Monday, April 16, 2018
The last game of the weekend is in Luxembourg, a standard location for our brotherly groundhops. This time we go to RC Hamm Benfica, one of a few team in the country named after a famous Portuguese club, a consequence of the enormous Portuguese community in Luxembourg (16 percent of the population!).
The “stadium” is just outside of the city center of Luxembourg, tucked away on a hill. Rapid Mansfeldia Hamm Benfica was founded in 2004 as a fusion of two small clubs, which initially played in the second division. In 2007 they got promoted to the National Division (First Division) and they have been in the top flight of Luxembourg football ever since.
We pay €10 for a General Admission ticket. The ticket itself is generic and dates to the 2015/16 season. That gives you an indication of the level of professionalism. RC Hamm Benfica plays at a ground, simply named Luxembourg-Cents, after the district, which allegedly can hold 2,800 people. It is the smallest ground in this league I have ever visited. It has one stand, which has only 3 rows.
There are roughly 120 people, mostly men, and some 30-50 are Portuguese speakers. One small group of 10 younger men have a banner and sing during the game. There are also some 25 away supporters, who only had to travel 30 km. They also sing and even have a drum.
Benfica has the first decent chance, in the fifth minute. In the next fifteen they have the best of the game, but create few chances. The play is roughly as bad as the pitch: really bad!
In the 38th minute the hosts have another chance, but the rebound from 16 meters goes 5 meters over the goal. While the game goes back and forth, the control and passing is bad, and the ball rarely gets into the box.
In the 41st minute the visitors finally have a good attack, with a deep cross, but the header is too late. The inevitable half-time score is 0-0.
In the 49th minute Benfica has a good attack: a hard shot leads to a good safe by the goalie. Three minutes later the hosts have another attack, which is stopped by a foul, and leads to a counter by the visitors, which ends with a hard shot over the goal. A bit later Monsdorf has another set of chances, mostly because the goalie screws up, and the defense is terrible.
The play is getting really bad. Both teams only master 2-3 passes before the lose the ball. Consequently, the only notable occasions are free kicks, which occur regularly. In the 79th minute a free kick is put into the box and headed in goal: 1-0. Nope, the player had pushed, so the goal is disallowed.
In the last ten minutes both teams still squander a half-chance, but in the end, the inevitable happens: 0-0. Both teams could have played for 90 minutes more and still wouldn’t have scored! According to my brother, this was the first time in over two decades that we saw a goalless draw together. In the end, RM Hamm Benfica has the atmosphere of a third or even fourth division team in Austria or Belgium. Even by Luxembourgish standards it is really small. The main attraction is the exotic name.
In the end we didn’t have to leave Sportfreunde Lotte – SC Fortuna Köln early, as we make the roughly 275 km southwest easily, arriving in Dessel early, giving us time to eat at the excellent Frituur Den Brink and still arrive several minutes before kick-off.
The Armand Melis Stadium is relatively new, built in 2009, and can hold 4,284 people. I doubt there were ever more than 1,500 there though. It is home to the KFC Dessel Sport, founded in 1926, and a mainstay in the lower divisions of Belgian football. Today they play in the Tweede Klasse Amateurs (literally “Second Division Amateurs”), which, after the latest reform in Belgian football, is really the fourth division.
We buy a ticket for the smaller long stand for €15, which is not cheap for the fourth division in Belgium. There are some 600 people, including ca. 60 people from Geel, which is 15 km away. The fan are local and older; the whitest audience ever. Only some 15 kids are singing.
The game starts slow and uneventful. In the 14th minute Dessel has its first good attack, but the striker can’t connect to the hard cross. Two minutes later Geel has an amazing volley from 30 meters, which goes just wide. Overall the play goes back and forth, but the passing is pretty poor.
In the 26th minute the hosts have a good attack, but the shot goes wide. Four minutes later the visitors force the goalie to a good safe before a deflected ball is headed off the goal line. Dessel Sport has most of the game and several good attacks. And then, two minutes before the break, Dessel has a good fast attack, pass in the box, which is finished cool: 1-0. Half-time.
The second half starts explosive. A Dessel player goes away from the goal, but is fouled in the box: penalty. It is shot hard in the center, but goes is: 2-0.
In the 52nd minute the hosts have a surprise shot from 25 meters that goes just over. Seven minutes later the visitors have a huge chance, but he passes to no one, rather than shoots at goal. In the 62nd minute Dessel has a good attack, plays a double pass, gets into the box, passes the ball out, and from the edge of the box a shot is deflected and goes in: 3-0.
Just minutes later Geel attacks, plays the ball into the box, behind everyone, and someone slides it into the goal: 3-1. It’s going fast now. Both teams have a few chances, but 3-1 will be the final score.
Dessel Sport is a classic lower level Belgian football experience. Small venue, small crowd, mostly local and friendly.
After the FC Emmen game on Friday night, we only have a one-hour drive to our first Saturday game in Lotte, Germany. The local club, Sportfreunde Lotte, is one of a few teams class “Sports Friends” – we earlier visited Sportfreunde Siegen – which you cannot pass on. We arrived at the stadium early, which meant that we were still well in time after having been sent back because I had candy with me.
Unfortunately, they no longer use the beautiful, original name, Sportpark am Lotter Kreuz, but instead have named it after a sponsor: Frimo Stadion. Whatever the name, it is a makeshift stadium, with four different size stands, all looking pretty basic. It can hold 10,059, which seems a bit much, and this afternoon there were officially 1.819.
We bought a ticket (€20) for the (seated) stand behind the goal (Westtribune), again just next to the “hardcore” home fans. There were also some 100 away supporters, having made the modest 200 km trek north from Cologne, who celebrated the 70th birthday of their club SC Fortuna Köln.
Germany’s 3. Liga (Third Division) is comparable to the second division in most smaller countries in terms of quality of play, while the atmosphere is often (much) better. Before the game they play the club anthem of SC Fortuna Köln without home fans whistling.
The game is between the fourth from bottom (Lotte) against the fourth on top (Köln). The crowd is clearly local, all ages, and quite a lot of family with kids. The game starts well for the hosts, who have a few a few decent shots in the first twenty minutes.
After some 30 minutes the visitors have their first moment, you can barely call it a chance, but the rebound goes well over. Eight minutes later a long pass ends up in the box, is controlled well, and tipped into the goal from 3 meters: 0-1 for Fortuna! The home fans seem resigned. Lotte has two more chances, but half time score remains 1-0.
The second half starts explosive. Lotte has an attack and the striker gets a slight touch in the box. He wants a penalty, but doesn’t get it. In the 52nd minute Fortuna has a good chance, but the goalie saves. That same minute the hosts kill themselves, as a player gets a (deserved) red-yellow card. Oddly enough, the next chance is for Lotte, which have a long attack, which ends with a great shot from 16 meters, which goes just wide of the crossbar.
In the 60th minute Fortuna has a free kick, which is a long ball into the box, where it hits a knee, but is saved by defender just before the goal line. The corner leads to a good chance but the striker hits it too softly. In a direct counter Lotte almost scores, but the goalie saves.
Fortuna sits further and further back. At one time, Lotte has a corner kick and the furthest Fortuna player is 20 meters from his own goal. Consequently, Lotte dominates much of the game, despite being with only 10 men. Still, in the 74th minute the visitors have a counter, go into the box, slips a bit, pulls back, and puts it cool in the far corner: 0-2. Game over.
We leave soon after, to make sure we make the next game in Belgium, but later see that the final score didn’t change. Overall a quite enjoyable afternoon, but Sportfreunde Lotte is definitely among the less exciting hops in the 3. Liga.
As part of our annual groundhop-weekend, my brother and I start out in the Northeast of The Netherlands, at the one (more or less) traditional professional football country I still had to see in my native country: FC Emmen. It only joined the professional league in 1985, as simply Emmen, and changed names in 2005, after splitting its amateur and professional branches.
We park just outside the stadium with the beautiful name De Oude Meerdijk. It was built in 1977 and renovated as a multi-function stadium in 2001. It can hold 8.600 people, but this Friday night it was officially half full (4.231), although it looked more like one-third full. We buy a ticket for the seated stand behind the goal for €10 and enter the stadium just before kick-off.
FC Emmen plays in the Eerste Divisie (Second Division), which is now called Jupiler League, after the sponsor. The opponent this night is Jong AZ, the youth team of AZ, which plays in the Eredivisie (First Division). Youth teams are the scourge of contemporary football, dominating second and third divisions in many countries, but having no supporters.
We are seated close to the loudest home fans, a group of a few hundred FC Emmen fans with banners. While the stadium looks new, it is old style, which means we are close to the pitch. This gives it a good atmosphere, even with a relatively empty stadium and no away fans. The excellent snacks also help.
In the 5th minute every stands and applauds for a minute. It seems to be a tribute to someone close to the club who recently died. That is also the most exciting to happen in the first minutes. In the 8th minute FC Emmen has a long attack, which leads to a corner, and a rebound that is finally headed from 2 meters… over the goal! In the 16th minute a shot from the edge of the box goes well over. By that time the home fans have already stopped singing.
In the 19th minute FC Emmen has an accidental attack, which leads to a midfielder shoot from 11 meters at the crossbar, and the ball bounces off the goal line. The play exists of slow attacks, little pressure, and few chances or fouls. In the 42nd minute FC Emmen has a free kick, which is headed wide from 5 meters. Half-time score: 0-0.
The second half starts much more exciting, with FC Emmen having two shots at goal in the first five minutes. After that the hosts have a (semi-)chance roughly every five minutes, which leads to what I think is the first goalie save of the game in the 70th minute!
After another few good shots by FC Emmen do not go in and it seems to be a 0-0 night. But then, in the 89th minute, Jong AZ gets a rare chance, and a shot from 12 meter is deflected by a defender and goes in: 0-1!
The stadium is in shock, and so is the home team, which makes a silly foul in the extra time, which leads to a penalty. The penalty is not very well taken, but goes in nonetheless: 0-2. This is also the surprising, and undeserved, final score.
Despite the really poor game, and the underwhelming atmosphere on the stands, FC Emmen is a fun groundhop, a bit out of the way (by Dutch standards), combining a modern stadium with an old-style feel.