Sunday 27 February 2011

Hit The North

Gloucester City 1-3 Eastwood Town
Saturday 26 February 2011
Blue Square Bet North
Whaddon Road, Cheltenham
Attendance: 345

The north. Flat caps, whippets, Johnny Briggs, terraced houses, chips with gravy, Byker Grove, the Cotswolds and Cheltenham Races. Eh?

The ticket tardis

This seasons Blue Square North managed to stretch itself as far south as Cheltenham, where itinerants Gloucester City AFC are currently playing their home games. This week the Tigers unveiled plans for a new stadium back in the city, after being forced from their Meadow Park home in July 2007 when devastating flooding left the ground under 8 foot of water. Since then the club have played home games at burger dodgers Forest Green Rovers, Cirencester Town and now at home of big rivals Cheltenham Town, a situation that is “like Manchester United playing at Maine Road or whatever it's called now” according to one City supporter I spoke to. At a time when my team, Weymouth FC, are the subject to talk of a ground share it is heartening to see that City's plans to return home have taken a step forward. Click here to see the local news report on the plans.

No Dalgetty, no doubt.

City bring back memories of a time when I actually enjoyed watching Weymouth FC, in particular a 5-3 win for in December 1998, and are one of the few traditional non league teams we use to battle with before teams like Swindon Supermarine became adversaries. Over the years a series of players have played for both clubs, players like Paul Adcock. Adcock was a short arse striker who played 91 games for us scoring 19 goals but lives longer in the memory for being spotted wearing a coat covered completely in feathers in a Weymouth nightclub. Another link is ex City player manager Tommy Callahan, a man who was always abused quite spectacularly by Weymouth fans and who I have to thank for me learning a whole heap of new insults and making me the foul mouthed arse I am today.

Whaddon Road, home of Cheltenham FC
, is a classic old style football ground as its not far from the heart of the city centre, hemmed in by residential housing and has all the amenities your typical football fan wants nearby, like ehm a Buddhist centre and a Bowling Green. You can also annoyingly adapt Whaddon Road to the theme tune to Byker Grove, as my brain decided to do and leave on repeat for the rest of the day. Whaddon, Whaddon, Whaddon Road ah ha ah ha ah ha. Yeah, thanks brain. I hate you sometimes.

You're going home in a coach organised by your club because you're playing your home games 10 miles away from the city you represent. Don't think that'll catch on.

Inside the ground the supporters of Gloucester are doing a commendable job in keeping the club going and doing their bit to take the club back to the city. Whilst enjoying a beer and a (non league classic) filled bread roll from behind the bar I'm fleeced for cash three times by people selling raffle tickets, football cards and golden goal tickets. Add into this that these fans have travel 20 miles for a home match, to the ground of their rivals, then I certainly doth my cap in your direction City fans.

The loneliness of a Blue Square North sub.

Todays visitors are, well both teams actually, however Gloucesters opposition are Eastwood Town from the proper troubleatmill grim north, Nottinghamshire. The club are currently playing at the highest level in their history thanks to financial support from owner, and former pro poker player, Robert Yong, who is also the owner of the largest poker venue in Europe apparently.

Eastwood are nicknamed 'The Badgers', and their club crest seems to be depict some sort of nocturnal sex pestery that would have had Bill Oddie wetting himself with excitement whilst filming it all with his night vision camcorder. The weirdo.

Oddie porn.

Another link to Weymouth FC is the presence in The Tigers backline of Matt Coupe, a man who regularly took great delight in kicking the shit out of Steve Claridge and once kicked Claridge so hard his shirt actually tucked itself into his shorts. It gives me great delight to report he was part of a Gloucester defence that was continually out muscled by the Eastwood attack. That's not to say Gloucester lacked their own muscle, sadly though most of it came in the 'relaxed' variety and was situated around the waist of keeper Kevin Sawyer. Sawyer was at fault for The Badgers first goal when he came out to gather a cross, attempted to get off the with all the grace and poise of an elephant attempting a pole vault, failed and let the Eastwood number 10 head into an empty net.

Token match shot.

Gloucester went two down before half time and were finding the Badgers harder to control than a TB outbreak, however they didn't help themselves by turning in one of the most inept displays involving a Tiger since my mate Richard donned the Rory the Tiger outfit at Haven Littlesea Weymouth, whilst under the influence of a few summer beverages, and shambolically attempted to join in a Steps medley in front of a distressed group of holiday makers.

Token match shot (reprise)

Eastwood went 3-0 up mid way through the second half thanks to a O.G when a Gloucester player got in the way of a Badgers sett (Badgers sett!! Yes!) piece. Gloucester, who are sponsored by Olbas Oil, got one back from the penalty spot and in the process ruined my chances to say that “the Olbas Oil sponsored side hadn't had a sniff of goal all match”. Probably for the best, it was a shit gag anyway and I'm glad I didn't get the chance to use it.

Friday 25 February 2011

Sneaking In at Young Lions FC

My tour of Singapore football grounds wound up at the Jalan Besar Stadium, the current home of Courts Young Lions, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) and acknowledged as being the birthplace of Singapore football. The original stadium was built in 1932 and hosted prestigious Malaya Cup matches, Asia's longest running football competition, between 1932-1966. The stadium was closed in 1999 the capacity reduced to 6,000 all seater and the pitch re-laid to consist solely of astroturf (I've never smoked astroturf).

The stadium plays an important part in Singapore's history. During the Japanese occupation of the country (1942-45) the stadium was one of many 'screening sites' used to identify members of the local population who were deemed as “anti Japanese”. Those who failed the screening were removed and sent into trucks to be transported to killing sites. In total this system of ethnic cleansing, known as “Sook Ching” (purge through purification) saw between 5,000 – 70,000 ethnic Chinese killed in Singapore.

Currently the stadium currently hosts S League team Courts Young Lions, as well as hosting one live match a week between two other S League teams which is broacast live on Singapore TV.

Young Lions were founded by the FAS in 2002 and consist mostly of players from Singapore's national U-23 team, making them one of a few age-restricted football team competing in a professional league. The FAS hopes to use the Young Lions to expose young players to top-level competition, thus helping to prepare them for international tournaments such as the Southeast Asian Games and 2012 Olympics.

The Young Lions in training.

However, the removal of promising young players from their original teams to play in a team managed by the FAS, in a league managed by the FAS, has met with severe criticism in Singapore. Fans are disgruntled at the “manufactured” nature of the side and for reducing the incentive on clubs to develop their own youth structures and as such the presence of Young Lions been identified as a contributing factor to the declining interest in the S League.

Prior to the start of the season Young Lions signed a S$1 million (roughly £500,000) sponsorship deal with Courts, Singapores largest electrical, IT and furniture retailer. The deal has seen the team renamed as the Courts Young Lions.

The biggest fixture in the Courts Young Lions 2011 season is due to take place off the pitch on the 3rd of March. Courts has signed a partnership with the, newly reformed, New York Cosmos and as part of this deal Pele, the club's honorary president, and Eric Cantona, the Cosmos' director of soccer are scheduled to appear at the Jalan Basar. The “football fiesta” planned for the day forms the basis of the club seeking to broaden it's appeal amongst young fans, combat scepticism from the local sporting community and challenge the more established clubs for the S League title.

Thursday 17 February 2011

(Not) Sneaking In at Home United FC

So far on my Singaporetour I've managed to sneak in at S-League winners, Etoile FC; runners up Tampines Rovers and now to complete the hat trick by sneaking in at the Clementi Stadium, home of 3rd place Home United FC. Or so I thought.

Yep, turns out Home United are now playing at the Bishan Stadium and no one thought to tell me. So, here are some pictures of the Clementi Stadium, where Home United played last season. Great.

Home United were previously known as the Police Football Club, with the club changing their name in 1997 to reflect that fact that the team represents the Singapore Civil Defence Force and the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority, as well as the local fuzz. The links to Police give Home United their slightly sinister nickname of The Protectors, with their club badge being a picture of PC Reg Hollis from the Bill a dragon. Singapore's Armed Forces are also represented in the league by, get this, Singapore Armed Forces FC.

Home United are twice S.League winners, in 1999 and 2003, and cup winners in 2000, 2001, 2003 and 2005. Many observers have the team amongst the favourites to land the title this season, especially after securing 2010's S League top scorer, Etoile striker Frederic Mendy. However, the "title bid took a stumble right out of the gate" with a 1-1 draw in the opening fixture, away to minnows Balestier Khalsa in front of a crowd of 1,335.

United's most well known player is goalkeeper Lionel Lewis, who previously had trials at Manchester City in 2007 and is currently the only player from an ASEAN country to be nominated for the Asian Footballer of the Year award, in 2006. When not keeping goal for 'The Protectors' he can be found pounding the beat, like PC Reg Hollis from the Bill , as he is also a Police Officer in Singapore.

There big signing of the summer is a renewal of a sponsorship deal with Kappa, a deal that was signed at Home United's second clubhouse, a facility that "hopes to meet the needs of Home Team members, members of Home United Fan Club and Home United's sponsors" and "will cater to die-hard football fans". It has a karaoke room.

Wednesday 16 February 2011

Living the field of dreams.

Mangotsfield United 1-2 Sholing
Saturday 12 February 2011
Zamaretto Division One South & West
Cossham Street, Mangotsfield
Attendance: 198

Everyone loves a good field. Fields are good for two things, football and festivals. Oh and maybe getting a bunch of yokels cracking some limbs chasing a cheese down a hill. We tried a similar thing in Dorset once, took 47 men just over an hour to halt a runaway Dairylea slice.

After scouring t'internet and seeing there was an opportunity to attend the self appointed "field of dreams", Mangotsfield United, two questions arose. One: Have I still not found a better use of my Saturdays, and two: How will Mangotsfield United FC go about re-creating my dreams? Even that one involving me, Kirsty Wark, a watering can full of butterscotch Angel Delight set in a deserted Fun House after Pat Sharp carelessly left the door ajar?

mmmm arty.

Happily the match offered a chance to witness a top of the table battle, 3rd versus 1st no less with Sholing FC the visitors. Unhappily, my team, Weymouth are likely to be playing one of these teams in the Zamaretto Division One South & West next season.

Sholing were known as VT FC until the start of this season, this being short for ship building company Vosper Thorneycroft and they are still nicknamed 'The Boatmen'. This gave today's match an element of a land (field) versus sea conflict, on a pitch that resembled a mixture of the two. Having been promoted twice in the last seven years Sholing have risen faster than a submarine in an emergency and look set trouble the great Sea Captain Zamaretto Premier for permission to come aboard shortly.

The festival line up.

The festival spirit of the Mangotsfield fans was evident early on, although numbers were smaller than a festival headlined by Jimmy Nail, Sash, and a 4 hour set by Dion Dublin on the Dube, and they continued to make a racket for the entire match. A doth of the cap in your direction sirs. All the classics were there, "does your crack pipe know you're here (eh?), a rendition of KC & The Sunshine Bands 'That's the Way I Like it' and "if you are a Yate fan surrender or you'll die" which brought an HMS Ark Royal sized chuckle from my belly. They also engaged in the classic non league scene of cheeky comedy banter with a couple of opposition players, whose stomachs could have also doubled as a small landing pad for a naval helicopter.

Sholing were all over Mangotsfield from the start and it was no surprise when they scored after 10 minutes and for most of the first half they were more dominant than a crack team of Somali pirates invading a small fishing vessel.

Token match shot

At half time the customary beverage was partaken and it was here that the field of dreams began to show itself. Every good festival needs a good headline act and Mangotsfield are able to offer it with no less than Rod Stewart (tribute act) himself headlining at the 'field in less than 2 weeks.

The warm up act.

The headline act.

Festivals these days are less a hang out of your grubby soap dodging Levellers fan of the past and are now full of talentless "celebrities". Mangotsfield are happy to celebrate their celebrities, those players who have graced the 'field and gone onto better things with their pictures adorning the clubhouse wall. To call these celebrities is probably stretching it a bit granted but I will, Nicky Tanner of Liverpool I remember but Steve Tallboys anyone?

The hall of fame. In a BS16 postcode.

The Mangotsfield programme offers a late bid for the headline slot at the 'Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps' comedy tent at the festival, seemingly with a routine based on the 'Sky Sports Presenters Book of 101 slightly inappropriate and cringe worthy gags'. For example; "Alex Ferguson decided to hold a 1980s themed party for his players. Giggs arrived in a Cavalier, Scholes in a Sierra and Rooney came in an Escort. "

The 2nd half sees Sholing go 2-0 up before Mangotsfield launch a late comeback, sadly for them their comeback is more The Libertines (short lived and in front of a small, enthusiastic but slightly embarrassed crowd), rather than Blur (unexpected and triumphant in front of an enraptured crowd) but they battle well and get a goal back before launching an all out assault on the Sholing goal, the ferocity of which hasn't been seen since Daphne and Celeste pitched up at Reading Festival in 2000.

The final indignity of the last day of a festival is always trying to find your car in the dark, in a muddy field, whilst piss wet through and missing one welly and then and then being stuck in a queue of traffic longer than The Darkness' career. Thankfully for one Mangotsfield fan he has come up with the ultimate solution, park in the ground and watch the game from the comfort of the car. With genius like that he is clearly living the dream, in the field of dreams ,in an early 90s automobile. Well done sir and well done everyone at Mangotsfield.

For a more focused blog on the match click here to read the 2011 - A Football Odyssey take on the game.

Monday 14 February 2011

Sneaking in at Etoile FC

Come in, take a pew, make yourself comfy and join me for the 2nd of my trips into the world of Singapore's S-League. After Tampines Rovers we pitch up at the Queenstown Sports Complex, home of current S League Champions French team Etoile. Etoile were formed to play as a foreign team in 2010 and consisted solely of french nationals and went on to win the League and League Cup in their first season. Zut Allors!!

Etoile, French for star, were the first European side to play in the S League but the eighth foreign team to compete, the first being Sinchi FC of China in 2003. The club was established with the sole aim of helping French players return to the professional game and further their prospects of playing football in Asia, with the Singapore FA also keen to see foreign sides participate in an effort to improve the quality of the League and attract additional sponsorship.

The participation of foreign sides in the S-League hasn't always been a success, many foreign teams no longer participate in the league and others have brought unwanted attention to the league. Chinese side Liaoning Guangyuan FC were involved in a betting scandal which saw seven of their players jailed and the team manager, Wang Xin, remains wanted by the Singapore authorities. Sporting Afrique became the first African team in the S League in 2006 however after shocking treatment of their players they were denied entry in 2007.

Unlike 2010 league runners up Tampines Rovers Etoile are not allowed to compete in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) tournaments, in their case the Asian Champions League. This is due to the AFC not allowing teams from leagues that include non domestic teams to participate and that the S-League falls foul of the AFC requirement that national league fixtures should have a minimum average attendance of 5,000, in the 2010 season the S-League average hit a historical low of slightly less than 1.500.

What every good football ground should have. A man asleep in side, surrounded by his belongings.

Things are shaping up to be slightly different at Etoile this season. Less than a month before the start of the season it was announced that Italian Guglielmo Arena (click here for his CV! Give him a call on his mobile if you like) has taken over the managerial role, fifteen new players have signed and only four players from last seasons squad remain, with top scorer Frederic Mendy joining league rivals Home United.

The pre-season tour to Thailand saw Etoile lose both games and the season didn't get off to the best of starts with a 2-1 loss to Tampines Rovers in the Charity Shield in front of a crowd of 2,252, with a performance that showed that after all the upheaval Etoile are unsurprisingly "months away from truly gelling as a team and boy were they a pale shadow of the side that won the championship last season." 2011 will be an interesting season for Etoile and the whole notion of foreign teams in the S League as it faces up to the challenge of dwindling interest.

Sunday 13 February 2011

Sneaking in at Tampines Rovers

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Tampines Stadium, the 3,600 capacity home of Singapore S League club Tampines Rovers FC.

Tampines is the largest residential area in Singapore and have hosted the club since it was formed in 1945. Since then they have become national Champions 5 times, in 1979, 1980 and 1984 and again in 2004 and 2005, winning the newly formed S League.

They finished the 2010 season in 2nd place, behind French team Etoile, and were runners up in the Singapore Cup, again to some pesky foreigners in the Singapore Cup, this time Bangkok Glass FC, in front of a crowd of 3,943. They lost this team due to an O.G by former Sheffield United player and man with the most French name in history, Benoit Croissant. Croissant can also make the claim to have one of the greatest headlines linked to him, the magnificent 'Fury in a jam, so keen to get Croissant'.

To save you the google based confusion of how a team from Thailand came to win the Singapore Cup Bangkok Glass were one of four invited foreign competitors, the others being South Melbourne, Phnom Penh Crown from Cambodia and Kitchee from Hong Kong.

Rovers have started the season well, winning the Charity Shield against Etoile in front of a crowd of 2,252 with goals from Bosnian Alexandar Duric and South Korean defender Park Yo-Se. They are tipped by many to go one better and win the S League this season and they open their league campaign on 18th February away to Gombak United, a team who possess a spectacularly shocking club badge.

Tampines will also compete in this years Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup in which clubs from AFC countries which are deemed AFC 'developing nations' category compete. Countries from from 'mature' nations taking part in the AFC Champions League and countries which are 'emerging' nations are entered into the AFC President's Cup. Complicated.

Rovers will begin their fourth AFC Cup campaign on March 2 when they travel to the Maldives to play Victory, they will also play against Hà Nội T&T of Vietnam and a team that loses a qualifier for the ACL

Saturday 12 February 2011

Aye up think twice, it's just another day for you and me in paradise me duck.

Having spent the last couple of weeks bumbing around Malaysia and Singapore I've developed a theory that no matter where you are in the world you are never more than five minutes from the English Premier League. And by English Premier League I mean Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and to a lesser extent Spurs and Man City. And by reference I usually mean ' market stall selling dodgy shirts for £3'.

Surely the beautiful Malaysian island of Pulau Langkawi, with its unending unspoilt golden beaches and forest covered mountains would offer some respite from the Premier League.

Course it bloody didn't.

Less than the length of a Radhi Jaidi hoof up to Kevin Davies away from the beach above was this bar. *shudder*

Sam Allardyce looking good there.

Definitely not the most welcoming looking bar in Pulau Langkawi, foregoing beach views for those of a main road and and a bit of wasteland (giving it that grim northern Phoenix Nights feel) but it seems to be the one thing I photographed the most whilst there. Well, almost.

Born in England. Live in England. Die in England. Run a bar 6360 miles away from Bolton.

I'd like to think the bar was run by a large man with a tan the same colour as a coconut full of Bisto who sat on the roof of the bar for the first half of the evening, dictating orders to a mix of military trained bar staff consisting of local workhorse staff and elderly exotic sounding foreigners through a headset microphone before entering the bar to the second half of the evening and frantically chewing gum as the bar staff sought to maintain the profits they had generated in the first half of the evening.