Monday 23 May 2011

Sneaking in at Almada A.C

Lisbon offers the ultimate 'sneaking in a tinpot football ground while the missus thinks you're doing something cultural' opportunity.

Wherever you are in Lisbon you're not far from the watching eye of the Statue of Cristo-Rei, the mammoth statue on the opposite side of the Tagus river, that offers spectacular views of the city.

Now, don't tell the little lady I told but right next to the base of the statue (rather than half way up, obviously) is the tidy Campo de Jogos do Pragal, home of Almada A.C of the 1ª Divisão A.F. Setúbal. Well worth a look, she gets some culture and you get some brownie points for that; you get to see a football ground and she's none the wiser. Just don't mention my name, right? Good.

Friday 20 May 2011

What's AiT gonna look like with a Chimney Corner on it?

Dundela 7-1 Chimney Corner
Thursday 19th May 2011
IFA Championship 2
Wilgar Park, Belfast
Attendance: 40(ish)

In a rare occurrence on AiT here's a bit of background to the clubs involved. Dundela FC were formed by employees of a dairy in 1895, have played at their Wilgar Park home since 1900 and won the Irish Cup in 1955. For a bit of balance some background on the Chimney Corner (of course Chimney Corner). They are captained by “cult hero and former Inter Milan star Connor Murray” and the clubhouse “really needs a refurb as its well shabby...& is always freezin! Cheap drinks tho.” Hmm...

Getting to the ground was a mission. My taxi driver having no idea where the ground is, a second driver having to use an army barracks as a landmark to explain where it is. Of course an army barracks. Welcome to Northern Ireland.

Dude! Totally! Radical!

Getting into the ground was a mission. Forty five minutes before the ground and the turnstiles remain closed and the staff in the, distinctly lacking in craic, clubhouse have no idea how to get in; "is it a paying match?" I stormed the players and officials entrance and, despite signs on the wall asking all ex players to stump up some cash for entrance, no one wanted to take my money.

Thirty minutes before kick off. Nothing.

Seventeen minutes before kick off. Nothing.

Ten minutes before kick off, mission accomplished!! A women wearing a Dundela green suit, I assume it was a Dundela suit and she wasn't a previous Ryder Cup winner, takes my (bargain) five Northern Irish pounds (current exchange rate 1:1) and let's me in. It's worth every single Irish penny.

The ground is a ramshackle, overgrown beauty. A concrete stand is covered by a series of holes were a rusty corrugated iron roof use to be. Seats from a school classroom are bolted to breeze blocks and a dilapidated park bench slowly erodes away as the nine people present before kick off enter. Three of those present are Chimney Corner fans, a doff of the AiT cap to you sirs.

The Northern Irish peace agreement.

Four minutes in and its apparent why Chimney Corner have conceded 92 goals in 28 matches. The Chimney sweeper (sorry!) is unable to cut out the cross and the Dundela striker able to beat the goalkeeper, who was recently turned down for a job as a leprechaun for being too short and has never been on a fairground ride more dangerous than the teacups, led to the start of a period of play where Dundela are made to look like world beaters by Chimney. Flicks, step overs, dummies, chest passes and Cruyff turns are all deployed in scenes reminiscent of the 1993 Weymouth Eagles Under 12's, where a young Kenny Legg dictated play.

"SLOPPY, SLOPPY, SLOPPY!!!" Despite the absolute pounding being delivered Dundela's greying Noel Gallagher alike centre back isn't happy. He needn't worry though. If Dundela are Oasis, Chimney Corner aren't even Beady Eye. Heck, they're not even Brother.

Token match shot.

Chimney collapse (yes!!) mid way through the first half. Their defence being as useful as chimney in house with central heating, and they concede three goals in ten minutes. The goals just flue in. (Sorry!) The odds are now against Chimney stacked (I don't let the draconian rules of sentence structure stand in the way of a weak pun) and their defence is so wide apart that Santa, his reindeer's and a double decker bus full of elves would have no problem getting through it.

Kingdom of rust.

After donning hiking boots and consulting the contour lines on a local ordnance survey map I navigate my way through the terraces and their extensive covering of moss, dandelions, stinging nettles, an old badminton racket (really) and a leprechaun (not really). Fantastic stuff. There is an denser layer of vegetation on the steps opposite the main stand and this all serves to create a wonderfully atmospheric old ground. You can almost see the men in flat caps spinning rattles on the terraces during the cup run of 1955.

David Bellamy was spotted investigating this terracing.

This man has lived on this terrace for 17 years, surviving only on the wildlife that exists in the undergrowth.

Despite being 4-0 up Noel Gallagher maintains his crusade against sloppy defending, the Dundela manager vigorously contests an offside, "no way, no way lino", and wayward balls are hastily fetched from a grass bank by a man dressed fully in a Dundela tracksuit. The deluded Chimney fans see a puff of hope, "come on, they don't want it any more!". Bonkers. Dundela are 4-0 up and pissing down your chimney sirs, how do they not want it any more?! Try telling any of these people that this match and these teams don't matter.

Token match shot II

Token match shot III

Duns get a fifth early in the second half and a Chimney goal after 60 minutes has their fans smoking with joy. As the second half continues the rickety stand takes a pounding from all angles. Miscued clearances land on it, scattering rust on those below and action in the kick boxing club, that backs onto the stand, causes it to rattle.

Dundela ultras.

Dundela add two more goals before the end to send Chimney's goals conceded total to a whopping 99.

Dundela is a great little club and well worth a look before it loses it's fight against mother nature. Double AiT thumbs up.

Saturday 14 May 2011

Women and children first.

Bristol Academy 2 Arsenal 2
Thursday 12th May 2011
FA Women's Super League
Stoke Gifford Stadium, Bristol
Attendance: 1,138

It's probably fair to say that when the FA and their team of thick rimmed glasses wearing, iPad toting, crack marketing bods got together to work out their core demographic for the, newly launched, FA Women's Super League late 20's males with half arsed blogs on non league football weren't high on the list of people they expected to see at the matches. However, if there's a football match on and the opportunity for “free face painting and...even a beer tent” just try and keep me away.

Add to this a chance to see the first stadium in the UK built specifically for women's football, a team playing Arsenal in the Women’s FA Cup Final next week and also playing in next seasons UEFA Women’s Champions League then it's definitely worth a look. But don't overestimate the allure of the beer tent and face painting, I quite fancied a tiger stripes face, ala Young Kenny from Phoenix Nights.

Two 'Smurf Army' and a 'Go Vixens Go' please.

There's a bit of confusion on arrival as the kick off team has done a Samoa and jumped unexpectedly into the future. The advertised time of 6:30, had suddenly become 7:15. Never mind; more time to work on them tiger stripes. There's also confusion, in my mind, about how £2.50 (Two Pound Fifty) can be charged a programme!

"You told me Bristol were playing Chelsea! As if we didn't look foolish enough both wearing our Petr Cech shirts we're at the wrong game! I don't think anyone will notice though"

The ground is pretty smart, it's got an athletics track running round it but you can still get close to the action, just don't lean on the barriers too much as they look set to topple over in a keen wind. The main stand was decent, a good non league temporary feel about it. The pitch was the best I've seen all season, I'm still not convinced that it wasn't astroturf and/or that face paints had been used on it to give it that perfect look. All in all worth a ‘thumbs up’.

Beer tent located (less a tent, more a Wendy House), beers purchased and time for the tiger stripes. But no, sadly not. You could have your face painted in any style you liked; as long as that style was light blue all over – in regulation 'Smurf Army' style. Yep, you read that right. Smurf Army.

Nice flat cap sir.

Fair play though, by kick off there wasn't anyone under the age of 17 without their face painted and the kids loved it. You don't get this at Bristol Manor Farm. The Bristol Academy Smurf Ultras/Firm have even churned out their own merchandise, with badges and flags available for their discerning Smurf. Chuck into this mix a flag waving display and a kids pick & mix stand and the evening is only a tombola short of having all the razzmatazz of an Infants School fete. Which I'm pretty sure is the look they're going for really.

Even the stewards weren't immune to the outbreak of smurfitis.

It's a very impressive turn out for the match. Anyone who attends the adjoining Filton College seems to be here (including representatives from the Table Tennis Academy – no, really), families of all ages, some curious Arsenal fans, a couple of suspicious looking oddballs (Hi!) making for a family friendly atmosphere. It's a long way from my usual gloom filled afternoons in the Toolstation League that's for sure.

There's chanting! You don't get chants in the Toolstation unless the programmes run out and the ground hoppers storm the bar area in protest (What do we want! We want programmes…to put in our pollypockets. When do we want them! As soon as they are available and could I trouble you for two copies please?). The Smurf Army, led by their Kapo Vicky the Vixen, all jump on a storage hut and get stuck into some flag waving and chants. Good effort, they seemed to be enjoying themselves, although their Smurf Army flag waving tifo display requires more choreography. Ironic winky face.

Bristol Academy Ultras. Proper nawty. One of them once stole a twix.

The football then. The first half saw Arsenal playing some really nice stuff but not able to score, sound familiar? Bristol offered little to excite the Smurf Army, and the two men brought in to hammer a drum any time they got near the Arsenal goal didn't have much to drum about – thankfully.

Arsenal took the lead through Ellie White on 37 minutes and the half time whistle led to a stampede towards the pick and mix table. Or, for me and tinpot companion Duncan, another trip to the beer wendy house and an attempt to find shelter from the freezing wind, which was unwittingly turning our faces as blue as the members of the smurf army.

Please could you stop the noise I'm trying to get some rest.

The second half was much more competitive. Bristol got stuck in, the drums were thumped frantically.The football played, by both teams, was really good. There was some fantastic skill and passing, which was far above anything I'd seen in most of the games this year. Bristol played some great attacking football and got an equaliser from Grace McCatty, only to fall behind again to a bizarre goal direct from a corner from Rachel Yankey.

Token match shot.

Bristol came back though and only some poor finishing stopped the great approach play getting the equaliser they deserved, before they finally levelled with 2 minutes remaining. I would tell you what happened but I'd gone by then. Sorry!

Token match shot

While the atmosphere wasn't for me Bristol Academy have clearly achieved their aim of getting women and families interested in the game; the game was the 2nd highest attendance of any of the WPL matches so far. *doffs AiT cap* The football was of a high standard, definitely worth a look and this won't be my last trip here, the prospect of European football later this year being strangely alluring. But, please can I have my face painted in tiger stripes next time?!!

For a proper match report click here.

Tuesday 10 May 2011

AiT in Valencia - Deleted Scenes

Valencia v Real Sociedad
Saturday 7th May 2011
Primera Division
Estadio Mestalla, Valencia
Attendance: 34,000

My 'report' from this actual proper football match can be read over at Danny Last ever wonderful European Football Weekends site.

However, by tuning in here, entering in the secret code below and tuning your eyes to 3D you can view some AiT Deleted Scenes of the trip to Valencia.

To mark the occasion of actually seeing a proper match AiT hired a helichopper and got this amazing shot of the Mestalla from the air.

The Valencia team bus was a bit smaller than expected.

Manolo sets up a car boot sale to shift them unwanted scarves.
Sleeves rolled up and wearing a scarf. A poweful look. Hello ladies.

Um...yeah. Seats.

Pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty impressive.

Token match shot.

Don't look back into the sun.

Classic AiT thumbs up there. Deployed to indicate my satisfaction and standing in the presence of Manolo's Bombo. That sounds weird.

Monday 2 May 2011

Calne shattered by Glass.

Roman Glass St.George v Calne Town
Saturday 30th April 2011
Toolstation Western Football League, First Division
Bell Hill, Bristol
Attendance: 35

This match had a real lazy dog dangling afternoon feel about it. Both sides had nothing to play for and it seemed no one really wanted to be there. Except me and my tinpot companion. This represented one last chance for a bit of football and the opportunity of beers in the sun. Double thumbs up.

The non league lunch of kings.

The groundsman had seemingly given up for the season and the pitch fighting a losing battle to comprehensive covering of daisies and dandelions.

Both teams warm ups were pretty haphazard and one of the Calne subs clearly didn't want to be there. Evidence for this accusation being the cheeky smoke he had just before kick off, whilst listening to music through those gigantic headphones which seem to be an integral part of every footballers kit bag but your normal Joe Soap wouldn't dare wear.

Blazin' Squad.

The half arsed standard of play was set in place early on and in the first minute the first hopelessly over hit cross of the day lands in the middle of some ferocious stinging nettles (or stingers in Bristolian). This leads to the first of many times in the afternoon where the sophisticated ball fetching device is called for – a young lad with a massive plank of wood. Play proceeded as the lad thwacks away frantically to fetch the Mitre Delta (size 5) from Bristol's biggest stingers bush, with only a dream of a coat made of Doc leaves to protect him.

There was one man there who could be bothered though. RGSG assistant manager, Bob Johnson. Bob spends the entire match bellowing incomprehensible advice via the gift of his ridiculously gruff voice. Bob has the voice of a man who laughs in the nicotine stained face of pansy 20 a day smokers, his drawl suggesting that 20 Benson & Hedges are as common place at the Johnson breakfast table as bacon and eggs.



The first half hour was notable only for the presence of one badly stung kid and the appearance of a couple of youths with enough water bombs to flush out the contents of Bob's lungs. The threat of an unexpected soaking attack seemed to spur RGSG into action and they scored after 32 minutes, with a goal I can't remember already. I was more interested in the potential deployment of the cluster water bombs to be honest. Despite the efforts of the kids, who went on to compare their water bombs to both nipples and arses, I was paying just about the right amount of attention to notice the referee falling over. WAHEY!

Water bomb tits.

Half time clearly represented the highlight of the match, for the Calne officials. In their designated clubhouse area they got right stuck into the complimentary sandwiches and swiss roll!! Of course swiss roll. Football needs more swiss rolls. 'I'll have two bovrils,and a swiss roll'.

More swiss roll Dave?

For the second half the water bombers took up a place next to the Calne dugout and surely some exquisite japery and tom foolery awaited, but no. Sadly not. The water bombs were forlornly disposed of in the stingers, the looks in the yoofs eyes suggested they knew these bombs should have been deployed elsewhere..


Shortly after swiss roll o' clock Bob reached a state of excitement not seen since the last time he got 2000 fags from a dodgy shipment from Calais when RGSG went two nil up. However even this doesn't completely calm Bob down and he continued his quest to bellow up a lung in encouragement.

Token match shot.

This cycle of bellowing and blistering of a small child continued until the ref decided he couldn't be arsed any more and went off injured after 65 minutes. To be fair he probably saw the swiss roll cupboard, fancied it was unguarded and saw an opportunity for some chocolatey and creamy goodness, for this reason he gets an AiT cap doff. An RGSG official was then removed from assistant ball retrieval duties and sent to the run the line and it was only a few seconds before he was on the receiving end of a torrent of abuse after disallowing a Calne goal.

Faking it.

Stand in.

With Bob threatening to cough up the contents of his lungs and cause a toxic slick not seen since the Exxon Valdez ran aground things started to get a bit feisty. The stand in linesman was called a “cheating cunt” and the Calne assistant manager then tried to pick a fight with an RGSG player. Fantastic stuff. After another, slightly dubious, decision the Calne assistant manager decided he's had enough, he wanted a bit of swiss roll and with the phrase “fuck this, I'm going in” flounced off to help himself to the unguarded RGSG cake tin with 10 minutes remaining.

Shame, as he while he was stuffing his face he missed the RGSG third. This was a goal celebrated by the striker bundling Bob, who fell flat on his arse, all the time still bellowing some half baked tactical nonsense.

3 goals, 3 beers in the sun, a badly stung child and two comedy assistant managers meant I was very glad to be there, even if no one else really was.