Saturday, 8 September 2018

MERSTHAM (Moatside Stadium)


This afternoon I belatedly got on the road (or should that be train track) to Wembley as I took in my first FA Cup game of the season.

A mate suggested a day trip to the big smoke for our game so after some deliberation we opted for Merstham versus Cray Valley Paper Mill. This was my suggestion in order to assist my seemingly never ending quest to complete all the ground down to non-league step 3 - just as I was getting close there was a league restructure this summer and I now have another 8 grounds to visit in order to finish off the third tier.

Team line ups - that is former Charlton and Leyton Orient
striker Kevin Lisbie lining up for Cray Valley PM

It was an early start as I left the house at the crack of dawn in order to catch the 0615 train to Euston. Obviously with such an early start it meant arriving in London before 9am. This meant there was time for full breakfast in Wetherspoons in Lee (not my choice as these days I am reluctant to hand over any of my hard earned to that Father Jack look-a-like) before catching a bus up the road to Blackheath for a few pre-match light ales. Our choice for imbibing was the fabulous Zerodegrees with a fine selection to choose from.

Once fed and watered it was back to London Bridge station to catch the train to Merstham. The train passes over the M25 as Merstham is in East Surrey, just north of Redhill.

Merstham Football Club were formed in 1892 and were founder members of the Redhill and District Football League in 1897. The club remained in that league until the 1950's when they joined the Surrey County Intermediate League before moving up to Surrey Senior League.

The club transferred to the Combined Counties League in 1984 and in 2008 they were league champions and earned promotion to the Isthmian League Division One South. In 2015 they were promoted to the Premier Division after beating Folkstone Invicta in the play off final. The club have remained at step 3 in the non-league pyramid since.

 The club have played at the Moatside Stadium since the 1920's and the club reached the national conscience in 2016 when Merstham hosted Oxford United in the first round of the FA Cup in front of a record 1,920 crowd.

Today the club were once again on the trail of FA Cup glory as they welcomed Cray Valley PM to the Moatside. On paper it appeared to look an easy tie for Merstham against opposition from two leagues below. However, football matches are never decided on paper!

The game finished goalless, with chances few and far between. As the game progressed it appeared more and likely the game was heading for stalemate as Cray Valley dug in for a thoroughly deserved replay. Indeed the visitors from the Borough of Greenwich, who play two divisions below Merstham in the Southern Counties East league, had the best chance of the game but Joe N’Guessan fluffed his strike with the goal at his mercy. Merstham had a couple of half chances towards the end of the game but that would have been incredibly harsh on Cray Valley.

Edit: The replay ended 3-3 and Cray Valley won 4-1 on penalties. They will now travel to Oxford City in the 2nd Qualifying Round.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018


ATTENDANCE: 5,887                                                          *Won 4-3 on penalties

The final leg of my journey took me across Switzerland to just over the border into France. I had spent the Monday night in Zurich where, although there was no football game involved, I took a tram up to FIFA headquarters to have a little nose around!

I was flying home from Basel on Wednesday so when the French league cup threw up a fixture 8 miles over the border, with FC Sochaux-Montbeliard playing at home, then it was an absolute no brainer and allowed me to complete four games in four countries in four days.

Sochaux is famous as the home of the Peugeot, with the family starting manufacturing in the town in 1810 with the production of bicycles. The company diversified into coffee, pepper and salt grinders in the mid-19th century before the manufacture of cars began in 1889. Peugeot's lion badge is derived from the town's coat-of-arms. The Peugeot museum is located in the town but time constraints meant I had no time to visit.

FC Sochaux-Montbeliard (FCSM) were founded in 1928, so are celebrating their 90th anniversary this year. The club was founded by Jean-Pierre Peugeot to create a football club for the leisure time of the company's workers.

The Stade Auguste Bonal has been home for (almost) the entire history of FCSM. After just three years of existence, FCSM were attracting large huge crowds to their matches so the directors of Peugeot decided to create a stadium specifically for the football club. This was constructed next to the forges section of the Peugeot car factory and on 11th November 1931, in the now named Stade de la Forge, the inaugural game took place with FCSM beating Stade Français in the Coupe de Peugeot.

 The capacity of the stadium was increased to 10,000 by the mid 1930's with the construction of new stands and the ground remained largely the same until the late 1990's when all four sides were completely rebuilt to create a modern 20,000 capacity stadium. The ground was renamed the Stade Auguste Bonal as a tribute to FCSM/Peugeot director Auguste Bonal who was deported to a concentration camp in Germany, where he died in April 1945.

FCSM's glory days were in their early years in the 1930's when they clinched the French League title twice in 1935 and 1938 and the French Cup in 1937. Their only recent honours have been a League Cup victory in 2004 and another French Cup win in 2007. FCSM did have a run to the semi-final of the UEFA Cup in 1981, where they lost to AZ Alkmaar.

The club are currently in Ligue 2 after relegation in 2014 but this evening was all about the League Cup. FCSM were hosting Stade Brestois, who embarked on a 2000km return journey from Brest for this cup tie (and would be making the same trip again on Friday for a league game).

Clearly there is the same level of appetite for the league cup in France as there is in England, so tickets were reduced to ‎€5 in order to tempt the punters in. It seemed to work as the crowd was just under 6,000 which is around the average for FCSM. There is also the fact that just 6 Brest fans (pictured above, left) were sat in the away end, so hats off to them for making the previously mentioned 2000km round trip.

Those hardy supporters From Brittany were rewarded with a victory for Stade Brestois, but it did need a penalty shoot out in order to secure their place in the next round.

In a game of few clear cut chances, Brest took the lead when Mathias Autret (25) side-footed home a cross from Valentin Henry. The home supporters were not happy as the boos and whistles rang out at half time.

The game was petering out to an away win but then a cross-shot from Ermedin Demirović (75) was turned into his own goal by Brendan Chardonnet who, to be fair to him, couldn't really do anything about it.

There is no extra time in the league cup in France and at 90 minutes the tie went straight to penalties. The shoot out swung one way and the other, courtesy of some poor spot kicks, but eventually it was left to Ibrahima Diallo to slot home the winner for Stade Brest (pictured below).

Sunday, 12 August 2018

FC VADUZ (Rheinpark Stadion)


Sunday afternoon was the highlight of the weekend for me as I finally made the trip to the Principality of Liechtenstein. After spending the morning watching Schwarz-Weiss Bregenz I made my way to the capital city, Vaduz. 

I took the train from Bregenz to Feldkirch station and from here I caught the number 11 bus, for a very scenic journey across the border, which took me into the heart of Vaduz.

From Vaduz Post bus stop it was 15 minute walk to the Rheinpark Stadion, the home of FC Vaduz. As you can probably guess from name, the ground is on the banks of the river Rheine which is also the border between Lichtenstein and Switzerland.

After the game, I took a stroll along the river and walked across the old wooden bridge "Die Alte Rheinbrücke" that links the two countries.

As well as being the home of FC Vaduz, the Rheinpark Stadion is also the national stadium of Liechtenstein. The ground was opened in 1998 in order to provide the country with a UEFA and FIFA compliant stadium in order to host international games (Liechtenstein has only played in qualifying tournaments since 1994). The ground was originally two-sided but in 2006 stands were built behind each goal taking the capacity up to just over 7,500.

I have to admit there are worse stadiums in the world to watch football. The location is great and the views from the stands are simply stunning, and I don't just mean of the pitch!

Founded in 1932, FC Vaduz are the oldest club in the principality and are the only full time professional club. Liechtenstein has no league of it's own, so all of the seven clubs based in the country all play in the Swiss League system. They do however have a cup competition and the winners, usually FC Vaduz, enter the Europa League each season. Vaduz exited Europe this year at the second qualifying round stage after losing to Lithuanian side FK Žalgiris.

FC Vaduz have spent most of their history outside the top flight apart from one season, in 2008/09 where they finished bottom, and another three season spell from 2014- 2017 where their highest finish was 8th place (in 2016).

Servette FC were the visitors to the Principality this afternoon and they can certainly consider themselves unlucky not to come away from the game with at least a point. The team from Geneva created the more clear cut chances in a decent game, played at a good tempo despite the heat.

They had the first chance after 8 minutes when Mychell Chagas bulleted a header towards the bottom corner but Andreas Hirzel in the Vaduz goal produced a fine one handed save. The game was end to end, with chances for both teams, but neither 'keeper was truly tested and it was goalless at the interval.

The second half continued in similar fashion before the deadlock was broken in the 70th minute. A hopeful cross from substitute Christopher Drazan eluded the Servette defenders and was allowed to bounce in the penalty area where the onrushing Igor Tadic headed home to secure the win for Vaduz.

Servette nearly equalised in the when Kastriot Imeri crashed an effort from 20 yards against the upright in stoppage time but the home side managed to see the game out.

What a vista! There are worse places...

The beautiful city of Vaduz is pretty compact so you can easily walk around the centre in about 15 minutes. The Prince of Liechtenstein resides in Vaduz Castle, high up in the mountains, which can be seen from almost anywhere in the city (pictured below).

There is a brewery in Liechtenstein but it is closed on a Sunday however I managed to find a pizza restaurant where they had two of their beers on draft. That made for a perfect night cap to end a great day.

Monday was to be a football free day but before I left Vaduz I had to pay a visit to another of the city's attractions, namely the Postal Stamp Museum where there was an exhibition of World Cup stamps. I am no philatelist but it would have been remiss of me not to go and have a peep!

If you have not been to the Rheinpark Stadion or Vaduz then I would certainly recommend putting a visit on your bucket list!