Sunday, 26 April 2009

Ground 110: Skonto Stadions, Riga

"Football here's like Celtic - Rangers," the Manchester United fan I work with once told me. "The Latvians had FK Riga until they went bust, the Russians have Skonto." Champions thirteen seasons in a row, nowadays Skonto are definitely the third force in Latvian football, their crowds usually no higher than three or four hundred. They had started well, quickly equalising an opening goal from Ventspils's Georgian winger Zurabs Mentešašvili, before running out of ideas in the second half. Now they found themselves two goals down.

To my left the fifty or so ultras, or the Ghosts as they like to call themselves, were still beating drums and chanting something about Skonto in Russian. On the other side of the stand (there was only one open) Ventspils fans were letting off flares to celebrate their side's third goal. Paul Ashworth, Skonto's English manager, had his hands in his suit pockets, shaking his head like an angry Roy Keane. Looking up to make a forward pass, Skonto's Brazilian left-back trod on the ball. The laughter from the man next to me could be heard clear across the pitch.

Tickets: 3 lats.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Ground 109: Daugavas Stadions, Liepaja

Deciding not to brave the icy Baltic wind, blowing white-sand straight in from the beach less than a hundred metres away, we watched Liepaja's four-nil tonking of Skonto Riga the civilised way: through the glass window of the stadium bar, at the top of the main stand. There were nine hundred fans in attendance for Latvia's game of the day, including a few dozen who, like us, had made the three and a half hour trip from the capital. Skonto's keeper looked like a very young Pavel Srnicek. Unfortunately, he played like one too, and was at fault for at least two of the goals. In the middle of the pitch, Liepaja's Maksims Rafalskis ran the game, smacking the final goal straight through the goalkeeper's half-hearted tumble from twenty-five yards. Skonto responded with a long punt to no-one. It was that kind of day.

Admission: 2 lats.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Ground 108: Jurmalas Stadions, Sloka

The pitch looked more suitable for growing vegetables than playing football, which was just as well given Jurmala's up-and-under style of play extended even to the rare occasions when they found themselves within shooting distance of the Ventspils goal. Their Tevez-lookalike Argentinian, Kristian Torres, ran around aimlessly in midfield, waving his arms and being eased off the ball by Ventspils's slow-moving centre-halves. "Yellow and blue, stronger," sang the fifty or so away fans in Russian.

We sat in the only stand, swigging beer we'd smuggled in past the black-suited nightclub bouncers on the turnstiles. The crowd was no more than three hundred, plus about half as many again peering through the wire fence behind one goal. Jurmala played like a Sunday league team; Ventspils at least made a pretence of passing the ball, winning easily by three goals to nil. Other than the flares which greeted each goal, the best you could say about the game is that the sun stayed out until the final whistle.

Tickets: 2 lats.