Sunday, May 08, 2022

 

Latest Reports:
LSA Athletico Lanier - Georgia Storm SA (07-05-2022)
FC Chambly Oise -  FC Villefranche B (18-02-2022)
 
Next Games:
FK Banik Souš - Slany (18-06-2022)
Spartak Kbely - Chodov (19-06-2022)
FK Hausesund - Viking (25-06-2022)
IK Start - Kongsvinger IL (26-06-2022) 
Grorud IL - Brann (27-06-2022)
Dalmurd FF - Landskrona BolS (02-07-2022)
Djurgãrdens IF - Hammarby IF (03-07-2022)
Birmingham Legion - Tulsa (23-07-2022)
Memphis 901 - Hartford Athletic (06-08-2022)
IFK Norrköping - Kalmar FF (17-09-2022)
Colo Colo - Curicó Unido (09-10-2022)
 


INTRODUCTION

The terms "groundhopping" and "groundhopper" can not (yet) be found in any dictionary, yet there are hundreds of groundhoppers around the world, most notably in Germany. The word combines the terms "ground" and "hopping" and refers to the visiting of different sports grounds -- usually, though not exclusively, football grounds (for a German description, see Wikipedia).

Whereas normal football fans tend to visit only home games of their favorite team, particularly when they live closeby, and more fanatical fans also attend the away games of their team, the groundhopper aims to visit as many different grounds and teams as possible. Moreover, unlike the normal fan, who generally prefers to visit the big teams in football (e.g. Bayern München, Manchester United, Real Madrid), the groundhopper goes for the exotic (e.g. Avenir Beggen, Ozeta Dukla Trencin, Selangor PKNS) and the tiny, such as the third team of a city (e.g. Partick Thistle, Royale Union Sint-Gilloise, Spvgg Unterhaching).

While groundhopping is largely a non-organized activity, by individuals and small groups, there exist a few organizations of groundhoppers. The most famous is the German Vereinigung der Groundhopper Deutschlands (V.d.G.D.): it's website is one of the major sources of information on clubs, leagues, and stadiums in the world. For other groundhopper websites, see the links on the right.


This website provides an overview of the various groundhops of me, Grondhopper. I'm a Dutch academic and football fan, supporting PSV in the Netherlands, Borussia Mönchengladbach in Germany, and the Portland Timbers in the USA. I regularly travel abroad for both work and pleasure, and try to combine these trips with groundhops. In addition, I make several special groundhops every year alone or with one or more of my friends, some of which are active groundhoppers themselves. I have currently visited 462 clubs in 45 countries on 6 continents.

If you like the reports, become a follower of this blog. Comments are also always highly appreciated. You can post them either here on the site or you can email me at grondhopper[at]gmail.com.

LSA Athlético Lanier - Georgia Storm SA (07-05-2022)

This is the season opener for the NPSL Southeastern Conference, which has only a 10 games season. Until a day before the game, there was no sign of the game outside of the general NPSL website — neither club has a particularly useful website.

 


The game is played at the Allen Creek Soccer Center, a large soccer complex with 10 or more pitches in the woods somewhat outside of Gainesville, GA. The home team, LSA Athlético Lanier (yes, they really write Atletico like that), also seem to go by LSA Sharks; at least, that is their url. They have been in the semi-professional National Premier Soccer League (NPSL), the fifth tier of US soccer, since 2020.

 


There is one long side with bleachers, no tickets, and seemingly no place to change clothes, as most players of the away team, Georgia Storm SA (not to be confused with Georgia Storm FC!) arrive at the same time as me, ca. 15 minutes before kick-off. They are all Hispanic, as are all but one of the officials, of which one is a woman, the referee — not uncommon at this level in the US.

 

 

It is a chilly May evening for Georgia. It is windy, clouded, and at best 15 degrees Celsius.  As so often, both clubs are soccer academies, which make their money from youth soccer and field a “pro” team for PR, mostly. Unsurprising, then, that there are only some 50 visitors, almost all families and friends of the players.

 


The pitch is real grass but in a poor condition. It is very dry with patches of sand. Refreshingly, the little boombox is so weak that you can barely hear the national anthem before the game. Much of the audience seems also unbothered by it.

 


 

The game is played mostly in between the two penalty boxes, with both teams having a hard time controlling and passing the ball. In the 20th minute, after an obvious dive that is waved away by the referee, the visitors shoot from 25 meter just over the goal.

 


Overall, there is very little happening. The home team complains a lot, about virtually every rough push or tackle, while the visitors have most of the game. I am getting cold and hungry, so I decide to go and get some food just before halftime.

 


As the stadium is so remote, I have to drive almost 15 minutes to get something to eat – moreover, two places are closed, so I end up at Sonic (don’t ask!). As I return 15 minutes into the second half. I’m told that LSA Athlético Lanier leads 1-0, which surprises me, as they are clearly the weaker team.

 


In the last 30 minutes as little happens as in the roughly 40 minutes of the first half I see. The hosts continue to complain about anything to the referee – I seriously doubt they would also have done that to a male referee – while the guests mainly play but cannot really create good chances. In the end, it remains 1-0.

 

 

This game was overall pretty similar to the hundreds of pick-up games that are being played across the US, albeit with bleachers and a bit more friends and family. Absolutely nothing points at the existence of actual football clubs, let alone semi-professional football. This is the problem of the NPSL, which has some nice teams and venues, but mostly is soccer academies sporting a team to attract more kids. I don’t think I can do many more of these games.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Charlotte FC - FC Cincinnati (26-03-2022)

 


Charlotte FC is the newest “franchise” in Major League Soccer (MLS), the first tier of US soccer, and this is the third home game in its inaugural season. Like many other new “franchises”, Charlotte FC plays its first season(s) in a football stadium, in this case the Bank of America Stadium, home of the Carolina Panthers.
 

I arrive about 30 minutes before kick-off, after a 3-hour drive, and see many people walk to the stadium. Parking is ridiculously expensive, but I find a spot in a neighborhood, hoping my car won’t be impounded during the game (and potentially saving $30-40). From my spot it is a 5 minute walk to the entrance.
 

Everything is done electronically and getting in goes very fast as it does not seem very busy. I have bought a ticket online, as they don’t sell them at the stadium. Even worse, the tickets are all resold by either season ticket holders or others, making them ridiculously expensive. I pay $90, which includes $25 “service costs” to Seat Geek, the monopoly seller.


My seat is row 2, which is actually the third row, in the corner. Pretty good view when the ball is on my side. The official attendance is 30, 242, which makes the stadium less than half full. As the upper tier is left empty, the lower tier feels pretty crowded. The audience is fairly mixed, by age, gender, and race, with notably few kids. The vast majority wear CTL gear, most notably their beautiful blue-white jersey. The CFC "ultras" are behind the goal. I see a few individual away fans.


In the 6th minute, in their first attack, Charlotte scores from an excellent counter: 1-0 and the crowd goes really wild — amplified by the unmatched sound system of the stadium. This keeps the fans in good spirits. The weather is also pretty good: mild temperature (17C) and sunny, but very windy.


The game is played on (seemingly dry) astroturf, which makes passing and controlling the ball easier, although the strong winds make particularly high balls problematic. Overall, the quality of the game is not too good. After a few minutes of injury break, the atmosphere drops considerably. Only the section behind the goal keeps going. The pace of the game also drops  considerable.


Although Charlotte FC has almost two-thirds of the possession, it feels the ball is mostly on their half and FC Cincinnati is at least as dangerous.  There are a few chances on both sides, but the hosts remain 1-0 ahead at Half Time -- mostly thanks to their goalie and the poor finishing of the guests.


A few minutes into the second half a Concinnati cross is pulled back by the wind and leads to good volley that goes just wide (but the goalie had the corner covered). In the 56th minute Charlotte scores another out-of-nowhere goal. A free kick just outside the box goes high in the far corner, picking up extra speed because of the wind: 2-0. While not really a mistake, it is also not the strongest goalkeeping.
 

After the sudden 2-0, FC Cincinnati keeps pushing, but remains ineffective. One long Cincinnati attack leads to a hidden shot from 10 meter, which is excellently saved by the goalie. As time passes, it becomes more and more clear that they won't score, and this leads to a quite lucky home victory, in which Charlotte FC scores 2 times from at best 4 good chances.


All in all, it was a quite pleasant experience. The atmosphere felt more like American football than soccer though, in part because of the stadium. It is difficult to foresee the future of Charlotte FC at this moment. It felt that many fans were there for the first time, like me buying extremely expensive tickets from "season ticket holders" who are just scalpers. I don't see that leading to a solid support base. I know I won't be back as long as the inflated prices are at around $100 or even higher.




Friday, March 04, 2022

KVC Sint-Eloois Winkel Sport – KFC Dessel Sport (20-02-2022)

 


It was good that we arrived more than an hour before kick-off to town, as it took us almost 30 minutes to find the stadium. The address online was more than 10 km from where the real Sportpark Terschueren is. Our last game of the weekend is again in the Eerste Klasse, the third division of Belgian soccer. We visit the KVC Sint-Eloois Winkel Sport, which was founded in 1940, during the Second World War, and has mainly made some promotions within the amateur divisions because of the many bankruptcies of Belgian soccer clubs.

 


After killing time to escape the still relentless rain and wind, we arrive 2 minutes before kick-off, park straight in front of the ground on a tiny parking lot that is nevertheless only one-third occupied. As we approach the small ticket booth, the guy starts to wave his hands and tells us enthusiastically that face masks are no longer necessary. He is also the first one this weekend not to check our vaccine status. We keep our masks on, completely confusing the man, and pay €10 ($11) for a generic ticket.

 


The stadium, if you will, has an Astroturf pitch and two small stands. We sit on the main stand, which is covered and has six rows of seats. On the other long side of the pitch is a small standing-only stand, also covered, with only 18 people on it. There are between 150 and 200 people in the stadium, including a sizeable section from Dessel, who are top of the league. The supporters are again older, white men from around town (which explains the lack of cars on the little parking lot).

 


In the 11th minute there is an awful misunderstanding between a defender and the goalie of Winkel Sport, after having received a free kick some 25 meter from their own goal. The defender kicks the ball softly to his goalie, who thinks he is going to take the free kick himself, as a Dessel striker gets in between them, picks up the ball, goes around the goalie, who protests and motions that he is to take the free kick, and shoots from 20 meter in the goal: 0-1. The group of some 35-50 loud (and drunk) away supporters jumps up to celebrate.

 


Dessel remains better but by and large stops playing. Still, they do get some chances, often through breaks after poor defending by the hosts. In the 30th minute, after a foul, a hard, low shot from 20 meter is saved by the home goalie, first with his hands and then the rebound from 5 meter with his leg. After that, Winkel Sport gets several chances. The most notable, in the 42nd minutes, sees a beautiful action by the striker, who cuts free in the box and shoots hard in the short corner from 5 meter, but it ricochets off the post. In extra time, Dessel attacks and a saved header is rebounded with a beautiful half volley from 16 meter, but lands on top of the crossbar. Half time: 0-1.

 


Although Dessel has the much better team and cannot afford to lose any points at low-placed Winkel Sport, they seem uninterested in making the lead bigger. You see the confidence of the hosts grow, as they create a few chances. In the 55th minute a Winkel-Sport break leads to a foul in the box. The penalty is scored and it is 1-1.

 


At the end of the game Winkel Sport becomes stronger and stronger. In the 85th minute they have an excellent break, with a great through pass, a strong cross back, and a volley from 5 meter that is saved by the goalie. Unfortunately, three minutes later a player gets his second yellow and has to leave the pitch. It is only now, a few minutes before the final whistle, that Dessel starts to really pressure. But it won’t help them. They lose two points, as it ends 1-1, which is quite sour for Winkel Sport, who deserved more, particularly given the unfortunate goal they got against them.

 


 

KVC Sint-Eloois Winkel Sport is really just a small amateur team. Although they play in the third division of Belgian football, they have never played professional, unlike many other teams in that league (like Dessel). Not the most exciting groundhop destination.

KVV THES Sport Tessenderlo - FC Mandel United (19-02-2022)


The drive from Wegberg to Tesssenderlo is so short that even with an excellent pig out stop in Geel, we arrive to the town far too early. As it is cold and rainy, Belgium and the Netherlands are punished by a crazy storm (which would create major damage, particularly at the West coast), but we find shelter in a canteen opposite to the stadium, where we can also park. We are visiting the KVV THES Sport Tessenderlo, a team in the Eerste Nationale (First National Amateur Division), the third tier of Belgian football. Unsurprisingly, this is another fusion club, with THES standing for Tessenderlo, Hulst, Engsbergen and Schoot.

 


Two minutes before kick-off we cross the street to the stadium and pay €12 ($13) for a generic ticket. The stadium at the Gemeentelijk Sportpark (Community Sports Park) Tessenderlo has only one stand, on one long side, but it is quite big, giving the ground a more real football experience. The pitch is Astroturf.

 


There are some 250 to 300 people in the stadium, almost all sitting on one half of the main stand. The fans are local, almost all men (40+), and again very few women and children. As far as I can see, there are no away fans. KVV THES Sport Tessenderlo is somewhere mid-table, while FC Mandel United is bottom of the table.

 


The game is played under atrocious conditions. It rains almost the whole game but the real problem is the extreme wind, which is not just cold, but makes particularly passes high passes problematic. In the 13th minute the guests have their first good attack, but the striker heads the ball wide. Two minutes later a too long THES free kick goes from right to left, the cross is missed by the goalie but the rebound is missed. A minute later, the hosts have a counter, the player goes around the goalie, but shoots hard wide.

 


In the 20th minute a long ball is missed by a defender and a THES striker goes alone at the goalie, followed closely by three defenders, and scores cool: 1-0. Two minutes later, the hosts head a free kick at the goalie from close by. Ten minutes later they have a fantastic counter, with a brilliant cross in the run, and the striker totally misses the ball. Criminal! Three minutes before half time, the guests, who escaped several time, score in an unexpected move. 1-1 is the half time score.

 


After a classic Belgium stadium snack, a bit too crispy Mexicano Sandwich with Samourai sauce, it is time for the second half. The weather remains horrible. In the 57th minute a THES cross is poorly boxed away by the Mandel United goalie, fantastically volleyed in the rebound, and even more spectacularly saved by that same goalie. Two minutes later a beautifully executed attack by the hosts is missed from 7 meter by a striker who shoots hard but wide.

 


The longer the game continues, the poorer the hosts play. In the 63rd minute Mandel has an enormous chance, after a counter, but striker, who goes alone at the goalie, shoots wide. Although THES has been much better, and should have won this game easily, Mandel seems to win it in the last minute of extra time, when the ball is pumped into the THES box, and after a header a group of players jump and one heads it in from about 3 meter… 1-2. No, as the goal is disallowed because the goalie is attacked in his protective space.

 


So the game ends in a 1-1 draw, which is almost lucky in the end for THES, which should have easily have won this game against the bottom team of the league. They created enough chances, despite strong rain and wind, but failed to finish. 

 


Overall, not a good game, but many very good chances made it entertaining. And while there are few supporters, and there is not too much atmosphere, the big stand gives it a real football feel.

Friday, February 25, 2022

FC Wegberg-Beeck - Rot-Weiss Oberhausen (19-02-2022)

 

For our afternoon game we go to the Regionalliga West, one of the leagues in the regionally divided fourth division of German football. The FC Wegberg-Beeck is a fusion team just across the border with the Netherlands (and close to Mönchengladbach).

 


They play in the Waldstadion Beeck, a small stadium in a small town, not dissimilar to an average ground of an average local club in Germany or the Netherlands, except that it has one covered stand and a decent size canteen. Everything looks very new.

 


We pay 15 euro for a place at the one stand, which is also covered, as rain is predicted for later in the afternoon. Inside the stadium is a small statue commemorating the game against Borussia Mönchengladbach in 1998, which was also the formal opening of the stadium. To be honest, it looks even newer than roughly 25 years.

 


There are some 400 people, including almost 100 away supporters, who made the relatively short 80 km trip from Oberhausen. Rot-Weiss Oberhausen used to play in higher divisions and has a great ground. They are top of the league, which might also explain the very decent away support got the Regionalliga.

 


In addition to the loud away fans, there are some 15 cops, who are dressed in riot gear (a bit over the top). The home fans are clearly local, mostly older men, with few women and children. They are fairly quiet, perhaps used to disappointment, given that FC Wegberg-Beeck is near the bottom of the league.

 


In the 6th minute the hosts have their first chance, a shot out of a rebound, which goes well over. The game is poor, which is not helped by the strong wind, but in the 25th minute a quick counter attack is finished easily by the visitors: 0-1. A minute later, Wegberg has a good attack that ends with a very poor cross.

 


In the 42nd minute, out of nowhere, from some 12 meter out, an Oberhausen player shoots low, quite soft, but it rolls in the goal because the goalie can’t see it: 0-2. Two minutes for half time the guests have another good attack, but the shot is cleared from line by an excellent sliding by a defender. Hence, 0-2 is also the half time score.

 


The second goal of Oberhausen was by and large game over, as Wegberg cannot and Oberhausen does not want to. But in the 67th minute an Oberhausen player cuts in, gets himself free on the side of the box, and shoots low in the far corner: 0-3.

 


In the last five minutes the game comes alive again. In the 86th minute a counter by the guests is stopped twice by the goalie and in the 89th minute a powerful Oberhausen shot from outside the box is beautiful saved by the home goalie. And then, a minute later, a miscommunication between the Oberhausen goalie and a defender leads to a Wegberg goal:1-3. Few home supporters celebrate.

 


FC Wegberg-Beeck and the Waldstadion Beeck have the atmosphere of a small, local amateur team; more Oberliga than Regionalliga, which it soon might be again. Not the most inspiring destination in Germany.