirgsstadion, bought a pin and banner, and than for 20 euro a ticket for Block M at the long side of the pitch. You enter the stadium through a stairs with also gives you a great view.

As the game was about to start, we didn’t have time to sample some of the local delicacies (such as spirali with sausage). We took our place at the stand, admiring the various purple shirts of the fans. The stadium is truly unique, both in shape and in location. There is no doubt that for most people in Aue the local football team is their key entertainment. As is so often the cased with these teams of working class supporters, their fans are loyal and expect only one thing: hard and honest work!

Few teams will have changed their names as much as Erzgebirge Aue. They were founded in 1945 as SG Aue, changed it to BSG Pneumatik Aue the next year, to Zentra Wismut Aue in 1950, and to BSG Wismut Aue again the next year. However, in 1954 it not only changed its name, but also its location, becoming the SC Wismut Karl-Marx-Stadt. In 1963 the club left Karl-Marx-Stadt (now Chemnitz) and returned to Aue with its old name BSG Wismut Aue. In 1990 it was renamed slightly, to FC Wismut Aue, and in 1993 it got its current name FC Erzgebirge Aue (although this might already have changed when you read this report ;-).

While Erzgebire Aue had a mediocre start to the season, the expectations were high before the game as opponent Greuther Fürth was positioned even worse (12 and 16 in the 2. Bundesliga, respectively). The Erzgebirgsstadion holds a good 16.000 people and for this game some 11.000 fans had turned up, among them a couple hundred from Fürth. As had happened in the last game, the away team scored already in the 6th minute after very poor defending from Aue: 0-1. After that Aue looked extremely clumsy, while Fürth showed some decent counter football. Not surprisingly then, that the away team scored another in the 32nd minute: 0-2. This led to much whistling and booing from the home crowd, who were fearing a second defeat in a row.

After half time the game didn’t change much. Aue played dramatic at times and the fans became increasingly angry and cynical. The main call was “Wir wollen euch kämpfen sehen” (we want to see you fight), which had little effect on the pitch however. In the 63rd minute Fürth scored its third, which was deserved, and people around us got ballistic. After this not much changed, except that every mistake of an Aue player was greeted with cheers and applause by the incensed home crowd. It remained 0-3, the third home defeat in the four games we had seen (are we bad omen?), and we joined the stream of angry and disappointed supporters heading out of the stadium before the final whistle. This notwithstanding, Erzgebirge Aue and the Erzgebigsstadion are truly cult and should be on the wish list of every groundhopper.

At 16.00 we entered the car for the last time, but unfortunately also for the longest drive (720 km to Antwerp). Moreover, as we had to circumvent an 8 km traffic jam and faced increasingly bad weather, we arrived to Antwerp only at midnight (T.M. would safely arrive home two hours later). A seriously tiring groundhop-weekend, not helped by my developing flu and tooth ache, but also a very satisfying trip with four new groundhop points and a visit to the Schachtscheisser of Aue.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Oud-Heverlee Leuven – KV Mechelen (30-08-2006)

On a Wednesday evening I leave work early to take the six o’clock train to Leuven, a university town at some 70 km south of Antwerp. My friend and fellow-groundhopper J.B. had suggested to see a game of OHL before and with “Malinwa” coming to town, this was the perfect opportunity. I have a weakness for KV Mechelen, partly because of their loyal following (see below), partly because they beat ajax in the European Cup final of 1988 (1-0). At Leuven station we were joined by my Japanese friend A.H., with whom I saw some games in Japan last month (see other stories).

We took the bus (line 2) to Stadion Den Dreef in the city district of Heverlee. In and around the stadium red-yellow were the most popular colors: the KV fans had made it a home game. We joined the away supporters and bought a ticket for 12 euro – standing behind the goal, no roof. Fortunately, this was the one dry day of the week, as they had taken my umbrella at the entrance. While the away stand is normally the most empty in the stadium in Belgium, this time it was the fullest. Overall, some 5.500 people came to see the game – a phenomenal number for a second division game in Belgium – and the majority were KV Mechelen supporters. The stand behind the goal was almost full and the atmosphere was good (the quality of the songs, however, as well as the catering, was fairly poor).

The game started well and both teams were fairly equal. Pace was rather slow and the technique of most players not striking, but they worked hard and tried to attack. After some 30 minutes a KV player was sent off for a second bookable offense – harsh but fair – but surprisingly Malinwa bounced back and scored the 0-1. Afterwards the team defended bravely, still leading at half time. The second half was relatively one-sided, with Malinwa being pushed back further and further. Still, both teams got only a few chances. One of the most remarkable events of the second half was a phenomenal tackle on OHL player Boy-Boy Mosai, with an estimated 1.50m the smallest man in Belgian football, as well as an impressive tackle by Boy-Boy (both received a yellow card). Some 10 minutes before the end the inevitable happened after all: OHL scored the 1-1. Fortunately, KV stayed concentrated and in the end got a very deserved point, despite being down with 10 men for two-thirds of the game

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

BV Veendam – SC Cambuur Leeuwarden (18-03-2005)

Last Friday it finally happened: my visit to the legendary De Langeleegte! My friend M.T. and I had already made the long way to the North before, only to find the game cancelled because of the weather. We had decided than and there that we would come back as soon as we would have the opportunity.

Around 15.15 M.T. picked me up at Schiphol – luckily Easyjet didn’t have a delay this time (I had been in the
UK for work) – and we were on our way. Without much troubles we drove through 020 (for on-Dutch, this is the area code of Amsterdam) and entered the Flevopolder. The sky became ever greyer and when we drove into the province of Groningen it also started to rain softly. In other words, perfect weather for a game in the De Langeleegte!

Around 18.45 we arrived in Veendam, in the north of the
Netherlands, and after a not too subtle meal of shoarma, we bought a ticket for the Promenade stand for 12 euro. Nowadays De Langeleegte looks quite cosy, actually – the stadium reminded me of the old stadium of RBC or (the new one) of FC Zwolle. Probably because the match was the northern derby against SC Cambuur, there was a decent crowd. The stadium was half full, I think, with some 2.500 people, among them a good 200 from Leeuwarden (in the neighboring province of Frisia).

The game started like a storm and after 6 minutes it was already 1-0. After that the game deteriorated rapidly, increasingly resembling a pinball match. The BV Veendam clearly wasn’t able to do much more, but SC Cambuur had some decent players. At half time it was still only 1-0, despite the fact that Cambuur was the less bad team. The whole second half the visitors remained the better team, but they were only able to score in the 70th minute. 1-1 was also the final score.

Despite the bad football we enjoyed the pleasant provincial atmosphere in De Langeleegte. Secretly I was a bit disappointed that it had been so busy and buzzing, as I had hoped to see such a legendary game in front of 350 supporters and in the pouring rain, for which De Langeleegte was famous in the eighties. :-)

AC Parma –
Cagliari Calcio (06-03-2005)

For my work I had to be in Bologna on Friday and Saturday, so I decided to stay a day longer to see a game. As Bologna FC played away, and I had seen them already the last time I was in Bologna, I took the opportunity to go to Parma, one of the few teams in Italy I like. On the way there the train took only some 50 minutes – on the way back, on the other hand, it took a good 1.5 hour!

Around 13:30 I arrived in Parma and started walking north without having any clue where I was going. The weather was cold, but with regular sun, and still some snow around me from previous days. Very good weather for a walk through a nice Italian town and… because that’s what’s life really about… to see a game. A good hour before kick-off I arrived at the Stadio Communale Ennio Tardini, home of AC Parma, which is positioned in the middle of a housing area. The tickets are not cheap – I bought a ticket for 25 euro at the Distinti Laterali Nord, in the corner of one long side. It turned out to be an temporary stand, but that didn’t kill my enthusiasm.

Culinary tip: if you ever visit a home game of AC Parma, and you really should, eat a macaroni al ragu in the restaurant next to the stadium. Delicious!

After a good paste and the obligatory football snack (in this case the Italian version of the hot dog) I entered the (temporary) stand. With the exception of the Curva Nord, where the Parma tifosi are standing, the stadium was only moderately filled – I would estimate some 12.000 people, but it was really difficult to estimate. Parma is having a very bad season and suffers greatly under the bankruptcy of its biggest sponsor Parmalat. In addition, it was cold and they played an uneventful mid-table team, Cagliari, so the low turnout was understandable.

I didn’t know much about the two teams before the game (but then again, I don’t follow Italian football). From AC Parma I only knew Paolo Cannavaro, ‘the brother of’ (Fabio, the central defender of Juve and the Azzuri). But at Cagliari was a pleasant surprise: Gianfranco Zola, the small ex-star of AS Napoli and Chelsea. For the rest I didn’t know any of the players.

Let me come directly to the point: the game was un-Italian. Boy, did I enjoy myself! After 1 minute the Cagliari goalie (Iezzo) made an excellent safe on a shot from only a couple of meters and after 5 minutes it was 0-1, after a half-chance of the visitors. Parma kept coming, however, and after 10 minutes it was level, 1-1. Another 5 minutes later Iezzo had to make his second great safe, but shortly after it was 2-1 after all. At times Parma played some beautiful combinations and particularly Azzuri striker Gilardino impressed. The only dissonant was the pseudo-star Morfeo, on bright yellow shoes, who did see a nifty backheel hit the post. Half time 2-1 and I have seldom seen so much attacking football in the Serie A.

Even more surprisingly, the second half started where the first half had left off. Already in the 48th minute Parma hit the crossbar and less than 10 minutes later Morfeo was able to miss the target from less than 10 meters and completely unmarked. Despite the clear dominance of Parma it remained 2-1 and Cagliari sneaked back into the game. In the 65th minute Parma goalie Frey fouls a player outside of the box (unnecessarily) and gets a well-deserved red card. Parma defends heroically (you might notice some slight bias creeping into this report ;-), but in the 88th minute the disaster strikes nevertheless: a soft goal and 2-2. Completely destroyed the audience watches the last minutes… squandered a safe three points after all. But than, in the 91st minute, a counter through the impressive central midfielder Simplicio, who shoots out of sheer necessity the bal from over 20 meters at the goal… directly in the upper corner!! 3-2 for Parma, the referee whistles, game over, we all go crazy!

Seldom have I enjoyed a game between two teams that I do not really support so much. Or should I say did not support, as I have been so entertained by Parma that they have deservedly claimed a special lace in my football heart. The atmosphere was also really good… much singing, next to me three fanatical old men, and a very impressive applause when Cagliari player Zola was substituted. Fortunately, this is also still possible!

Thus, there can be only one conclusion: if you ever find yourself in the neighborhood, you should absolutely visit the Stadio Communale Ennio Tardini. It is no San Siro, there are no big stars, but you will have a delightful football afternoon!

Monday, September 04, 2006

Groundhop Weekend 25-27 February 2006

Man, oh man, what a bizarre weekend this was. It was C-O-L-D!!! And never before have I seen such snow storms in the Low Countries. But this all notwithstanding, I have had a historic groundhop experience this weekend.

Hannover Scorpions - Iserlohn Roosters (25-02-2005)

Friday afternoon I was picked up at Schiphol by my brother T.M. and his friend SdB. At the schedule for that evening, a game between the Hannover Scorpions and the Iserlohn Roosters in the Deutsche Eishockey Liga (German Ice Hockey League, DEL). Having circumvented the traffic jams in both the Dutch Randstad and the German Ruhrgebiet we arrived more than an hour before the game at the beautiful, brand new TUI Arena. For ice hockey games the stadium can hold 10.600 spectators, which makes it one of the larger halls in Europe. This game was attended by some 6.000, among which surprisingly many women and girls. The atmosphere was traditionally good, as always with sports events in Germany. The hockey itself was a lot less impressive, particularly the home team was poor. After 6 minutes they were 0-2 down and they never had a chance at getting back. The end result of 2-6 for the regional rivals was therefore more than deserved, despite the fact that Iserlohn didn’t play that fantastic either.

After a short night in a Formule 1 hotel we decided to be ambitious and drive to Luxemburg to see an afternoon cup game between Progres Nierderkorn and Dudelange, and than to continue to France to see an evening game of Raon L'Etap in the French Championnat National. During the drive it regularly snowed, while the environment was covered with a thick layer of snow of the past days. After a long drive we arrived some 40 minutes before kick-off at the Stade Jos Haupert, where the first team was practising at a small pitch. After inspection of the empty stadium and the snowed-under pitch, we decided to also skip the French game and try to play it safe. And thus we drove at a relaxed speed to Sint-Truiden in Belgian Limburg.

K. Sint-Truiden VV - KAA Gent (26-02-2005)

After a quick stop at Frituur Juliette we drove to the stadium Staaien to see whether we could also buy tickets without a Fancard. The security was very strict: Fancard, identity card, or… just state your name. J Having bought the ticket, we spent the last 60 minutes before the game in the Cafe Stadion watching the game Hertha BSC-HSV.

It was ice cold in the “Hell of Staaien” (as is the nickname of the stadium), but fortunately the game was less boring than the last time I was here. This was particularly because of the performance of AA Gent, who already within minutes scored 0-1. After that the visitors remained the better team, but this was also because the home team was extremely poor. Benji de Keulenaar is the best player (he left the team after that season), but obviously he cannot do it all alone. In the end “the buffalo’s” won 0-2 and we went back to Antwerp with frozen toes.

KV Kortrijk - Excelsior Virton (26-02-2006)

Having slept in, and having enjoyed a good cup of coffee, we left well-prepared for a double-pack on Sunday. The first game of the day was KV Kortrijk against Excelsior Virton, two mid-table teams in the Belgian Tweede Klasse (second division). We knew it was going to be cold again, but when we got into a genuine snow storm just after Ghent, we started to worry about whether the game would be called off. Fortunately the snow storm turned out to have been very local; it hadn’t even snowed in Kortrijk.

At 14.15 we arrived at the ruinous Guldensporenstadion of KV Kortrijk. We saw almost none, except for a bus with green-white supporters. They turned out to be Walloons from Virton, so we decided to share Tribune 4 with the ca. 25 green-white away fans. All in all there were not even 500 spectators in the freezing stadium. A shame, as the game wasn’t bed at all. After 5 minutes Virton was 0-1 up and 5 minutes later it was already 1-1That was also the half time score, but in between there had been some nice football, particularly by Virton. In the second half both teams got tired and the play of Virton especially deteriorated rapidly. Around 15 minutes before the end of the game the away team faltered, having one player sent off and getting two goals after individual mistakes. End result: 3-1 for KV Kortrijk in this ‘six-points game’.

LOSC -- Stade Rennais (26-02-2006)

Direct after the end of the game of KV Kortrijk we got into our car and drove to Lille to catch our second game of the day one hour later. The last time I went to a game of LOSC they played in the center of town. This season, possibly because of the rebuilding of the own stadium, LOSC played at the Stade Metropole, a typical athletics stadium. L

I will keep it very short: cold, COLD, C-O-L-D!!! Jezus H. Christ, we were cold! And a 0-0 game at that?! This notwithstanding, I recommend all groundhoppers a trip to Lille: the football is of a good level, the atmosphere is good, and the merguez americaine greasy. But do go when the weather is a bit better!

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Spvgg Unterhaching - LR Ahlen (06-02-2005)

I had to be in Munich for a conference so I decided to stay a day longer to visit the third team of the city, after Bayern and 1860 (which I had already visited before), indeed the Spielvereinigung Unterhaching! This club has one of the most remarkable combination of sports, namely football and... bob sledge.

As it had snowed extremely in the last week, I feared the game had been cancelled. Moreover, because of the freezing cold the snow had turned into ice in the city. At 13.30 I took the Strassenbahn (tram) from the center of town to the Ostbahnhof, where I transferred to the S5 in the direction of Holzkirchen. Perhaps blinded by the reflection of the sun in the ackers of snow I got out one station too early and had to walk for almost half an hour by my lonesome through a snowed-under park, getting more and more pessimistic about the game. When I finally made it to the right S-Bahn station I saw more and more fans, which caused my frozen fingers to tinkle with refound warmth. In the end I arrived 15 minutes before the start of the game (15:00) at the stadium, after having observed a game of curling on natural ice.

The Generali Sportpark is a reasonable home for a club that has only recently returned to the 2. Bundesliga. It is located in the district of Unterhaching, a former suburb to the south of Munich. Officially the stadium holds 15.053, of which 6.874 are seats. As it was freezing but dry, I decided to buy a ticket of 7.50 euro for the Südtribune (standing), so that my knees wouldn’t freeze together.

At the program of the day was a game between Spvgg Unterhaching and the LR Ahlen, a so-called Keller-Duel in the 2. Bundesliga. Despite the unbelievable cold some 1.500 spectators had made it to the game -- the speaker spoke about 2.500, but that seemed wishful thinking. By the way, the speaker also announced the presence of Rudi Völler, which did prove to be correct. Without (much) fear I settled in between the Rot-Blaue Tiger and the Sonnenbrillen Mob, gangs even the PSV (T)L-Side would fear. ;-)

Already after 4 minutes "Haching" was 1-0 up, and another 4 minutes later they were 2-0 up. The fans didn’t know what hit them and even I was overcome with sudden enthusiasm (making me forget my frozen limbs for a while). After that the game deteriorated, and I was confronted with reality again (cold and biting wind). Even the Bratwurst could not bring my frozen toes back to life.

Fortunately I was pleasantly surprised after half time by a conversation with a British German, who attended every home game of Haching with a group of seven Munich-based Brits. Some of them were fans of Darlington FC, one of Dundee FC, and he himself of Walsall FC. He had also lived a couple of years in Wolverhampton and had come to me because of my Wolves had (see the December trip).

After a pleasant conversation at half time we turned our attention back to the game, which looked more and more like a race against the clock. Ahlen gained the initiative and the level became of a questionable level. In the end the visitors scored the 2-1, and even had a chance at 2-2, but to the great joy and relief of the 1.500 (minus ca. 20 away fans) Haching won 2-1.

With frozen toes I walked, cold but satisfied, to the S-Bahn station, to later see BMG beat Freiburg at the sports bar at Munich airport. There is something special about the third team of a city, as I had experienced before at Excelsior in Rotterdam, Partick Thistle in Glasgow, or Bohemians in Prague. A kind of charm that is possibly only appreciated by the real groundhopper, but those I can fully recommend a visit to the Spvgg Unterhaching.

Birmingham City FC - Middlesbrough FC (16-12-2004)

There is little more beautiful than going to see a football game in England on boxing day (second Christmas day). There is something magical, and something distinctly English about it (one of the few positive things I can say about the country, but let's not go there ;-).

Having left the x-mas festivities at my family behind, I took a flight out of Schiphol airport at 11.00, arriving roughly at 13.30 in my hotel in the center of Birmingham. The game started at 15.30, which gave me more than enough time to get to the stadium in time. I took a cab and walked the last part up hill. Enjoying a quality quarterpounder and the typical English local football atmosphere, I picked up the ticket I had ordered through the Internet for a staggering 28 pound -- ca. 40 euro. As I had more than enough time left, I circled the stadium and enjoyed the relaxed atmopshere.

BCFC plays in the St. Andrew's Stadium, which holds just over 30.000 spectators. For the game against Middlesbrough, not the most attractive opponent, some 29.000 had overcome their post-Christmas hangover to get to the stadium. The atmosphere was rather relaxed, little verbal abuse, but quite some singing. Both teams are of moderate quality, but Boro has some foreign 'stars' like the Dutch semi-internationals Hasselbaink and Zenden. BCFC has two strong black guys up front, Morrison and Heskey, while the game is directed by an old, somewhat overweight, and very slow Irishman: Dunn. None else caught my eye, except for the Dutch former ajax and Chelsea player Mario Melchoit, who was substituted at the end of the game for BCFC.

All in all it was a poor game, in which BCFC got an early 1-0 lead. Boro was the better (or: less bad) team, but when I say that Zenden was the ky player, you (should) know enough. In the end the home team won 2-0 through a goal by, who else than, Emile Heskey (what a non-player is that). Nope, in terms of football it wasn't much, but in terms of atmosphere and experience an English football game on boxing day is unique!

Wolverhampton Wanderers - Brighton Hove & Albion (28-12-2004)

Two days later an English friend of mine (L.M.) and I took the train to Wolverhampton, a surprisingly nice town at some 30 km northwest of Birmingham. At least since the (short) period of John de Wolf at the local pride "Wolves" are also known in the Netherlands. It is a club with a huge tradition and following and one of the most beautiful logos in the world.

We were well in time at the Molineux stadium, which has a capacity of 28.500. Despite the fact that this was a game between two teams in the lower half of the First Division (now: The Championship), the stadium was almost sold-out. For 26 pounds (!) we bought a ticket for the Billy Wright Stand Upper Tier, somewhat in the corner of the pitch. The atmosphere was fantastic and I have been suprised throughout the game by the friendly comments of the fans -- almost no swearing!!! In sharp contrast, the football was below any aceptable level, except for one beautiful goal of Wolves (after a very nice combination over three players). The most remarkable about the whole game, which ended 1-1 (the 'Seagulls' had scored a lucky 0-1 after 1 minute), was Glenn Hoddle, who is currently coaching Wolverhampton Wanderers... how the mighty have fallen.

YRKV Mechelen - KRC Mechelen (28-11-2004)

Scotland has the Glasgow derby Celtic-Rangers, Serbia the Belgrade derby Partizan-Rode Ster, and Belgium… Belgium has the Mechelen derby KV-Racing. I know, the Mechelse derby does not have the same reputation and scale as the other two, but in relative terms the intensity is certainly comparable.

On Sunday 28 November 2004 KV Mechelen played Racing Mechelen at the Scarletstadion, sold out with some 13.000 spectators. This is comparable to a well-attended game in the Belgian first division, but this game was not played in the first, not in the second, but in the third division (A). This notwithstanding, the game was sold out weeks in advance and there were fans from Germany and the Netherlands (e.g. Roda JC fans with KV and FC Dordrecht fans with Racing). We only got two tickets because one of J.B's colleagues had some connections at KV.

As things had gone out of hand in the last Mechelse derby, in part because of foreign hooligans (particularly from the Netherlands), the security measures were even more extreme this time around. They reminded me of the most heated confrontation in Dutch football, ajax-Feyenoord: there were at least one police helicopter, two water canons, ca. 8-10 police vans, and some 100 policemen. The few thousand Racing fans walked though partly closed-off streets and with a heavy police escort from their stadium to that of KV, better known as Achter de Kazerne (Behind the Barracks) .

After having circled the whole stadium, to kill time in anticipation of J.B.'s arrival (who had his personal struggle with the Belgian railways), we enterered the already well-filled stadium around 13.30. We had tickets of 11 euro for Tribune 3, vak G, i.e. standing places behind the goal. From there we could see every quite well, although we sometimes had to duck to stay under the roof and bend to look around the pillars. Obviously, we were with the Kakkers, i.e. the fans of KV!

At 14.00 the teams kicked off at a beautiful green pitch, which had become perfect for slidings because of the steady rain the days preceding the game. From the beginning both teams flew into the game, sliding and tackling all over the pitch. The referee kept the game tight, giving two KV players a yellow card within the first 5 minutes. He thereby kept the number of incidents limited, which was quite an achievement given the heated atmopshere on and off the pitch. Consequently, the game developed into a very heated and interesting match, in which little good football was shown, but the players fought for every inch, and the spectators were kept on their toes.

In the 25th minute KV scored the deserving 1-0 lead thorugh “Patje” Goots, the former striker of d´n Antwaarp(Royal FC Antwerp) and the (self-declared) star player of KV. The stadium exploded and the goalie and players of KV ran like crazy men over the pitch. In the 39th minute KV even scored the 2-0, which was deserved if somewhat flattering. J.B. and I joined the KV fans in celebrating the goals and dancing into half time.

After half time the game seemed over, when in the 60th minute a Racing player got his second yellow and was sent off. But soon after a KV player met with the same fate, by stupidly standing too close in front of a free-kick, and the game was 10 against 10. KV had also started to play sloppy and arrogantly in the second half, while Racing kept fighting for every chance. And despite KV kept the best of the game, you could feel it change, which led around the 75th minute to the 1-2. Both before and after that goal KV had many counter-attack chances, but most of them were screwed up by Goots, whose prima donna behavior begged for a substitution. In the 91st minute KV was punished after all: Racing scored 2-2 and the very good ref ended the game a few seconds after.

After this dramatic ending, J.B. and I realized we were both frozen and went to a cafe to have some coffee. After having brought our body temperature back to acceptable levels, we could not but conclude that this had been a fantastic football afternoon. KV-Racing might not be a Celtic-Rangers or a Partizan-Red Star, but there is no doubt that it is thé derby of Belgium and a football fest that should not be missed (if you can get a ticket).

Friday, September 01, 2006

Groundhop-weekend (29-10 till 31-10-2004)

Friday afternoon T.M, Grondhopper's brother and a serious groundhopper himself, came to pick me up in Antwerp for a weekend of serious fun. At the program for that evening was a game of the famous yet fallen Stade de Reims (nothing more beautiful than a once great club fallen on hard times). Unfortunately, the traffic between Brussels and Charleroi was so terrible that we soon realized that we were not going to make Reims. Fortunately my brother has a better memory than me and he remembered that there was also a game in Amiens that night, so we changed directions.

Amiens SC - Niort (29-10-2004)

After a serious detour and search we made it to the remarkable Stade de la Licorne, since 1999 the home of the local Amiens SC, which holds 11.900 supporters. We bought a ticket for 7.50 euro for the Tribune Nord, behind one of the goals. When we took our place we noticed that Amiens SC was already 1-0 up against Niort. Having established that all was well, I ran for the food stand and dug into the Merguez sausages; which I would regret soon after. :-(

In the second half we and the roughly 3.000 others (minus the ca. 25 away supporters) were seriously entertained. Amiens was clearly the better side (they were also 4th in the second division) and they combined well. Up front was a (French?) Yugoslav who ran on every single ball, what led to many throw-ins and corners for Amiens. In the end all his work was also rewarded as he scored one of Amiens' 4 goals. Niort, which was also reduced to 10 men, could save its honor by scoring one consolation goal. It remained on the second from last spot in the league.


Fife goals for 7.5 euro, if that isn't a good price/quality relation I don't know anymore. And on top of that an exceptional stadium. Only the sausages were a disappointment. In short, the French Ligue 2 is definitely worth a visit!

After the game we had to drive a serious distance to get back on schedule. This notwithstanding, we were back in the car relatively early again on Saturday, making our way to the 'top game' between FC Wohlen and FC Baulmes in the Swiss Challenge League (= second division).

FC Wohlen - FC Baulmes (30-10-2004)

Around 17.00, half and hour before the beginning of the game, we parked in front of the brand new Stadion Niedermatten, comparable to a (brand new) home of a top amateur team in the Netherlands. For 7.50 Swiss Francs (ca. 5 euro) we bought a ticket for the whole area around the pitch except of the main strand.

Entrance to the stadium

According to the officiele website of FC Wohlen that one stand holds seats for 624 people, and 10 journalists (!), and the whole stadium can hold 3.034. For the game only some 550 fans had made their way to the stadium -- despite, or maybe because, the nice weather.

Despite the amateuristic setting, the biting cold, and the fact that it was a duel between the numbers 12 and 15 of the Swiss second division, the football was very entertaining. The ball handling of most players -- primarily French and Italian speaking Swiss -- was very good and they combined a lot. Without many chances, both teams could have won, but it was Baulmes that in the end won 0-1 (a bit against the game of play).

The main stand of Stadion Niedermatten

After a concert that evening at the border of Italy, and a long drive back to a hotel just above Zurich, we went to bed only at 5 am. The next day at 10.00 we were back in the car, on our way to Kaiserslautern.

1. FC Kaiserslautern - Arminia Bielefeld (31-10-2004)

Although I had been to the 1.FCK before (in the season 1995-96), I had no problem going back (and help my brother score another groundhop point). Der Betzenberg is an absolute football temple and I was also curious to see how the rebuilding of the stadium for the WC 2006 had turned out. As far as I'm concerned, the stadium hadn't changed for the better.

Anyway, well in time we parked close to the stadium, and after the traditional climb of the Betze it was time to get a ticket. As the game was on a Sunday, and the opponent was Arminia Bielefeld, the game was not sold out. Nevertheless, it took a long time to get a ticket: for 29.00 euro we had a seat fairly high up on the Tribune Süd.

After having surveyed the various eating facilities, and having scored a Bratwurst, and having bought a shawl for a friend of mine (a Kaisi fan), we
took our place and soon enjoyed our view of the fanatic fans at the Westribune.

At the beginning of the game the 1.FCK was at the bottom of the 1. Bundesliga, against Arminia Bielefeld at the surprising 6th spot -- together with Mainz 05 and VFL Wolfsburg they were the surprise team of the start of the new season. There was almost no well-known player on the pitch, let alone a particularly talented one. I am quite charmed by the Albanian international Vata, who is very clever and technical (but also a bit lazy).

The game was a a rather low level, especially the 1.FCK. What a lack of talent. Bielefeld created several chances, but as the number 11 was set on not scoring that day, it remained 0-0 for a very long time. Only deep in the second half (79th minute) Bielefeld scored the deserved 0-1, which led to much dissatisfaction around us. Even though none seemed to believe in a victory, the fans kept supporting their team loudly. And not without success, because one minute later the 1.FCK had already scored 1-1 and in the 90th minute they even scored the winner (2-1), both by substitute Teber.

And so everyone (except for the few hundred Arminen ;-) left happily, despite the fact that they must relegate at the end of the season (which is good for BMG :-). As said, I wasn't enthusiastic about the rebuilding of the Fritz-Walter-Stadion. Another classic stadium has bitten the dust. But the !.FCK crowd remains one of the best, and even when the Westtribune has become an all-seater too, I'm sure the atmosphere will still be great and the Betzenberg will remain a football temple!

PKNS Selangor - Johor FC (august 2004)

En route to Australia I planned a few days in Kuala Lumpur (KL) to see some football. As the dates of the games of the Super League had been changed suddenly, I could only see a Premier League (i.e. second division) game on Sunday. The cloests game was Selangor PKNS against Johor FC, which was played in the MPPJ Stadium in Petaling Jaya, a suburb of KL.

After different negotiations over the price with a number of taxi drivers, none of whom knew there was a football game on, one finally took me to the stadium. After a 30 minute drive we arrived around 20.00 at the stadium. To my delight the lights were on and some players were doing their warm-up. I bought a ticket for 10 Ringgit (ca. 2.50 euro) and took my seat at the main stand. There wasn't m,uch happening in the stadium and it also remained remakably empty. When the game finally started, at 20.45, there were some 500 spectators in the stadium that holds 25.000. As would soon turn out, almost half of them were away supporters, despite the fact that the town of Johor is at the border with Singapore (there were also three white tourists).

This was the first time in my life that I visited a professional football game that started without any applause. This notwithstanding, there was some atmosphere, courtsey of some (home) supporters with all kind of drums (see below).

Already after 3 minutes they could cheer as PKNS scored 1-0. Only 5 minutes later Johor FC equalized: 1-1. In the 30th minute the visitors scored the deserved scoorde 1-2. Not much later the bus with the away supporters finally arrived and some 35 fans in orange shirts (the color of Johor FC) entered the stadium, which directly strengthened the atmosphere. In the end Johor scored the 1-3 to great delight of the orange army.

Unfortunately, it turned out to be extremely difficult to get back after the game. There was no taxi in sight and the stadium was in a remote area, so I walked onto a desolate industrial area, where I was lucky to find some people in a shop who gave me a ride to a taxi stop outside of town. In the end I still made it back to my hotel around 23.30. Definitely a difficult, but interesting groundhop. Truly exotic. ;-)

RAEC Mons – KVV Sint-Truiden (05-08-2006)

On a Saturday my Dutch groundhop friend M.T. came to pick me up in
Antwerp to travel to Mons (in Dutch: Bergen) to visit the Royal Albert-Elisabeth Club Mons. At 20.00 the RAEC Mons would play KVV Sint-Truiden, a game in the second round of the Belgian First Division. We arrived more than two hours before the game and decided to look for a snackbar in the center of Mons. As is the case in most Belgian cities these days, unfortunately, one cannot find an authentic “frituur” anymore, so we settled for one of the many döner kebab places. Surprisingly, Mons has a cozy ‘historic’ square in the center of what is for the rest a classic Walloon town.

Around 19.30 we parked the car just behind the Stade Charles Tondreau, on the side of the away supporters. Next to us two very attractive girls parked a huge Mercedes, supporters of Sint-Truiden, but we still decided to join the home supporters (an unwritten rule of groundhopping is that you normally sit with the home crowd). Once we had finally circled the whole stadium, a fair walk, we were confronted with a long line in front of the ticket office. This (as well as the women ;-) made us reconsider our earlier decision and return to the away supporters (but only after buying a small souvenir in the small fan shop).

After again circling the stadium, we were only allowed into the away supporters stand after having re-parked our car in the special parking space for away supporters. We bought a ticket for the covered seating stand for 20 euro and took our places.... right, next to the nice women. In all honesty, they were the ones that made this groundhop such a success, as the game was very poor and was made only noteworthy because of the two (!) red cards for Sint-Truiden – which led to broad speculation about the Chinese mafia (involved in the match fixing scandal of last season). In the end Mons won 2-0, but they were only able to score against 9 men. Both teams will definitely not play for the prizes this season

RAEC Mons is probably worth a visit mainly because the fact that is already rumoured for years that either they will go bankrupt or they will merge with La Louviere. However, they have just built an ultramodern new stand on one side of the pitch, and they seem to aim at rebuilding the whole stadium.

Given that Mons is the city of Elio Di Rupo, leader of the Walloon Parti Socialiste and thus one of the most powerful politicians in Belgium, RAEC Mons is probably not as threatened in their existence as some might think. Anyway, the team might not be good, but they always attract a decent crowd (for Belgian standards). The Stade Charles Tondreau currently holds 9.000 people (4.000 seats) and even for the low-key game against Sint-Truiden the home stands were three-quarters full. The home supporters create a decent atmosphere, but that could hardly compensate for the poor quality of football. Two of the away supporters, on the other hand..