Saturday, 18 February 2017

MTK BUDAPEST (Hidegkuti Nándor Stadium)


After days of travelling, admiring the sights of Vienna and Bratislava, I finally arrived in Budapest for the weekend, so naturally a nearby game simply had to be found!

I plumped for the local derby between MTK and Honved at the Hidegkuti Nándor Stadium, was officially opened in December 2016. The new ground is built on the site of the Hungária Körúti Stadion, which was completely demolished in 2014.

The original ground was inaugurated in 1947 and was famously used in the 1980 cult film "Escape to Victory" when the likes of Pele, Michael Caine, Bobby Moore and Sylvester Stallone played on the hallowed turf. Indeed pictures of Pele at the old ground were flashed up on the big screen before the game, in a montage of images from the past.

Nándor Hidegkuti was a famous player for MTK and Hungary. He scored a hat-trick at Wembley in 1953 as the 'Magical Magyars' thrashed England 6-3 in a game which changed the face of football in the English game forever.

The new ground has a capacity of just over 5,000 and is two sided. The seats are the ones of varying shades to create the illusion that the ground is full. However, apart from when Ferenvarcos come to visit, this is always unlikely to be the case.

All the fans, including the away fans who are caged into two blocks, are on one side of the ground and the curved roofing creates the impression of being in an indoor arena. It is a straightforward ride from the city centre on metro line 3, alighting at Népliget, then an easy 20 minute walk (or 5 minute tram ride) from there.

As this was a local derby, I had to obtain a fancard, which was easily done at a cost of 500 Forints. I went to a ticket office based in the city centre and they sorted out both fancard and match ticket (a total cost of around £8). I was extremely lucky (ahem) to find a craft beer bar contained within the same building. Well it would have rude not to!

Magyar Testgyakorlók Köre Budapest, to give the club their full name, were formed in 1888 and are one of the most successful clubs in Hungarian Football. They have won the championship on no less than 23 occasions, but the last of these came in 2008 and since then the club has fallen down the pecking order, even being relegated for the first time in 2011.

The club bounced back at the first attempt but have finished no higher than third in the league. MTK played Europa league football in 2015 and 2016 but failed to get past the qualifying rounds.

The game was played at a decent tempo but it was Honved who had the majority of possession in the opening period. They had the best of the few chances created. Honved eventually made the breakthrough in the 49th minute when Davide Lanzafame turned the ball home from inside the six yard box.

However instead of pushing on, Honved allowed MTK back into the game and they were awarded a penalty in the 61st minutes, Sándor Torghelle dispatching the spot kick. Torghelle's joy didn't last long as he was shown a straight red card for a foul five minutes later.

To their credit MTK didn't sit back and kept going forward. The game was ebbing and flowing when in the 78th minute Honved were also awarded a spot kick, for something spotted by the goaline official, and Marton Eppel stepped up to score what proved to be the winning goal.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

ADMIRA WACKER MÖDLING (Bundesstadion Südstadt)


This weekend I found myself in the Austrian capital, so it would have been churlish not to seek out at least one game to go and watch. I was drawn to the current league leaders, SC Altach, and their trip to Mödling to face Admira Wacker (another great football name).

After landing at the airport, I headed to my hotel and dumped my bag before catching the metro train south of the city to the Bundesstadion Südstadt (currently known as the BSFZ Arena under a sponsorship arrangement).

The ground is about a 20 minute walk from Mödling Banhof and, to be frank, there isn't a lot to see or do around the stadium. Tickets were obtained online a few days before the match and they were print at home, so that saved a euro on the matchday entry.

Most of the crowd were in the large main stand, with of pocket of Ultras from each club on the terraces either side of this stand. The bulk of the terraces were covered up so the supporters were basically standing in the gangways that used to lead onto the terraces. The side opposite the main stand was closed to supporters.

Admira Wacker was founded in 1971 when Admira Vienna (originally founded in 1905) and Wacker Vienna (originally founded in 1908) merged after financial difficulties for both clubs. The current club was founded in 1997 after Admira Wacker merged with VfB Mödling (originally founded in 1911) again after a financial crisis.

The club have won the Austrian Bundesliga on 9 occasions, Admira Vienna 8 times and Wacker Vienna once. The majority of these successes were pre-World War Two and the clubs last title was in 1966. The club reached the Europa League in 2013 and 2017 but failed to make it past the qualifying rounds.

The match was an insipid affair and did nothing to warm one with excitement on a bitterly cold afternoon. Altach were top of the table going into the match, with Admira down in 7th, and it was league leaders who had most of the possession but created little in terms of goal threat.

The first goal arrived though on 41 minutes when substitute Nikola Zivotic was felled in the box and Moumi Ngamaleu dispatched the resulting spot kick, celebrating with a Peter Beagrie-esque back flip.

Surprisingly though the game was all square two minute later when Altach goalkeeper Andreas Lukse could only parry an attempt at goal into the path of Christoph Monschein, whose overhead kick found the back of the net.

In the 80th minute, just moments after coming on as a subsitute, Dominik Starkl missed a glorious chance to steal the points for Admira, when one-on-one at goal, but Lukse saved the day. A draw was a fair result and neither side did enough to justify a win.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

STOKE CITY (bet365 Stadium)


With a couple of odd days holiday left to take, I decided to book a day off work and head to the warm sunny climes of the Potteries as Everton travelled down the M6 for a Premier League clash at Stoke City.

It was an uneventful journey to Staffordshire until I got within 5 miles of the stadium when an accident had brought the A500 to a standstill. The sat-nav advised that the quickest way now was to spin the car around and head back to the M6 and go to the next junction.

Eventually I was parked up by 6.45pm (at Longton Bowls Club) and a short walk over the footbridge over the A50 had me outside the ground around 7pm.

The ground, which opened in 1997 as a replacement for the Victoria Ground, has always been sponsored (though when Stoke qualified for Europe UEFA called it the Stoke Stadium) and from its inauguration until the beginning of this season it was known as the Britannia Stadium, after a local building society, but for the next six years, at least, it will be known as the bet365 Stadium.

The ground was officially opened by the legendary Sir Stanley Matthews and when he died in 2000 his ashes were buried beneath the centre circle. There is a statue in his honour outside the ground.

My last visit to the ground was in 2002 when Everton secured a 1-0 victory in an FA Cup 3rd round tie. The record attendance for the stadium were present that day as 28,218 packed in to watch Alan Stubbs score a 51st minute winner. This record will certainly be beaten next season when the capacity of ground is increased to around 30,000 when the open corners are filled in.

I had a great seat tonight (not that anyone sits down in the away end during the game) behind the goal, seven rows from the front. It was so close to the action that during the warm up a wayward shot hit me in a rather sensitive part of ones anatomy, much to the amusement of the people around me.

The blustery conditions were never going to be conducive to free flowing football and the home side used these to their advantage time and again. Veteran striker Peter Crouch won everything in the air as he gave the Everton back line a torrid time. It was Crouch who opened the scoring after 7 minutes when he fired home, unmarked, from 10 yards after a Marko Arnautovic cross. This was Crouch's 100th Premier League and to celebrate he reprised his famous robot dance.

Stoke had further chances to increase their lead but it was Everton who scored next, and in slightly controversial circumstances. In the 39th minute a Seamus Coleman shot was turned into his own goal by Ryan Shawcross but the linesman flagged an offside Romelu Lukaku, who appeared to get the final touch. After a brief consultation, the goal was awarded when it was confirmed Lukaku, who was offside, never touched the ball or impeded the goalkeeper's position or vision.

There was still time before the break for Stoke to restore their lead but Arnautovic, when one-on-one with Joel Robles, saw his effort blocked by the Spanish goalkeeper.

Everton made a tactical substitution at half time with James McCarthy replacing young Mason Holgate, who endured a tough time in the first half. The Irishman offered a little more protection and finally allowed Everton to get a foothold in the game. Stoke still had chances, Saido Berahino had an effort headed off by the line by Ramiro Funes Mori, but now at least Everton were getting forward.

It wasn't until the final 10 minutes that Lee Grant in the Stoke goal was properly tested. The best effort was a bullet header from Tom Davies, which was parried into the path of Ademola Lookman, whose effort was inches wide. That could have clinched all three points for the blues but a draw was a fair reflection of the game.

I was back at my car for around 10.20pm and away on the A500 by 10.25pm. Despite the M6 north being closed I was back in the house before midnight to reflect on the evenings events. Onward Evertonians.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

DARLINGTON FC 1883 (Blackwell Meadows)


When, in January 2012, after 129 years of history, Darlington FC were placed in administration by their former owner, this ultimately lead to the club going under. The assets of the club were then bought by Darlington 1883 Ltd, but they could not prevent the original club from being dissolved, as an agreement to pay the outstanding debts could not be reached.

Under FA rules this meant that the club were classed as a new entity had to rename itself, in this case Darlington 1883, and were forced to regroup in the lower reaches of the pyramid, in this case the Northern League. This was despite the "new" club reaching agreements with to pay back what owed by the "old" club, which they were now not legally obliged to do.

The dissolution meant Darlington 1883 were now homeless and had no players. All that was left was the club crest. A groundshare agreement was reached with Bishop Auckland, meaning Darlington were now playing their "home" game games twelve miles down the road. Originally Darlington FC played at Feethams from their formation in 1883 until 2003, when they moved to the Darlington Arena. The arena is now used for rugby as it was bought by Darlington Mowden Park.

Heritage Park was "home" until Boxing Day 2016, when the football club finally returned to Darlington. Blackwell Meadows is the home of Darlington Rugby Club and a 20 year groundshare deal was agreed in 2013.

Much work was needed to bring the ground up to Conference North standards, including the enclosing of the pitch (previously it was all open) and the building of a 250 seat stand. There are plans to add another similar sized stand in the very near future.

However the standout feature is the 1,000 capacity "Tin Shed" which was has been reassembled, behind the goal, at the new ground and has been built using the original steel from the "Tin Shed" at Feethams, the framework having been in storage at a local builders for the last 14 years.

The "Tin Shed" from Feethams, resurrected after 14 years in storage

There was a capacity crowd of 3,000 for the grand opening versus FC Halifax Town but crowds have levelled out to a still healthy average of around 1,900 for subsequent home games. That was partly behind my thinking of visiting sooner rather than later as it may prove problematic getting in as the club continues to rise up the pyramid.

It was a good trip up to the North East as the train took the strain. It meant I was able to enjoy some beer in the superb York Tap (whilst waiting for my connection) and also in the excellent clubhouse at the ground.

Whilst walking around the ground pre-match I had a brief chat with ex-Hull and Sunderland goalkeeper Tony Norman. He is from my part of North Wales and seemed genuinely surprised that someone from there would travel all the way up to watch Darlington, especially as they had no affinity to either team.

After three promotions in four seasons the club are now back at the level where they would have been back in 2012 and are in the play-off mix for a possible return to the Conference. The game went against the form book as Curzon Ashton came away with the spoils. Despite Darlington having the majority of the play, Curzon produced a consummate away performance.

The visitors took the lead after 10 minutes when the Darlington defence failed to deal with long clearance and Matthew Warburton crossed the ball for Ryan Hall to fire home from just outside the six yard box. Darlington had plenty of possession but never really troubled Hakan Burton in the Curzon goal.

Curzon doubled their lead after 56 minutes when Warburton was played through one-on-One to fire past Ed Wilczynski, after the goalkeepers initial sliced clearance, admittedly under pressure, led to the move in the first instance.

The points were effectively sealed for Curzon after 67 minutes when Warburton bagged his second goal of the game, side footing home from inside the six yard box after a great run and cross from Hall.
After 70 minutes, Darlington substitute Nathan Cartman headed home from close range to pull one back but, despite late pressure, the homesters could not find a way through and Curzon held on for a deserved victory, sending the small band of travelling Nash supporters into raptures.

Match highlights can be found on Darlington's You Tube channel 

There's life in the old "Tin Shed" yet!