Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Ryhope Colliery Welfare

Winn and Butler

It took 120 years and a manager from Seaham Kitchen Magic for Ryhope Colliery Welfare to make the Northern League. Wearside League champions four times in the 1960s, the days of Charlie Grose, Jackie Wilkinson and 4,500 cramming into the Recreation Ground for an FA Cup first round tie with Workington Town were a distant memory when Martin Swales was recruited from the Durham Alliance, where he'd just led his company team to a final success in the Washington Aged Peoples Cup.  "Ryhope hadn't won a trophy for donkeys' years.  I said I'd try and get them one," he told Northern Ventures Northern Gains.  Swales's first season saw the club lift the Monkwearmouth Cup, last won back in 1967. The following year Ryhope joined Marske United and Newcastle Blue Star as only the third team to sweep all four Wearside League trophies in the same season after a penalty shoot-out at Willington AFC.  Last season Swales and his players went even better - losing only one game in all competitions as they swept the board for a second time and were promoted to the Northern League.  "68 games 1 defeat" the club's Twitter profile justifiably boasts.

Paul Kane prepares to put Seaham two goals ahead.

Propelled by the goals of ex-Magic striker Johnny Butler and 21-year-old Chris Winn - 59 between them in 22 league games alone - Ryhope top Division Two at Christmas, two places and eight points ahead of fast-improving Seaham Red Star.  With Swales on holiday in Lanzarote, a subdued Ryhope fall two goals behind to a hard-working Red Star team, Channon North scoring from close range then earning a penalty which Paul Kane easily converts. "We were playing some lovely stuff earlier in the season," a home fan tells me, "but there's been no cohesion lately."  "It's all back to front and the odd diagonal," says a visiting Northern League manager. "I was expecting a lot better."

Chris Trewick reduces the arrears shortly before an interval which is lengthened when Ryhope chairman Dave Hall collapses and is taken to hospital. A photographer from the local newspaper turns up, snaps some pictures from the halfway line then promptly disappears, North misses two chances to seal the win and Seaham see a shot smash back off the crossbar, but with time running out Chris Winn edges the ball on to Butler - almost the first exchange of passes between the two all game - from a throw-in and the point is enough to keep Ryhope ahead of Crook Town, 3-2 winners in the wilds of Tow Law. "It'd been coming all half," says Red Star assistant Simon Johnson," but I'm absolutely gutted."

Admission: £4
Date: December 26th 2012

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Goalposts 2012: Bilbao and Moldova

When I wrote about Steve McLay's now defunct No Movement for Goalposts blog this time last year, my picks of 2011 included a UNESCO-listed dust pitch in the centre of one of Elche's many palmerals, a congested goalmoath at Jarrow Roofing, and movable posts on the shores of Biwako, Japan's largest freshwater lake.  This year's top two take us to a lesser known tributary of the Dniester and the Basque country, where I spent a weekend in January watching Marcelo Bielsa's then rampant Athletic at the soon to be demolished San Mames.

An hour's drive along the potholed roads out of Chișinău, we pulled into the cave monasteries of Orheiul Vechi just ahead of a clapped-out coach full of boisterous schoolkids and two men in a horse and trap. Fishermen paddled along the listless River Răut, where local communists had dumped whatever religious icons they could lay their hands on at the end of World War II.  Wreaths shaped like teardrops and mounds of bare earth marked the graves in the village cemetery, old women tied on headscarves before shuffling into the church, and the souvenir stand was a plastic table wedged against a crumbling stone wall.  The goalposts were crooked, the grass rubble-strewn and overgrown.  A horse stood by what might have been the edge of the penalty area, dribbling a pebble with its nose.

Our final morning in Bilbao. Hungover but ignoring the concrete lift, we panted up a flight of steps from the Casco Viejo and took an unplanned left into Park Extberri. The pitch was made of concrete, still wet with the previous night's rain. A metal fence stopped balls bouncing down the hill. The goalposts, of course, were painted red and white.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Football Art: Sir Bobby Robson and Newcastle United

"What is a club in any case? Not the buildings or the directors or the people who are paid to represent it. It's not the television contracts, get out clauses or the marketing departments or executive boxes. It's the noise, the passion, the feeling of belonging, the pride in your city. It’s a small boy clambering up stadium steps for the very first time, gripping his father’s hand, gawping at that hallowed stretch of turf beneath him and, without being able to do a thing about it, falling in love." Sir Bobby Robson (1933 -2009)

Behind the malapropisms and mispronunciations -  "What can I say about Peter Shilton? Peter Shilton is Peter Shilton and he's been Peter Shilton since the year dot," said the man who in his five years as manager of Newcastle gave pre-match instructions to Kevin Dyer, regularly confused Shola Ameobi with Carl Cort, and occasionally addressed French international winger Laurent Robert as Lauren Baccall - Sir Bobby Robson never lost his instinctive grasp of what really mattered in football.  "He's been a winner all his life because he could see the bigger picture," thought Jose Mourinho, who donated a FIFA Balon D'Or World Coach of the Year award to the charity founded by his mentor. "It was a privilege to spend a year with him," said Pep Guardiola. "In my 23 years working in England," Sir Alex Ferguson once observed, "there is not a person I would put an inch above him."

The Sir Bobby Robson statue at the foot of the Gallowgate End steps.

The self-effacing miner's son from Langley Park played for and coached England, managed Ipswich Town to the FA and UEFA Cups, and won trophies with some of the biggest club sides in Holland, Portugal and Spain before returning to north-east England, where he'd started out as an electrician's apprentice in the County Durham coalfields.  A Newcastle fan all his life - "My father went to the 1932 Cup final and nine months later I was born" - he inherited a club rooted to the bottom of the table and led it to fourth, third and fifth-placed finishes in the Premier League, undeservedly falling to Chelsea in the last FA Cup semi-final to be played at the old Wembley Stadium and losing out to Marseille at the same stage of the 2003-04 UEFA Cup.

Tom Maley's bust in the Milburn Stand foyer

Sir Bobby's links to Newcastle United are commemorated by a bust inside the main reception at St James' Park - the starting point for stadium tours - a memorial garden and a three-metre tall bronze statue, unveiled in May before an audience of thousands of fans and ex-players. "It's a lovely statue - Sir Bobby all over," said Paul Gascoigne. "He was a great man and I’m proud to have known him.”  Sculpted by Tom Maley, whose earlier likeness of Jackie Milburn stands at the opposite side of the Gallowgate End, the statue shows Robson with his hands in suit pockets, right leg resting on a leather football and head turned towards the site of the old Newcastle Breweries, now a Sandman Signature Hotel and a Shark Club gastro bar.  Sir Bobby Robson 1933-2009 England reads the accompanying plaque.  "This is where his love of football began," Lady Elsie Robson recalled. "It feels fitting that we should be standing on the hill that Bob used to walk up with his father and brothers on a Saturday afternoon to watch Albert Stubbins and his other boyhood heroes...My husband's career took him all over the world, but he was always a Newcastle fan at heart. He loved this club and was very proud to be its manager."

The feeling, then and now, was mutual.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Dynamo Kyiv

My first visit to Kyiv was a daytrip in October 1997.  "The word Ukraine means borderland," the guide cheerlessly recited as we drove into the city. "Historically it was the breadbasket of Russia."  "Aye, man," somebody muttered, "but when are we getting to the bars?"  A Lada strained to overtake the coach, the passenger leaning out of the window to give us the finger.  The country's first McDonald's had just opened on Kreshchatyk and women in fur coats and posh frocks scoffed hamburgers and fries next to Newcastle fans in jeans and black and white tops. Outside, baboushkas in washed-out headscarves were offering household tat - dog-eared books, faded icons and threadbare blankets - for sale in gloomy concrete underpasses as we made our way towards the ground. Dynamo - Champions League semi-finalists the following year - were still a formidable side,  Rebrov and Shevchenko quickly putting them two goals ahead before a late, deflected double from the unlikely source of John Beresford's right boot shocked all but a tiny pocket of the 100,000 crowd into silence.  "You only wear leather jackets," taunted three hundred Geordies as the home fans drifted away and we bopped on the wooden benches. Not that it mattered in the end: Dynamo beat Barcelona by a combined score of seven goals to nil on their way to the quarter final; Newcastle, shorn of strikers by Alan Shearer's injury and Les Ferdinand's ill-timed sale, lost to PSV Eindhoven (twice) and Barcelona in their next three games.

Fifteen years on Kyiv is a very different city and Dynamo, sadly, a shadow of their former selves.  Rob Langham, one half of the ever wonderful The Two Unfortunates, picks up the tale. 

A winter break in Kyiv? I’ll admit to puzzlement on the part of some of our friends at our decision to embark upon a 5 day expedition to the frozen steppe in November. The city’s charms are undoubtedly low key and even if the marvellously atmospheric Bessarabska market, quirky Mikhail Bulgakov museum, the grandeur of the city’s onion domes and moving, monolithic monuments to the Great Patriotic War all stoke plenty of interest, yet there were many who suspected the round ball lay behind our choice.

I’ll admit that Valeriy Lobanovskyi’s rebuilding projects provoked much of my fascination in the past. In particular, the 1986 Dynamo Kyiv team that cantered to victory over Atletico Madrid in the Cup Winners’ Cup Final in Lyon and the subsequent enlistment of the bulk of that vintage into the USSR squad for the Mexico World Cup. A 6-0 shellacking of a previously heralded Hungary as followed by Vasyl Rats angling in a screamer against France and I was hooked – I watched with regret as Ihor Belanov’s hat-trick proved to no avail as the Soviets inexplicably lost out in a ding dong second round battle with Belgium.

I had also been dimly aware of the 1970s generation too – led by Oleg Blokhin and victorious in another Euro showpiece against Ferencváros. Of course Lobanovksyi was to create another set of marvels in the nineties – Andriy Shevchenko and Serhiy Rebrov terrorising Euro defences and taking the club to a Champions League semi in 1999. Dynamo, in their pristine white kit and marvellously embroidered ‘D’ of a crest are nothing short of World Football’s most storied clubs.

Rob at the wrong stadium

The day leading up to a 5pm Sunday kick off for the derby match between Dynamo and Arsenal and had been punctuated by much debate as to whether sitting outside for two hours on a tingling Ukrainian night was a good idea or not. Egged on by the proprietor of this fine site, Michael Hudson, we vacillated and at many points, the prospect of decamping to a coy restaurant with a steaming plate of borshch held more appeal. But, in the end, with temperatures rising to a smidgeon above zero come Sunday afternoon and equipping ourselves with more layers than an Angel cake, we set out for the Dynamo stadium, perched atop a high bluff looking out across the Dnipro river and an arena we had been lucky enough to view on a self-guided walking tour of the city a couple of days before.

Having been diverted by the site of a man leading a pony down the steps of the Khreshchatyk underground station and fortifying ourselves with steaming cups of coffee, we leisurely sauntered towards the stadium – its grandiose gate depicting its most famous coach and providing a striking entrance. There was one snag, however, the tall floodlights jutting up into the East European sky were still unlit – and this but half an hour only before the scheduled kick off.

Hence a quick rethink before deciding that either the game wasn’t taking place at all or was to be staged at the massive new Olimpiyskiy National Sports Complex, a conversion of an arena previously glorying in the monikers Trotsky Stadium and Republikansky Stadium and the building where Spain went on something a romp against Italy in the Euro 2012 final this past summer.

 Dynamo ultras' light show

Kyiv’s metro stations are as austere and as grand as others scattered across the former USSR and they also plunge to extraordinary depths – hence, the complicated journey to the national team’s home was no small matter. Negotiating the labyrinthine passages of the Palats Sportu station would have troubled Theseus and a heavy uniformed presence (albeit disappointingly not the ranks of army personnel one remembers from European cup ties behind the iron curtain in the 1980s) did little to help our radar. In the end, we indulged in that time honoured policy of following the scarves, emerging above ground and filtering through a series of alleyways before emerging in front of the shiny stadium.

Already past kick off, we perhaps conservatively ignored the attempts to local youth to foist cut price tickets upon us before purchasing two mid-priced seats from a booth handily staffed by an English-speaking helper.  At roughly a tenner, the prices were relatively cheap although perhaps not so much given the Ukrainian standard of living. However, places were on sale for as little as £2 or £3.

A quarter of an hour in and the game was still 0-0 – the stadium’s yellow and blue colour scheme clearly evident given the quarter full arena. Indeed, we were far from alone in our tardiness – many fans choosing to tarry with cigarettes or simply amble to their positions. Two set of ultras felt differently however – Dynamo’s tyros created a good noise to our right while an infinitesimally tiny bunch of Arsenal fans were letting off steam just ahead of us.

To say the attitude among the bulk of the support was diffident would be an understatement however and it soon became clear as to why, with Dynamo camped in their opponents’ half and showing an ease in possession one would expect of an XI that had contested a Champions League match with Paris St. Germain only a few days before. Peppered with Brazilians and Nigerians, Ideye Brown led the line in a modern 4-3-3 style formation with perhaps the diminutive South American, Dudu, still only 20 years of age, doing most to unlock the massed defence of the visitors.

Ideye ended up netting twice with international centre back Yevhen Khacheridi and Oleh Husyev scoring the others, all of which came in the last few minutes of each half. The experienced Husyev in particular was in fine form raiding down the right, showing a tendency to graft which the much heralded Andriy Yarmolenko failed to match. After his introduction from the bench Yarmolenko missed a sitter and his slow progress along with that of another previous wunderkind Artem Milevskiy, absent here perhaps highlights some of the problems besetting Ukrainian football.

For the break-up of the Soviet Union has led to a severe lack of competition for a club like Kyiv, previously honed on a half century diet of intense encounters  with the Moscow clubs and other former giants such as the Georgians of Dynamo Tblisi. This victory was a cakewalk and, Shakhtar Donetsk apart, the Ukrainian Premier League is suffering from a lack of serious quality.

The glittering surroundings featuring electronic entry gates, the lack of home based players and the casual approach of many of the playing staff are a far cry from the discipline – and mystique ­­– of the Lobanovskyi years. Before, a victory in Kyiv, even for the most storied of western European giants, would be unheard of. Now, Paris St. Germain can come and chalk up the most functional of victories. Shakhtar are formidable of course – but their oligarch owner Rinat Akhmetov’s millions serve nothing but to reinforce the continued importance of the oligarch model. A European Football Weekend in Kyiv is still a treat but I wish I’d been there in 1985.

You can read much more from Rob here.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Ground 217: Zimbru Stadium, Chişinău

Rohan Ricketts' move to Dacia Chișinău was always likely to be one of the shortest and strangest footballing episodes of summer 2010.  "Moldova was just horrendous," the ex-Arsenal, Spurs and Wolverhampton Wanderers midfielder recalled after leaving for the German fourth division. "I had players take things from my room. (They) smoked in the changing rooms and drank four or five bottles of beer before games.  I was sitting in on meetings about match-fixing.  It was strange but almost amusing."

Founded in 1999 and champions of Moldova twelve years and a bit of alleged intimidation of officials later, Dacia are the capital's upstart football team, dislodging FC Zimbru, title winners in eight of the Divizia Naţională's first nine seasons, as the only threat to Sheriff Tiraspol's ongoing strangehold over the domestic game. Bankrolled by Gabriel Stati, occasional fugitive and eldest son of the country's richest man, the Yellow Wolves share Zimbru's eponymous stadium, twenty minutes on trolley bus 22 from the corner of Strada Ismail and Bulevardu Ștefan cel Mare, home to a branch of the ubiquitous Andy's Pizza, a glass-fronted casino, a half-finished apartment block with black bin liners fluttering in the space reserved for windows, and a nightclub with a plastic giraffe surrounding the door. Small wonder Ricketts spent so much time in his hotel.

Some mumbled Russian and thirty lei gets us seats on the halfway line. "Shit! A quid fifty and we've already missed a goal," Tom jokes as the fifteen Iskra Stal fans finish celebrating their team's second minute opener. "Don't worry, there'll be more," says Mikey as Dacia's Evgheni Matiughin fumbles at a tame shot.  While Moldova's national stadium is a far cry from the last game of  football I saw - Red House Farm Juniors vs Cullercoats in the Northern Alliance Division Two - a turgid first-half means the gap in quality isn't always so apparent. "This is the worst game I've ever seen," Mikey moans after quarter of an hour.  "Try watching Spurs," says Lisa.  "It's brilliant you can smoke here," chips in Tom. "Is there a bar do you reckon?" Dacia, beaten 1-0 by Sheriff in their previous league game,  muster a hardcore support of just over fifty people and no more than a handful of attempts to equalise until the visiting keeper kicks a clearance against Cairo de Andrade's back and then tops the first mistake by letting the Brazilian forward's shot trickle under his hand.

"What kind of place is this?" asks Mikey. "They don't have pies.  They don't even have beer."  "There's that bread thing," suggests Tom, his tone less convincing than the first-half display of goalkeeping.  As the second half begins the only thing on anybody's stomach is the belly laugh which greets Denis Ilescu when he calls for a header, misses the ball completely, slips on his front and ends up chesting the ball out for a throw-in. "He was on-loan at Anzhi Makhachkala," Tom says, scrolling through Wikipedia on his phone. "Imagine him and Eto'o in the same team."

Adama Guira, a Burkina Faso international who played six times for Djurgårdens, ambles menacingly around midfield as the home side belatedly start to impose themselves. Ghenadie Orbu heads them into the lead, a third goal takes a deflection off a defender and the fourth - a free-kick which curls over the wall and through the keeper's hands -  is scored by Nicolae Josan, voted best midfielder in the Russian first division when he played alongside Ilescu at Anzhi. It's eleven o'clock when we get back to the city centre, the giraffe nightclub is closed for a private party and Andy's kicks us out after the second beer.  A small crowd of people are buying cans at a street corner kiosk, a car bumps on to the pavement blasting Gangnam Style through the windows and the neighbourhood dogs settle down for the night on piles of rotting leaves.  "It's a bit like Skegness," says Tom, "but about a hundred times worse."

Date:  October 6th 2012
Admission: £1.50
  • The Moldovan league starts its winter hiatus this weekend, returning on March 3rd for a final thirteen rounds. Sheriff host second-placed Dacia at the Sheriff Stadium on Sunday March 10th. 
It was nuts. The players were welcoming but smoked in the changing room and drank four or five bottles of beer before games.
“I was sitting in on meetings about match-fixing. It was strange but almost amusing.

Read more:
It was nuts. The players were welcoming but smoked in the changing room and drank four or five bottles of beer before games.

Read more:
It was nuts. The players were welcoming but smoked in the changing room and drank four or five bottles of beer before games.

Read more: