Sunday 25 March 2012

Cheltenham Saracens v Abingdon Town.

We Are Saracens.

Cheltenham Saracens v Abingdon Town
Saturday 24th March
Unisport Hellenic League
Petersfield Park, Cheltenham
Attendance: 35

There was one criteria for Saturday's activities - a clubhouse selling cold beer to enjoy whilst topping up my tan in tinpot surroundings.

Cheltenham Saracens clubhouse looked to do the job nicely. Skittles alley, darts board, big screen TV and no doubt a wealth of tinpottery waiting to discovered. Well, I'm sure it was but it was sadly situated the wrong side of a massive chain and padlock...a mile and a half from the ground! #fail #facepalm #epicfail #epicfacepalm #epicnosebleed

Bucket chairs in ground - tick. What does that sign say?

The ground itself is found by walking over a railway bridge, past the block of council flats, turn left at the burnt out armchair, straight on at the discarded flan (really!), down the muddy path and pay your money to the man, with the carrier bag, perched on the wall. Toilets are on your left should you wish mop your sweaty brow. Mind the pair of welly boots in the middle of the floor as you go in.

Saracens were full of optimism for the match after making it through to the quarter finals of the, superbly craply named, Supplementary Cup in midweek. Manager Gerry Oldham stating that, "we've got a youthful bunch and we have legs in our side". A side with 22 legs always seems to work quite well for most sides I find Gerry.

Ah! There's nothing more welcoming than a hastily scribbled on luminous piece of paper.

A club tie wearing official sits proudly on a bench outside the storage/toilet building thing. Whatever it is, it's not a clubhouse selling an extensive range of alcoholic beverages. Thankfully though, my God thankfully, the door marked "Storage" hosts a fridge containing a range of magical frosty beverages at a bargain £1.50 a can. That range being Fosters and Carling. Beggars. Choosers.

Great posture. Arms straight, hands on hips, head back, feet out in front of you.

The match um....takes time to settle down. The pitch is bobblier than a frosty Nobbly Bobbly eaten by this man. Saracens have made an effort to keep the goalmouth flat, eschewing usual protocol that sees team photos taken in the centre of the goal, favouring the lesser seen approach of cramming everyone over to the left side.

The new stand. From right to left; human, human, human, human, bum sniffer.

The ground consists of two, pretty identical, stands which even have a similarly small number of punters sat in them. There's a terrace area, which is a superb mix of scaffolding and rusty corrugated iron and is practically impossible to reach, unless you cut across the pitch and sneak behind the dugouts - where a sub is probably having a sneaky piss anyway.

Token match shot.

Bladders empty the home subs take to the sidelines to warm up, re-interpreting "warm up" to mean 'stand in the sun with your shirt off and chat to your mates'. Home fans purchase tea in mugs, away officials locate the beer stash and a couple of dogs take it in turn to sniff each other's anus'. Good old non league football hey. On the pitch there's a fair bit of metaphorical arse sniffing going on as both teams get to know each other without making a decisive move.

Outfield player taking goal kicks - yes! *punches air*

After a 5 minute period where both teams punt it to each other the home keeper is left to bemoan the, "fucking long ball again" as Abingdon's Piers McGlynn’s gets on the end of a long hoof, catches the ball full on the bobble and shins it in. Shortly after Saracens equalise. I didn't see the goal. I was trying to sneak a photo of a dog drinking some water from a bowl.

Half time equals more refreshments. More water for the dog, Fosters for me. Different drinks for different needs. One person not getting refreshed is a kid, aged about seven, who cycled into the match just before half time. His protestations for a cold beverage to be procured for him by his equally young, scooter riding, female companion met with a fierce retort of, "I'm not getting you a drink you bastard". Cripes!

This type of photo, with a beer in the foreground and the action in the background, is known in the trade as the 'Stuart Fuller'.

The Abingdon keeper begs their fans for a frosty Fosters, the home team captain wheezes back on the pitch stating he's, "too old for this" and a dogs nose is separated from another dogs bunghole. Play improves in the second half, but there's still the sad demise of two balls which are booted onto the railway line adjacent to the pitch. As there's about 35 people in this ground, and those balls are expensive, whoever booted it over should be made to bloody well go and fetch it while the match continues without them.

The Abingdon keeper offers polite encouragement to his team mates, "can we pick up?", "can we squeeze?" It works, Adam Lovegrove scores a spiffing goal midway through the half. Abingdon stubbornly protect the lead, the mild mannered keeper politely influences the ref, "can we start seeing these handball's?" How very Oxfordshire of him. What'o!

Ice cubes?! It's no time for a cocktai.....oh yeah, you went off injured. Probably for that then.

The entertaining game concludes, shortly after Lovegrove gets his second, and players, officials and fans later gather in the clubhou....oh. Still, the Saracens town centre clubhouse must be doing something right if they can run 16 football teams, a cricket team, a rugby team, a darts team and a skittles team (of course a skittles team). I'll raise a Fosters towards them and doff of the AiT bobble hat in their direction.

Wednesday 21 March 2012

Slask Wroclaw v KS Cracovia

Wroc On!

Slask Wroclaw 3-0 KS Cracovia
Sunday 18 March 2012
T-Mobile Ekstraklasa
Stadion Miejski, Wroclaw.
Attendance: 14,758

Slask Wroclaw and me didn't get off to the best of starts. Why? They play in green. Yeovil play in green. I'm a Weymouth fan. We hate Yeovil.

I'm not saying I can't stand all things green but I fiercely boycott lettuce, detest the Incredible Hulk, campaign extensively for Amazon deforestation and will take a felt tip pen to my first born child's eyes if they're dare to be gr**n.

Small. Far away.

Thankfully not every Slask fan is dressed in gr**n. Quite a few are adorned with the red of Wisla Krakow, due to a fan friendship, something which seems utterly bizarre to your average English football fan, but is actually quite common in Europe.

We get Piast and go to football. Tra la la la la la la la la.

Today's opponents are Cracovia, Wisla's hated city rivals, and because of this there's no away fans. There's a fair bit of previous involving the two groups of fans, as shown in this almighty ruck in which all the hooligan numpties followed John Sitton's advice and paired up, brought someone else to help them and brought their fucking dinner.

*holds head in hands*

The ground is a "state-of-the-art, multifunctional sports and live entertainment complex with a capacity of over 42 000 seats", which will be used to host three games in Euro 2012. What this actually means is it's all nicely UEFA compliant and is an empty, soulless beast miles from anywhere. On the inside it's all concrete and breeze blocks, Coca Cola and buckets of popcorn and, worst of all, the PA plays family friendly chart pop, like that sodding 'Move Like Jagger' song, an omnipresent aural atrocity that's as welcome in my ears as a Slask Wroclaw fan in Dundee.

and every bit as tasty as it looks.

The seats are gr**n, every fan is wearing gr**n and it's only the pitch, a scorched yellow, that isn't gr**n. There's one flag behind the goal with no gr**. A large Wisla Krakow flag is draped across the Capo's scaffold stage, from where drums are walloped, choreography dictated and chants led via a radio mic and four massive speakers cranked up to eleven.

The teams come out to a quite muted response, what sounds like a hushed hymn is sung. As the last cadence fades flags are passed backwards, the Capo gives his troops a pre match pep talk and the match kicks off with a passionate chant, for Wisla Krakow. Odd. Followed by one for Motor Lubin, who have a group of fans here and also share a friendship with Slask. Odder still.
and wave 'em around like you just don't care.

By the time the home fans start chanting for their own team Slask are ahead. A superb move sees Argentinean striker Cristian Diaz fouled by the LKS keeper and score the resulting penalty. After a poor start to this round of fixtures, including a 4-0 loss to fellow title challengers Legia Warsaw, Slask relax and play some superb, quick tempo, football. Cracovia meanwhile are slower than an arthritic slug, as short of ideas as Maroon 5 and could easily have tagged into yesterdays horror show without being in any danger of improving the quality.

As expected the home fans are great, the singing relentless. Some chants have their own rhythmic hand movements, which are enthusiastically followed by everyone behind the goal. As a man who's is delighted to have finally mastered the hand movements to Whigfield's 'Saturday Night' after 17 years spent wrapped in a towel, dancing in front of my bedroom mirror, I was mightily impressed by this.

We're all waving scarves now, waving scarves.

score again on 22 minutes, Lukasz Madej weaves through the defence and Sebastian Mila scores with a shot crisper than a multipack of McCoys. Slask really are very good. Damn it you gr**n wearing shitbags. The fans split into two groups and entertain themselves by taking it in turns to intensely chant at each other as their team cruises to victory. Drums rolls build, getting faster and faster before being abruptly silenced and then followed by a huge roar of support.

Token match shot.

A team of ultras hustle the crowd for Zloty's to fund their tifo displays; this one from last week being particularly impressive. I emptied my wallet into a tin can in return for a measly sticker, but will soon be entering negotiations for a terrace covering display of Gary Johnson's gargoyle like face, wearing an anguished expression, being viciously bummed by a terra cotta mask wearing sex starved mule.

The superb Mila scores again on 45 minutes, in the second half Cracovia improve and Slask continue to impress, but without adding to their tally. The chants continue long after the final whistle, with Milla leading one between the players and fans. One's not enough for the Capo, via his booming sound system he demands the players sit down and start another celebratory chant. Like the football they played it's great to watch and the stadium (almost) lived up to it's billing as, "Wrocław's hallmark and warranty for good entertainment and high level sports emotions" It's just a shame that stadium was only a third full, I guess that's the trade off for a shiny new Euro 2012 approved stadium.

Slack Wroclaw. Get back on your feet.
I liked the fans, the team were superb but gahhh.....can we have a chat about the colour scheme? I really think terra cotta and blue could really work for you. Anyway, call me and let's discuss that Gary Johnson artwork I desperately want to commission.

Tuesday 20 March 2012

Zabrze, Zabrze give me so action do.

Gornik Zabrze 0-0 LKS Lodz
Saturday 17 March 2012
T-Mobile Ekstraklasa
Ernest Pohl Stadium, Zabrze.
Attendance: 3000

I like Gornik Zabrze. Why? Because their club crest is an upside down triangle, with a half and half colour scheme thing going on. Yes it's confusing on the eye but if anyone can pull it off it's the 14 times Polish League champions. Also, more impressively, fans reacted to news of a potential ground share with rivals Piast Gliwice by turning up to protest armed with custard pies.

The Piast Gilwice Ultras are up early to give AiT a send off. Really chaps, there was no need. The firecrackers were a nice touch though.

Kenny, where did the team get their name from? Well, I'm glad you asked as it sets up this weak gag quite nicely. Gornik is Polish for "miner" and Zabrze was historically at the heart of the coal mining industry.

"And here are the full time results:
Boffin Oxford 1 Call Centre Newcastle United 2

Unemployed Liverpool 2 iPad toting, thick rimmed glasses wearing, tortured creative type Brighton and Hove Albion 4"

Their Ernest Pohl stadium is being redeveloped into a 32,000 capacity stadium, which means one solitary 3,000 capacity stand, so space is at a premium. Thankfully I've got a space in the press box. Yep, I've gone big time. About bloody time too!

On a serious note, I can do serious. Many thanks, and a doff of
my new reporters fedora, to Ryan Hubbard of for sorting me out with a pass and for writing this article on Zabrze, where most of the facts in this article come from.

Token building site shot.

I'll admit the life of a hack wasn't as decadent as I'd hoped. The press room had all the glamour of an assembly hall at an inner city Infant's school that consistently fails it's Ofsted inspection. Just with a couple of plastic cups of Twiglets rather than knife wielding yoofs.

This picture contains 6 different shades of brown and 1 shade of white. Glamourous.

Amongst the 3,000 in the ground are the Torcida, the Zabrze Ultras group, who are big fans of 'The Simpsons'. There's T Shirts and flags with Bart on and even the club trophy cabinet displays a picture of Bart made from crepe paper, all of which suggests a club with an obsession and one that really hasn't won much recently. Even the bearded, axe wielding mascot has a yellow, bulging eye quality that Matt Groening's lawyers might recognise.

Ultras graffitti. Woof!

To my right unshaven, weary hacks plug dongles into their laptops and set out complex grids to record accurate stats of the game.

Pensive, dedicated, technology savvy modern journalist.

Shambling into the seat to my left a greasy haired old boy plonks down just before kick off. This guy is a pro. He doesn't need a laptop, he laughs at those requiring a notepad. A pen? Pah! This man's come armed only with his glasses case, which host the specs he uses to hold in front of his face to magnify the line up's.

"Holy smoke, these are filthy"

He needn't have bothered with his glasses. The game is absolutely horrendous. The Gornik manager spends most of his time in lane eight of the obligatory eastern European ground running track, urging his team to be a bit less shit. They don't listen. LKS Lodz are just as bad. Shots go out for throw in's, passes consistently hit touch, Gornik's Prejuce Nakoulma forgets to cross the ball and dribbles it straight out for a goal kick. Woeful. The hack to my right is doing minute by minute coverage and his having the easiest afternoon of his career AS NOTHING HAPPENS!!!

I decide to do my own minute by minute report. It'll be a good exercise for me in accurately recording the match if I want to be a proper journalist, or at least get a semi regular column in the Dorset Echo.

45. Buger, its started again.

49. Spot the only LKS fan in the stadium.

Long hair, glasses on a string, Kutte jacket. Good effort. 6/10.

52. Can hear the individual shouts from the players, this is depressing.

54. Appallingly bad mishit shot sees an exasperated air of resignation gust through crowd. This is clearly going to finish 0-0 or I'm not a trained journalist.

56. A man with a mullet has just appeared in the crowd. Just when I thought I wouldn't see a mullet. BOOM! There it is. Highlight of the game so far. Award the guy nine in my player rating.

59. I estimate four hundred little light bulbs in that pathetic scoreboard.

64. The people watching from outside start a chant. These people are watching this dross, through a fence, across a 50 metre building site and can only see about half the game. Who's the mug here?

Token match shot.

65. Lodz keeper decides to alleviate the boredom with a photo save for the latest pitiful shot and almost misjudges it. Hope my cameraman colleague got a shot of that, will look good with my rep...Oh yeah.

71. Building site inventory:

Six diggers (various sizes)
Three cranes (note to self: Find out how are massive cranes built?)
One cement mixer.
Eight piles of unspecified rubble and/or mud.
No builder on site putting in "overtime". Feel slightly cheated by this.
Two portaloos.

75. Everyone in the ground laughs after a shot is pummelled out for a throw.

77. Hack ex Gornik start Robert Warzycha's voicemail for shits and giggles. Uncover some salacious gossip on Barry Horne and John Ebbrell.

79. Start to worry a late goal might mean I have to radically alter my article to meet my deadline for the paper.

80. A goal. Offside. Phew....that could have played havoc with my arti......Oh yeah. There is no deadline. Or paper. Or article. Not sure how I got Robert Warzycha's mobile number either.

Token crane shot.

85. Proper journalist colleague packs up. So, if you were watching on live update nothing happened in the last 8 minutes. If you watched it in the ground nothing happened in the last 8 minutes.

So that was that. Maybe on another day, in a four sided ground, with more fans and a few beers I could learn to like Zabrze again but right now I'm going to focus my energy on my impending appearance before the Leveson enquiry. Although, maybe, there is a reason for the home side performing so badly, after all who wants to be "Man of the match" and get a live chicken?

Previously, on AiT does Poland:

Polonia Warsaw v Korona Kielce
Widzew Lodz v Jagiellonia Bialystok

Yes, I know my title doesn't work if you use the correct pronounciation of Zabrze but hey, not many people do.

Monday 5 March 2012

We Don't Need Money To Have A Good Time

Portsmouth v Middlesbrough
Saturday 3rd March 2012
The Championship
Fratton Park, Portsmouth
Attendance 16,770

When a club starts running out of alcohol that's when you know the club is really in the shit.

The rattling of buckets, the 'cash only' signs on the ticket kiosks, the deployment of short skirted cheerleaders to flog raffle tickets (not one of my 287 tickets - each paid for individually and very very slowly - was a winner) and the arrival of a sympathetic faced TV crew to interview solemn fans all scream that Portsmouth are in massive financial danger.

Turns out this wasn't a lucky dip.. Easy mistake, any one could have made it. Sorry again love.

Obligatory Fratton Park shot.

But nothing says “impending doom” more than empty shelves and optics. The desperate attempt to fill the gaps with a stash of Baileys is even more upsetting. 6 bottles of Baileys behind one bar? Not even the most astute of administrators could find a buyer for all that creamy bullshit. Have you ever drunk Baileys from a shoe?

Graffitti of Pompey legend Steve Claridge wearing a hat on loan from Charlie Chalk.

In the bar the Pompey patrons partake in despondent discussions of potentially having to support Havant and Waterlooville next season. A fate I wouldn't wish on anyone, except maybe George Rolls. Around them kids dressed in Pompey shirts, by their optimistic Fathers, play with a giant Connect Four. They're blissfully unaware of the misery of being a football fan and of the very real prospect they may not stand side by side with their Dads ,bellowing the Pompey chimes and wishing that guy with the bell would shut the fuck up.

Whoever had the green discs clearly played the worst game of Connect Four ever.

As kick off approached the queue to get a ticket grew ever longer, fans heeding the rallying cry of "Keep Calm and Pack The Park". Slowly the cramped ground fills up and the atmosphere is proudly defiant. No one wants to have to watch Havant and Waterlooville.

Picture of an angry cigarette playing football anyone?

The home chant an EP titled 'Now That's What I Call A Club in Administration' on shuffle for the entire first half. "We will never die", "On the park and in the pub, we're super Pompey and are were staying up" and "You thieving bastards get out of our club" are led by the hardcore in the Fratton end. The atmosphere resonates around the decrepit Fratton Park, increasing in volume at unspecified moments, when the psychic connections between football fans sees the tempo raised and volume upped as the chants circulate the stands.

There's also plenty of opportunity to give a bit of abuse, and who doesn't come to football to shout abuse, to Middlesbrough's Southampton born striker Lucas Due, Lukas Jook, Lukas Juker, whose name escapes me at this moment.

For speedy travel to the airport phone Mike's Airport Cabs on, are you sure that number's right Mike?

Middlesbrough fans, who should probably be a bit more sympathetic to clubs with extreme financial difficulties, taunt the home fans with "Portsmouth going bust" and "Stand up if you've paid your taxes". Hey, no one ever said the behaviour of football fans is rational and thoughtful. A bit of macho posturing by men in Stone Island 'clobber', and a few wanker signs directed at the away support soon allows both fans to focus on their own teams in the goalless, but not un-entertaining first half.

At this point we can now go over to AiT's culinary correspondent, Old Father Tinpot, to get his views on the culinary merits of the last sausage roll on sale at Fratton Park, "not too bad". So, there you have it, some good news for Portsmouth at last. Now, back to the studio.

Ole football.

Half time sees a beautiful site. A site I thought only existed in the non league game but it appears it exists from tinpot to Championship; a man hooked into a transistor radio. Whatever football ground you are in you're never more than a mishit Rory Allen shot away from a man straining to hear a crackling MW signal on a battered radio purchased from Rumbelows.

Token fan shot. Click an individual face to hear that persons chants from the day.

The volume from the home fans increases as they concede from a dodgy penalty. The sense of outrage filling their lungs and breathing new life into the chants.

Two down and it's the same again, louder and unrelenting support all sound tracked by an orchestra of drums, bells, trumpets and old school rattles. Yes! Old school rattles.

Dave Kitson comes on and is booed. By the home fans. Not a fine example of unrelenting support but somewhat enjoyable to hear. Reminds me of when I use to play kids football and my parents would harangue me as I waddled into the U14's game.** Kitson's subsequent display suggests he deserved a louder booing. Boo!!!

Token match shot.

A penalty from Greg Halford sets up an entertaining last finish but sadly Pompey don't take their chances and Middlesbrough score again.

After the final whistle a hard core of home fans stay chanting long after the final whistle, repeating " we will never die". Despite the efforts of the stewards they, like those bottles of Baileys, are going nowhere fast and wherever they go they certainly don't deserve to go to Havant and Waterlooville.

Play Up Pompey.

Previously on Adventures in Tinpot - Bristol City v Middlesbrough.

** My parents didn't really boo me. My team mates did.