Saturday, 24 February 2018

PRESTATYN SPORTS (Gronant Playing Fields)


After last weekends European travels I kept it closer to home this Saturday. I took the opportunity to complete visits to all of the clubs and grounds of the Welsh Alliance League. The opportunity of a 'champagne job' admittedly influenced my decision to head to Upper Gronant today.

Prestatyn Sports were formed as recently as 2013 and have enjoyed a fair amount of success in it's short history. The club won the promotion to the Vale of Clwyd & Conwy League Premier Division in its first season before going one better and winning promotion to the Welsh Alliance League as champions in 2015. The club also won an unprecedented quadruple by adding NWCFA Intermediate Cup, Premier Cup and Presidents Cup to their trophy cabinet.

In order to gain promotion to the Welsh Alliance the club left behind their Meadows home in Prestatyn, as that ground did not meet league criteria due to a lack of changing facilities and dugouts, and moved to the Gronant Playing Fields.

The ground is pretty basic but is railed behind one goal and up to halfway line, meeting the minimum standards for the Welsh Alliance. I am led to believe Prestatyn Nova and Greenfield have previously played on this ground. Whatever the ground lacks in facilities though it certainly makes up with vista, offering great views of the Irish Sea and of the Dee Estuary looking towards Point of Ayr lighthouse and Talacre Beach. There were refreshments available and a hot brew at half time was most welcome on a bitterly cold day.

The fact that the club are playing at Gronant led to them being voted out of the Welsh Alliance at the beginning of this season. Gronant does not fall into the catchment area of the league as it is in Flintshire (which is covered by the Welsh National League) and Prestatyn are a Denbighshire club. The club appealed the decision and won meaning they were reinstated to the league. Plans are in place for a suitable home back in the town but lack of funds are proving problematic. 

Penmaenmawr Phoenix were the visitors to Upper Gronant this afternoon. The opening exchanges were very scrappy with neither side able to take control. The turning point was a penalty to Sports and red card to a Phoenix defender midway through first half, for deliberately handling on the line. Ian Griffiths (33) stepped up to convert the spot kick and after that it was one way traffic and basically shooting practice for the home side. 

Goals from James Harper (50) Chris Owen (53) Mike Jones (60) and Jack McDougall (80) ensured a comfortable afternoon at 'The Fortress' for Prestatyn and luckily for Penmaenmawr some of the other finishing was poor or the scoreline could have been a hell of a lot worse! The result leaves Sports second in the table, 22 points behind leaders Glan Conwy, but they still have a whopping 10 games in hand. 

Saturday, 17 February 2018

HOLSTEIN KIEL (Holstein Stadion)


My final trip of the weekend took me to north to the city of Kiel, located on the shores of the Baltic Sea. The city is a major maritime base and busy port and the Kiel canal is one of the busiest in the world.

It was an early start from Münster in order to make the 1300 kick off. The ground is a good 30 minute bus ride from the main station, but fortunately buses are frequent so there was plenty of time for a beverage and a frikadellen. Holstein Kiel were hosting Erzgebirge Aue in a 2.Bundesliga clash. Coincidentally, Kiel were the visitors when I travelled to Aue a few years ago.

Kieler Sportvereinigung Holstein were formed in 1900 and in their early years were a dominant force in the north. They won the German championship in 1912 but have never reached the promised land of the Bundesliga, spending most of their history in the second and third tiers.

The club returned to the 2.Bundesliga for the 2017/18 season and are enjoying a very good season thus far. Admittedly the good ship KSV has hit choppy waters in 2018, having failed to win so far, but going into the winter break they were in one of the automatic promotion positions. Kiel are still third in the table, which is a promotion play off position, but the other teams below them are now closing in.

In order to meet the criteria for any promotion, plenty of work has been done on the Holstein Stadium. At one stage the ground did not meet the minimum criteria necessary for the Bundesliga so major renovation has taken place. Two new stands were erected to replace the old terracing. In fact the only remnants of the old terracing are behind one of the goals where the away fans are placed.

All the differing builds give the feel of a bit of a hotch-potch ground. I was having a chat with a couple of fans and there is talk that the club could, in the next few years, be demolishing the ground completely and re-building it to create a stadium with a capacity of around around 25,000. 

Erzgebirge Aue were the visitors this afternoon, making the 400 mile journey from Saxony and they would have returned happy having secured a precious point as Holstein Kiel's inability to turn draws into wins haunted them once again.

It started well for the Stork's as they found themselves 2-0 up. After 10 minutes good work down the right led to Dominck Drexler crossing the ball to an unmarked Marvin Ducksch to sidefoot home from 12 yards. Kiel were on the front foot and their winless run looked to be coming to end when Drexler swept home a second goal, after Rafael Czichos headed the ball on from a corner kick.

However on 36 minutes The Violets got a goal back in slightly controversial circumstances. A corner was flicked on and Malcolm Cacutalua challenged the Kiel 'keeper, Kenneth Kronholm, who appeared to have caught the ball. He subsequently lost control and Cacutalua prodded the loose ball home. It terms of modern football it was certainly a foul on the 'keeper but the referee let the goal stand.

It got better for Erzgebirge Aue 90 seconds later when Cacutalua levelled things up. A free kick was launched forward and Cacutalua's header from the edge of penalty area looped over the 'keeper into the net.

The second half was a more cagey affair and both teams had chances to seal the win but the game eventually petered out and both teams had to settle for the draw. That's eight games without a win for Kiel and if that continues their promotion hopes will surely be sunk.

After the match I headed back to Hamburg for a few night caps. On the journey north it was noticeable how much snow there was on the ground and on my way back south I received confirmation the my game of choice for Sunday had been postponed. The weather had played havoc with other games in the lower leagues too, so this turned out to be my final game of this trip. Another fantastic weekend in Germany and hopefully I will be able to get over once more before this season is out.

Friday, 16 February 2018

SC PREUßEN MÜNSTER (Preußenstadion)


For my Friday night football fix I found myself in the North Westphalia region of Germany for a 3.Liga clash between  Preußen Münster and Hansa Rostock. Münster is a student city and is famous for the amount of bikes within the city. Everywhere you turned there was a bike and the parking station by the hauptbanhof is certainly the first thing you notice upon arrival!

I arrived late afternoon after a slight delay in my flight from Bucharest but there was still time to catch up with a mate in the Pinkus Müller brewery tap for a few beers before catching the bus to the ground.

Formed in 1906, Preußen Münster have spent all of their years below the top flight of German football apart from one season, 1963/64, when, after consistent Oberliga finishes, they were invited to become one of the founder members of the Bundesliga. They finished 15th in that inaugural season and were relegated back to regional football.

The club are currently in the third tier of German football, where they have been since 2011 but at the start of play tonight they were 4th from bottom whilst the visitors from Rostock were 4th from top, but both teams were in good form since the winter break.

Off the pitch though there could possibly be troubles ahead. At an extraordinary general meeting in January members voted to for the football department to became separate from the sports association, thus opening the football club club to investment and the possible move away from the 50 plus 1 model, where members retain a controlling interest.

This has led to Preußen Münster ultras withdrawing their support by not partaking in the things most admired in German football such as, for example, not displaying banners or constantly singing during matches. At this time though there is no apparent boycott of games.

The main home block(s) behind the goal. Note there are no flags on display.

The Preußenstadion has been home since 1926. When it was built it was one of the most impressive stadiums in Germany with a capacity of around 40,000. That is now down to around 15,000 but in my eyes it still looks a fantastic ground. There has been work done in recent times such as the building of a new grandstand (in 2009) and covering added to the far side. There are swathes of open terracing and there is still the feel of a proper 'old skool' stadium.

On a freezing cold evening, the game was a routine win for the home side however the opening goal was anything but routine. Inside the opening 10 minutes Martin Kobylański unleashed an unstoppable shot from 25 yards into the top corner to give 'Die Adler' the lead. Janis Blaswich in the Rostock goal had no chance of saving the effort.

Simon Scherder (54) headed home from close range to make it 2-0 and from then on the game was pretty much a non-event. Skipper Adriani Grimaldi had a chance to extend Preußen Münster's lead but he blazed over when clean through.

Hansa Rostock, considering their form, offered little and the game petered out. I must give credit to the Rostock supporters who, having travelled in numbers, never stopped singing and bouncing up and down all game despite having very little to cheer.

Post match analysis took place in The James and Braukunstwerk, which was an excellent way to round off the evening!

Thursday, 15 February 2018

FOTBAL CLUB FCSB (National Arena)

ATTENDANCE: 25,000 (est)

The only paper here!
Prince, Puff Daddy, Cat Stevens are a few examples of famous name changes at the height of their respective careers but how often do you hear of a world famous football club changing their name?

In 2017 Steaua Bucharest, 26 times Romanian Champions and 1986 European Champions, were forced to change their name after they lost a legal dispute with the Romanian Ministry of Defence.

Steaua Bucharest were formed in 1947 as the Romanian Royal Army created a sports association, of which football was one of the departments. The colours of the Romanian flag, red, blue and yellow, were adopted as the club colours, though the yellow was gradually phased out to leave the now traditional red shirts and blue shorts.

The club's first name was Army Sports Association Bucharest before changing to Army Sports Club Steaua Bucharest in 1961. Steaua's finest hour was in the the 1980's when, in 1986, the club became the first team from the Eastern Bloc to win Europe's top club prize, beating Barcelona on penalties after a goalless draw. They also claimed the European Super Cup in the same year. Steaua also reached the final in 1989 but even the inspirational Gheorghe Hagi couldn't prevent AC Milan running out 4-0 winners. Steaua were also domestic champions in five consecutive seasons from 1984 to 1989 before going one better in the 1990's by winning the title six times in a row from 1992 to 1998.

In was in 1998 that the seeds for today's issues were sown. In order to comply with UEFA rules the football club became separate from the sports association and became a private entity. In 2003 the club became public under the stewardship of the controversial businessman George Becali.

Prior to gaining control of Steaua, Becali was involved in a dubious land swap deal with Romania's Ministry of Defence involving land he never actually owned and which, ultimately, cost the Ministry millions. He was jailed for his part in 2013.

In 2011 the Ministry of Defence decided to sue for the rights to the name, claiming the name, badge and colours had been used illegally since 2004.  The courts ruled in favour of the Ministry and, in 2014, there was the bizarre sight of Steaua playing a home game with no badge, a change of colours and being referred to as 'the hosts'.

In March 2017 the club officially became known as Fotbal Club FCSB after more court rulings and ratification. The Romanian Army re-founded its football department in 2017 under the name CSA Steaua București and they began in the fourth level of Romanian Football. The newly formed club lay claim to the honours of the club between 1947 and 2003 but UEFA officially recognise FCSB as the continuation of Steaua Bucharest.

The Lazio fans

The decision has also split the fans with some supporter groups following the re-founded army club. Since 2012 home has been the National Arena in Bucharest, which is around 5km from the old town. The ground tonight was about half full, with about 1,500 Lazio fans travelling over from Rome.

They would be heading back to the eternal city wondering how on earth they failed to take anything from the first leg. Felipe Caicedo forced Andrei Vlad in the FCSB goal into a couple of saves before, against the run of play, Harlem-Eddy Gnohere (29) was played through and with only Thomas Strakosha in the Lazio goal to beat, he kept his cool to slot home. Lazio's Sergej Milinkovic-Savic headed against the crossbar in the dying moments of the first half but it was home side ahead at the break.

The second half continued in a similar vein with Lazio making all the running and FCSB hoping to catch the Italians on the break. Caicedo had another couple of half chances before being replaced by Immobile. Another substitute  Felipe Anderson missed Lazio's best chance on the hour when he was played through and with just Vlad to beat he fired wide.

In the final minutes of the game Lazio had an effort blocked on the line as the FCSB defenders put their bodies on the (goal) line to ensure they travel to Italy next week with a precious lead. Whether this is enough to see the Romanians through we will have to see.

The game was finished after midnight local time and by the time I returned to the old town the excellent craft beer bars were closed for night. I thoroughly enjoyed my few days in Bucharest and I will almost certainly pencil in a return visit in the future.

Torchlight from the FCSB fans as the game entered the final seconds


EDIT: Lazio won the return leg 5-1 to go through 5-2 on aggregate.