Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

Away Days: Everton FC v Oldham Athletic

Posted in Away Days, UK Football by peterbein on February 27, 2013
Everton (blue) and Oldham compete at Goodison Park

Everton (blue) and Oldham compete at Goodison Park

Three days after Oldham’s League One success against Portsmouth saw the continuation of the Latics’ FA Cup adventure. Having knocked out Liverpool FC in the fourth round, Athletic had salvaged a replay out of their fifth round clash against the blue half of Merseyside, Everton FC, when Matt Smith headed home a 95th minute equalizer in an exciting 2-2 draw at Boundary Park. For Oldham it was a return to Goodison Park where they had achieved a famous 1-0 win over their hosts in the 2007-08 season and hopes were high amongst the Latics faithful that a repeat was on the cards.

I met up with the guys from the “Two Teams One Spirit” group once again as it was thanks to them that I had the opportunity to go to the game in the first place. We met in the Taxi Drivers’ Club on Walton Hall Avenue, just a brisk 5-10 minute walk from the stadium, and a decent proportion of the 4,000 travelling support had already congregated there for a pre-match pint or two. At 7:45 we took our seats in the Bullens Road End and the travelling support were in good voice right from the off but it wouldn’t be long before all of the pre-match optimism would suddenly disappear.

Fifteen minutes was all it took for Everton to take the lead, a Darron Gibson cross from midfield was taken from close range by an unmarked Kevin Mirallas on the half volley. The closest Oldham would come to scoring in the first half was when Jose Baxter, a former Everton player, was unfortunate to hit the post, a miss which would be punished on the 34th minute mark. A handball from Connor Brown saw a penalty given to the hosts for whom Leighton Baines made it 2-0 and already there was a big mountain to climb for the visitors. It was hard to take for Oldham to concede a goal from the penalty spot, especially as they had a strong case for a penalty of their own turned down following a handball by Gibson following the aforementioned Baxter opportunity.

Oldham Athletic players applaud their fans after the game

Oldham Athletic players applaud their fans after the game

At half-time most of us talking over a quick beer in the stand agreed that the next goal would be crucial; if Everton scored it would be game over but an Oldham goal would bring back some hope. Unfortunately for Oldham it would be the former that would ring true as Leon Osman got a crucial touch onto a Steven Pienaar cross to make it 3-0 and put the game to bed. There was at least a consolation goal for Oldham fans to cheer as Matt Smith, who had scored some crucial goals in the cup run, rose highest to meet Jonathan Grounds’ corner kick to reduce the arrears just after the hour mark. However, that would be as good as it got for Oldham with the game finishing 3-1. After the game there was only enough time for me to wish the Oldham boys, whether they be English or German, a good trip back as they boarded the coaches lined up outside the stadium whilst yours truly took a short cab ride home with some very good memories from the last few days.

On the pitch Everton are looking to qualify for Europe, either through a sufficiently high Premier League placing (currently lying in 6th place) or by winning the FA Cup for the first time since 1995. Oldham, on the other hand, will now hope to maintain their place in English football’s third tier as they currently lie 20th in the 24 team league.

Away Days: Oldham Athletic v Portsmouth FC

Posted in Away Days, UK Football by peterbein on February 27, 2013

DIGITAL CAMERA Saturday, 23rd February: a trip to the northern English town of Oldham had been on the cards for a while. The trip not only coincided with a fine run in the FA Cup for the local team of Oldham Athletic but also with the 30th anniversary of a friendship between fans of the Latics and of German Bundesliga side Eintracht Frankfurt. Although hailing from Liverpool, yours truly is also a fan of Eintracht and have met up on a few occasions with the Eintracht fan group “EFC 11-er Freunde”, about whom I have previously written about regarding trips to Frankfurt, Nuremberg and Dortmund. In Oldham I was helping to commemorate another friendship called “Two Teams One Spirit”, a collection of Oldham fanatics and the Eintracht fan clubs of “Rhönadler” and “Bockenheim”, all of whom I originally met on my away day to Dortmund at the end of the 2010-11 season.

Following an early morning train ride from Liverpool Lime Street to Manchester Victoria followed by a tram ride to Oldham Mumps, the day was still only twelve hours old and with plenty of time left for beer and football events started early in a pub called the Rifle Range. In there the German guys were selling T-shirts commemorating the 30 year friendship between the two sets of fans for £17.50 (20 Euro) so naturally I parted with the necessary money to own one. Oldham’s opponents on the day were Portsmouth FC, a club who had only been in the Premier League as recently as the 2009-10 season but were now rock bottom of the third-tier “League One”. Their most famous supporter, a man called John Westwood, stood out like a sore thumb in his usual matchday regalia of big hat, chequered blue and white clothes and all over body tattoos. One of the locals, Pete, had written to him personally and invited him to the pub before the game and whilst there a German called Bernhard had brought over a copy of the football magazine “11 Freunde” (no relation to the Eintracht fan club mentioned earlier) in which “Mr Portsmouth” himself featured in an article and was only too happy to sign the magazine.

T-shirt created to celebrate 30 years of friendship

T-shirt created to celebrate 30 years of friendship

Before long it was time to go to Boundary Park, the home of the Latics, where we arrived with just minutes to spare before kick-off. After downing a pre-match beer we took our seats in the Rochdale Road End and saw a great strike from 25 yards out by Jose Baxter give Oldham the lead after just ten minutes. Sadly, though, the rest of the game was far from a classic with very few clear cut chances for either side. Oldham carved out a couple of decent efforts and the three points gained from the 1-0 win meant that they had won the last three league games in a row, a run which would help them in their fight against relegation. Portsmouth, on the other hand, were dreadful and I personally feel sorry to see the club suffering its current plight. With ownership issues, administration and issues of massive debt the last few years have really taken its toll on Portsmouth Football Club. To make matters worse on the pitch Sam Sodje  was sent off after 50 minutes for violent conduct, his reaction to the red card as disagreeable as eating red cabbage after a skinful of beer on a Saturday night.

Following the game there was still plenty of time to enjoy a beer at the Oldham club bar in the Main Stand, with fans mutually exchanging Oldham and Frankfurt songs, before a short bus trip to the Bluebell Inn where Oldham’s match winner Baxter joined the current caretaker manager Tony Philliskirk in a question-and-answer session. One of the fans asked Philliskirk if a friendly match between Oldham and Frankfurt could be arranged in the near future. Needless to say if such a fixture does occur then expect to read about it here. Watch this space………

Away Days: Eintracht Frankfurt v TSV 1860 München

Posted in Away Days by peterbein on May 4, 2012

Eintracht (red/black shirts) plays FC Bayern in an U-19 game

Hi everybody, I’m back! Yes, it has been a while since I’ve written anything new for the blog and I won’t bore you with the reasons for my prolonged absence. It’s also been a while since I went on an Away Day to Frankfurt am Main and wanted to share with you the joys of celebrating promotion with my favourite German club Eintracht Frankfurt.

Having arrived “on the Main” last Friday, the football action got under way one day later when, as a warm-up to the main event (no pun intended) on Sunday, Eintracht Frankfurt’s Under-19 side played against 1860’s local rivals FC Bayern in the national Under-19 Bundesliga championship (South/South-West division). On a beautiful sunny Saturday morning there must’ve been at least two hundred souls at the Stadion am Riederwald who came out to see a glimpse of German football’s future potential stars in action. Sadly for the home contingent there weren’t too many great chances to shout about but the visitors hardly imposed themselves on the game either. FC Bayern did score the only goal of the game early in the second half; the goalscorer’s identity must however remain anonymous as I’d unprofessionally taken my eye off the game while the ball hit the back of the net.

Following a home defeat to one group of Bavarians I did privately fear that the professional Eintracht team would go on to lose to the other mob in the 2. Bundesliga (second division) game on Sunday. I was very privileged to get a ticket for this match as Eintracht had for many weeks looked likely to gain promotion and, unsurprisingly, this game was the hottest ticket in town. Having ventured with them on previous Away Days (see past reports) to Nuremberg and Dortmund, I express once again my eternal gratitude to the members of Eintracht supporters group “EFC 11-er Freunde” who helped get me into the stadium and make sure I was a part of the promotion party. Only six days earlier had Die Adler (the Eagles) confirmed their top flight status for next season with a convincing 3-0 away win against Alemania Aachen but they still, in theory, had first place to fight for along with SpVgg Greuther Fürth.

Fans choreo before the game

Following a fantastic choreography before the start of the game, in which fans held up cards above their heads to produce the slogan “Nie mehr 2. Liga” (Second Division no more), the game got under way in front of a sold out 50.800 crowd. Sadly my earlier fears about losing out to more Bavarians were to come true as the visitors started well and deservedly went two goals up in the first quarter of the match. An unfortunate own goal by Eintracht full-back Sebastian Jung in the 17th minute was followed up with an unchallenged header for Guillermo Vallori from a corner kick just four minutes later.  For the remainder of the game the passion of the Eintracht supporters couldn’t be emulated on the pitch by the players who, it seemed, already had their minds on the beach for the summer holidays. Just as well, I guess, that promotion was already sealed but that is not to take anything away from 1860 München, who are the only team to defeat Eintracht home and away this season and who were evidently more up for the game. Despite the result a good natured pitch invasion came about at the end of the game in which the fans could celebrate with the players and look forward to a new season of fighting it out with the big boys such as FC Bayern, Dortmund and Schalke 04, exactly where a traditional club of Frankfurt’s stature should be.

Frankfurt fans celebrate promotion after the game

One last shout goes towards a fan group from the English town of Oldham, who I met for the first time in Dortmund last season. Folowing the 1860 match I arranged to meet up with all the lads in the famous Eintracht fans’ bar “Klapper 33” in the district of Sachsenhausen and discovered just how popular they were with some of the regulars. Die Engländer have certainly made an impression over the years, confirmed by the fact that the last thing I expected to hear in a Frankfurt bar was a group of Germans chanting „Come on Oldham!“ at the top of their voices. Having attempted, and failing miserably, to get a similar chorus of Liverpool chants going I took defeat on the chin and realized that there would be a part of Germany that would be forever Oldham and posed with one of their home-made „Two Teams, One Spirit“ scarves. Hopefully it won‘t be long before there’s an away day in Oldham to look forward to and I could just be the latest convert to the „Come on Oldham“ brigade.

Away Days: Marine AFC v Chorley FC

Posted in Away Days by peterbein on January 4, 2012

On Monday I knew that I could wake up and forget about work for at least another 24 hours as it was a public holiday. Therefore I decided that I would go to a football ground in my home city that I’d been meaning to go to for quite some time.

The Arriva Stadium, at one time known as Rossett Park before the ground was sponsored by the Arriva bus company, is the home of Marine AFC and lies in the outer Liverpool suburb of Crosby. On quite a few occasions already this season I had sacrificed a visit to this particular stadium in order to watch Waterloo RFC, a rugby union team just ten minutes up the road, and who I’ve never seen lose whenever I have gone to see them play. The reason why I always had to choose is that, for some peculiar reason, both Marine AFC and Waterloo RFC’s home games always seem to kick-off at exactly the same time. This time though, on a cold and windy Monday afternoon, Waterloo had no game to play and Marine were able to fill the void.

Marine AFC, fifth in the league, played host to fourth placed Chorley FC, a team based in a town of the same name just 35 miles away, in the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League Premier Division, effectively the seventh tier of English football, with the two teams separated by just three points before the game kicked off. I took my seat in the only seated stand in the stadium, located behind one of the goals, and found myself sitting next to a Roberto Mancini look-a-like. Just in case I was actually lucky enough to be sitting next to the Manchester City coach himself I asked him if he knew the time but his accent was more Scouse than Italian. “Roberto” did prove useful in one area; his knowledge of the English non-league football scene was encyclopaedic and he came in useful in pointing out players whose identities remain as anonymous with me now as they were before I entered the stadium.

Marine (white shirts) greet Chorley before the game

The game started with Chorley enjoying most of the possession and it was no surprise when they took the lead after 20 minutes thanks to a Tom Ince shot from an acute angle beating Marine keeper Ryan McMahon. This spurred the home side into life and it wasn’t too long before the game’s major flashpoint flared up. A midfield battle, culminating with some flying tackles from both sides, ended up in a needless mêlée in which Marine’s Thomas Moore was given a straight red card after seemingly throwing a punch at an opposition player. Despite the numerical disadvantage Marine were able to pull level just three minutes before the break with Neil Harvey scoring from the penalty spot following what looked to me to be a soft foul on Aaron Rey.

For the second half I left the confines of the seated area and was able to stand on the side lines in what looked like a glorified garden shed. In a game which had been largely devoid of atmosphere throughout the first half  both sets of supporters amongst the crowd of 575 suddenly began to make some noise and made it worthwhile standing in the bitterly cold weather. Chorley re-took the lead eight minutes into the second half with another penalty converted, scored by Steve Foster. But Marine wouldn’t lie down and came back to level things again with Aaron Rey able to tap the ball home from a couple of yards out in the 68th minute to set up a grandstand finish between two teams who both have genuine hopes of gaining a spot in the top five and being in the end-of-season play-offs this season.  However the home side were not able to enjoy parity for too long as Chorley wrapped up the game in the last twenty minutes; a Mark Ross free-kick from the halfway line somehow lobbed over McMahon in the Marine goal in the 71st minute before a glorious strike from the edge of the box by Steve Denham sent the visiting fans wild, knowing that the three points would be theirs unless the home side had some luck in the dying minutes.

Chorley celebrate the first of four goals

Chorley’s reward following the victory was to see their advantage in the table double over Marine from three points to six and cement fourth spot with 48 points, five behind league leaders Chester FC who have two games in hand. Despite defeat Marine should not be too disheartened but they will have to fight it out with the likes of Bradford Park Avenue and FC United of Manchester who lie just below them in the table. Whether I will get to see Marine again anytime soon is anybody’s guess. After all, with my record amongst the Crosby sporting scene, something tells me that the oval ball merchants of Waterloo RFC will welcome me back a lot sooner than the round ball practitioners of Marine.

Away Days: FSV Frankfurt v Erzgebirge Aue

Posted in Away Days by peterbein on May 16, 2011

After the trauma of Eintracht Frankfurt’s relegation on Saturday came a little bit of light relief on Sunday. Frankfurt’s second club is FSV and it was to their Frankfurter Volksbank Stadion that I went to in order to see their 2. Liga match against Erzgebirge Aue, a club hailing from the east of the country.

Fußballsportverein Frankfurt, to give them their proper name, are a small team from the Bornheim district of the city and have done well on limited resources to stay in the 2. Liga for the last two seasons. On both occasions they finished in 15th place and will, for the first time ever, play in a Frankfurt city derby when Eintracht play in the same division from next season. Erzgebirge Aue, a former three-time champion of the old East German Oberliga under their old name of SC Wismut Karl Marx Stadt, are also a modest club and have done well following last season’s promotion from the 3. Liga. The game yesterday was a chance to secure fifth place in the table with Energie Cottbus and Fortuna Düsseldorf waiting in the wings in case of a slip up.

Once inside the stadium I gained a sense of nostalgia in the sense that I was standing on an open terrace behind the goal, something which has alluded me in England for many years. At the front of the stand was a lone cheerleader who, tried as he might, found it difficult to motivate the fans in the Südtribüne despite having the advantage of shouting through a megaphone. To be fair to him the football on the pitch wasn’t exactly a feast for the eyes and one was wondering if the players’ minds were already on their summer vacation ahead of the post-season. There was one moment which defined the first half and that was Aue’s opening goal which went in of the head off the unfortunate FSV midfielder Christian Müller. Erzgebirge Aue were 1-0 up at half-time.

Play is about to re-start following Aue's first goal

The second half carried on in much the same vein, the only highlights proving to be each slurp of the cheap beer that was selling well around the stadium. What each person in the crowd of 4,011 thought about this game would probably prove negative with the exception of the travelling hoardes of supporters from Aue who had their second goal to celebrate with ten minutes remaining. Following more good work down the right side Robert Strauß crossed the ball for Jan Hochscheidt who ghosted into the box to put the away side 2-0 up, a margin which they never relinquished for the remainder of the game.

The Erzgebirge supporters unveiled a banner at the end of the game saying “Top Saison Männer!” which it ultimately proved to be as they cemented their fifth place spot thanks to the three points won on the final day. FSV Frankfurt, following a good start to the season, dropped markedly in performance as the season went on but not so bad that they had to worry about a relegation campaign unlike their more illustrious neighbours Eintracht. It will be interesting to see how the city takes to the derby next season.

Away Days: Borussia Dortmund v Eintracht Frankfurt

Posted in Away Days by peterbein on May 16, 2011

Things really have gone from bad to worse for Eintracht Frankfurt since the winter break. Only one win in 16 games going into their final game of the season away to the newly-crowned champions of Germany saw the club who occupied seventh place at the winter break start the day in second bottom and were involved in a real relegation dogfight which hadn’t looked like coming at Christmas.

I set off from Manchester airport on Friday morning and was very surprised to see a group of men wearing T-shirts with the club badges of Oldham Athletic, who currently play in England’s third tier, as well as that of Eintracht. Curiosity got the better of me and so I asked if they were going to the game on Saturday to which they said yes. It was a pleasant surprise, no doubt to the Oldham lads as well as myself, that there were quite so many English who not only wanted to go to the game but were playing an active supporting role in a club not many people in our country probably neither know nor care about. I’ve been following Eintracht since 2006 but these guys had a good 20 years experience on me so I was even more impressed by their love for the club.

I travelled to the game on Saturday morning with a fan group called EFC 11er-Freunde, about whom I wrote a piece in a previous Away Days trip to Nuremberg. With the beer flowing from just before 10am the fans were in good spirits despite the mammoth task which lay before the Eintracht team. We had to beat title winning Borussia Dortmund and hope that VfL Wolfsburg (away at Hoffenheim) and Mönchengladbach (away at Hamburger SV) both got inferior results. Upon arriving at the stadium I was surprised to bump into the Oldham group yet again as I got off the coach and our thoughts turned to the game before we had to separate into our respective areas of the Eintracht fan block. When I got into the stadium the Dortmund fans were preparing a chereography to herald their heroes and it seemed that the famous Yellow Wall, the nickname given to the massive 28,000 capacity Südtribüne which stands behind one of the goals, would generate a cracking atmosphere.

But once the game got under way the Yellow Wall resembled a real wall insofar as it didn’t make any noise for most of the first half. During the first 45 minutes Eintracht keeper Ralf Fährmann saved a penalty from Lucas Barrios whilst, at the other end, Theofanis Gekas hit the crossbar in the last minute, meaning that the game was goalless at half-time. At the same time Wolfsburg were also goalless whilst Gladbach were leading in Hamburg which meant that, if the scores remained the same after 90 minutes, Eintracht would be going down. But, just sixty seconds after the break, Eintracht took the lead through midfielder Sebastian Rode. Almost at the same time came the news that Hoffenheim had taken the lead in their game against Wolfsburg meaning that Eintracht’s destiny looked positive.

Dortmund players on the stage waiting for the Meisterschale

Sadly for us the hope began to fade once more in the 68th minute when Dortmund striker Lucas Barrios, following some clever play from Łukasz Piszczek, restored parity. Just four minutes later Eintracht’s world turned upside down as a Marco Russ own goal gave the champions the lead whilst Wolfsburg had turned it around in their game winning 2-1 with fifteen minutes still to play although Hamburger SV had equalized in their game against Gladbach so a bit of luck for Eintracht could still have kept die Adler up in the top flight. The last ten minutes of the game for Eintracht, however, proved to be a nightmare as substitute Marcel Titsch-Rivero, who came on in the 79th minute to replace goal scorer Rode, got himself sent off just 43 seconds later after bringing down Marcel Schmelzer in the box to give away another penalty. But one person who didn’t lose his nerve was Fährmann who, having saved a penalty from Barrios in the first half, then kept out Dede to keep a glimmer of hope alive. This hope would finally be extinguished in the last minute of the game when Barrios headed home a Robert Lewandowski cross from the right flank to secure the three points for Dortmund who could now finally begin their championship celebrations.

Strangely there were many Dortmund fans, acclaimed by the club’s stadium announcer as “the best fans in the world”, who seemed more intent on coming outside to give Eintracht fans grief about their oncoming relegation rather than see captain Roman Weidenfeller lift the Meisterschale inside the Signal Iduna Park stadion. Thankfully the heavy police presence outside ensured that trouble was kept to a minimum around the stadium as emotions ran high on both sides after the game. For the record Mönchengladbach drew 1-1 at Hamburger SV which means that the former will take place in a two-legged Relegation Play-Off match with VfL Bochum, who claimed third place in the 2. Liga on Sunday. VfL Wolfsburg, meanwhile, managed to secure 1. Liga football next season following their eventual 3-1 away win at Hoffenheim.

Away Days: Bangor City v The New Saints

Posted in Away Days by peterbein on May 2, 2011

Welcome to Bangor City FC

The Principality Building Society Welsh Premier League, to give its full title, saw a classic last-day title decider on Saturday. Bangor City, whose most recent championship came in 1994-95, were at home to defending champions The New Saints who were narrow favourites to pick up the point they needed to win a sixth league title in just over a decade. At one time Bangor had enjoyed a massive 16 point lead at the top of the standings but in recent weeks TNS looked to have turned things around and could’ve won the title before Saturday’s game. But TNS lost their anti-penultimate match of the season at home to Neath Athletic who, in turn, were defeated days later at their home ground by Bangor City leaving the destiny of the championship wide open going into this match.

I arrived at Farrar Road stadium, just five minutes walk away from Bangor train station, about three hours before kick-off in order to sense the anticipation ahead of this mouth-watering fixture. Speaking of mouth-watering, I headed to the club bar to buy myself a beer and could also have found myself taking advantage of a ticket for the Welsh Cup final – which Bangor City hopes to win for the fourth year in a row against Llanelli AFC this coming Sunday – for an amazingly cheap £5 as there were a stack of tickets on sale. Following the beer I set out to blend in with the locals and buy myself a scarf but, much to my disappointment, there was nobody in the club shop. I asked a nearby steward when it will be open and all he could tell me was that it’d be open “when the merchandising guy turns up”. As much as I tried to coax any more information out of him he was unable to give me a time so I had to settle for the match programme. I returned to the club shop a little under an hour later and the “merchandising guy” had finally arrived. “Do you have any scarves for sale” I asked him; “No we don’t have any” came the reply. Naturally I couldn’t believe how blasé he was about the lack of available merchandise, especially as the club’s biggest game for years was just little more than an hour away, so just decided to walk around the stadium and plan from which section of the stadium I would watch the game.

The two teams in action

Kick-off time of 15:30 finally arrived and I had placed myself behind the goal to which the home side would shoot towards in the first half. Bangor City, playing in their traditional all-blue strip, enjoyed the lion’s share of possession but were unable to make the most of their dominance. With only a couple of clear chances in the opening period it was no surprise to see the first half remain goalless. The point would’ve been good for The New Saints and it was clear that they had come to Farrar Road hoping to frustrate their hosts. In the second half Bangor continued to pile the pressure towards the visitors’ goal but it seemed for a while that luck would allude them. I had changed ends for the second half and was watching the game from behind the goal in which Craig Garside would give the hosts the lead in the 68th minute. A throw-in from defender Peter Hoy was flicked on by midfielder Dave Morley and Garside found himself just yards from goal and able to turn the ball home to send most of the 1,700 capacity crowd ecstatic.

Bangor coaching team Powell (left) and Limbert lift the championship trophy

Naturally The New Saints had to come out and attack if they were to re-claim the title and they did threaten in the last twenty minutes but the sense of anticipation around the stadium meant that Bangor gave everything to preserve what they had. When the final whistle sounded it prompted a pitch invasion from the home supporters who could finally celebrate their third league championship title. A media scrum ensued as the game was featured live on the Welsh TV station S4/C as well as an assortment of photographers, supporters and yours truly basking in the warm sunshine and the champagne that was in the air following the Bangor team’s victory. As Bangor City coach Neville Powell and his assistant Marc Limbert lifted the championship trophy in the air it was clear that this ever popular management duo had created even bigger names for themselves amongst the home faithful. Bangor City (played 32, points 70) won the title by just two points from The New Saints and now have a chance to win the club’s first ever league and cup double this weekend. It may only be considered one of the smaller leagues but this was a fantastic occasion for Welsh football and one which would’ve graced any other championship in the world.

WATCH BANGOR CITY v THE NEW SAINTS HIGHLIGHTS HERE:

Away Days: RKC Waalwijk v SC Cambuur Leeuwarden

Posted in Away Days by peterbein on April 19, 2011

Two down, one to go. After what had already been a very productive weekend the final leg of the Benelux journey took us another 296km firstly to Breda, the town where we would stay the night, and secondly on to Waalwijk for an early Sunday afternoon kick-off. The Dutch Jupiler League is the country’s second tier of football (not to be confused with the Belgian top-tier championship of the same name). For the home team, who were relegated from the top-flight last season, dreams of an imminent return to the Eredivisie heightened as a result of this match.

We arrived at the Mandemakers Stadion basking in the sunshine and still slightly worse for wear following a good night on the beer some hours earlier. With the mileage of the trip starting to take its toll on all of us the early kick-off at least ensured that we had to be in some way fit for the Sunday ahead. Nonetheless we had all agreed before the weekend that we expected this game to have the most quality on the pitch and we weren’t wrong. RKC Waalwijk, a club whose initials let you know of the club’s Roman Catholic roots, have spent most of the last twenty years in the top flight and expect to come straight back up whenever they go down. CS Cambuur, their visitors from the town of Leeuwarden, are a club of more modest targets and last tasted Eredivisie football over a decade ago but still went into the game knowing that they had a chance of qualifying for the promotion play-offs.

The game kicked off to a colourful banner from the home support and they had something to shout about just eleven minutes when Robert Braber gave RKC the lead following a defensive error. Twenty minutes later Ghanaian forward Fred Benson doubled the home side’s lead following a move which one could politely describe as route one. RKC Waalwijk were coasting the game and the modest away support of SC Cambuur – all 26 of them (I counted them at half-time) – had to suffer further in the second half as Benson grabbed his second of the game in the 53rd minute from the penalty spot. Donny de Groot bagged the fourth of the game for the home side in the 90th minute but SC Cambuur, who were a distant second best in the match, could at least celebrate a consolation strike from Kevin Diaz in stoppage time.

The game finished 4-1 to RKC Waalwijk much to the joy of the home support who knew that their team had accumulated the most number of points in the fourth period of the season and, at the very least, guarantee play-off football if not automatic promotion. FC Zwolle stand between RKC and first in the standings with the two teams due to fight it out next week but for now there was something to celebrate as the Waalwijk players reached for the champagne at the end of the match. As for myself and my fellow Eintrachtler our Groundhopping tour was now officially over and we headed back to Breda for a much deserved beer or ten. After all, having witnessed fourteen goals in three games spread throughout three countries in three days we were just as worthy of alcohol as any of the footballers we’d seen.

WATCH RKC WAALWIJK v SC CAMBUUR HIGHLIGHTS

Away Days: F91 Dudelange v CS Grevenmacher

Posted in Away Days by peterbein on April 19, 2011

Following the previous night’s events in Belgium, me and the boys drove a further 230km to Luxembourg City. After dropping our bags off in our hostel we then set about going the extra 19km to the town of Dudelange, home to F91.

The club, known in the local Luxembourgish language as Diddeleng, are a growing power in the country having won six out of the last seven titles with only record champions Jeunesse d’Esch having broken the spell in 2009-10. Dudelange, created by a merger of three teams in 1991, had already claimed the 2010-11 championship trophy prior to this weekend’s game but we still hoped that the champions would put on a show for us. CS Grevenmacher, their opponents and former one-time champion in 2002-03, naturally had other ideas although their league position of ninth place (out of 14), a distant 23 points behind their opponents, suggested that such thoughts would be optimistic.

On the way to the game we met a lone German Groundhopper by the name of Klaus whose alleged devotion to the cause of Bayern Munich most certainly irritated each and every one of us, all of whom are Eintracht Frankfurt supporters and very much against the sort of plastic, over-commercialized pap with which clubs such as the Bavarian giants are renowned. Despite his choice of favoured club Klaus remained with us until the end of what was a half-hearted match. Not surprising given that the F91 “Ultras” section consisted of just three fans and two banners in arguably the most modest attempt of a fan culture that I have personally come across thus far in my time watching football. If the home team’s fans could hardly be bothered to make an effort then it was no surprise to see that feeling transfer to the players.

The home side included one of the league’s top scorers in Daniel da Mota, a naturalized Portuguese who had scored 16 league goals this season leading up to the game and was everybody’s “Man to Watch” before the game began. Ultimately he may as well have been sitting with us in the stands as he was practically a spectator throughout the match. The game saw one goal in the first half with Daniel Huss outpacing the F91 defence to put visiting Gravenmacher into the lead. The game would be settled as a contest after the break with goals from Rhalid Benachou and Samir Louadj, the latter of which was a beautifully taken volley into the top left-hand corner, helping Grevenmacher to a morale boosting 3-0 away victory and depriving the home side any chance of a KSK Heist style comeback. The victory helped Grevenmacher remain in ninth position just behind CS Petange on goal difference and with only four games of the league season remaining and just five points separating them from second placed FC Differdange 03 could this game prove the spark for a potential European tour next season?

Speaking of European tours there was still one more game left on our itinerary. It was now on to Holland for the final leg of the Benelux weekend………

Away Days: Boussu Dour Borinage v KSK Heist

Posted in Away Days by peterbein on April 19, 2011

This weekend has been a very busy one for myself as I, along with four friends from the German city of Frankfurt, set off on a Groundhopping tour of the Benelux countries. Having flown to Frankfurt from Manchester on Friday morning the scene was set for a road trip worthy of the name. The journey would take us through three countries in three days with the first leg taking us 427 kilometres from Frankfurt to the beautiful Belgian city of Mons, from where we would embark further to the small village of Boussu another 19km away.

The Belgian second division is a strange affair to most football fans used to the idea of a simple 34 game table deciding promotion matters at the end of the season. However, in order to keep up interest for each team throughout the season, the league is split into three periods. The overall champions goes up automatically whilst the three period winners, assuming the champions aren’t amongst them (if so the next best team onwards) play-off against the winner of a relegation play-off from the first division. Sadly neither team featuring in Friday’s game at the Stade Robert Urbain were amongst the front-runners but that didn’t mean that the game would diappoint.

On the contrary, the game saw plenty of chances and a bit of controversy along the way. Home team Royal Boussu Dour Borinage, to give them their full name, took the lead in the 14th minute following goalkeeper Steven Olieslagers apprehending striker Anthony Delplace in the box, thus leaving the referee no option but to show Heist’s number 1 the red card. Kamel Ouejdide scored the first from the spot and was on hand to score a beautifully struck third goal for RBDB on the stroke of half-time with the aforementioned Delplace having scored the second inbetween. KSK Heist, playing their first season at this level, had brought a small but loyal following to the game and it would be they who would be celebrating at the end of the game.

The second half started with RBDB hoping to capitalise on their numerical advantage but, as the game went on, KSK Heist began to venture further forward and were rewarded with what everybody thought was a consolation goal in the 77th minute when Bram Criel pulled one back from close range. Unfortunately for the home side this led to a collective bout of self-doubt and they allowed the visitors another goal two minutes before full-time when Kurt Van Dooren nodded the ball home to set up a grandstand finish. The ninety minutes of regular time were up and all the home side had to do was hold on. After all how difficult could it be with a full compliment of players against of a team depleted by one? Alas, football doesn’t always work out this way and when Bart Webers eventually saw the ball home following a free-kick two minutes into stoppage time the scene was set for the Heist players to run the full length of the pitch to celebrate an unlikely point with their loyal supporters.

Following the end of the match KSK Heist remained in 10th place whilst further results over the weekend saw Royal Boussu go down to 14th, not quite out of the picture regarding a relegation battle, lying just four points ahead of Rupel Boom in 17th place. Following a comeback reminiscent of Liverpool’s triumph in the 2005 UEFA Champions League final in Istanbul it would take something special to beat this game in terms of excitement and goals. We set off to Luxembourg on Saturday hoping that we might just experience another miracle of our own…..

WATCH RBDB v KSK HEIST HIGHLIGHTS HERE

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