Thursday, June 14, 2007
Nijmegen Eendracht Combinatie
Serbia 1 Czech Republic 0
The oldest city in the Netherlands at 2,000 years young, Nijmegen was first settled in the 1st century BC when the Romans built a fort here. With commanding views over the Rhine and Waal valleys, it is perhaps no surprise that it was the first Dutch City to be taken by the Germans in WWII. The centre was accidentally flattened by the US Air Force, thinking they were attacking the German city of Kleve, in 1944, and saw further heavy fighting later that year during the Allied operation “Market Garden” part of which included the defence of Nijmegen Bridge a major crossing over the Rhine that would be used in later months by the Allies as they advanced across the low countries towards Germany.
Nijmegen gained a certain notoriety in 1981, when 1,200 police and 750 armed troops, backed up by tanks, armoured personnel carriers and a chopper, moved into evict squatters from a residential area of the city which had been earmarked by the local council for redevelopment as a car park!
The 12,470 seater Goffert Stadium is the home of Nijmegen Eendracht Combinatie, or as they are more commonly known, NEC. Founded in 1900, NEC have yet to win a major honour but have been Dutch Cup finalists on three occasions, most recently in 2000. Set in parkland to the south of the centre, tidy and compact is the probably the best way of describing the stadium. Approaching it from the east, as we did, only it’s slender floodlight pylons give away it’s location, most of the stadium itself hidden by trees. The pitch appears to be below the level of the surrounding park as are the turnstiles. With the corners filled in, the seating forms a continuous ring around the playing area.
As is common in Holland entry into the seated area is from a sunken gangway between pitch and stand, an area that also acts as a form of moat to prevent unrulier elements from getting onto the playing area. Despite this the Goffert is quite an intimate setting which, with the closeness of supporters to the pitch, could be quite intimidating for visiting players, particularly when full. It boasts heated seating, which I’m sure is quite a treat for spectators at cold winter night games in the Eredivisie, and some interesting murals/graffiti on its interior walls which feature views of the stadium and the city’s landmarks.
Oh yes, the football. More turgid stuff I’m afraid. Extreme Groundhopping Junior and I certainly picked four classic games (not) during our week long tour of the Netherlands. We’ve both enjoyed our visit which started last Sunday in Groningen, and by way of Arnhem and Heerenveen, ends today in Nijmegen, but as for the football it really has been quite awful. What was particularly galling tonight was returning to our hotel room to discover that England and Italy shared four goals in a thriller up the road in Arnhem. The tournament so far has produced just eleven goals in eight games and we’ve seen just two! Tonight’s, with a slightly ironic twist, coming in the 92nd minute, giving Serbia a barely deserved win over the Czech Republic, but ensuring their passage into the tournaments knock-out stage nonetheless.
Well that’s it for Holland, and the 2006-07 season. More football tales from the around the UK when pre-season kick’s into action in about a months time. In the meantime a panorama of the Goffert Stadium can be found here.
Match Number: 1379
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Israel 0 Belgium 1
SC Heerenveen have taken an interesting approach to managing visiting fan’s, ensuring that they are whisked into and out of the stadium without any possibility of physical interaction with the home support. A slip road off the adjacent motorway is used to deposit visiting supporters at a series of dedicated turnstiles. The turnstiles lead to a fenced-in bridge that takes the fans over a local access road that runs around the stadium and straight into the all-seated visitor’s enclosure in one corner of the ground. Voila - the visiting hoolie delivered straight to his seat without so much as chance of making contact with Terra Ferma let alone any like minded Friesan’s.
The Abe Lenstra Stadium, named after a former SC Heerenveen player from the 1950’s, has a capacity of 26,800 which is a thousand or so more than the population of the town itself. The only other European stadium that can lay claim to a having a larger capacity than the number of it’s town’s inhabitants is the Stade Felix Bollaert home of RC Lens in France.
First constructed in 1993, the stadium has steadily grown from an initial capacity of 14,300 to the quite pleasant stadium that it is today. In recent years an experimental standing terrace, with a capacity of 1,000, was introduced, and has proved such a success (with no apparent safety issues) that it may be increased in size.
Away from footie Heerenveen boasts the world’s first 400 metre indoor ice skating rink which has a capacity of 12,500 and was first opened in 1986. Apart from that there’s not too much else to say about the town. Translated Heerenveen means ‘Lord and Peat’ after the three lords that formed the town in 1551 as a centre for the production of peat and turf. Oh, and it has a rather nice windmill tucked away down some leafy residential streets just to the north of centre.
As for the tonight’s football – instantly forgettable dross. Belgium survived the 18th minute dismissal of Marouane Fellaini, for a second bookable offence, to record a one-nil win. Bizarrely Scottish referee Craig Thomson also red carded Belgium’s Anthony Vanden Borre, thinking he had previously booked the forward, only to stop the player from leaving the field when he had realise his mistake.
Kevin Mirallas popped-up just a few minutes later (the 82’ minute to be precise) to hit home a low shot past the Israeli ‘keeper, after having been denied earlier by the woodwork. And so, to an end, came our run of 4 hours and 22 minutes of U-21 Championship action without a goal. Hoorah!
Match Number: 1378
Monday, June 11, 2007
England 0 Czech Republic 0
One thing about the national side, at any level, is that they never fail to disappoint. Extreme Groundhopping Junior shares a house with a mate from the Czech Republic, and with a bet of fifty-pounds, the equivalent of half their joint monthly grocery bill, riding on the outcome, Junior was well up for this one.
For all Stuart Pearce’s pacing up on down on the edge of the technical area, the young Lions, playing some good football at times had no killer instinct up front. If they had put away just one of a half dozen decent chances (not mentioning a missed penalty two minutes from time) Junior would have been eating for free next month and we would have seen our first goal in what is now three hours of scoreless U-21 footie action.
Home of Vitesse Arnhem, the Gelredome was opened in 1998 and boasts not just a retractable roof but a retractable pitch too. The entire playing surface is set on rollers which allow it to be withdrawn under the stand behind the south goal and parked outside the stadium.
With the roof closed concerts can be held in an enclosed environment, while the pitch, safely outside, is saved from the potential damage of ten of thousands of pairs of dancing feet.
This unique stadium has a capacity of 28,000 for football matches with accommodation comprising single tiered banks of seats on the grounds four sides with three tiers of executive/VIP boxes rising vertically behind the seats on the west touchline.
Away from the football, some older elements of the city of Arnhem remain, for example the 16th-century town hall, but Arnhem was pretty much flattened during WWII as Allied Troops fought the Germans in a failed attempt to take the ‘Bridge Too Far’, these days rebuilt and renamed the John Frost Bridge. The capital of the Gelderland province boasts the Netherlands most popular zoo, Burgers’ Zoo, on its northern limits. Which we thought was worth a visit for the amusingly named Bongos alone.
A panorama of the Gelredome can be found here.
Match Number: 1377
Sunday, June 10, 2007
Belgium 0 Portugal 0
Opened during the 2004-05 season, the Euroborg Stadium in Groningen, home of Eredivisie club FC Groningen, has a capacity just shy of 20,000. Our first glimpse of it was as our train approached the city’s central railway station. With a casino tacked onto one side, from the outside the Euroborg looks like a low concrete warehouse that could be found on any industrial estate in Europe, and apart from the odd sign, there is no indication at all that there is a stadium on the inside.
Once inside things improve slightly and from the mass of green seats, the colours of FC Groningen, it becomes obvious why the fans have taken to calling it “Green Heaven”. There’s plenty of legroom in the seats, room to move around on the concourse, and supporters are well served with a good number of food outlets, but it’s all very utilitarian. Pretty much like all the identikit stadia that have sprung up across England in the last ten years.
Groningen the city, on the other hand, is a pleasant place to visit, with an attractive market square in the old part of city, a good variety of shops, bars, café’s and restaurants on the surrounding streets, and a quite striking war memorial – a besworded warrior atop a slain dragon – in the grounds of the adjacent Aa Church.
And a bit of a bonus was the ladies beach volley tournament that took place in the square before the football in the evening – it would have been rude not to have stopped at watched.
Back to the Euroborg and the game, and both Belgium and Portugal had enough good chances to win this game, all spurned, but if either side where to put in a claim for all three points then the Belgians would have the best case. Belgian football, internationally, and at home, has been in the doldrums for many years (remember the senior sides appalling performances when they joint hosted Euro 2000 with the Dutch, and domestically many club sides have merged or just ceased to exist due to financial pressures) but things could be on the up if the youngsters on display today are anything to go by, with an at times impressive performance.
A panorama of the Euroborg Stadium can be found here.
Match Number: 1376
Friday, June 08, 2007
No 1 (in a series of several): Karl-Oskar Svensson (1925-2000)
Outside the Olympic Stadium in Helsingborgs, is the statue of Karl-Oskar “Rio-Kalle” Svensson, pictured here before Ipswich took on Swedish League side Helsingborgs IF in the second round of the UEFA Cup in November 2001.
Svensson, or Rio-Kalle as he was affectionately known, was one of his nation’s all-time top goalkeepers, winning seventy-three international caps between a home debut against England in 1949 and his final game, the 1958 World Cup Final, against a Pele inspired Brazil, in Stockholm. The silver medal he picked up after the 2-5 loss to the South Americans was his forth medal from the four major international tournaments in which he competed. In 1948 he won gold at the London Olympics, followed by bronze at the 1950 World Cup in Brazil, and another bronze at the 1952 Olympiad in Helsinki.
The majority of his club career was spent with Helsingborgs IF, his hometown side, for whom he made 349 appearances, the third highest for a ‘keeper in the Allsvenskan (Sweden’s top-flight), and when he won the Swedish FA player of the year in 1952, he became the first goalie to do so. A firefighter when not keeping goal for Helsingborgs, he gained the nickname, Rio-Kalle, following his exploits in two group matches in the 1950 World Cup. Rio being short for Rio de Janeiro - although Sweden played those two games (against Spain and Italy) in São Paulo!
Back to the Olympic Stadium, on that November night six years ago, and Ipswich won 3-1 on the night, and on aggregate , and the right to play Inter Milan in round three. More on that later.
Friday, June 01, 2007
Revisited: World Youth Championship 2005
Two summers ago Extreme Groundhopping Jnr and I spent a couple of days at the FIFA World Youth Championships in Holland taking in one game in Utrecht (it should have been two but more on that in a second) and two games in Enschede. With another jaunt across to Holland coming up in just over a weeks time (on this occasion for the UEFA U-21 Championships), I thought I’d update the blog with a bit more detail on the 2005 trip than the two rather skimpy entries that I created at the time (here). In addition a number of revamped panoramas of the two stadiums we visited can be found here, here, here and here.
Travelling by ferry across from Harwich to the Hoek van Holland we had planned to travel by train through to Utrecht for a double-header featuring Morocco against Chile and China against Panama. Sadly, a train strike by Dutch railway workers left us relying on a replacement bus service and we arrived at the Galgenwaard Stadium in Utrecht too late for the first match (won 1-0 by Morocco) but the China vs Panama game more than made up for this.
Utrecht is in the heart of the Netherlands and, bolstered by a large student population, is the fourth largest city in Holland with over a quarter of a million inhabitants. The old centre of the city is well worth a wander with its picturesque canal system (no Dutch conurbation is complete without one) and a good selection of bars and eateries.
FC Utrecht boast one of the most active fan groups in Holland - the more unruly elements of which having gained a bit of a ‘rep’ in the 1970’s and 1980’s - which, for the most part, the team has failed to reward, excepting two Dutch Cup wins in 1985 and 2003. Our taxi driver for the drive from the city centre out to the ground was a former Utrecht reserve team player whose career was ended by a leg injury. Or so he claimed.
The Galgenwaard Stadium, FC Utrecht’s home, on the outer edges of the city, opened originally as a velodrome in 1936, and has since hosted greyhound racing, athletics and gymnastics as well as football. Now with a capacity approaching 25,000 the stadium was reaching the end of a major makeover when we visited, with brand spanking new stands on all four sides of the pitch, its second complete rebuild following a similar exercise in 1981-82.
As for the game, needing just a draw to finish top China tore into Panama from the off and were a goal up after just 6 minutes, a low shot just inside the Panamanian ‘keepers left hand post. Panama pulled one back after 37 minutes from a corner but the Chinese reclaimed the lead with five minutes to go before the half (a close range header), and completed the scoring on 51 (a one on one between striker and keeper) and 78 (a free kick deflected in off a post), for a 4-1 rout. This left the Chinese top of Group B with the maximum nine points and Panama bottom with none. However, the side from the People’s Republic would fall at the first hurdle in the knock-out stages with a 2-3 loss to Germany four days later.
We managed to get on the wrong bus after the game and ended up way out of Utrecht at a park and ride. Momentarily disorientated we were soon on another bus into the centre of the city without too much difficulty. Utrecht I had been to many times before, staying in hotels there while working on a project in nearby Woerden, so it was all fairly familiar terrain. That’s what I kept telling Extreme Groundhopping Jnr anyway.
The next day by train (normal service having been resumed) from Utrecht to Hengelo in time to find our hotel, stroll round the town’s pleasant market square, enjoy a light luncheon and then take a quick 10 minute taxi ride to the Arke Stadium on the western edge of neighbouring Enschede. Hengelo and Enschede are not far from the German border and they along with the surrounding area are a popular destination for Teutonic tourists.
I’d been to Enschede before, too, for a pre-season game between FC Twente and Ipswich in the late 1970’s, but barely remember the trip to be honest, the two sides having struck up a friendship following two encounters in the UEFA Cup (Town winning one tie and FC Twente the other, in respectively, the 1973-74 and 1974-75 seasons). Twice winners and twice runners up in the Dutch Cup FC Twente made it to the UEFA Cup Final in 1975 after defeating Ipswich, losing a two legged affair 1-5 on aggregate to Borussia Moenchengladbach.
Bizarrely the main entrance to the Arke Stadium was wrapped up like an early Christmas present in FIFA logo peppered plastic sheeting to hide all signs bearing the name of the stadium, which it takes from FC Twente’s sponsor the supermarket chain, Arke (UEFA get up to this malarky in the Champions League I’m told). The original ground, and the one I had visited, the Diekman Stadium was demolished to make way for the present 13,500 all-seater one which opened its doors for the first time in May 1998.
A very very hot day. There’s something about watching a game of football in blazing hot sunshine that just can’t be beaten. Accept watching two consecutive games in blazing hot sunshine. USA 1 Egypt 0 was an OK game but the Nigeria v Switzerland clash (the Swiss including Arsenal defender Philippe Senderos) was a corker made all the better by a cracking atmosphere. A few hundred Super Eagles fans had shown up in the west Dutch town to support the reigning African Youth Champions and did they know how to support their side!
Goalless at the break (the Swiss failing to get off a single shot on target), the Nigerians tore into the Europeans in the second period, taking the lead on 49, doubling it through a retaken spot kick on the hour, and rounding things off with a third just before time. The USA finished top of Group D - Egypt bottom – but fell at the first hurdle in the knock-out stages with a 1-3 loss to Italy. Switzerland finished bottom of Group F, while victors Nigeria finished second behind Brazil. The Africans saw off the Ukraine 1-0 in the round of 16, then beat host nation Holland in a quarter-final penalty shoot-out, and ousted Morocco 3-0 in the semi’s for a place in the final.
We caught a local train back to Hengelo post game from the stadiums very own station, for a comfortable night in Hengelo, Junior and I tucking into a splendid meal at a Greek Restaurant just off the main square, and then back across country to catch our ferry home the following afternoon to conclude a most enjoyable three-day break.
Over the course of the next week or so the tournament played through to it’s climax and a final that saw Argentina take the trophy with a 2-1 win over Nigeria in Utrecht. Brazil and Morocco claiming 3rd and 4th spots.
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Ground Visit RecordENGLAND
(Fitness First Stadium)
(Wicor Recreation Ground)
(King's Marsh Stadium)
(Alton (Bass) Sports Ground)
(Brantham Athletic Sports & Social Club)
Brighton & Hove Albion
Brighton & Hove Albion
(New Writtle Street)
(Chelmsford Sport & Athletics Centre)
(Saunders Honda Stadium)
Dagenham & Redbridge
Debenham Leisure Centre
(Brewers Green Lane)
(Rush Green Bowl)
Felixstowe & Walton United
Great Yarmouth Town
(Wellesley Recreation Ground)
Harwich & Parkeston
Havant & Waterlooville
(West Leigh Park)
(Glass World Stadium)
(Five Heads Park)
(SEH Sports Ground )
(The New Den)
(National Hockey Stadium)
Netley Central Sports
(Station Road Recreation Ground)
(St James' Park)
(Cricket Field Road)
Preston North End
Queens Park Rangers
Saffron Walden Town
(Raymond McEnhill Stadium)
Soham Town Rangers
(Julius Martin Lane)
St Albans City
(New Farm Road)
(Green Meadows Stadium)
(Stadium of Light)
(White Hart Lane)
United Services Portsmouth
(Vosper Thornycroft Sports Ground)
Walsham Le Willows
(Walsham Sports Club Ground)
West Bromwich Albion
West Ham United
(King George V Playing Field )
(Denplan City Ground)
(St. Georges Lane)
Heart of Midlothian
(North Sydney Oval)
SW Wacker Innsbruck
(Constant Vanden Stock Stadium)
1. FC Koeln
1. FC Union Berlin
(Stadion An der Alten Försterei)
(Olympic Stadium, Amsterdam)
(GN Bouw Stadion)
(Abe Lenstra Stadium)
(Willem II Stadion)
(Gamla Ullevi (Old))
(Comiskey Park I)
Tampa Bay Rowdies
(Tampa Bay Stadium)