Grey Day in Dagenham

Saturday 17th September 2016 – Dagenham & Redbridge 2 – 0 North Ferriby

National League @ Victoria Road, Dagenham, London

“…oh I’d rather be a sausage than an egg…”

A university reunion coupled with a vow to get to some Ferriby games now they were venturing south, took me to Dagenham’s Victoria Road. It was a grey September day and cold enough for a jacket; a contrast from the heat wave earlier that week, which was ended with torrential rain the day before this match up.

Dagenham, most famous of course for the Ford factory, is found in London’s eastern most reaches. It took around 45 minutes on the Victoria Line (from Victoria) to reach Dagenham East for this one, and the ground itself is around a five-minute walk from the tube station.

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The area around the ground is fairly residential so supping options are limited to a pub just past the tube station, the Pipe Major. We didn’t venture in on this occasion; there were plenty milling around outside albeit a majority seemed to be in West Ham shirts, so they probably weren’t all going to the match.

Entering Victoria Road (or the Chigwell Construction Stadium for sponsorship purposes) feels akin to entering a leisure centre, with a car park straight in front, and the relatively low stands meaning it is only the floodlights that indicate the venue is used for football.

We headed to the club bar pre-match. It cost 50p to get in (though no restrictions on away fans) and you have to sign in; it is however a nice sized bar, albeit beer on tap is limited. Seating is in what is best described as a sports hall with a couple of tables dotted around. Sutton’s defeat of Tranmere Rovers was being shown on the big screen which we watched with the locals before heading to the away end.

Away fans are accommodated in the ‘Traditional Builders Stand’ at the far end of the ground. It cost £21 to get in; the half of the stand closest to the entrance is populated with home fans, with the away fans having to walk along the bottom of the stand to the far end. There were no problems however, and given the size of the away following that day (23…) the stand felt a bit cold and, stating the obvious’ empty!

There is a small bar underneath the stand, which seemed only to serve Carling, that both home and away fans use. Other chow and sup can be bought at a small kiosk near the entrance, with reasonable prices (£1.20 for tea or coffee).

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To the left of the stand is a small terrace, half of which was closed, but the open half appeared to be full. To the right is a smaller seated stand. Interestingly the teams come out from behind the goal, so I assume more modern changing rooms were installed when the stand was built.

img_0084 img_0089In the context of each club’s respective positions last season, and results and league positions thus far, this seemed very much like David vs Goliath. Dagenham & Redbridge’s team contains a smattering of ex-league players (including the experienced Luke Gutteridge and Paul Benson); having spent nine years playing league football (including a short stint in League 1), presumably the home side are gunning for an immediate return.

This is Ferriby’s first season at this level, with mixed results ranging from a hammering away at Lincoln, and a win at Gateshead mid-week before this one. My hunch however was that the home side would prevail in this one.

The atmosphere at Victoria Road is relatively flat, with the exception of the fans immediately to the left of the away end, who enjoyed frequent exchanges with the three fans in the away end who had some voice (though most of the chants seemed to be food related as opposed to football, hence I guess the ‘Pie Cob Society’ flag).

Ferriby played like they were trying to avoid a loss as opposed to trying to get something from the game. The home side went in one nil up and at half time though it felt like it could be much more. Ferriby had a good crack of it in the second half, but couldn’t build up any meaningful sort of attack.

It was one nil for much of the match, but it never really felt close. The home side doubled their lead shortly before time, wrapping up the three points and securing top spot in the league. This result sent Ferriby into the relegation places. The difference in quality was quite stark; Ferriby constantly giving the ball away and making silly mistakes, which their more experienced equals often capitalised upon.

It might have been because the day was grey, and cold but Victoria Road feels like it has seen better days. Prices are however reasonable and the fans & staff care for the club; the attendance felt low that day (1,119) despite local Premier League behemoths being away at West Brom. The game was however both watchable and enjoyable; Victoria Road is a bit of a trek from Central London for a capital ground tick if truth be told. It feels very much like a non-league ground but with some tweaks to allow for bigger followings that must have come here when they played league football.

Other photos from the day



Non League Day 2016

Saturday 3rd September 2016 – Maidstone United 2 – 2 Wrexham

National League @ Gallagher Stadium, Maidstone

A rare afternoon off following our arrival earlier in August coincided with this year’s Non League Day. And with tiredness limiting the appetite for travel too far, I opted to start my foray into Kent’s non-league scene, and visit Maidstone United‘s Gallagher Stadium for their National League match against Wrexham.

Maidstone is one of the original phoenix clubs. Formed in 1992 following the demise of the original, the National League (or Conference for us traditionals) marks the highest level the ‘new’ (if you can call 24 years new….) club has been, gaining promotion in the play-offs last season against local rivals Ebbsfleet United.

I travelled to Maidstone by train from Otford; the Gallagher Stadium can be seen as you enter Maidstone East, and is c. 5-10 minutes walk from the station. The walk is rather mundane along a series of roads outside of the town centre. There are a couple of pubs en route for those who wish to stagger the trip.

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It cost £15 to get in that day, which was easier said than done as for some reason the turnstiles wouldn’t work for me. Feeling like a bit of an amateur, I opted for some refreshment. To the left of the entrance, the Gallagher Stadium has an array of options for eating; pie and chips (with FREE gravy), burgers, hot dogs, and something of a first, a tuck shop selling sweets! I opted however to head right to the Spitfire Lounge. On tap was a club special lager which I chose over a Whitstable Ale – an error. Fairly sure it was re-branded Carling, or perhaps the late nights tending to a four-week old have killed my taste buds!

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The Gallagher Stadium comprises of two terraces behind either goal, and to the right of the Spitfire Lounge, a main stand with seating. Opposite is standing only. The view is quite scenic with trees along the perimeter (and some flats behind the main stand).

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Stands behind goals

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Main Stand

A wander around the ground showed decent views from all angles. There is a slight industrial feel to the ground however, caused I think by the corrugated metal perimeter. Fans were segregated that day, with the 200 or so Wrexham fans who made the trip situated behind the far goal (opposite the main entrance). I opted to stand opposite the main stand that day, next to the away end.

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The crowd for this match exceeded 2,000, and as mentioned it was Non League Day. I was unsure how many had come for that reason only, like myself, however there was a lot of black and amber on display, indicating I probably wasn’t giving Maidstone enough credit for their support. Indeed I wasn’t. The crowd was noisy behind both goals and got behind their team from the start.

The Wrexham fans, seemingly used to playing clubs smaller than themselves, clearly had a repertoire of songs they wanted to sing despite the ground being full and the support noisy: “Shit ground no fans”, “Your ground’s too big for you”, and “Your support is f’ing s***” all getting an airing. A word for the Wrexham fans. I’ve seen fans taunting Welsh clubs with the usual “In-ger-lund” chant many times over the years, normally responded to with appropriate hand gestures. So it was both refreshing and amusing to see the Wrexham fans that day respond in a deadpan manner with an Icelandic thunderclap. Cap doffed. I imagine it may be some time before the summer of 2016 is forgotten.

Back to the game….

As the teams came out, the guys next to me seemed very excited that Wayne Rooney’s brother was lining up for Wrexham; I was more bemused by their player by the name of Nortei Nortay. Maidstone looked decent in the opening exchanges, and took the lead through a very nice free kick shortly after 20 minutes.

“One nil, to the little club…”

The last time I saw Wrexham was against North Ferriby United in the 2015 FA Trophy Final. The perennial scalp at this level (despite being non-league since 2008), they look a little now like the bigger club money from higher gate receipts has run out. It was however fairly even after the opener, and Wrexham equalised shortly before half-time. An entertaining half and two good goals to boot.

Full from pie and chips, and of course the free gravy, I changed vantage point for the second half, opting to stand between the Spitfire Lounge and the home stand behind the goal. I started to regret not being in a stand as spots of rain started to emerge; Kent had avoided the downpours that had caused an abandonment elsewhere in England that day.

Wrexham took the lead mid-way through the second half, and in fairness had been the better side after the break, A mistake by their defence however gifted an equalizer. And the match held out for 2-2.

Thankfully it didn’t pour with rain.

Maidstone United; a very friendly club, with a support that wouldn’t look out-of-place if they ever did return to the football league. And any ground that offers free gravy with your chips is always worth a trip in my book!



Euro 2016 Diary – Part 2

Thursday 16th June 2016 – England 2 – 1 Wales

Euro 2016 Group B @ Stade Bollaert-Delelis, Lens, France

“Don’t take me home, please don’t take me home, I just don’t want to go to work, I wanna stay here, and drink all the beer, Please don’t, Please don’t take me home…”

Day 2 started with a fuzzy head; Belgian beers are very more-ish, but they do provide some pain the morning after.

Lille was drizzly and grey that morning, but alive with activity as it sought to feed breakfast, and send to Lens the 30,000 or so English and Welsh fans residing there temporarily. This was the day of arguably one of the stand-out matches of the group stage; England vs Wales.

My knowledge of Lens prior to getting tickets for this one was limited to the fact that if you wanted to turn a French team into the next Real Madrid on Championship Manager 01/02, RC Lens were a decent choice. I was surprised therefore to find out that the capacity of the Stade Bollaert-Delelis (38k) is larger than the actual population of the town (32k).

Lens is reached from Lille via train in c. 45 minutes. We booked our tickets in advance, but the French authorities scrapped designated tickets, and let you travel whenever. Extra trains were laid on, and whilst the queues snaked round the station, the process of shifting fans was relatively quick and painless.

Upon arriving at Lens the sun was out; it was forecast to hose it down all day, so this was an unexpected surprise. The ground was visible in the distance to the left of the train station. The road which led there was already thronging with both sets of fans.

If events of the last week had reflected badly on England fans, this match was a fantastic reflection of the good side of both sets of fans. Lens had a real party atmosphere with largely good nature all round. The alcohol ban that was placed on Lens was seemingly non-existent, with the five pubs en-route the ground overflowing onto the street, and locals selling cans to those who wanted them.

Stade Bollaert-Delelis, once the town has been cleared, is reached via a park; the trees made it difficult to photograph from the outside. Security was slightly slower than at Russia vs Slovakia, a mixture I believe of most fans opting to turn up closer to kick-off and also smaller checkpoints – they seemed a bit overwhelmed.


The ground reminded me of a slightly more modern Upton Park. Our seats were in the upper-tier behind the goal; this was the official England end (with Wales opposite). I’m not sure how many Wales took, but the ground appeared to be three-quarters England, with the bulk of the stands to both left and right also seemingly taken by England fans.

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Hodgson had picked an unchanged side from the one which drew with Russia in the previous game. With Slovakia beating Russia the day before, the group had been blown wide open (though with 3rd place also able to qualify, it is arguably now always open). Rivalry aside, the stakes for this one were high. A loss for England, and Wales would be through, with England needing a win against Slovakia to stand any chance of qualifying. A win for England and winning the group would be in their hands, and it would be Wales with the bulk of the pressure in the final game. I had this one down as 2-2.

Post anthems, the atmosphere was, and continued to be, both tense and full on. This was helped by the stewards allowing standing behind the goals.

It was Wales that went in ahead at half-time. Whilst not overly impressive, they had a slight edge on an England side seemingly devoid of ideas and alternatives when they didn’t work. Raheem Sterling played like somebody who knew he was having a nightmare. Wales fans were signing “England’s going home….” throughout.

Half-time was massive for Roy Hodgson; Coleman had got his substitutions right against Slovakia, and it was to be that Roy did the same against Wales.

A couple of minutes after the break and Vardy scored, sending three of the four stands into chaos and a fully blown “Jamie Vardy party”. Post-match highlights show there was an argument for offside, but it wasn’t obvious at the time. England maintained the pressure from then on, sending on an extra striker at one point in the form of Marcus Rashford, who whilst inexperienced, looked lively.

It was all out attack for England, but it looked like it was heading for a draw. Then in injury time, roughly the same point as when Russia equalised the previous Saturday, Sturridge bagged the three points. Despair for the Welsh fans, the polar opposite for England. Watching the celebrations, including Joe Hart run the entire length of the pitch, you would have thought England had won the entire competition. But this was a big three points, and could mean an easier path through the knockout stages.

Post-match the party continued; Wales fans have to be applauded, as whilst gutted, they accepted defeat with good humour, and seemed intent on continuing to enjoy themselves rather than be down about it all. We opted to hang back in Lens for a couple of hours and have a few beers whilst the queues for the train back shortened, albeit only slightly.

The walk back through Lille to our digs seemed somewhat more peaceful than the evening before. The bars were full, but it seemed more like people having a couple of final beers as opposed to chucking as much down their necks as they could.

So there is my Euro 2016; two great grounds and two very entertaining matches. The good (mostly) and the bad of fans at tournaments. And a fair few beers along the way. One more thing ticked off the footballing bucket list also.

The rest will be enjoyed on TV as I head towards fatherhood, unemployment (for a short time hopefully) and another season of Hull City AFC. To those who read and are still out or heading to France, stay safe and enjoy!


Euro 2016 Diary – Part 1

Wednesday 15th June 2016 – Russia 1 – 2 Slovakia

Euro 2016 Group B @ Stade Pierre-Mouroy, Lille, France

Euro 96 was were it all began for me as a fan. The first international tournament I was aware of, and from that moment on, an aim to visit one myself, and experience the atmosphere that a month of solid football would offer. With the next two World Cups being held in a seemingly unfriendly Russia and the human rights violation that is Qatar, and Euro 2020 being designated a continental musical chairs, coupled with an impending new arrival in the family, Euro 2016 was to be that final opportunity (for now).

Despite applying for dozens of tickets in the ballot, I was initially only successful in obtaining one pair of group stage tickets for a Thursday afternoon game in Lens. A bit of a disappointment, and it seemed like a waste to take three days off work for one game. Then the draw was made – and that crummy fixture turned out to be England vs Wales – more on that in Part 2.

So it was on. And to add a bit more depth to the trip, I managed to get further tickets in the re-sale for Russia vs Slovakia in Lille the day before. Lille was to be our base. Hotels booked. Eurostar sorted. Pubs scouted. I was really looking forward to this.

Then Marseille happened…..

Suddenly a trip to a Lille filled with English, Welsh, and seemingly hell-bent on destruction Russian fans didn’t seem so attractive. Twitter accounts over the weekend detailed how innocents, as well as the usual so-called louts, had been picked off by these state-sponsored thugs from the east. I wasn’t fancying having my jaw dislodged from my face in a Lille backstreet or being tear gassed by French police. Family asked me not to go. Friends asked me to reconsider. Packing for the trip of a lifetime suddenly seemed like I was preparing to head off to the frontline. But to not go would be accepting that hooliganism has won. After much debate, my friend and I decided Russia vs Slovakia was to be done as planned, and we would do our best to enjoy it, despite the apprehension!

Lille’s Stade Pierre-Mouroy isn’t at all central but easy to get to nonetheless. Our train arrived in Lille just before 1pm. The ground can be reached from the centre by taking the Metro (yellow line, all the way to the end) which is a short-walk away at Gard de Lille Flandres. My notes on Euro 2016 will feature a few comments on how badly organised it was; the Lille metro is the first example. Whilst the trains ran on time and were frequent, no preparations whatsoever were made for the increased number of people using the network – the queues for tickets were huge, and it took us over half an hour to get ours.

Fifteen minutes after boarding we arrived at the end of the line; the ground is c. 10 minutes walk from the metro station. And here is the second example of bad organisation. The French police have received significant criticism for their handling of crowds. Whilst there were plenty present looking mean outside the metro station and the ground, if anything were to happen in the walkway between the two, it would probably be five minutes before anybody arrived to control the situation. No security at all present anywhere unless it was a landmark, or there was an opportunity to sit on a bench.

We went through two sets of security before we reached the ground, no stone left unturned seemingly (except, post-Marseille, for the coat of the Russian who got a flare in, the Croats who got dozens of flares in, and the Turks who also got flares in…..)

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The ground itself is striking in appearance; a continuous bowl with a razor blade texture on the outside (which I believe lights up at night, but our game was at 3pm, so I didn’t see this for myself). A small fan park had been setup outside selling food and drink and also merchandise; as inside the ground, and to be expected, both were very expensive. Two pints of beer cost €13. I say beer, but Carlsberg have for this tournament provided an incredible 0.5% proof tipple! Now the alcohol content isn’t everything, but when you order a beer, you expect a proper beer! Amazingly there was also a non-alcoholic version!

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I feel like I have moaned a lot already, so some positives. The ground inside really is great – very spacious concourses, impressive exterior, and fantastic sight lines. The roof was closed for this match adding to the atmosphere.

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Our seats that day were in the upper-tier of the Yellow block (technically the away end) above the noisy Slovakian fans behind the goal. The Slovakian fans really were good value, and in terrific voice. Our own stand included a number of their contingent who obviously couldn’t get tickets via their FA, and also lots of English, French, German and Belgian fans. I even spotted some Dutch and Scots (clearly lost)! The Russians were opposite behind the goal, and markedly much fewer in number compared to their opposition.

The ground wasn’t full though; at 50,000, Stade Pierre-Mouroy isn’t small, but the corporate seats around the middle were largely empty, which felt a shame. That said, this wasn’t a standout group game, so perhaps understandable.

UEFA put on a pre-game opening ceremony (this is done before every game…..) which involves a lot of running around and shouting. On the latter point, shouting is something of a theme at Euro 2016, with over enthusiastic presenters seemingly discovering nirvana when announcing everything including who the third choice goalkeepers are.

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But to the game. Russia drew their opener with England. Slovakia lost 2-1 against Wales, and were propping up the group. My own views were that Russia, despite their point, looked the poorest side in the competition, and that Slovakia were slightly unlucky against Wales, who seemed to be riding high on the occasion in their opener (helped by a couple of well-timed substitutions from Chris Coleman). My pre-game prediction was 2-1 to Slovakia.

And I was right….!

Slovakia dominated the first half, and exploited weaknesses in a poor Russian defence (something England couldn’t do in the previous game). Both goals carved open Russia’s back line. Hamsik’s second was sublime and a joy to watch. The game was pretty much won at half-time. The Slovakians were loving it and in cracking voice, helped by the continuous thud of a drum.

Russia came back into it in the second half, but Slovakia looked in control. A goal did however come in the 80th minute, and Russia had a route back into the game. We had decided a few minutes before the goal that we would leave five minutes before the end; this isn’t something I normally do, but we still had concerns following trouble at the weekend, and also had to check into our digs at some point. The appearance of a flare following the Russian goal was frankly quite remarkable given firstly the emphasis on terrorism at this tournament, and also following the use of a flare gun in Russia’s last game. The stewards quickly dealt with it, but we left at that point, not wanting to risk more fun and games.

Upon getting back into town, we took a cab to our apartment near the zoo. Lille was full of English and Welsh fans by this point, many of whom had clearly been on the sauce for some hours. From what we saw it was relatively good-natured at that point (c. 5.45pm), albeit the police had seemingly penned most people into around five pubs near the train station and the main square.

That said….

Yes it was good-natured (by the vast majority), but we did see people relieving themselves in the street, and anti-Russian songs seemed to be the order of the day, so it was perhaps not surprising trouble occurred later on. The reasons why are debated at length on the internet; I can only comment on what I saw passing through. All day drinking will invariably lead to trouble at some point.

Apartment sorted, our evening was spent in the very pleasant surroundings of La Guinguette de la Marine, and later on, Le Corfou. Belgian beers were enjoyed from an actual glass (plastic only elsewhere in town) to accompany an amazing pork dish, and the France vs Albania game watched with the locals, with police helicopters hovering in the distance. A nice end (for us) to a day in which we had initially had serious safety concerns. Euro 2016 – so far so good!

Other photos from the day


Dusseldorf Part 2 – Land of Little Pea

Saturday 30th April 2016 – Bayer 04 Leverkusen 2 – 1 Hertha Berlin

Bundesliga @ BayArena, Germany

Our second installment of the Düsseldorf weekend was to be Bayer Leverkusen playing host to Hertha Berlin; our original intention was to get to Borussia Dortmund, but given every man and his dog wants to go now, and the fact there were seven of us, it was nearly impossible to get tickets without parting with at least €300 each. So Bayer Leverkusen it was to be (Bayer 04 Leverkusen to give them their full name).

If MSV Duisburg was to be the equivalent of a drug fuelled all-nighter, Bayer Leverkusen was the 6am carrot juice sat on a sofa in a chillout bar.

To bunch Leverkusen into the category of a Düsseldorf weekend is slightly misleading; Leverkusen is technically closer to rival city Cologne, but was easily reachable from our base by train (price of which was included in the match ticket).

As the name of the club might suggest, Leverkusen is dominated by German pharma giant, Bayer AG. The biggest employer in the area, the club and ground is owned by the company (naming rights too obviously).

Like Duisburg, we didn’t actually need to go into Leverkusen itself to reach the BayArena. From the station, the ground is a 5 minute walk through parkland.

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The ground was redeveloped in the early part of the century with the intention of hosting World Cup 2006 games. At 30k capacity however, it was deemed too small. The outside of the ground is nothing short of impressive and almost space-age. I have read elsewhere that Bayer Leverkusen are German football’s, albeit much more successful, equivalent to Wigan Athletic. Ever present in the top flight (which Wigan once were), impressive ground, but with a small local populace / fanbase.

My previous experience of Bayer Leverkusen has been their regular match ups against English clubs in the Champion’s League. Indeed, this was 3rd vs Hertha Berlin in 4th. And at the this stage in the season, could prove a deciding fixture as to who gets the riches of the CL next season.

Inside the ground, Leverkusen also sported a featureless concrete concourse, similar to Duisburg. There was a slighty more corporate feel to the BayArena, and annoyingly they employ the system where you have to put money on a pre-paid card in order to purchase beer.

Getting tickets for this fixture was slightly tricky, and not cheap, at €35. We were seated to the left of the away fans, who were sandwiched between our stand along the length of the pitch and some corporate boxes. To the left of us behind the goal was a terrace which was making a good amount of noise.

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The BayArena feels relatively compact inside; the most striking feature is the roof, with a surreal circular hole in the middle. The ground is impressive, though slightly puzzling in terms of layout.

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Bayer Leverkusen secured CL football in this game, which goal wise was done and dusted by half-time. Leverkusen’s two goal lead (which started on the 2nd minute) being halved, but in all seriousness, Hertha Berlin never looked like getting back into the game. Hats off to their fans – who numbered c. 1,500 – for singing throughout.

There were no flares like the night before, and whilst the atmosphere was still decent, felt like something of an anti-climax compared to the previous evening. Tickets on the terrace were hard to come by, I imagine the experience would have been better had we been there. Seats in the other stands are however spacious and offer decent views of the pitch.

BayArena is a top quality ground that was a pleasure to visit – it just lacks what you might expect from a German crowd.

So a throughly enjoyable trip to an area that is packed with football clubs and ground ticks. Düsseldorf made for an excellent base for multiple ground visits. German football is to be applauded; terraces, drinking in the stands, (largely) affordable tickets, friendly fans, and travel thrown into your matchday ticket.

And I feel like a new allegiance was formed with MSV Duisburg. In which case, it looks like we may be going back in 2017…!

Other photos from BayArena



Dusseldorf Trip Part 1 – Zebras

Friday 29th April 2016 – MSV Duisburg 2 – 1 Fortuna Düsseldorf

Bundesliga 2 @ MSV-Arena, Duisburg

“He’s the Georgian Messi, mate….”

So last month I went to Germany. Düsseldorf to be exact, used as a base for visiting two of the many clubs based in Germany’s Upper-Rhine region (and to take advantage of the excellent pubs in the Old Town of course).

The first trip was on Friday night to the MSV-Arena, home of MSV Duisburg. At the time of booking, MSV Duisburg were rooted to the bottom of Bundesliga 2, and despite this being a local derby against Fortuna Düsseldorf, we were apprehensive as to whether this would be one turning up.

We were not to be disappointed.

Duisburg is one of the smaller towns in the area, and like much of its surroundings, heavily industrialised. To get to the MSV-Arena however, which sits on the outskirts, you don’t need to go into the town itself. Which whilst a shame, fit in with our flights. It took two attempts to get on the S-Bhan, such was the throng of Fortuna fans travelling alongside us, but after that it is a 35 minute journey, and roughly 10 minute walk at the other side.

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The ground itself, whilst large (over 30k in capacity), looks basic from the outside, pretty much a large steel and concrete square. Our tickets that day were on the home terrace, a snip at €12.

Once inside, you are greeted by an open concourse, selling beer and food (all of which looked delicious – and was a far cry from the pie and rubbery hot dog served in the UK). The first lesson for us however was get there early, particularly for a local derby. The terrace was packed even 45 minutes before KO. Speaking to the locals, Duisburg’s lowly position this season means they average no more than 22k supporters for most matches. But being against local rivals, this was  a full house. So we had to make do, at first, with a small strip next to the seating area, which didn’t offer the greatest views of the pitch, but did offer a decent vantage point to observe the festivities kicking off in the rest of the stand.

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Roughly 20 minutes before kick off, and aided by the announcer and some music, the home fans started a barrage of songs, flag waving, and general rowdiness. It was impressive. My last experience of German football had been in the St. Pauli away end at 1860 Munich, where despite their reputation, it was a relatively tame affair. The demonstration of support extended way beyond kick off, though the flags were lost as soon as the whistle went, ceremoniously thrown below the stand.

A word also for the Düsseldorf fans. Whilst fairly quiet in the first half, the ground was filled with smoke from flares in the second, and at one point the match was stopped whilst the chap swinging a flare round on some rope was asked to stop. Most of the actions of fans in Germany would result in a banning order back home, here it was just part of the fun.

The match itself, as you might expect for two teams at the foot of Bundesliga 2, whilst low in quality, was played at the high tempo characteristic of a local derby and a game where so much at stake. A loss for Duisburg would almost certainly confine them to German third division football. A win would give them a chance, and drag Duisburg into the mix.

A local we befriended described Duisburg as being like Villa that season; they looked doomed by Christmas. But unlike Villa, they mounted an incredible comeback. Düsseldorf he described as Chelsea; richer than most clubs in that division and expected to win promotion with ease, but whose team of stars had not gelled, and now resided in the bottom half.

He also advised that if Duisburg scored we would be soaked in beer. Just after the half-time break they did. And we were.

The first goal took the atmosphere to a new level; the aforementioned flares came out and the Duisburg fans increased the volume. A second goal wasn’t far behind – a victory against the local enemy, made shaky by Düsseldorf pulling one back, was secured and they were in with a chance of beating the drop.

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The party, and beer drinking, continued long after the final whistle. I’m not sure how the customary Premier League quick wave at the fans would go down in Germany, were mutual worship post-game appears the norm.

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It is difficult to articulate afterwards how good the atmosphere really was. In what could have been a dead rubber – Duisburg looked doomed when the tickets were booked – turned out to be a cracking local derby, and set is up nicely for a weekend of football. As I write this a month on, unfortunately Duisburg did go down, losing in the relegation play-offs. It is however well worth the trip, and if you can get a game against one of their local rivals, all the better.


Other photos from the MSV-Arena


Play-Off Awesomeness

Saturday 14th May 2016 – Derby County 0 – 3 Hull City AFC

Championship Play-Off SF 1st Leg @ Pride Park, Derby

“…..Sheffield Wednesday, we’re coming for you…..”

Wow. Just wow. It is a rare moment when a performance just comes together, but when it does it is truly amazing. Fans, players, manager and occasion all joined forces and created something simultaneously remarkable and devastating.

Derby were well and truly ‘mauled’ yesterday; I hope I am not eating these words at 10pm on Tuesday, but this tie looks dead already. Forfeit now! The second-leg is surely a formality?! I’m not going to apologise for the arrogance or over-optimism in this post. If you can’t enjoy being 3-0 up half way through a two-legged tie, then when can you boast and gloat?!

After a season of never quite getting out of second gear, but always staying near the top, City left the automatic promotion spots towards the end of March, like somebody sneaking out of a party because the girl he was looking to chat up had snogged his best mate. It was an anti-climatic end to the season both on and off the pitch (more on the latter later) that ended with the aim of the last 3 games being to ‘grab 4th’ and have the benefit of the second leg at home.

And 4th it was. And our opponents? Derby County. A team that had beaten us 2-0 and 4-0 already this term. Nobody really wanted the play-offs; the club, the manager, the fans, and probably not the players – there has been an air of superiority around the club this season, and deservedly so. If this was Football Manager we’d have walked the league.

But we didn’t. And the play-offs it was. And on a sunny, but slightly nippy, May Saturday, the Tiger Nation ventured to the East Midlands.

I have only ever been to Derby for the football. I have therefore never been in the City centre. It could be beautiful (it probably isn’t though). But the location of Pride Park (or more recently, the iPro), whilst close to the train station, is not central. The early kick-off for Sky also meant there was little time for exploring beforehand – an 8am start from Kent, I arrived just after 11am, and made my way to the ground.

To get to Pride Park from the station is relatively simple, and depending on the length of your legs, takes 10-15 minutes. Like a lot of new builds, this one is through a retail park. Once you have ventured past the car dealerships and resisted the temptations of Chiquitos however, the ground itself is quite a sizeable affair. Capacity is just shy of 34k, making it one of the bigger grounds in the Championship (until next season when Villa and Newcastle arrive).

The club is to applauded however as despite the location, there are a myriad of food and drinks options outside the ground, including a small fans park (which looked like home fans only…), the usual burger fans joined by a host of pop-up options, a Starbucks and a Greggs!!! This writer opted for a pop-up burger which at £3.50 was deemed reasonable value, but I stopped short of the egg-cup sized portion of chips on the side (an extra £3).

Sup that day was in the ground – about £3 a pint. Nothing special. Lager, bitter or cider. But it did the job.


Hull fans were situated in one of the corners. To our left was the rowdier of the home fans also behind the goal. The inside of the ground is pretty neat – it came almost as a surprise as it was probably about 7 years since I had last been. Despite being right at the back, the view of the pitch was fantastic. A stadium, that without sounding cliché, would not be out-of-place in the league above.

As it was play-off day, a great scene was made for Sky, who were no doubt throwing out all the usual “such a difficult league”, “so close to call” type superlatives beforehand. Derby opted to provide flags and confetti for the home fans to throw around and provide some ‘passion’ for the cameras.

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City fans opted to lift red cards en-masse instead, a protest aimed at the Allam family who continue to persist in ‘not fucking off’. Many have written on the subject much more eloquently than I will attempt, but a ticket price structure that sees kids and OAPs pay as much as adults is lunacy and could have a serious impact on the long-term supporter base of the club. Stop it now.


But on with the show…

Protests over and City fans got behind their team. The stewards didn’t attempt to make anybody sit down, and cap tipped, were genuinely good value all day from what I saw. Once the flag waving fun was over, the Derby fans were relatively more subdued despite their team having most of the possession and being the better side in the opening exchanges.

On the half hour mark though City struck first. Hernandez shot from just outside the area and 1-0 it was. From where I was stood it looked like Carson should have saved it. But I wasn’t going to complain!

Derby had looked good before that, and I was expecting them to come back all guns blazing given the occasion.

Not to be. Being blunt, they shat it. They completely imploded and it looked like half-time could not come quickly enough for them. A bit (ok a lot) of luck was involved for the second; a shot from Odubajo (he’s magic you know….) ricocheted off the arse of Jason Shackell and Carson was beaten again. Chaos in the away end. The Derby lot started filing out for their half-time brews five minutes early. City fans were suddenly feeling confident enough to start singing about Wembley.

My mate booked his hotel in London at half time.

After the break I was again expecting a response from Derby but nothing came. Perennial continental butter fingers Eldin Jakupovic deputized for Alan McGregor on the day which had me worried, but Derby didn’t really test him.

The second half seemed much of a nothing. Derby tried to get forward. They even brought on Darren Bent. But City were in control. The fans just enjoying the occasion.

A third would have been nice but we weren’t feeling greedy. But a third we got. I didn’t really see it that well from my vantage point, but deep into second half injury time Robertson slotted home to send the tie to the mortuary. More chaos in the away end. Game. Set. And match. Barring nothing short of a total meltdown on Tuesday, Hull City will play their final game of the 2015/2016 season at Wembley Stadium. Our fourth visit since 2008. And a high likelihood of being in with a chance to say we have beaten both Sheffield clubs at our national stadium.

There are some games that live long in the memory. This will be one of them.

City are ace again. Bring on 28th May.


Footnote / Special Mention

I can’t end this blog entry without mentioning North Ferriby United; FA Trophy Winners in 2015 and promoted to the National League ‘proper’ (Conference for us traditionals) this weekend after an extra time 2-1 against AFC Fylde – a fantastic achievement. This is a club which at the start of the season looked like it was going down a couple of leagues to make the books balance. A village of 4,000 mixing it with fallen giants. Hope they enjoy the moment!! I look forward to seeing them when they travel south next season!