Saturday, 18 June 2022

LONGFORD TOWN (Strokestown Road)


After spending Friday evening in Limerick I headed back to Dublin in order to catch a train to Longford.

As the crow flies, Longford is about 100 miles north of Limerick but for the fast train connections it meant returning to Dublin before heading to the county town.

The journey back to the capital gave a small insight into the standing of domestic league soccer in Ireland. Whilst most soccer clubs struggle to get four figures, the train was rammed with GAA supporters as over 34,000 people headed to Thurles for two hurling quarter finals.

Temperance dude!
The train from Dublin to Longford took around two hours and I arrived around 5pm. I managed a brief walk around town, passing St Mels Cathedral (pictured above right) before stopping in a pub for a non-alcoholic Guinness and a non-alcoholic IPA. They both tasted alright.

Longford Town were founded in 1924 but it wasn't until 60 years later, in 1984, the club joined the League of Ireland. They finished bottom of the league in their debut season and were relegated into the newly formed League of Ireland Division One. The club spent the next 15 seasons in the second tier but in 2000, with current Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny at the helm, the club returned to the top flight of Irish football.

This was the catalyst for cup success over the next few years when the club reached both domestic cup finals in 2003 and 2004. In 2003 they lost the League Cup to 1-0 to St Patricks Athletic before beating the same team 2-0 in the FAI Cup Final. They then claimed both trophies in 2004, beating Bohemians 2-1 in the League Cup Final and beating Waterford United 2-1 to lift the FAI Cup. Incidentally, talking of Bohemians, that is after whom Longford adopted their Black and Red coloured shirts.

Longford Town's home ground is a few of miles out of town on Strokestown Road, alongside the main N5 road. For sponsorship purposes the ground is currently known as Bishopsgate. The stadium was inaugurated in 1994 and redeveloped in 2001, with the completion of the 1,400 capacity main stand.

As much as I was tempted to, I decided against walking from the town centre due to the proximity of the main road, and the lack of a pavement in certain parts. I played it safe by taking a taxi to the ground. A random stranger sorted one out for me, which was great as the clock was ticking past 7pm. The taxi driver that turned up was a Manchester City fan so, naturally, he was still quite pleased as punch after pipping those loveable neighbours of Everton to the Premier League title! Coincidentally, another groundhopper was in the crowd and they were a City fan heading back to Manchester after the game. They very kindly dropped me off back in town afterwards. Apparently this made me a "lucky, lucky bleeder" according to a mate of mine. The luck of the Irish rubbing off on me, perhaps?

I arrived at the ground with loads of time to spare. Cork City were the visitors tonight, knowing that a victory would put them top of the table. However it was the homesters who started the brightest and had the best of the early possession. De Town's Sam Verdon hit the upright early on but it was somewhat against the run of play that Cork took the lead, and what a stunning goal it was too. Cian Baragary cut in from the left hand side and let fly from just outside the area, the ball curling past Luke Dennison in the Longford goal.

Longford still kept pressing and created good chances but the equaliser just would not come. Verdon had an effort cleared off the line and Cristian Magerusan fluffed a golden opportunity. With 5 minutes remaining, the goal that Longford thoroughly deserved finally arrived when Karl Chambers headed home a corner to ensure the game finished all square. A really good watch and I thought the standard of football was better than the previous night's game in Limerick.

It was good to be back in Ireland once again and I thoroughly enjoyed my few days over the water. Sláinte!
Here endeth season 2021/22 for me. Thanks for popping by and taking a look at my pictures and scribblings. All being well, I'll  be back in August. Until then, have a great summer and enjoy the sunshine! 🌞 

Friday, 17 June 2022

TREATY UNITED (Markets Field)


This weekend I headed across the Irish Sea for a long awaited return to Ireland and to take in two games of football in the second tier of the League of Ireland.

After spending, for me, a very quiet night in Dublin, I took the train west to County Limerick or, more specifically, the city of Limerick in the province of Munster.

Limerick is situated on the River Shannon and is the third largest city in the Republic. I managed to spend the afternoon wandering around seeing the sights of the city prior to the main event of the evening. There is a statue of Limerick born actor Richard Harris in the city centre (in his role as King Arthur) but arguably the most famous son of the city is the legendary broadcaster Sir Terry Wogan, who died in 2016, and there is a statue of him overlooking the River Shannon.

Terry Wogan statue. 
Soccer in Limerick has been represented in the city by a single club since 1937 and the respective entities have gone under various names including Limerick, Limerick United, Limerick City and Limerick 37. A Limerick club has won two League of Ireland titles and two FAI Cups.

The last incarnation under the Limerick name were 6th in the First Division but, when they went into administration in September 2019, they were deducted 26 points and finished bottom of the table. Due to debts of around €450,000 the club were eventually liquidated in November 2019, this after being refused a licence to complete in the league for 2020.

This was the final act in a series of episodes which had dogged the club that year including players threatening to go on strike due to unpaid wages and allegations of match fixing involving two first team members.

Treaty United were formed in 2020 and, after the club were refused permission to use the name Limerick United, they took their name after the nickname of city. Treaty refers to the document signed to end the Williamite War in Ireland in 1691 and the Treaty Stone, on which the document was signed, is now a famous landmark in the city, stood on a plinth in the shadow of King John's Castle.

King John's Castle (left) and the Treaty Stone (right).

In November 2020 Treaty United applied for a licence for the 2021 season and were eventually accepted into the first division of the League of Ireland, effectively taking the place of the old Limerick club. Things were so up in the air at this point in time that when the season fixtures  were announced the club were listed as 'to be confirmed'. Once Treaty were allowed to proceed, a team had to be hastily put together just a few days before the season started. In the clubs first competitive game Treaty drew 0-0 with Bray Wanderers. The club went on to finish a very respectable 4th place before losing in the play-offs to UCD.

Treaty United's home, like it's predecessors, is Markets Field in the Garryowen area of the city. The ground, considered the spiritual home of soccer in Limerick, is in the shadow of St John's Cathedral, has played host to various sports since its opening in the late 19th century. It was originally a Gaelic games ground before hosting rugby and greyhound racing.

After a gap of 31 years, a Limerick team returned to the stadium in 2015 when, after an extensive refurbishment, it exclusively became a soccer ground. This was after falling into a state of disrepair when the Greyhound racing moved to a new stadium in 2010.

The visitors for this evening's encounter were bottom of the table Athlone Town, who had yet to register a single point on their travels, and this poor record continued tonight. Treaty found themselves two goals up in the first eight minutes. Dean George (6) rose to nod home the ball, from long throw, past Andrew Skerritt in the Athlone goal to give the homesters the lead.

Worse was to follow for Skerritt two minutes later, when Jack Lynch spotted him off his goal line and sent a free kick over him into the net from the halfway line. At this point I was worried for Athlone as it felt like this was going to be a cricket score for Treaty, especially as the chances kept on coming. However, on 21 minutes a long clearance was inadvertently flicked into the path of Thomas Onua and he raced clear and rolled ball past keeper to, somewhat surprisingly, bring the visitors back into the game.

Even more surprising, that is where the scoring ended. Treaty created a few half chances and had a goal disallowed late on but never really looked like adding to their tally, likewise Athlone didn't look like scoring an equaliser either. However it was a good start to my League of Ireland double header.

Sunday, 12 June 2022

UNIONE SPORTIVA LIVORNO 1915 (Stadio Armando Picchi)


Whilst searching fixture lists to see if there was anything available to watch on the Sunday following the Fenix Trophy FinalI did find a few options but it involved a ridiculous amount of travelling. I even contemplated crossing the border into Slovenia but in the end I opted for a game on the other side of the country. Yes, it did involve a fair amount of travelling but nothing more strenuous that what I normally do each weekend in pursuit of a new ground to visit.

To put it bluntly, the attraction of this ground was that as recently as 2014, the Stadio Armando Picchi was hosting Serie A football and a few years earlier, in 2008, also UEFA Cup football. It was a no brainer as far as I was concerned. Train tickets were booked and off I went.

The train journey took over 4½ hours and involved changes in Bologna, Florence and Pisa. It was a pleasant enough experience with some wonderful scenery as the train meandered across the Northern Appenines.

Livorno is a port city on the west coast of Tuscany. Many ships Dock here but most people simply pass through to get to Pisa, a 15 minute train journey away. Being a port City, it was prone to attack in the centuries gone by, so the city is fortified and these medieval defences still remain to this day. I had time to wander the city centre and see them for myself.

The Football stadium is a good two mile walk out of the city centre and it was certainly useful exercise in the 32⁰c heat! Construction of Stadio Armando Picchi began in 1933 and was completed in 1935 and was originally named after Edda Ciano, the daughter of facist dictator Benito Mussolini.

Post war, the ground was known as the Stadio Comunale di Livorno before being renovated in the 1980's and then, in 1990, renamed in honour of local born defender Armando Picchi, who made his professional debut for Livorno in the 1950's before going on to make over 200 appearances for Inter Milan in the 1960's.

A football club representing the city has played at ground since it's inauguration and there have certainly been some highs and lows to say the least!

Unione Sportiva Livorno were formed in 1915 and were founder members of Serie A in 1929/30, even finishing runners up in 1943. Over the next 60 years the club yo-yoed between the top three tiers of Italian football before being liquidated in 1991 and forced to start again in the Eccellenza League, which is essentially the highest level of regional non-league football in Italy and sits below Serie D.

The club worked their way back up to and reached Serie A in 2004, the first time the club had been in the top flight since 1949. When the match fixing scandal engulfed Italian football in 2006, having initially finished 9th, Livorno were bumped up to 6th spot and a place in the UEFA Cup for 2006/07, where they were eliminated by eventual runners-up Espanyol in the round of 32.

The following season the club finished rock bottom of Serie A, having won just 6 games, and were relegated. The club returned to Serie A twice in 2009 and 2013 but their stay only lasted one season each time.

Having sold star striker Paulinho in 2014 for €8M to ease financial troubles, the club began to tumble down the leagues and by 2019 the club were in Serie C. However worse was still to come.

After finishing bottom of Serie C in 2021, Livorno were so deep in debt that they weren’t allowed to register for the 2021/22 Serie D season. The local council would not allow them to train or play at the Stadio Picchi because of unpaid bills. The club reformed in 2021 under the new name Unione Sportiva Livorno 1915 and were accepted into the Eccellenza League, 30 years after their previous liquidation.

In October 2020, things came to a head literally when Livorno ultras left a severed pigs head on the pitch, along with three Crosses, in a threat to the directors of the club.

Livorno are famous for their ultras. They are left leaning, no surprise really given that the Italian Communist Party was founded in Livorno. These groups of supporters came together under the umbrella of the Brigate Autonome Livornese (Autonomous Livorno Brigade) and in the past have clashed with the right wing element of clubs like Roma, Lazio and Internazionale and Veron. They even manage to irk Silvio Berlusconi by declaring his voters useless, leading to a fine for the club.

Today the ultras were a few hundred, stood on the open terrace as the sun beat down. The local fire Brigade had to turn the hoses on them in order to help cool them down. These tickets were €5 but I decided to pay top dollar for a seat in the shade in the main stand.

The heat was never going to lead to a fast flowing encounter, indeed Livorno made an appeal to the league to change the kick off time to later in the evening when temperatures would be cooler.

Pomezia opened the scoring after 3 minutes when Alejandro Cano headed home. The visitors looked like extending their lead through quick counter attacks. However gradually they began to slow the game down with a full repertoire of time wasting antics. There was even a melee in the tunnel as the teams left at half time.

The second half eventually began with Livorno on the attack and the were rewarded on the hour mark when skipper Giuseppe Torromino played a one-two to slot home the equaliser.

Livorno now had the bit between their teeth and pushed for a winner but Pomezia still looked threatening on the counter. As the game moved into the last quarter the time wasting antics got worse as Pomezia attempted to kill the flow and take the draw.

This led to the referee adding six minutes of stoppage time and in the last minute of said stoppage time, Pomezia conceded a penalty. Goalkeeper Matteo Pinna brought down Andrea Ferretti and the Livorno man stepped up to convert the spot. This gives the Amaranto a slender advantage going into the second leg in Rome next Sunday.

EDIT: The second leg finished 2-1 to Pomezia and 3-3 on aggregate. In the penalty shoot out Pomezia won 7-5 to gain promotion to Serie D for season 2022/23.