Saturday, 27 July 2013

Good time (2013/14 preview)

It’s now coming up to (amazingly!) the 5th season of the The Travelling Fan, and for the first time since writing this – there shouldn’t be any major personal changes. (Apart from I’ve just moved house) That means my personal theme for the season was a toughie! In the end I’ve just gone with having a good time and enjoying the football. It’s 2013/14:


This is the whole point of the blog eh? A new season means new grounds and with a massive list of places still to see and multiple barrels still to scrape, the choices are massive. With a good mix of league and non-league grounds I want to see this season, here is where (I hope!) to end up:

Brighton – Amex Stadium


Starting the season here with a “glamour” friendly against my Spanish boys Villarreal. Good reviews of the ground’s first two seasons.

Portsmouth – Fratton Park


Portsmouth vs Morecambe is the sort of fixture a few years ago that you might have expected in the FA Cup. Now, they will play each other in the league as Pompey get used to the basement. I’m keen.

Kodak (Harrow) FC – Kodak Sports Ground

KodakMet 021

Having now moved to the Harrow area, I ran past these sports grounds the other night. Overgrowing weeds and an pitch that just reeks of tinpot is one that I’ll be there for!

Gillingham Town – Harding’s Lane


Having missed Cheddar FC last season (although still at their ground), Gillingham (pronounced with a J) will be moving at the end of the season so a rare trip to the deep southwest is needed. Should be able to stock on some scrumpy at the time too.

Bristol Rovers – Memorial Stadium


Another FL ground that could be on the way out too, especially as Rovers have received planning permission for the new UWE Stadium and Sainsbury’s have also received their’s to build at the Memorial. Morecambe (and hopefully me) go there over Easter 2014.

Obviously, there will be other grounds that I visit this season that I had no intention of visiting at the start of the season. Last season I didn’t plan on spending any time in Derby but there I was rocking it up at Pride Park. Better get those maps out.



Having just made the move away from Lambeth to the lovely area of Middlesex, this opens up new leagues right on my doorstep. The Middlesex County League is the main one to have a gander at so expect trips to Kodak (Harrow) FC, British Airways and Indian Gymkhana.


chandler rome 1

After having an excellent time in Croatia a few weeks ago, foreign football is now right up there. An expected trip to Rome is coming up so I’m keen for some vaso di latta calcio to report on. Then there’s also a hopeful trip with the Scotland Supporters Club again (England next month doesn’t count). With international dates coming up, hopefully a cheeky 2014 friendly somewhere will be on the cards.



The “Road to Wembley” series is one I’ve done over the past couple of seasons where I’ve picked a FA Vase tie in the 1st Qualifying Round and followed it all the way through to the Final. This season however, I’ve gone with a cup closer to home to follow all the way through. The London Senior Cup has taken place since 1882 under the London FA and has been won by such teams as Arsenal, Wimbledon and Barnet down the years.

Having seen the draw for the tournament this year, my Road to… will begin at Thamesmead Town vs Greenhouse London later in the year.



I always do say I’ll be going to more games that involve various other sports, this season however, I will try and get to ice hockey, basketball and other minor sports. I can imagine the readers will flock for that to read about some Level 7 cricket league game. (Well I’m not that desperate, yet)

2013/14 is kicking off, so everyone just get out there and have a good time. Like this gerbil wearing a hat.


Friday, 26 July 2013

Season 2012/13 – Teams Witnessed

Although pre-season friendlies are now kicking off for 2013/14, I always take a quick look back at the previous season in a “where are they now?” look to see how they all got on. For the 73 different teams I saw last season, we saw the great, all the way down to the shambles. Let’s rock on.

AFC Wimbledon Youth (Final position: Youth Alliance South East: 13th) –> Struggling towards the bottom of the league (much like the first team) and also didn’t play their final game vs MK Dons for some reason. Any history between the sides?

Ascot United (Hellenic Premier: 7th) –> A club on the up it would appear as they achieved their best ever league finish and FA Vase performance. Will need to kick on now. (Like the pun?)

Badshot Lea (Combined Counties League: 7th) –> Good effort from the Baggies in the league as they finished well above other “bigger” teams. Also had a fantastic FA Cup run where they reached the 3rd Qualifying Round before a 3-1 defeat to Chippenham Town.

Barnet (League 2: 23rd) –> Thought they were safe when they beat Wycombe on the 2nd last day of the season. However last day defeat to Northampton saw them relegated on goal difference.


Barrow AFC (Blue Square Premier: 22nd) –> Horrid season for the Barrow boys as their fans were accused of racism during a FA Cup tie against Macclesfield. Then finished 8 points off safety as they were relegated to Blue Square North. Also crashed out of FA Trophy quarter-finals to Gainsborough Town.

Bedfont Sports (Combined Counties League Premier: 13th) –> Good first season at Level 9 as they attained their highest ever league finish. A comfortable 14 points clear of relegation.

Bishops Stortford (Blue Square North: 17th) –> Finished 5 points clear of relegation but will be delighted to be back in Conference South for 2013/14.

Blackburn Rovers (Championship: 17th) –> Shambles at the chicken factory as they had 4 managers this season and only stayed up by 4 points. Lost in the FA quarters to Millwall in yet another disappointment.

Boreham Wood (Blue Square South: 9th) –> Ambitious Wood had a disappointing season finishing 10 points off the play-offs. Have countered this by releasing plans to build a new main stand “at Conference Premier and FL level”. Erm…

Bradford City (League 2: 7th) –> Quite brilliant season for Bradford as they reached the League Cup Final, got over a mid-season loss of form to reach the play-off. Then destroyed Northampton Town to achieve promotion to League 1.

Brentford (League 1: 3rd) –> Were just a penalty away from promotion in that famous game against Doncaster. Then lost in play-off final to Yeovil Town to be stuck in League 1 for another season.


Camberley Town (Combined Counties League Premier: 16th) –> Managed a late surge to pull themselves clear and finish 7 points off relegation.

Cambridge City (Southern Premier: 8th) –> Got over shocking start to nearly complete the miracle but finished agonisingly 4 points off the playoffs. They start their nomadic seasons now at Histon FC.

Cheltenham Town Youth (Youth Alliance South West: 13th) –> Finished nowhere near the top 2 of Bristol Rovers and Oxford United. Bravely went out of the FA Youth Cup in the 3rd Round with a 1-0 defeat to Tottenham.

Chesham United (Southern Premier: 3rd) –> Stormed into playoffs only to tamely lose to Hemel Hempstead in the playoff semi-finals.

Chippenham Town (Southern Premier: 15th) –> Suffered a huge loss of form midseason to tumble down the league, but recovered to finish 9 points clear of relegation. Went out of the FA Trophy in the 2nd Qualifying Round with a surprise loss to Sholing.

Colliers Wood United (Combined Counties League Premier: 18th) –> Managed to deal with problems at the Wibbandune Sports Ground pitch to finish 4 points clear of relegation.

Corby Town (Blue Square North: 20th) –> Thought they were safe as they seemed to give up at the end of the season. Only to be then relegated on the final day of the season after a 0-0 draw at home to Gainsborough Trinity. Also lost in the FA Trophy early on at the 2nd Round stage with a defeat to Tamworth.


Coventry City (League 1: 15th) –> Can’t seem to shake off this season. After play-off challenge ended after points deduction their “new start” now sees them playing at Northampton. With fans threatening to desert them, another season of struggle could be coming up.

Cowdenbeath (Scottish Division 1: 8th) –> Managed to avoid the relegation playoff by virtue of Dunfermline’s points deduction and the late boost of form.

Croatia (UEFA Group A: 2nd) –> That costly defeat to Scotland sees their World Cup qualification hopes hanging by a thread. Will need to beat Belgium (and well) in Zagreb on 11th October to have a chance.

Crystal Palace (Championship: 5th) –> Kept their head after Freeman left to join Bolton and Holloway came in. Finishing in the play-offs, they saw off Brighton after shitgate and then beat Watford in extra-time to grab an unlikely Premiership spot.

Dartford (Blue Square Premier: 8th) –> Won the best part time side in England award last season as they pipped fellow part-timers Woking into 8th. Can they now push on from here? You suspect a full time decision will have to be made at Princes Park soon.

Derby County (Championship: 10th) –> Signs of some improvement under Clough as finished only 7 points off playoffs with a young team who will surely get better over time.

Dulwich Hamlet (Isthmian League Division 1 South: 1st) –> Were up at the top of the table all season and achieved promotion back to the Isthmian Premier on the last day with a 1-1 draw against Burgess Hill Town.


Dunfermline Athletic (Scottish Division 1: 9th) –> Suffered financial hardship as the Pars entered administration during the season. After the points deduction and loss of key players, they tumbled into the relegation playoff and after seeing off Forfar, they lost 3-1 to Alloa Athletic to end up in Division 2 for next season.

Edinburgh University (East of Scotland League Premier: 11th) –> Poor season for the students as they finished in the bottom 2. Only stayed in the top flight due to restructuring and the creation of the Lowland League.

Exeter City (League 2: 10th) –> The promotion push delivered little as they lost form at the vital time and finished 5 points off playoffs. Paul Tisdale needs to deliver this season.

Fauldhouse United (East Juniors South Division: 1st) –> While an almighty battle was happening below them to secure the other 3 promotion slots, the Hoose beat all before them to easily win the title by 12 points.

Grimsby Town (Blue Square Premier: 4th) –> Form disappeared and thus their promotion hopes with it towards the end of the season as Newport County dispatched them in the play-offs. Also lost in the FA Trophy Final to Wrexham.


Guernsey FC (Combined Counties League Premier: 2nd) –> The massive backlog of games caught up with them as they were pipped to the title by Egham Town. They did achieve promotion however up to the Isthmian as a result of the league expansion.

Hanwell Town (Spartan South Midlands Premier: 6th) –> While finishing 41 points behind runaway winner Dunstable isn’t great, finishing 6th was a good effort from the Geordies.

Hastings United (Isthmian League Premier: 21st) –> Were probably distracted by reaching the 3rd Round of the FA Cup and losing to Middlesbrough 4-1 to concentrate on the league. League form suffered and they were relegated by 1 point.

Hearts (Scottish Premier League: 10th) –> Financial problems hit hard as HMRC came in. A young team struggled with the pressure but did manage to avoid a relegation struggle (purely due to Dundee being useless) and reach the League Cup Final.


Hertford Town (Spartan South Midlands Premier: 17th) –> Good 2nd half of season saw Hertford finish clear of relegation by 5 points. Didn’t look likely at the start of the year!

Ireland (UEFA Group C: 4th) –> Stuck in a tough 3-way tie for 2nd place in the group as Germany runaway with it. Key away games in Vienna and Koln to come which will define Ireland’s hopes.

Kilmarnock (Scottish Premier League: 9th) –> Disappointing season as they exited the League Cup early on before dropping into the bottom 6 of the league. Kenny Shiels was promptly punted after more disciplinary troubles for him.

Leyton Orient (League 1: 7th) –> Slow start cost them as they lost out in the final play-off spot by 3 points to Swindon Town. If they can get the hang of a quick start, a play-off tilt would be likely.

Livingston (Scottish Division 1: 4th) –> Decent season for Livi considering John Hughes left to get relegated with Hartlepool and then Gareth Evans also left after being taken off 1st team duties.

Luton Town (Blue Square Premier: 7th) –> Massively disappointing as Paul Buckle left once FA Cup run was over and finished well outside the playoffs. Lost in FA Trophy QFs to Grimsby Town.


Mexico (CONCACAF 4th Round Qualifying: 3rd) –> Brilliantly won gold at the London Olympics, becoming my heroes as they beat Brazil. For the World Cup, they are 1 point ahead of Honduras for the last qualifying spot. With 4 games to go, they are in control but key game vs Honduras at home coming up. Early exit at Confederations Cup shows they are not in the higher reaches of world football yet.

Morecambe (League 2: 16th) –> Always tipped to go down by the bookies, finishing off only 7 points clear of relegation is a good season. Budget cuts for 2013/14 will make things harder again, but lets keep the faith.

Newport (IOW) (Wessex League Premier: 6th) –> Did apply for promotion out of the Wessex but finished well behind the top 3 to seriously challenge.

Oman (AFC 4th Round Group B: 4th) –> Agonisingly missed out on the 5th Round game by 1 point as Jordan beat them 1-0 in the final game to pip them to the play off against Uzbekistan.

Oxford City (Blue Square North: 10th) –> 20 points off the playoffs this time out. Now entering a new era of “leadership” under Thomas Anthony Guerrero with some big signings being made. Ones to watch next season?

Oxford United (League 2: 9th) –> Finished 4 points off the playoffs as Chris Wilder amazingly kept his job still. This season promotion must be achieved you feel however.

Partick Thistle (Scottish Division 1: 1st) –> Took on all challengers and survived the loss of Jackie McNamara to Dundee Utd to win their SPL place. Young and exciting team can push on from here.


Pumpherston Juniors (East Juniors South Division: 2nd) –> Managed to keep up with the backlog of games in May and secure a Premier League place by 4 points.

QPR (Premiership: 20th) –> Quite probably relegated were after a shambles of a season. Will be interesting to see how their band of mercenaries perform in the Championship with an owner who will surely want instant promotion.

Raith Rovers (Scottish Division 1: 6th) –> Slap bang in midtable for The Rovers as they were quite some distance off promotion and 8 points clear of relegation.

RFC Temploux-Suarlée (Namur 3e Provincial A: 13th) –> Out of only 15 teams in their league, they just managed to finish clear of the bottom two, by 2 points. 99 goals conceded in the season shows where their problems lie.

Royal Engineers (Massey League: 3rd) –> Managed to throw away the league title at the Quadrangle Trophy games to finish behind rivals Royal Signals.

Scotland (UEFA Group A: 5th) –> Hopefully we can now push on after the Croatia result and do a proper rebuild of the team. With some tough games coming up and two home clashes to go, the new goal is to finish above Macedonia and avoid bottom spot in the group.


Senegal (CAF 2nd Qualifying Round: 1st) –> Looking good to qualify for the 3rd and final round of World Cup Qualifying. The crunch game vs 2nd place Uganda will decide if they do.

Shildon (Northern League: 8th) –> Finished an almighty 53 points behind Darlington to show how far they need to improve to challenge anywhere near the top of the league.

Skelmesdale United (Northern Premier League Division 1 North: 1st) –> Smashed all before them in an outstanding season as they racked up 102 points to win league and promotion.

Spennymoor Town (Northern League: 2nd) –> They did win their first FA Vase title, but face another Northern League season after finishing a mighty 13 points behind winners Darlington.


St Johnstone (Scottish Premier League: 3rd) –> Pipped Inverness on last day to win last Euro spot for Europa League campaign. Loss of manager Steve Lomas to Millwall is a blow however for this upcoming season.

St Mirren (Scottish Premier League: 11th) –> Did win their very first League Cup trophy, but were also extremely lucky in Dundee being so poor to survive this season. Improvement vastly needed in the league.

St Neots Town (Southern Premier: 12th) –> Once mercenary Stefan Moore was offered more money to join Leamington, the goals dried up and St Neots tumbled down the league. Managed to end up in 12th, but will need a lot more fire power this season.

Stevenage (League 1: 18th) –> Were sliding down the table until they punted Gary Smith mid-season and local hero Graham Westley returned. In the end, finished 3 places and 6 points off relegation.

Stoke City (Premiership: 13th) –> Stoke seemed to be going backward and ‘only’ finished 6 points off relegation this season. Pulis has now been punted and relegation manager Mark Hughes has come in. The next Charlton? Also lost to Man City in the FA Cup 4th Round.

Swindon Supermarine (Southern League D1 South & West: 4th) –> Snuck into playoffs late on but lost outrageous semi-final to Merthyr Town. Managed to get the game to penalties despite being down to 9 men for most of the game.


The Spartans (East of Scotland League: 3rd) –> Finished 9 points behind Whitehill in the League and lost in East of Scotland League Cup Final to Edinburgh City. Did pick up the King Cup though with a win over Berwick Rangers Reserves.

Tunbridge Wells (Kent League: 7th) –> Wembley day aside, it was a decent season still for the Wells as the won the Kent League Trophy with a win over Northwood. Did finish 22 points off top spot though.

Uxbridge (Southern League D1 Central: 11th) –> Troubled neither promotion or relegation places but did win the Middlesex FA Charity Cup after a 5-2 win over Brentford.

Wanderers (Surrey South Eastern Combination Junior Division 4: 2nd) –> Still raising money for charity and the quest to move up the pyramid. Missed out on the Level 17 title by goal difference this time out.

Watford (Championship: 3rd) –> Loan FC finished 2 points off automatic promotion after Hull pipped them on the final day. Then after scraping past Leicester in the play-offs, they lost in the final to Crystal Palace after extra time.

Wealdstone (Isthmian League Premier: 3rd) –> Promotion still eludes them as they finished behind runaway Whitehawk to end up in the playoffs. Playoff semi-final saw them lose 2-1 at Concord Rangers to ensure a longer stay in the Isthmian.


Wigan Athletic (Premiership: 18th) –> Won the FA Cup brilliantly before being relegated in their very next game away at Arsenal. Will have the Europa League to look forward to under Owen Coyle as they try and get their top flight status back.

Wingate & Finchley (Isthmian League Premier: 18th) –> Good end to the season kept them up by 3 points. Will need more fight about them to stay up next season too.

Worcester City (Blue Square North: 15th) –> Feeling the pinch of moving to Kidderminster as season tickets sales were poor too. Only 6 points off relegation this time out and with budget cuts will be a lot closer this time too.

Wycombe Wanderers (League 2: 15th) –> Never really troubled by relegation after Waddock left. Never troubled the playoffs after Ainsworth came in either.

While I still play catch-up after a massively busy summer (I’m nearly there!) here are some great match snaps of games I was at this season. 2012/13 was a good one.



Ches v Barrow

DC vs BR



Thursday, 4 July 2013

Season 2012/13 review

The biggest season ever for me – with a mental amount of sport. 43 football matches, 3 rugby league clashes and 1 Olympic Games. Travelling and entry costs aren’t really worth analysing considering the stories and events I’ve seen along the way. For the blog, I did (and technically still am) get a bit behind due to work, exams and other commitments but I am still keen to write my ramblings up for next season as I try and compete against moving house and finishing my exams. (Hopefully!!) This season saw TTF go abroad for the first time (in terms of blogging a foreign trip) and I hope for more of the same. Before I write my inane chat about 2013/14 – its time for the annual TTF stats and awards.


Matches: 43

Goals: 147 (3.42 per game)

Most Goals: 10 (Dulwich Hamlet vs RFC Temploux-Suarlée)

Least Goals: 0 (Crystal Palace vs Stoke City, Pumpherston Juniors vs Fauldhouse United)

New Grounds: 35 (Meadow Park – Boreham Wood, Vicarage Road – Watford, City Ground – Cambridge City, Wibbandune Sports Ground – Colliers Wood United, Reynolds Field – Hanwell Town, Krooner Park – Camberley Town, Hardenhuish Park – Chippenham Town, Honeycroft – Uxbridge, Woodside Park – Bishops Stortford, The Oval – Surrey CCC, St George’s Stadium – Wealdstone, Firhill Stadium – Partick Thistle, Adams Park – Wycombe Wanderers, The Meadow – Chesham United, Griffin Park – Brentford, Central Park – Cowdenbeath, Rugby Park – Kilmarnock, Harry Abrahams Stadium – Wingate & Finchley, Selhurst Park – Crystal Palace, Kenilworth Road – Luton Town, Pride Park – Derby County, The Racecourse – Ascot United, Hertingfordbury Park – Hertford Town, Peffermill Playing Fields – Edinburgh University, Underhill – Barnet, Stark’s Park – Raith Rovers, Culverden Stadium – Tunbridge Wells, Kassam Stadium – Oxford United, St George’s Lane – Worcester City, Loftus Road – QPR, Princes Park – Dartford, Ricoh Arena – Coventry City, Bedfont Sports Club – Bedfont Sports, Recreation Park – Pumpherston Juniors, Maksimir Stadium – Dinamo Zagreb/Croatia)

Best and Worst

Best Game: Hanwell Town 3-2 Hertford Town – Sometimes you turn up for standard league games and don’t expect anything. Especially from this early season clash. However, maybe the players caught the sun as we saw a remarkable turnaround for Hanwell as Hertford lost the plot and had two sent off.

Worst Game: Crystal Palace 0-0 Stoke City – Who said nobody takes the FA Cup seriously? Not even 30 seconds worth of highlights were shown from this game in the evening. Enough said.

Best Team: Dulwich Hamlet – Relative to the level the play at, the Hamlet smashed 10 past some Belgians before going onto win their league. I wasn’t surprised.

Worst Team: RFC Temploux-Suarlée – Said Belgians. You know you are probably watching a team who aren’t that good when they cheer their first shot on target. They tried though, which is more than what some teams would have done.

Best Player: Watford’s Matěj Vydra was far better than the rest of his team, even early on when I saw him.

Best Ground (Professional): Although a revisit, going to Craven Cottage is always a delight. Especially so this time being in the stand on the river. Excellent way to spend an evening.

Best Ground (Non-League): They really don’t make them like Worcester’s St George’s Lane anymore. Such a shame this has now gone, what a brilliant place to watch and play.

Worst Ground: Not sure why but I just didn’t like Selhurst Park, maybe it was the shit view from the seat I had. Certainly not a dreadful ground, but I did see some crackers this season.

Most Picturesque Ground: Now that most of my games take place in and around London rather than Devon, this award was quite tough to give. However, Edinburgh University’s Peffermill Playing Fields contrasting the city life with the beauty of Arthur’s Seat wasn’t beaten.

Biggest Dump: Coventry. Enough said.

Best Programme: Crystal Palace’s programme was more like a book and showed that Football League clubs can occasionally produce some good quality productions.

Worst Programme: I don’t mind effort, and I’m never going to overly criticise a non league club for a ‘poor’ programme. I don’t like however some clubs taking the mick and overcharging for nothing. Step forward Partick Thistle. £2 for not a lot is disappointing.

Best Bar: Hanwell Town, purely for their kindergarten/bar combination. Why this hasn’t been explored elsewhere, I am unsure.

Best Food: Raith Rovers and their magical Macaroni Pie. Visit Scotland just for this, I urge you.

Funniest Moment: Shaun Maloney’s free kick at QPR to essentially send them and their mercenaries down was hilarious.

Best Punch Up: Cambridge City vs St Neots Town. Not strictly a dirty game, but one that has 3 red cards in it will win an award. Special mention to the 2nd half at Hanwell Town vs Hertford Town which became an Ealing version of It’s A Knockout.

Hardest Place to Find: Didn’t actually get lost this season, however I was glad I got a lift to Uxbridge FC. Wouldn’t fancy trying to do that with public transport. Or probably couldn’t be bothered.

Friendliest Club: Tunbridge Wells at the FA Vase Semi-Final dealt with the big crowd well and were always a pleasure to deal with. Kudos to them.

Most Miserable Club: Boreham Wood weren’t exactly smiles when I went to see them last July. Newport (IOW) run them close though. (Yes I’m still bitter!)

Best Supporters: Wingate & Finchley’s hardy band of fans deserve a mention for getting some good songs going when I went to see them but were just beaten by Skelmersdale United who were brilliant.

Worst Supporters: Tunbridge Wells’ daytrippers should get this, but they aren’t representative of the actual club so hats off to Oxford United. Silence.

Best Song: Morecambe’s tune for Joe Mwasile (to the Grease Lightning theme) is utterly brilliant. Hope I see him have more game time next season just to sing this.

Coldest Ground: Cowdenbeath, in the rain. Surprised my fingers didn’t fall off!

Best Goal: Zackary Kotwica brilliant run and finish into the roof of the net during Cheltenham Town’s FA Youth Cup win at AFC Wimbledon was probably the best. Didn’t have any 30+ yard screamers this season sadly.

Most Attractive Female Employee(s): Too many guys served me this season. Whatever happened to the old fashion tea helper with the low cut top wanting to give you some burger? Bring that back.

Special Merit Award: Robert Snodgrass. Just for that goal in Croatia. What a hero.

Normally I write some chat here about Hearts and how well or poorly we’ve done this season. Yet, as I write this, we are currently in administration and will be starting 2013/14 on –15 points. That with a young team will equal relegation so its hard to really look back at this season with any type of positivity at all. I saw 3 Jambo games, including an unsuccessful cup final but with the future of the club looking quite bleak (especially in the short-term) its difficult to get excited about going to watch Hearts next season.

Compare that to another one of my clubs struggling for money, but one I actually seem to care about. Morecambe. Another good season as we were never likely to be in trouble and had results gone our way a bit more during the February-April spell, a playoff push could have been achieved too. Key players have left though so it could be another team struggling on the field, but I’ll be there and looking forward to it as trips to Portsmouth, Southend and Bristol Rovers have already been pencilled in. I did a lot this season, and away from football too! 43 games is unlikely to be matched next time out, but thank you again to everyone who reads this. I look forward to writing my inane ramblings down in the future.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Croatia vs Scotland (07/06/13)

Match 202

Ground #: 159

Ground: Maksimir Stadium

Competition: World Cup Qualifier

Kick Off: 8:15pm

Cost: 120 HKR (£14)

Programme: None

Attendance: 29,000

Croatia 0

Scotland 1

Snodgrass 26’


When I joined the Scotland Supporters Club last summer, I was always focused on the Belgium away game last October. While I was in Brussels, tickets were like gold dust and so me and a friend had to watch from a fan park. Since then, Scotland’s World Cup hopes had gone and when an away trip came up to the 4th best team in the World came up, a fair few didn’t fancy it. As the tickets came down to 0 points, I jumped on the chance for a cheeky holiday, an away point and my first Scotland away game. Škotska na turneji!


Zagreb is the largest city and the capital of the Republic of Croatia. To give the city and Croatia as a whole a proper introduction to its history, I would need a whole blog, nevermind a just a paragraph! The history of Zagreb dates as far back as 1094 A.D when the Hungarian King Ladislaus, returning from his campaign against Croatia, founded a diocese. Alongside the bishop's throne, the canonical settlements developed north of the Cathedral, as did the fortified settlement Gradec on the neighbouring hill. After a Tatar attack in 1242, Hungarian King Bela IV bestowed Gradec with a Golden Bull, which offered its citizens exemption from county rule and autonomy. In 1557, the Croatian Parliament, representing both Croatia, Slavonia and Dalmatia, first convened at Gradec. Zagreb was chosen as the seat of the Ban of Croatia in 1621 under ban Nikola Frankopan. During the 17th and 18th centuries, Zagreb was badly devastated by fire and the plague. Although, in 1776, the royal council moved from Varaždin to Zagreb. In the 19th century, Zagreb was the centre of the Croatian National Revival and saw the erection of important cultural and historic institutions. In 1850, the town was united under its first mayor - Janko Kamauf. After the 1880 Zagreb earthquake, up to the 1914 outbreak of World War I, development flourished and the town received the characteristic layout which it has today. During the 1991–1995 Croatian War of Independence, it was a scene of some sporadic fighting surrounding its JNA army barracks, but escaped major damage to turn into the modern city it is today.


After some debate over where the game would actually be played, it looked like the seaside city of Split would win, however Zagreb and Dinamo’s Maksimir Stadium was the final location. Situated in the east of the city, next to the Maksimir Park, the ground is really impressive looking on the outside. Having undergone some refurbishment in 1998 and 2011, the ground has 4 main stands with the away fans located in the two tiered West Stand (Croatian?). With a glass structure built onto the old stand, it looks good. However, on the endless climb up the stairs to the top tier, you pass multiple empty rooms that lead nowhere with stuff just dumped on the floor. The toilet block was brilliantly a pitch black room with walls to piss on. Not even a trough there (which was only discovered when someone got their mobile light out)! The actual ground is decent though, with good views despite a track around the pitch and a relaxed atmosphere with home fans mixing well with the Tartan Army in the ground and the concourse. Despite parts clearly being a shithole, the ground has brilliant history with Euro 1976 having two matches here and most of Croatia’s best home football moments (Paul Robinson’s airkick anyone!?) coming here. It was brilliant to see.


Despite only playing their first international as an independent nation in 1990 (unofficially) Croatia were the top seeds in this World Cup qualifying group and were ranked as the 4th best team in the World. They haven’t reached the heights of the 1998 World Cup but after recent decent performances in the past few tournaments (barring 2010), the squad look quite good to challenge for QF places again. This group however had pitted them against “the most exciting team in the World” with Belgium also looking good. Both sides had won all of their games so far in the group, except the 1-1 draw between the two sides in Brussels in September 2012. With Belgium playing Serbia at home on the same day as this game, it looked like the group winners would be decided in October as Belgium visit the Maksimir.


Since that defeat in Brussels in October, Scotland have sunk sunk sunk and were already out of qualifying. This was before San Marino and before Andorra too. While Levein was punted and Strachan brought in, wins over the mighty Luxembourg (just) and Estonia (just) gave the Tartan Army hope that we were back on the rise. Yet another defeat to Wales and an away defeat to Serbia meant it was game over. Coming into this game, many players had pulled out meaning an even more daunting task awaited them as 14 players went over to Croatia who had less than 10 caps. Still, even with the Croatian press claiming “you will not pass the halfway line”, I had a feeling that we could nick an away point.


Croatia were also missing some key players with both Luka Modric and Vedran Corluka suspended after picking up booking in their 2-1 win over Wales. Missing the key playmaker in Modric, Croatia were lacking in some spark and it was Scotland who were comfortable as Alan McGregor wasn’t troubled. In fact Scotland even had the audacity to create a chance as James Morrison fired over from 30 yards from a free kick. Croatia themselves were having to resort to long range efforts as McGregor watched an Ivan Perisic shot fly away. Then, on 26 minutes came a magical moment, I’ll detail what went through my head. “Go on Maloney, good run (ball breaks away from him), unlucky! Hang on, that’s deflected into the box and Snodgrass has made a run…… OH MY GOD.” Cue carnage from the 2,000 travelling Scots as Snodgrass had beaten Stipe Pletikosa to the ball and diverted it in as well as kicking the goalie in the face. Beer went everywhere, people hugging strangers and just general pandemonium as the unthinkable had happened. I got a quick snap of the scoreboard at 0-1 as I didn’t expect it to say that way for long, and it shouldn’t have when Sammir collected a dreadful backpass but fired the ball over the bar. Ivica Olic also should have done better when he let the ball roll underneath him to create a chance but fired his shot high and wide. It was HT and it was 1-0. More beer please.


I knew that the 2nd 45 minutes were not going to be enjoyable as Croatia would no doubt have loads of possession and pin us back, but to be fair to Scotland we were not totally under the cosh as I (and many others) expected. You do need those slices of luck now and then and we got that early on as Olic produced a moment of brilliance to whip the ball in from the left and Mario Mandzukic stuck out a leg and as the ball spun off his foot it went just wide. 26,000 Croatian thought it was in, however 2,000 away fans blew a sigh of relief. Croatia had more chances but these were mainly long distance efforts that flew wide. But with Leigh Griffiths chasing everything up front and Morrison and James McArthur closing everything down in midfield, the home side didn’t have an answer. We nearly even had the cheek to grab a 2nd as Steven Naismith connected badly with a header and Snodgrass fired over. The time counted down as it looked more and more likely as we’d get the win and when ref David Fernández Borbalán blew the final whistle it was more mayhem. This team of no hopers and rag-a-tags had beaten the “4th best team in the world”, only the 2nd ever team to beat Croatia at home in a competitive game.


This one result won’t change much, and we won’t be going to the World Cup, but this was a fantastic evening. The result was fully deserved as we pressured Croatia into mistakes and long range efforts while hitting them on the break. They now need to beat Belgium in October and hope for more dropped points later in the group. Croatia is a brilliant place to visit and really enjoyed my 3 night stay in Zagreb. I’d recommend it to anyone to have a visit. As the home fans flooded out and clapped us, we were kept in for an extra 30 minutes and had a sing song. Bizarrely the final song was Adele’s “Skyfall” and as my 2012/13 season ended, I looked back at my biggest season ever – and a cheeky first foreign trip for the blog. “This is end, hold you breath and count to 10". A brilliant evening. Well done Scotland.

P.S – I presume every away game is like this!

Photos from Croatia vs Scotland


Match Ratings:

- Match: 6/10 (biasly brilliant)

- Value for money: 8/10 (don’t normally pay £14 for an international)

- Ground: 7.5/10 (excellent in places, shithole in others)

- Atmosphere: 7/10 (both sets of fans were good)

- Food: 6/10 (authentic Eastern European grub from outside)

- Programme: N/A – didn’t see one

- Referee: David Fernández Borbalán – 7/10 (got on with it)

Cro vs Sco stub