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.
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………
It had already been a fantastic week for cup shocks in England, with Bradford City and Swansea City both reaching the League Cup final, but this weekend saw the FA Cup provide further upsets for some of football’s big names. The same can also be said of the Scottish League Cup where favourites Celtic FC were knocked out at the semi-final stage by St Mirren. In Northern Ireland there would be cup celebrations for Cliftonville FC who convincingly defeated defending title holders Crusaders FC 4-0 in the League Cup final on Saturday.
The FA Cup could be accused of having surpassed itself in terms of shocks this weekend with the likes of Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, Aston Villa and Norwich City going out to lower league opposition. Seven times winners Liverpool were the biggest casualties of the round losing 3-2 to League One (third tier) side Oldham Athletic whose progression to the next round has guaranteed them a home draw with Liverpool’s local rivals Everton. Matt Smith (2) and Reece Wabara scored the goals for Oldham whilst Luis Suarez and Joe Allen replied for the visitors in a match which effectively ruined Liverpool’s season. Out of both cups and lying in seventh place in the Premier League, Brendan Rodgers’ men can at least now concentrate on trying to climb the league table.
Tottenham Hotspur also lost on Sunday away at Championship (second tier) side Leeds United at Elland Road. Luke Varney and Ross McCormack scored the goals which gave Leeds a 2-0 lead which was later halved by Clint Dempsey. Tottenham, however, were unable to equalize and Leeds held on to seal a fantastic win and will be rewarded with an away trip to Premier League champions Manchester City in the fifth round. Chelsea almost made it a hat-trick of cup shocks on Sunday but were able to secure a late draw against Brentford FC. Fernando Torres’ 83rd minute equalizer was enough to give the Blues a second chance and, should Rafael Benitez’s side prove successful in the replay, will see them travel to Middlesbrough in the next round.
Amongst the other FA Cup games over the weekend struggling Aston Villa went out of the competition. Just three days after their elimination from the League Cup at the hands of Swansea, Villa were forced out of the FA Cup at the hands of League One side Millwall FC who defeated the Premier League side 2-1 on Friday night. Millwall’s reward for progressing is a trip to the only non-league side left in the competition, namely Luton Town. Luton narrowly defeated top flight club Norwich City 1-0 away at Carrow Road with Scott Rendell’s goal proving the difference. Elsewhere in the competition some of the big boys managed to get through to the next round unscathed. Record winners Manchester United easily saw off Fulham FC 4-1 at Old Trafford whilst Manchester City edged past Stoke City 1-0 at the latter’s Britannia Stadium. Arsenal did suffer a couple of scares, going behind twice, before persevering 3-2 away at Championship club Brighton and Hove Albion.
The 2012-13 Scottish League Cup final will see Heart of Midlothian play against St Mirren following another exciting round of knockout action north of the border. Saturday saw Heart of Midlothian, currently holders of the Scottish FA Cup, play against Inverness Caledonian Thistle at Easter Road, the Edinburgh home of Hearts’ big rivals Hibernian FC. Andrew Shinnie (Inverness) and Michael Ngoo (Hearts) traded strikes as the game finished 1-1 with thirty added minutes of extra-time unable to separate the two sides. A penalty shoot-out then saw Inverness’ Phillip Roberts miss the crucial spot kick as Hearts went through 5-4 on penalties to leave the Jambos hoping of lifting their first League Cup title since 1963. Sunday saw another exciting semi-final at Hampden Park where Celtic FC have made a bad habit of losing crucial cup matches in the last couple of years. Following defeat to Kilmarnock in the final of last season’s tournament, Celtic went out at the hands of St Mirren today to leave coach Neil Lennon wondering just when he’ll enjoy some more luck in Scottish domestic knockout competition. Esmael Goncalves gave St Mirren the lead after 8 minutes but Gary Hooper equalized for the Hoops on the stroke of half-time. In the space of five second half minutes, however, St Mirren would set themselves up for a famous win thanks to a Paul McGowan penalty (64 mins) and a wonder strike from Steven Thompson (69 mins). Celtic did pull one back through Charlie Mulgrew’s stoppage time effort but the damage had already been done for Lennon’s men. St Mirren will hope it will be third time lucky for them in the League Cup final having lost in their two previous final encounters in 1956 (v Aberdeen) and 2010 (v Rangers).
In Northern Ireland’s League Cup tournament Cliftonville FC won the trophy for the second time in their history on Saturday following a convincing 4-0 win over 2011-12 winners Crusaders FC. Goals from Diarmuid O’Carroll, Joe Gormley (2) and Ryan Catney saw off the defending title holders and gave Cliftonville their first success in this competition in eight years.
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.
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.
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.