Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Unirea Urziceni v Glasgow Rangers. 04/11/09

"How could he think we are Scottish? We speak understandable English, don't drink Irn Bru, don't smell, don't wear skirts, have jobs and aren't off our faces on crack."

Unirea Urziceni 1-1 Glasgow Rangers. Steau Stadium.
Wednesday 04/11/09
There is a reason I never buy tickets from touts and this game summed up exactly why. You couldn't argue with the price - £10 to watch Champions League football even if it was between Romania and Scotland's champions. But the bloke doing the selling made a right pigs ear of things, sending three of us into the home end and giving me a ticket in with the Rangers fans.

This was not what I wanted. Forget the stringent security checks that meant showing passports and goodness knows what else to get into the away end. Forget the fact that at half time the fans were teargassed, ripped up seats and fought the police. I didn't want to be in there for one simple reason - I'm not bloody Scottish.

Stray dogs on the streets of Bucharest
Quite how the chap selling the tickets couldn't understand that is beyond me. We spoke understandable English, dressed well, clearly had jobs and weren't high on crack. Yet he still managed to get confused enough to send me in with the sweaties. It was quite clear I wasn't getting in through the turnstile into the home end given my ticket was in with the jocks but thankfully a steward ignored every single rule of ground safety and simply opened up the exit gate to let me in. That was at least one fan in the ground who didn't count towards the attendance then.

Unirea Urziceni had been forced to play their Champions League games 25 miles away from their home ground at Steaua Stadium, home of Steaua Bucharest and Romania's national team as their home ground only held 7,000 and fell short of UEFA's standards. As luck would have it, we were in Bucharest as part of a mammoth train trip from there through to Chisinau in Moldova and finally to Kiev, knocking off three countries in a week.

A working Trabant. Where can we get one?
If you can imagine the most horrible former Soviet place with bland concrete buildings and stray dogs roaming everywhere, then you have Bucharest. This impression probably wasn't helped by the fact that for the three days we were there it was solid rain adding to the grimness but it really was grey. If you measure a place in good places to drink, we only found a couple of them - one being the traditional set up in this part of the world of a tent in a park - but at least the beer was cheap and quite drinkable.

Nick absolutely delighted with the size of his hotdog
Steaua Stadium is far out of the city centre which meant a taxi ride to reach it. Once there, it was through one set of security checks to enter the car park where we found a hotdog even bigger than Hartlepool United's famous effort that is larger than a mans head, and then another security check to go through the turnstiles (unless of course you get let in an exit gate).

Steaua Stadium

A roof - not that it looked like it was much use
The stadium itself was three uncovered stands of red and blue seats and one main stand with a roof and some executive boxes. With the rain hammering down, it meant we were in for a very wet evening. It was like a Taylor Report devotees worst nightmare inside - yes, it may have been all seater but rather than sit on the seats, everybody stood on them. Perhaps an idea for a protest for safe standing in England?

Romania's finest entrepreneur sets up his table to sell cups
of Pepsi at half time
Buying from the hotdog stand outside proved to be a genius decision given there were no facilities in the ground to purchase anything from. Some enterprising locals showed the sort of initiative that will get you a long way in Dragons Den at half time by bringing their own bottles of Pepsi in and then selling cups of it from a small table. It was good to see the idea of capitalism, trade and entrepreneurship thriving in a former communist country.

Fun and games in the Rangers end at half time
The game itself was pretty woeful. Dan Petrescu prowled the sidelines in his role as Unirea manager but both sides seemed to treat it as an away game which I suppose technically it was. Those "home" fans who had made the journey to Bucharest weren't particularly impressed when Lee McCulloch gave Rangers the lead with less than 15 minutes remaining but an absolutely stunning strike from Marius Onofras with two minutes left earned them a 1-1 draw.

That was our cue to leave to avoid being stuck with the jocks in the ensuing rush which would probably turn nasty given what we'd seen at half time but we made a critical error in jumping in a taxi without negotiating the price first, which meant that the journey back to the city centre cost us a whopping six times what it had to get there. Ouch!

Romanian Palace of Parliament
As for the rest of the trip, Bucharest offered a few interesting sights the main one of which was the Palace of Parliament. Built by the countries former dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu, he bulldozed 30,000 residencies, 30 churches and six synagogues to create the heaviest building in the world featuring one million cubic metres of marble and 3500 tonnes of crystal. You really have to see it to appreciate just how big it is and it shows how much of a mental case Ceaucescu was to create such a monstrous building when his people were living in poverty.

Moldova's National Stadium in Chisinau - or not
We spent just a day in Chisinau which was just as well as there was little to do here other than drink and eat. So poor is Moldova that we were able to pick up a good bottle of champagne for £2.50 and after that it was onto Kiev, easily the best city of the trip.

Independence Square, Kiev
St Michael's Cathedral. Nice roof
While there we visited Independence Square, scene of 2004's Orange Revolution, the famous St Michael's Cathedral with it's gold domed roofs and after attempting to get a look at Lobanovsky Dynamo Stadium, we managed to bribe the security guard to the tune of £8 to let us enter and have a look at the home of Dynamo Kiev.

The grand entrance to Dynamo Staidum
Dynamo Stadium after bribing a security guard to let us in
Although dark, it's setting in the middle of a park was quite quaint and the floodlight pylons were a particular highlight, being massive things that reached into the sky, outdwarving the tiny stadium. It was oval shaped despite not having a running track and bizarrely didn't feature any sort of roof, not even over the main stand. The gates outside were more like Admiralty Arch than the entrance to a football stadium which made it seem rather grand. It would have been nice to see a game there, but not with a ticket bought from a tout. No sir, I've learnt my lesson on that one.

Unirea Urziceni: Giedrius Arlauskis, Valeriu Bordeanu, George Galamaz, Vasile Maftei, Iulian Apostol, Tiberiu Balan (Marius Onofras 1), Pablo Brandan, Sorin Frunza, Ricardo Gomes (Razvan Paduretu), Dacian Varga (Antonio Semedo), Marius Bilasco.

Glasgow Rangers: Allan McGregor, Sasa Papac, David Weir, Steven Whittaker, Danny Wilson, Steven Davis, Kevin Thomson (John Fleck), Lee McCulloch 1, Kyle Lafferty, Kenny Miller (Nacho Novo), Steven Naismith.

Attendance: 15,000.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Girondis de Bordeaux v Nice. 23/08/09

"I can't believe we've got to a game in France on two different types of public transported and not been disrupted by somebody on strike"

Girondia de Bordeaux 4-0 OGC Nice. Stade Chaban-Delmas.
Sunday 23/08/09
Bordeaux v Nice could be remembered for any number of things. Seeing the reigning French champions destroy their visitors 4-0. Laurent Blanc looking simply dashing in a pair of jeans in the technical area. The fact that you could get to the game on French public transport without encountering some sort of strike. But unfortunately, it will always stick in my mind for the unbearable heat.

Now I don't like heat at the best of times but this was something else. Admittedly, my cause probably wasn't helped by the insistence on wearing a beret to blend in with the locals (as it was, none of them had one on so I in fact blended out). But even so, just sitting there watching 22 men wander around at a leisurely pace was enough to have you sweating as if you were running a marathon inside an active volcano.

Bright sunshine, 30 degree heat. Still need the floodlights on
Every year I venture to Bordeaux to stay with college friend Dan, now a resident. Normally these trips come about in June or July but this time in order to catch some action at Stade Chaban-Delmas, the journey was made in August.

Monsieur Blanc's side won Ligue 1 last season to break the dominance of Lyon, winners for the previous seven seasons in a row. This was their first home game of 2009-2010 and their first as champions, taking on a Nice team who were frankly not very good, but then again on the day both sides could be forgiven for the snails pace the game took place at bearing in mind those of us in the stand could easily have claimed dehydration purely through perspiration.

Laurent Blanc doing his best impression of a beach goer
Part of the problem was the nature of Stade Chaban-Delmas. Sorry to geek things up but it is like the TARDIS - appears remarkably small on the outside yet is capable of holding 35,000. That is in part due to the fact you are crammed in like one of those Indian trains with people swinging from the rafters and the lack of space attributes to the lack of coolness.

Stade Chaban-Delmas main stand
The home fans ready to greet the champions
Another reason for the heat factor is the lack of shade, with minimal roofing behind both goals but both sides covered. It's a bizarre layout with the design being oval yet the vast spaces that leaves at the ends behind filled with banks of seats. At one of these ends comes most of the ground atmosphere courtesy of copious blue and white banners, flairs and all the usual other paraphernalia you get on the continent. For a nation best known for surrendering and not working, they made quite a noise.

Bordeaux free-kick
The game itself was a stroll for the champions once they'd scored a minute before half time through Jussie Ferreira Vieira. Yoann Gourcuff added a brace and Alou Diarra netted the fourth. Pre-game and post game was spent in a wonderful little bar just around the corner from the ground with a delightful owner we nicknamed Joan of Arc due to her resemblance to the French saint.

The Bordeaux goalkeepers kit was absolutely fantastic
As for Bordeaux itself, the best way to describe it is expensive.€7.50 for a pint is anything but ideal and in truth there were very few good places to drink if you wanted a beer and not wine. The Houses of Parliament was a decent enough pub even if it overdid the Englishness (could you tell from the name?!) while Byron Bay was an Australian themed bar that attracted a decent crowd as well as a few mentalists.
Smaller Arc De Triomphe - presumably the builders
went on strike

Price of a pint = ouch
As good as the sites got was the statue of a turtle and what appeared to be a half finished attempt to recreate the Arc de Triomphe which no doubt had never been finished due to industrial action on the part of the workers aggrieved at having to do more than an eight hour week.

The footballers on the other hand had more than earned their money after performing in that heat. It was certainly not conditions for football. Or wearing a beret.

Girondis de Bordeaux: Cedric Cassaro, Matthieu Chalme, Mickael Ciani, Marc Planus, Benoit Tremoulinas, Alou Diarra 1, Yoann Gourcuff 2, Wendel, Fernando Cavenaghi (Yoan Gouffran), Marouane Chamakh (David Bellion), Jussie 1 (Fernando).

Nice: David Ospina, Onyekachi Apam, Gerald Cid, Larrys Mabiala, Gregory Paisley (Drissa Diakite), Chaouki Ben Saada (Habib Bamongo), Olivier Echouafni (Mamadou Bagayoko), David Hellebuyck, Julien Sable, Mahamane Traore, Loic Remy.

Attendance: 32,065.

Friday, 8 May 2009

1860 Munich v Hansa Rostock. 08/05/09

"The 1860 drummer is amazing. He's like John Portsmouth FC Westwood. Just better smelling."

TSV 1860 Munich 3-3 FC Hansa Rostock. Allianz Arena.
Saturday 08/05/09.
There is more than one team in Munich, don't you know? While Bayern may be famous around the world, playing in their shadow in 2.Bundlesiga are city neighbours 1860. Originally named because they were founded in 1860, they used to be the cities big boys and were even German champions in the 1960s.

Hard times have followed though, mainly since the move into the vastness of the Allianz Arena took place and they struggle to even third fill one of the worlds finest footballing venues. They need all the help they can get and that is where a group of six upstanding males came in for the visit of Hansa Rostock FC.

Six steins in one go in Hofbrauhaus - was this woman perfect
wife material?
Of course, this wouldn't be German football without sinking a couple of pints before the game. And in Bavaria, these pints come in the shape of steins, two litres of wholesome family beer. We weren't quite as hardcore as those Hansa fans who were at the hotel bar doing shots at 8am in the morning but nonetheless a fair amount of beer was put away in the Augustiner Keller and the world famous Hofbrauhaus before the game.

The Allianz is about a 20 minute journey on the typically efficient U-Bahn service from the city centre. 30 minutes if you end up going the wrong way which is naturally what happened. The ground itself is in the middle of nowhere, a giant marshmallow surrounded by wasteland.

The giant abandoned car tyre that is The Allianz Arena
There is a shopping centre adjacent to the station which, this being Germany, features a bar where you can continue pre-game drinking right up until kick off. 1860 tickets are available on the door unlike their more illustrious rivals and despite requesting a place in the terrace, we ended up with tickets for the seats.

A large crowd in for the game
Or at least we were meant to. Given how sparse the 1860 support was, we were able to wander onto the terrace once inside the stadium with ease. And it was here we met all manner of weird and wonderful individuals. From the home fans drummer - a more pleasant smelling version of John Portsmouth FC Westwood - to people wearing full kit, it was a mixture of the sort of bizareness you'd struggle to find anywhere else.

When full, the Alianz must be an impressive place but on this occasion it was like a morgue. Nobody in the top tier, a splattering of people in the middle and even less in the bottom led to no atmosphere at all. It was like attending a funeral in Westminster Abbey in which just two people turn up.

Leading the Hansa Rostock fans in song
Hansa Rostock had made the journey in their hundreds
But that didn't effect the quality of the game in the slightest. In fact, it must rank as one of the most exciting games I've ever seen. Manuel Schaffler gave 1860 the lead, Enrico Kern and Mario Fillinger put Hansa 2-1 up before the break. Benjamin Lauth equalised with Kern netting his second for the visitors with 85 minutes on the clock. Game over? Oh no, a brilliant 93rd minute free kick from Sascha Rosler earning a point and sending the home fans wild.

Excellent choice of socks
And by wild, I mean throwing pints of beer over the segregation and into the away fans. Naturally, we had to sample everything German culture has to offer so this meant joining in and giving it large - before running away after realising that a group of English fans, one of whom wearing a bright yellow t-shirt with Mark McGhee's face on it - wouldn't exactly be hard to find for retribution later. Wimpish yes, but none of us are exactly Elijah Wood in Green Street.

1860's late equaliser delighted the home fans
The Allianz with it's famous chaning colour exterior goes blue
for 1860
Munich is one of those fantastic sporting cities with plenty to do and see, and we spent the next day at the Olympic Park wandering around and taking standard "5-1 poses". Unfortunately we couldn't get into the actual stadium as some noddy band called ACDC were setting up for a concert. Bloody inconsiderate, really.

5-1, even Heskey scored. Rumble enjoys the view over the
Olympic Stadium from the television tower
A giant snake about to attack the city of Munich?
Away from the bierkellers in the centre, we came across a vast complex on the edge of the city that was like an English industrial estate - think where The Office is based in Slough - but was just full of varying nightclubs. Including a gay one, as young Sam found to his cost when chatting up a woman who actually turned out to be a man. I even got some action when a burly man put his hands on my bottom, which is a very brave move given the combination of beer and german sausage was like letting Hiroshima off in my innards. You could arrive at this estate at 10pm and before you knew it it was 6am - as we found to our cost making the taxi ride of shame home with the sun up and the birds singing.

Josef Fritzl has recently found employment as a toilet attendant
Sam living the dream by dancing in a fountain to clear any
lingering hangover
Perhaps the most important lesson from this trip to Munich however came from the realisation of the ultimate way to sober up. The German way to sober up. Dancing in a fountain on the cities main street. It's not frowned upon, in fact it is fully encouraged. As Jeff Stelling would put it, they were dancing in the streets of 1860 Munich.

1860 Munich: Phillip Tschauner, Antonio Rukavina, Markus Thorandt (Sascha Rosler 1), Mate Gvinianidze, Torben Hoffman, Stefan Aigner (Nikolas Ledgerwood), Lars Bender (Danny Schwarz), Mathieu Beda, Fabian Johson, Manuel Schaffler 1, Benjamin Lauth 1. 

Hansa Rostock: Jorg Hahnel, Kevin Schoneberg, Orestes, Kai Bullow, Bastian Oczipka, Kevin Schindler, Martin Retov, Sebastian Svard, Mario Fillinger 1, Enrico Kern 2 (Gledson), Fin Bartels (Regis Dorn).

Attendance: 24,400.