Sunday, 6 August 2017

SK RAPID WIEN (Allianz Stadion)


The main event of the weekend was the a visit to the Allianz Stadion for the 233rd Vienna derby as SK Rapid Vienna clashed with fierce rivals Austria Vienna. 

Rapid Vienna are a famous name in European football, having won the Austrian Bundesliga 32 times in their history but for this particular supporter they will be synonymous with the 1985 European Cup Winners' Cup Final, when a team containing the legendary Hans Krankl was defeated 3-1 by Everton in Rotterdam.

Despite originating the from same area the supporters of each club were traditionally divided by class with Rapid the team of the working class and Austria the more middle class. Rapid hold the upper hand in terms of wins with 132 to 117 and 72 draws (prior to today's game).

Rapid are based in the West of Vienna in Hütteldorf at the brand new Allianz Stadion, which was opened in 2014 and is built on the site of the old Gerhard Hanappi Stadion. The ground is easy to reach from the city centre as it is the end of the line on U4. The new ground has a capacity of 28,000 and is a superb modern stadium.  I was sat in the stand next to the Rapid Ultras and the atmosphere was incredible. The supporters made some fantastic noise and the were some excellent pyrotechnics.

Where do I begin to describe this game? It had everything! The first half was stop-start as the tackles flew in, the referee producing a slew of yellow cards in an attempt to keep a lid on things. Eventually though a game of football did break out and it was Rapid who drew first blood when a Thomas Schrammel cross was headed home by an unmarked Louis Schaub after 39 minutes.


Rapid came out the traps fastest in the second period and it wasn't long before they did add a second goal. After a defensive mix up, Austria 'keeper Osman Hadzikic's interception/clearance fell at the feet of Schaub (55) and he rolled the ball into an empty net from outside the area.


Rapid were in complete control and really should have added a 3rd, 4th or 5th goal but they were soon to rue those wasted chances. It was a big ask to continue at that pace and as the homesters began to fade Austria found a way back into the game when Dominik Prokop (72) fired home.

The pendulum had now swung and it was Austria now asking the questions of the Rapid back line and in the 85th minute Prokop was tripped in the box by Schrammel, who as last man was shown a straight red card, and Austria captain Raphael Holhauser stepped to blast the penalty home.

Austria continued to press and when they got a corner after 87 minutes and a hail of missiles rained down from the stand, including lighters, plastic pint cups and what looked like a metal bar. The referee took the players off pitch for a "cooling down" period before returning about 5 minutes later to complete the game.

An incredible afternoon in many ways and utterly compelling. I doubt very much of I will have a better matchday experience this season.


Friday, 4 August 2017

BLAU WEISS LINZ (Linzer Stadion)


After my brief stay in Slovakia, Friday took me across the border into Austria for the beginning of a weekend of groundhopping across three levels of Austrian football.

For the evenings entertainment I headed west from Vienna to the city of Linz. Blau Weiss Linz were hosting FC Liefering in a First Division game. The club play their home games at the 21,000 capacity Linzer Stadium, which is a lovely uphill walk from the city centre!

Blau Weiss are celebrating their 20th anniversary this year after being officially founded on 1st August 1997.  The club was founded as a joint venture between supporters of two old clubs. 

The original FC Linz club was founded in 1946 as the football team of the local steel factory going under the name SV Eisen und Stahl until 1949 when the club changed it's name to SK VÖEST Linz. The club won the Bundesliga title in 1974 and qualified for the European Cup, where they lost to Barcelona.

The club were relegated in 1988 but won promotion back to the top flight in 1991, however by this time the steel works had withdrawn funding and the club was now called FC Stahl Linz. They dropped the Stahl in 1993 but by 1997 FC Linz was merged with and dissolved by local rivals LASK Linz.

Another factory club, SV Austria Tabak, who were founded in 1934 as the works team of the Linz tobacco factory, were also facing the prospect of an uncertain future. The grants given to the club were set to be withdrawn after the privatisation of the tobacco industry and there was also the prospect of the Linz factory being closed down (it eventually did in 2009).

Both sets of supporters came together under the Blau Weiss name, representing the colours of both clubs. The "new" club did not start at the bottom and began again in the Landesliga by taking over the licence of SV Austria Tabak.

The club are now in the second tier of Austrian football and tonight were taking on Salzburg based FC Liefering. If you are unaware, Liefering are a feeder club for Red Bull Salzburg and it was a rather youthful looking side that took to the field for the visitors.

Blau Weiss Linz took the lead just before half time when they were awarded a penalty and Thomas Hinum made no mistake with the spot kick (pictured left).

Liefering were fastest out of the block in the second and two quick fire goals from Enock Mwepu (51 & 54) put them in control. Dominik Szoboszlai (66) made it 3-1 and it was comfortable for the visitors. Blau Weiss applied some very late pressure but Tobias Pellegrini's 90th minute goal was mere consolation.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

MFK RUŽOMBEROK (Štadión pod Čebraťom)


Hello and welcome back. Here we go with another season of groundhopping!

Season 2017/18 began as 2016/17 ended, that is watching a game over in Europe. My team, Everton, qualified for the Europa League after finishing in 7th place in the Premier League last season. This meant entering at the 3rd qualifying round stage.

When the draw was made it was an either or situation, as it was made between the legs of the second qualifying round. Everton would either face a trip Norway or Slovakia. As SK Brann won 1-0 away from home, this seemed the most likely destination. However MFK Ružomberok obviously had other ideas and, thanks to two goals in the final 12 minutes, it was they that progressed. Destination Slovakia.

I jumped in feet first and booked a flight. The first thought after booking was the capacity of Ružomberok's stadium. From it's heyday of 20,000  capacity was now a mere 4,800 (this is more than enough as the club have an average gate of around 1,700) so the demand for tickets was going to be huge.

I certainly would not qualify for a ticket in the away section, Everton's allocation being just 450. Given past European experiences, I know the Blues supporters would travel in numbers so it could be problematic actually getting in. Had I just effectively spent a load of money travelling to watch a game in a bar? There were Internet rumours that the game could be switched to a larger capacity ground, Žilina perhaps, but they proved to be just that as Ružomberok quite rightly decided to play at home.

I landed in Vienna the day before the match and took the bus to Bratislava, my base for the night, before heading into it's delightful city centre for a few nightcaps. Le Senk craft beer cafe, with its choice of 8 taps, was the highlight if you are interested to know.

Ružomberok train station

Ružomberok is in the northern part Slovakia, in the Liptov region of the country, which is famous for it's ski resorts. The town's main industry is paper. In fact I received a bizarre text message from my brother asking does the town smell like our local paper mill? I can't say I noticed any lingering aroma! Andrej Hlinka, a politician, priest and activist, has the delightful town square named after him. Other famous people from the town include Hollywood actor Peter Lorre and football player and manager Dr Jozef Vengloš, who had a disastrous season in charge of Aston Villa in 1990/91.

 The local delicacy (left) Bryndzové halušky - dumplings with sheep's-milk
cheese topped with bacon bits. If you didn't fancy that, you could always
try the local kebab shop (right).

Ružomberok is a three and a hour train journey from Bratislava. I arrived in the town around 1.30pm and, after checking into my hotel, set about trying to obtain an elusive match ticket. I walked around town and to the ground armed with a makeshift notice with the words Máte vstupenku na predaj? Ďakujem written on it. I walked around the pretty little town, with its population of around 30,000, and then up to the ground but I had no offers but plenty of smiles. Clearly an English Premier league team were a massive draw.

 I then headed to a bar near the ground, to meet up with a few mates, and effectively settled myself in for the evening, but still leaving said notice visible on the table. It was in the bar that my wish came true! A local chap came along and said he had a ticket for sale and after a wee bit of negotiation, with the waitress translating, a fee was agreed. I went outside to complete the transaction and the ticket was in my hand. Bingo!

The holy grail!

I bounded back into the bar with a beaming smile across my face but then one of the lads, who had a ticket in the Everton end, said that is a different layout to his. Indeed it was. The ticket had the logos for a league game across the top, whereas his ticket had Europa League written across the top. Another lad, who had managed to bag themselves a ticket in the home end, also showed me his ticket and that also had Europa league written across it. I was now starting to think the worse. I needed another drink. Good job the beer was only one euro a pint!

Mestský Futbalový Klub Ružomberok began life as Rózsahegyi Sport Club in 1906 but changed their name in 2003. The club traditionally played in white, yellow and red, but the club sponsors insisted on changing the colours to orange and black in 2005. Ružomberok are nicknamed The Rose, with the flower and a football used in the team’s crest.

Štadión pod Čebraťom Stadium is about a 20 minute walk from town and it's name literally translates as "stadium at the foot of the Čebrať Hill" As mentioned previously the capacity is 4,800 and is two sided, with stands on either touchline. There is empty space behind one goal and a Tesco supermarket behind the other - many Evertonians were wondering if their clubcard points could be exchanged for a standing spot on the roof!

Ružomberok gained promotion to the Slovak Second Division for the first time in 1993 and then to the Slovak Super Liga in 1997. Ružomberok enjoyed the most successful season in their history in 2005/06 when they won the domestic double, lifting the Slovak Super Liga and Slovak Cup.

The club qualified for this season’s Europa League after finishing third in their league in 2016/17. They edged past Serbian side Vojvodina 3-2 in the first qualifying round then beat the aforementioned SK Brann in round two. Everton laboured to a 1-0 first leg victory courtesy of Leighton Baines' deflected shot which meant tonight's game had potential banana skin written all over it. Certainly Ružomberok would fancy their chances?

I headed up to the ground about an hour before kick off and set about seeing if the ticket I had bought was for real. Whilst wandering around to my turnstile entrance there were plenty of Everton fans milling around trying to obtain tickets or find a way into the ground. A couple of lads made a dart for an open gate and promptly got cuffed by the local feds.

I arrived at my entrance and, after a short queue, I placed my ticket under the scanner. Nothing. Then once again. Nothing. I began to feel the beads of sweat on my forehead but then a steward took my ticket, scanned it and "beep" the green tick flashed before my eyes. I was in.

The seat was spot on and I was two rows in from the front. I was within touching distance of the Everton heroes in blue! I however managed to restrain myself from asking Kevin Mirallas and Gareth Barry for a selfie, though it was very tempting to try and beckon Big Dunc over!

The match was not a great spectacle as both teams barely mustered a decent effort between them for the majority of the game. Jordan Pickford, making his Everton debut, was barely troubled. Morgan Schneiderlin headed over the bar and Ružomberok's Erik Daniel hit a shot wide but that was about it in the opening period.

The deadlock was broken 11 minutes from time thanks to a superb solo effort from Dominic Calvert-Lewin. The striker picked up Davy Klaasen's pass and burst through before firing the ball low past Matus Macik in to the net.

Highlighting his appeal, and despite being largely anonymous, Wayne Rooney was given a very generous ovation from the Ružomberok fans around me as he was substituted before the end of the game.

Despite the tepid affair it was mission achieved for The Toffees and the draw for the play-off round meant the Blues will be heading to Croatia, where they will face Hajduk Split. Unfortunately I will not be able to make that trip but whether that is a blessing or a curse remains to be seen. Up The Toffees!