Wednesday, 25 March 2015

11 Sharapova's - Haringey Borough FC Vs Greenhouse London FC, Essex Senior League, Coles Park Stadium (21/03/15)

Today’s journey is a very familiar one, one that I have been doing quite regularly since 1996. The W3
bus from Wood Green station, in five or ten minutes will take you to White Hart Lane N17, the home of Tottenham Hotspur. On this occasion however I will not be going to Tottenham High Road, to see Spurs Vs Leicester, but in fact getting off the bus a bit early, to somewhere I have passed and looked at through the window of the bus on many, many occasions, but other than a car boot sale one Sunday with my Mum, I have never ventured in to before.

On White Hart Lane, opposite a huge complex of warehouses, next to the branch of the Haringey Sea Cadets, which at one time had an artillery piece outside of it, is Coles Park Stadium, the home of Haringey Borough FC (HB), and with a slight quirk of fate it also happens to be the home of the away team today as well, Greenhouse London FC (GH) from South East London, a San Siro type ground share in North London, or as the situation was perfectly described by the HB twitter account, “the landlords v the tenants”

Haringey Borough has been playing football in the area, in various guises since 1907. The clubs history, littered with more name changes and mergers, than you can imagine, stretches back to the forming of Tufnell Park FC, but have not been known as Haringey Borough until relatively recently. Edmonton merged with Wood Green town who played at Coles Park Stadium, who themselves had been a breakaway of Tufnell Park FC in 1911, to form Edmonton & Haringey in 1973. In 1976 the name was changed one final time to Haringey Borough FC.

The clubs opponents and “tenants” also have a very interesting history, not perhaps as old, as they were only formed back in 2000, but they have a foundation set around international football and a charity set up to help young people in South East London. In 2000 Mauritius Sports were founded as an opportunity for the Mauritian community in London to play football, as well as a way to recruit British born Mauritians to play for their national team. Again, after various name changes and mergers they moved to Coles Park Stadium for the 2011-12 season, and settled on their name in 2013, to reflect the clubs involvement with the charity of the same name. They also are very active in youth football, and are considered one of the most competitive community clubs in the UK, with their coaches offering advice and mentoring on and off the pitch.

On arrival at the ground we were met by George Kilkita, a director, who told us he had been involved with the club for twenty years, who was enthusiastically manning the gate in his HB tracksuit jacket, welcoming us to the club, and with £5 each later we were in.

As with any game, it’s vital to get a match day program, so with a quick visit to the club house, and past the two tables set out for the “Home Team” and “Away Team”, signified by a picture frame on a table surrounded by four or five chairs, the home team table was occupied by three guys, their drinks, studding the program, the away table empty, the lady behind the bar took my 50p and presented me with my program.

Today was an outright miserable, grey and cold day. The clubs café perfectly dispensed two scalding cups of tea, though an open double glazed window. We climbed the steps of the yellow and green stand opposite the café, and made our way to our seats. The terrace itself contains the changing rooms on the ground floor, and perched on top under a green roof, is the seating, green plastic back less chairs in various states of disrepair.

The elevated first floor view on the half way line, gives you a great view of the pitch, and the football hungry allotments that surround the ground on one side, which must of devoured three or four balls as a result of mightily defensive clearances during the match.

Not long after sitting down, a man in a woolly hat approaches us, and introduces himself as Aki Achillea, the clubs Chairman. We quickly get down to discussing the teams great season so far, and their push for promotion. Currently they are second in the Essex Senior League, with a healthy four game advantage over Barking, who sit in first place. In his own words he said the league title was “theirs to throw away”, and the team they were “looking over their shoulder” at, were Bowers & Pitsea in fourth, who have a four game advantage over them. HB finished second by a point last season, and with only one team going up and no play offs, they do not want to miss out this time. The mission he said was promotion, a better standard of football and with a league with play offs, climbing the pyramid is more than achievable.

Aki took what seemed like his regular perch, arms crossed standing at the back of the stand, watching the teams emerge from below us. A voice came over the stands PA and sounding almost like something from a war time radio broadcast, welcomed the players, fans and officials, as the coaching
staff and subs crossed the field to the dug outs opposite, covered in the name of the local building merchants who are the clubs sponsors. Both teams huddle on their half of the pitch, the home team in yellow break with a loud shout of “WIN” and the away side in purple follow suit with their own shout “GREEN ARMY”.

The first half had two shots, and two goals, each team scoring against the run of play. Aki behind us did his best throughout the half to gee his team on, he is clearly very hands on. Every so often he would below “Lets lift in Borough” and “come on Borough we are better than this”, but the game was very tight and congested in the middle, each team offered very little threat, the two pacey wingers for GH, who were swapping sides regularly, were their main outlet, but their good intentions never really resulted in any final product.
 
It’s not until around thirty-five minutes in, with a foul on a HB player just on the edge of the D, that results in the first shot on target and the first goal of the game. The direct free kick was spilled by the GH keeper, and the resulting fumble falls to a HB player who lashes it in to the roof of the net, 1–0.

Their joy was short lived as bang on half time GH grabbed a goal, and it was the least that they deserved. The tenacious and lively GH winger was small and fast, and his absolute reluctance to give up the ball, resulted in a GH free kick, just over the half way line of the HB half. The free-kick was pumped into the box, bypassed the whole HB defence, and fell ever so kindly on to the chest of the GH captain who poked it in from short range, the home keeper lies motionless for an uncomfortable amount of time, as GH celebrate, gutted that they conceded,  half time 1–1.

Half time requires a much needed second cup of scalding tea, as we are slightly frozen, and we take refuge in the club house to thaw out a bit.

The second half consists of much of the same again, except for a very exciting final few moments, that perhaps cemented HB’s credentials as promotion front runners, as those people in the know always say it’s the teams who are not playing well, but still win, that will always be at the head of the pack, and just before the hour mark, HB take a 2–1 lead, a free kick from the left corner of the box is crossed in, gets knocked down and the chance is taken by the HB player.

The rest of the half reverts to type, congested in the centre of the pitch, GH offering very little, and as they chase the game, they become more and more susceptible to the counter attack and the pace of HB. At one point, the HB Captain is so annoyed at the performance of his team, is so overwhelmed by unbridled rage, I wonder if he will explode. In fact the whole team seem to shout louder, than I have ever noticed at a game before it’s like a team of 11 Sharapova's.

It’s the final five minutes where the game really comes alive. GH are going all out, and with a ball hooked high into the box, the HB unit of a keeper jumps to claim the ball, is challenged in the air by a GH player, which then results in him dropping it, and the loose ball is tapped in.

For a split second the whole crowd gasps and everyone is focused on the referee,  for the blow of a whistle and a free kick for a foul, but he deems the challenge acceptable, and gives the goal 2 -2 in the dying moments, the GH players and fans are delighted, and HB the polar opposite. I must admit I thought it was a foul, but what does that matter, the man with the whistle saw it otherwise.

However this was really only the beginning of the excitement as what happened on the ninety third minute, may well be the turning point of HB’s season, and help them get that all important promotion. It would have been easy for heads to drop, and for everyone to settle for a point, but when you are hunting for the title, you must always think you will have one last chance, one last chance to grab the victory when it would seem otherwise impossible.

A stunning diagonal ball from right to left, perhaps the pass of the game, finds a HB player unmarked and with time to cross, and by the way the cross is a nice one, it misses the first few HB players only for one player to make a late surge forwards into the box, unmarked at the back post and heads in the winning goal, 3–2!

The goal scorer removes his shirt, lets out a ROAR and flexes his muscles, as the whole team rush to celebrate with him, the goal keeper runs the full length of the pitch to join them, people on the side lines jump on the mass of HB players, the Chairman skips and runs along the car park behind the goal, where he just witnessed his team grab all 3 vital points. The crowd, a mixture of home and away fans, young and old, are in various states or jubilation and depression.

I’m slightly ashamed of myself for never coming here before, for passing it so many times, but never watching a game and supporting a local team. If this adventure we are having has taught me one thing, it is that without these clubs, we have nothing. They are the building blocks on which, this whole game we love are resting on. Their big neighbours down the road may be my first team, but the atmosphere and welcome at these supposed “smaller” clubs, is unparalleled.  

I cross all my fingers that they get the promotion they deserve.

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE



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Sunday, 22 March 2015

TOR!!!!! - Hertha BSC Vs FC Schalke 04, Bundesliga, Olympiastadion (14/03/15)

Read about the other match we went to during our weekend in Berlin HERE


Our day had started long before kick-off, taking in some of the sites of Berlin, before we made our way to the Olympiastadion for kick off at 15:30. Schalke fans also seemed to be making the most of an away day in the nation’s capital, because from about 10:00 in the morning they were doing the same as us, but with a beer in hand and their teams colours proudly on display, most coming in the form of their team scarf tucked into their belt.

That mornings sight-seeing was a visit it to the Germany government building the Reichstag, and after perusing a bit of Norman Foster architecture, adjacent to the Reichstag is the iconic Brandenburg gate, a symbol of Berlins segregated past and a rallying point for a lot of the away fans in town before they made their way to the South West of the city for the game. Groups of them spoke in the shadow of the great monument, beer bottles littered the floor, and tourists looked on slightly baffled at the scene playing out in front of them.

As with getting anywhere in Berlin, public transport the U-Bahn and S trains more than adequately stretch out across the city, making anywhere easy and simple to get to, and the home of Hertha Berlin was no different, the stadium has two of its own dedicated stations, only about a 20 min trip from the city centre.

The U2 zips underground on the route to the ground, picking up Berlin and Schalke fans as we go, it’s still about 2 hours or so until kick off, but there are already large groups of fans from each side making their way. At one station, a group of British guys get on board, one in full lederhosen. A Hertha and Shackle fan opposite me look amused exchange a glance and a comment. I’m not sure what they said, but the glance looked to me like the universal look for “twat”.

On arrival at the Olympiastadion station, the train now really bustling and that electric atmosphere of people on the way to a game was starting to build. Chants broke out in the station, reverberating in the enclosed conditions, and seemed very loud.

You exit the station, make your way under a small bridge, up a short hill surrounded by trees and at the top are presented with today’s venue. Although I must admit our attention was somewhat on the man whose nose seemed to have been punched flat on his face, with blood pissing out of it. His “friends” seeming to want to help him, but he seemed I think more interested in getting away. This was in no way a reflection on the atmosphere of the game, or the fans which as you will see from reading on was a totally thrilling, and safe experience.

So after refocussing on the venue and not the blood fountain that had first greeted us, it was a fantastic sight, and the first thing that really grabs your attention, are the Olympic rings suspended between two large stone pillars. The stadium itself has a rich history, originally built for the 1936 Summer Olympics, and witnessed Jessie Owens heroics on the track. Since then it has hosted games in the 1974 and 2006 World Cups, getting a major overhaul for the latter competition. Home to Hertha since 1963, and will also host the 2015 Champions League final.

The walk to the stadium is lined with small huts selling merchandise and more importantly beer and sausages. Still with nearly two hours yet to kick off, the stalls are doing considerable business, crowds gather drinking and eating and trying to keep warm in the bitter Berlin chill.

On the other side of the road is a flag lined carpark, where a sight perhaps more familiar to those going to an American Football game, than a football game in Europe, where what looked like “tailgate parties”. Fans gathered around the boot of their cars drinking, eating and playing music, in most cases it sounded like German metal.

Before we could enjoy the food and drink ourselves, there was matter of picking up the tickets. I had booked them a month or so before the game online, and it was a simple case of presenting my passport, which was quickly returned with an envelope and two tickets for the game.

There was still plenty of time before the game started, so that meant plenty of time to drink the local Berlin beer, and enjoy sausages, heavy with mustard. We spent most of the time marvelling in the effort the home fans go to, to display their support for their team. Scarves hanging from belts were the most common, but there were also untold amounts of flags and shirts, the more die hard seemed to sport a denim waistcoat with patches sewn on. I think my favourite though without a doubt was the poncho made up in the colours of the team.  It was not only surprisingly very appealing, but also 
 seemed a good way to keep cold on this chilly Saturday afternoon.

Sadly I think most people would hesitate to wear this in the UK, for fear of ridicule, and shouts of “full kit wanker”.  It seems almost uncool, or not the done thing, to wear your teams colours in any way you choose, but I think you stood out more here for not wearing anything, than for wearing too much.

At this point I was cheerily informed by a Hertha fan that the tree stump I was sitting on was the table for their beer crate, and that was our queue to make our way in to the ground. Through a row of stone turnstiles, past the bag search where the miniature beer mug for the mantelpiece at home, was deemed not to be a missile by the smirking security guard, we entered a slightly more expensive version of outside, beer, food and merchandise stalls, and made our way to our seats.

Up close the stadium is deceptively small, looking from the outside to be only one story high. Its original 1930’s architecture, built in a pale stone and fittings have been preserved, in all their glory. We are sitting in the first tier of the “Ostkurve” above the all standing section of the ground, where the bulk of the most fanatical home support, are based.

Up some stone steps to the first level, we find our block easily, and there in front of you is a bright blue running track, green pitch and a 75,000 seater stadium and the earlier deception of the Tardis esq stadium is complete.

It had been explained to me that this game was fuelled by more than just a football rivalry, but by a real dislike, going back to a scandal involving both teams in the 1970’s which resulted in Berlin being relegated, and Schalke somehow surviving, in the eyes of Berlin fans, and staying up. At the moment both the teams could not be further apart in their seasons so far. Berlin had only the week before got out of the relegation zone and, and are now in a full blown fight for survival. Schalke on the other hand come in to this game off the back of an amazing 4–3 win away at Real Madrid in the Champions League, and narrowly going out on aggregate. It is deemed by most, as going to be a very tough game for the home side.

A huge chorus of boos and whistles greet the away team, as they come out to warm up, before getting on with their pre match drills, they approach their fans to applaud the away support at the opposite end of the stadium, they start to all move as one, wave flags above their heads, and the nose they make is quiet fantastic.

On 15:00, thirty minuets before kick-off, a claxon sounds and it’s time for the home team to warm up. It’s the Berlin fans turn to welcome their team, wave their flags and whirl there scarfs above their head. If this is the welcome for the players warming up, what will it be like when the team come out for the game, or if they score a goal?!?!

Fifteen minutes to kick-off, and although the rest of the ground seems to be slow to fill up, the Ostkurve below us is heaving and bouncing. The stadium announcer reads out the team, only reading the first name out, and waiting for the crowd to roar the reply, “Solomon……..KALOUOOOOOOOO!!!!””

Five minutes to go and the crowd are in full swing, the guy standing to my left, a Dane called Hannibal, who comes every year, for the last 6 years, puts his arm over my shoulder, and I in turn, put mine over his, and encourages me to join him and the rest of the fans in a low rumbling “ohhhhhhhhhh”, in preparation of the team coming out.

The players appear on the big screen, somewhere in the bowls of the stadium, on an escalator, with the Berlin team mascot a large brown bear. The atmosphere and noise is building steadily, all under the watchful eye who Hannibal calls the “Capo”. He stands microphone in hand, next to a single drum, his back to the match for the majority of the 90 minutes conducting the standing section, and like a pace setter from a Roman ship in Ben Hur, controls and conducts the standing section, and in turn the whole ground flawlessly.

The entire ground, break out in to a rendition of the Hertha Hymn, "Nur Nach Hause"  sung to the tune of the Rod Stewart song, “I am sailing”, which instantly puts the hair up on the back of your neck, and sets the scene for game, but more importantly an atmosphere that will be hard to better.
From the first half performance its clear why Hertha are struggling at the bottom of the table, they are their own worst enemy, and put themselves in dangerous situations time after time, batting away wave after wave of Schalke attacks.

Somewhat against the run of play, they take the lead due to a goal keeper error, who will be guilty of one more before the day is out. A simple shot from outside the box, seems to catch him out, bounces off his knee, and is presented to the on rushing Hertha attacker, who has a simple job. TOR (Goal)!!!! flashes up on the screen, and is bellowed out over the PA and its 1 – 0.

The Ostkurve below us erupts, and I don’t think I can put it in any other way than the place goes NUTS!! Without even thinking about it, I’m quickly jumping up and cheering with Hannibal and others around us. There are two other English guys sitting in front of us, Luke & Scott, they look at us, as if to say “fucking hell”, they like us are blown away by the reaction of the crowd.

After the goal, Hertha are forced back and the pressure pays off for Schalke, as just before half time, they equalize. A direct run in from the left of the box the Schalke player gets to within about a foot of the goal, and from what seems a very, very, tight angle, dinks the ball over the keeper and both teams go in one a piece at half time.

There is only one thing on our minds at half time, and that is to get our hands on one of the measuring jugs we have seen people drinking from around the stadium, which contain a litre of beer.

The second half is a slightly different story, but with more goal keeper mistakes and Hertha punishing themselves more than anyone else. They have the first real chance of the half, and are applying good pressure to the away team, much more than the first. Schalke are lacking any real threat, but Hertha are infuriating their fans. Any opportunity to threaten the opposition, and they are having the lion’s share of possession is wasted with appalling decision making and out right slack play.

It’s only thanks to the 2nd mistake of the game by the Schalke keeper that allows Hertha to go 2-1 ahead, with less than 10mins of the game left. A shot that seemed simpler to hold on to is spilled, and the rebound is put away, by one of the substitutes, TORRRR!!

The crowd have now hit an all-time high, and after 4 days of heavy duty sight-seeing we are pretty worn out but the fantastic noise, is keeping us going, “Hertha, BSC, Hertha, BSC” and a song to the tune of Yellow Submarine fill the Olympiastadion. Only ten minutes or so left, and those all important 3 points, to help in the relegation battle are theirs, and made even sweeter of a team they particularly dislike, the flag waving in the away end, has all but stopped, with their teams 
 performance perhaps a bit of a hang over after their exploits in Madrid.

Unfortunately the fairly-tale ending for Hertha is not going to happen today, as only a few minutes after going behind Schalke nearly score, and the home defence scramble it away, but on 89mins the unthinkable happens, and they score, 2–2! The away fans erupt, and the flags are flying just as ferociously as before, the home crowd have gone from unbridled joy, scarf waving, which I could not help myself from partaking in, to absolute depression in a mere few minutes. The two minutes of extra time are played out, and both teams will have to settle for a point.

The home team approach and applaud the Ostkurve they have been amazing all game, a real sight to behold, something you can only appreciate in the flesh.

We leave the stadium in to a grey drizzly evening the sounds of a live bag piper wearing a Hertha scarf accompany our cold pickled fish sandwich, and warm salty pretzel, that’s as big as a bin lid. The only real police presence is now visible, Robocop look a likes in black riot gear, but are not threatening at all, and there is no sense of grief ahead or tension in the air. We make our way to the station past the stands once again doing good business, and tail gate parties still playing music.

Today has raised a few questions and emotions. Firstly we want to go back and see more football in Germany, and we are clearly not alone. We were surrounded by Brits, Danes and Italians, it made me wonder has everyone become so disenfranchised with football in their own country, or is it simply not offering them what they want, that they have to go to Germany to get it. Ticket prices starting from something like 15 Euros, being treated like a grown up and being allowed to have a drink in your seat if you want.

Most importantly through the atmosphere, I came out of the game with a smile on my face after being surrounded by something very comforting in a strange way. I could have spent the whole game watching the Capo, like a preacher in front of his congregation. We all have a lot to learn from the Germans, not copying them, but learning from them, adopting some of the practices and culture, which can only improve your match day experience.

TOR!!!!!!!!

For all our photographs from the match, click HERE

Read about the other match we went to during our weekend in Berlin HERE



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Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Football, Friends, Rock'n'Roll - Tennis Borussia Berlin Vs VSG Altglienicke, Berlin Liga, Mommsenstadion (13/03/15)

Read about the other match we went to during our weekend in Berlin HERE


It’s Friday evening at the base of the famous Berlin TV tower, I climb upon an S5 train at Alexanderplatz to travel to the South West of Berlin, on my way to see a team formed around a ping pong club, who play in a stadium named after a Nobel Prize winner, in the 6th tier of German football, for my first taste of football in Deutschland.

Ever since I decided on a trip to Berlin, after making a bet with my girlfriend to go to the capital of the country of whoever won the World Cup, as well as all the historical and cultural attractions, seeing a live game was top of my priority list! After some asking about on twitter and with the help of @NoDiceMagazine and @BundesligaBrit, the stars aligned and I found that Tennis Borussia Berlin (TeBe) had a home game during our stay.

With what will become a running theme during our exprience, @TennisBorussia were very helpful with advice about tickets, and the best place to stand to enjoy what  had become clear to me in the world of ground hoppers and lower league football fans, the famous TeBe Party Army.

A few days before leaving for Berlin, a mysterious message had appeared in my inbox on Twitter, an invitation to meet some of the Party Army at their “secret” fan base. My first thoughts were ones of slight nervousness, but also of excitement, I felt like perhaps I would have to memorise a hand shake or provide a password to some eyes though a slit in a door, and my GCSE German is abysmal, so I didn’t think that was going to get me very far.

The fan base is “secret” for a reason.  This is football after all, where city rivalries can spill over into all sorts of nonsense. As we approached the fan base, a single person stood outside with a beer bottle in his hand, and I nervously asked, “TeBe?”, he said yes with a smile and we let ourselves in.

We entered the bar first, with low level lighting and purple walls, table, and fridge to represent the clubs colours. We made ourselves comfortable on a small sofa at the back of the room, and I went to the bar for a drink. The other room which makes up the fan base was like a shrine we had only seen a glimpse of on the way in, and it was calling me. After asking if it was ok to take some pictures (they quickly agreed with just one request, that I only take pictures of the inside and not the outside, to aid with the secrecy) I was greeted by a fussball table, and more scarves, flags, pennants and football nick knacks than I had ever seen in one place.
 
It was not long after entering the shrine that a man in a flat cap approached me, and introduced himself. Alex had noticed my Spurs scarf, and told me he was a Fulham fan, as well as a TeBe fan since the 70’s. His mother was from Putney, and on visiting London found his English family had connections with the rowing club opposite Craven Cottage, he saw the ground as a young boy, and adopted Fulham as his second club.

He was a fountain of knowledge and was more than happy to stand and share about a club he was clearly devoted to. He let me know that I am one of many English fans who have made the pilgrimage over to TeBe, as well as a small group of Brits who live and work in Berlin and have adopted the club. Nothing makes this more apparent than the array of scarves from FC United of Manchester, Nottingham United FC and Whitehawk FC who the club are twinned with, along with scarves from all over Europe. I presented the club with a Spurs scarf, my team, and hope one day it will be hanging in the club house with the rest.

Alex explains that the club are not very popular in Germany, going as far as to suggest they are in fact the most unpopular. A lot of this has to do with the strong political ideals the club and fans have, which they in turn have made part of the DNA of the club. They are seen to have brought politics into football with a strong ethos of anti-hooliganism, anti-homophobia and anti-racism, which in some quarters is considered “boring”.

The club has traditionally been a club of the middle classes, with a very liberal following, popular amongst artists with a large Jewish following. All of these factors, in Germany’s recent history, make them stand out from the crowd.

TeBe have youth development as a key part of the clubs structure, as Alex explains there are at least 30 – 40 players in the world’s top two leagues that are a product of the youth team, one no more impressive than World Champion Jerome Boateng, of Bayern Munich.

We finish our drinks in the club house, and Alex guides us though some woods, only a short walk from the fan base, to the ground, the Mommsenstadion, named after Theodor Mommsen who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1902, which was built in 1930 and was used during the 1936 Olympics. Originally built for 80,000 spectators, it is now only for a more modest 12,000, and has been their home since 1945. TeBe have the highest attendance in the Top League in Berlin, around 400, where the average is around 30 – 40. Most other teams don’t even have a ground, just a field.

There will only be a hand full of away fans from VSG Altglienicke, a club from East Berlin, most of them will be relatives of the players.

The glare of the flood lights, illuminate the stadium as we walk through the woods, I’m growing more and more excited as we get closer, not only has Alex set a fast pace, he wants to make sure we can have a look at the stadium before kick-off, but has also not stopped talking, not in a boorish way, but in the way of some one full of enthusiasm. Especially about one player in particular Micheal Foot, who perhaps has the best footballers name ever, a club legend, who at 38 years old, has scored 19 goals this season, can be found after the match drinking in the pub in the ground, and who was brought back to TeBe thanks to a crowd funding scheme arranged by the fans.

We enter the ground though a small set of turnstiles at one corner of the ground, it’s only 7 Euro to get in, and 1 Euro for a program, and only 40 Euros for a season ticket, we climb a small set of stairs, with the Cures – Friday I’m in Love playing over the stadium PA system. At the top we find ourselves at the base of the original 1936 wooden terrace, which stretches one whole side of the pitch, and the running track and pitch are presented in front of you, all in cased within a metal 8 foot fence that circles the whole pitch.

The group at the top of the stairs is in fact a queue for the beer and sausage hut, manned by 3 or 4 people, cooking over hot coals, and serving up beer. Alex had reminded us to make sure we got our “beer passport” which if stamped with each drink you get the 10th one free. You also get 1 Euro back for each cup you take back to the bar.

The TeBE Party Army who on match days are in section E, directly opposite the main stand and the entrance we have just come in are already in full swing. Their banners “TEBE PARTY ARMY” and “Refuges Welcome” are tied to the fence and chanting can be heard already. So drinks and bratwurst in hand we make our way around the elevated walkway, and past the unmissable dot matrix score board, which is like something from a 70’s Fifa World Cup film, that blinks the club logo, team picture and the message “Keep Calm, and Thank God it’s Friday”

It’s not long after joining the TeBe Party Army that the teams come out to the Breeders. Music is a big part of the club, and seems to be mainly punk and British 90’s indie, and is all driven by the fans. The supporters club is very influential in the running of the club from the music, to the program it’s all run by a group of, die hard volunteers.

The first half of the game itself goes past with little to mention, it seems all is being saved up for the 2nd half. The thing which really keeps me interested, are the fans and their constant singing and support. The group around us is a real mixture from the megaphone led, flag waving group to our right, and the older crowd with one mans, homemade TeBe scarf of purple and white, which is wrapped around his neck so many times, he looks like he is at a Dr Who convention.

The singing is constant, and some in a mixture of English and German, “Come on TeBe, Come on TeBe”, “We Libre TeBe”, and one song to the tune of Auld Lang Syne. Children climb the fence to get a better a view. I can see Alex in the thick of it, at the front of the crowd. Plastic beer cups once finished are unceremoniously tossed to the front, at the foot of the cage, these people are clearly not that fussed about getting their Euro back. Every time the away team get a corner or free kick, the home fans bleat, and produce their house keys and hold them up and jingle them, the man in possession of the megaphone leads them on. Each side of the ground engage in a back and forth chant, each taking turns in giving their call and patiently waiting for a response.

The 1st half ends 0–0. TeBe perhaps going the closest after hitting the woodwork from a direct free kick. The crowd have grown a little frustrated with the referee, and towards the end of the half his decisions are met with sarcastic rounds of applause.

At half time, we make our way back around the pitch to the visit the club shop, which is housed in a tiny room on the first floor of the terrace. We bag a few mementos for home, and by the time we are out of the shop, kick off is close by, so we start the 2nd half on the terrace, which gives you a fantastic view, but minus the atmosphere. The Party Army can be heard loud and clear, and making plenty of noise as ever.

The 2nd half is eventful to the say the least, at some points breaking out into mayhem, and at one point I’m left wondering if the referee has lost all control. It’s less than 10mins in that the excitement begins to ratchet up, as a TeBe player is sent off. You would not know they are down to 10 men, as they are still hunting down the ball, and there seems no sign of them sitting back and playing for a draw.

The call of the Party Army is too great, so we quickly leave the terrace and make our way back to block E. The match is getting heated, and the tackles and fouls are flying in, and it’s not long until the away team take advantage of the extra man, and take a 0–1 lead. A free kick from the right is met by one of the attacking players in the 6 yard box, he connects with his head, it hits the bar flush and ricochets back into play, and on the 2nd attempt he puts it away.

It’s at this point the excitement level climbs another level, when a TeBe player seems to take exception to something the away player has said, hits out, and a full team on team ruckus ensues, mostly in the back of the net itself, as the away player lies poleaxed on the floor. The subs in green bibs warming up behind the goal are quick to join in, and by the time the referee has cooled things down, the away keeper, who seems to be one of the main protagonists ends up with a yellow card.

If this wasn’t enough excitement for one match, things were only going to get more nuts before the final whistle. The tackles are still flying in, and this time it’s a TeBe player right in front of the away dug out, he is already on a yellow so is given his marching orders, and TeBe are now down to 9!!

As he walks off someone on the away bench seems so say something, causing the TeBe player to lash out, and queue team on team ruckus number 2! The subs in the green bibs seem too far away this time to get involved, but sprint over to be in the melee. Once again the referee seems to recover control again, but is getting an ear full from the home coach, who has over stepped the mark and he is also shown a red and sent to the stands. TeBe are now 2 players and a coach down, and there is still a football match to be played.

During all of this the Party Army have not stopped, chants of “Come on TeBe, Come on TeBe” still ring out, and regardless of the situation their team find themselves in, their support has not wavered one bit.

The last moment of madness, the point that takes the game into full scale 11 on the excitement level is when the away team do their bit to equal things up and get one of their players sent off.

TeBe are getting out numbered on the break at the back, and it seems only a matter of time before the Away team get another goal, and secure the 3 points. On one such counter attack the away player jinks and skips though the TeBe defence, to find himself one on one with the keeper. A bad touch gives the keeper the opportunity to rush out, and try and claim the ball, the away player as to not miss out on the chance of a goal, jumps and lunges at the ball, and crunches into the oncoming keeper.
He is already on a yellow, and the referee, who has already shown he is not afraid of dishing out the cards, brandishes the player his 2nd yellow to much delight of the home fans and shouts of “Auf – Wiedersehen” and waving breaks out amongst the Party Army. TeBe have a few last gasp chances to grab a point from the jaws of defeat, but a shot wide at the back post from an unmarked player and a tame shot at the keeper go begging, and the game ends 0–1.

The Party Army stand and clap their team, and most of the rest of the ground leave. Then something I found quiet outstanding happened, the team approached their most ardent of fans and filed down the fence, high fiving the out stretched hands of the supporters, an unequivocal sign of gratitude for their support, and unlike anything I had seen at a game before.

One of the home fans says to us what a shame our first visit from London, and such a horrible game. This was Stephen, or who we later found out was known as Lenin, due to his striking resemblance to the communist leader. He had moved to Berlin 10 years ago, and had come to his first TeBe game 3 years previously. Still a massive supporter of his home town club, Mönchengladbach, he knew after hearing the Dead Kennedys and Ramones playing on his first game at TeBe, and as a punk rocker he identified with their left wing message, he knew they were the team for him.

As Alex had before the game, Lenin after the game escorted us back thought the woods to the club house. Completely without any ulterior motive other than to be friendly, welcoming and to discuss the club, which much like Alex he had a great love for.

Without gushing, and without going on for another 5 pages, I would simply recommend anyone who
has a passion for football, to make an effort to visit TeBe. What a club, what fans, what an atmosphere. I was amazed at how welcoming there were to us, how happy they were to spend their time talking to us. Tebe are currently top of their division, and if all things go to plan, they will get promoted and perhaps one day in the not too distant future will be back at the top, because a club with this much heart and passion, deserves the very best.

A special thank you to Alex, Lenin and Fabian.

Football – Friends – Rock’n’Roll

 

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

Read about the other match we went to during our weekend in Berlin HERE


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Sunday, 8 March 2015

Who Won The Raffle? - Tower Hamlets FC VS Thakley FC, Essex Senior League, Mile End Stadium (04/03/15)

In the shadow of Canary Wharf, in a borough that boasts some of London’s, Europe’s or even the world’s most famous land marks, like Tower Bridge. On a sprawling complex of five a side football pitches and a leisure centre is the home of Tower Hamlets FC (TH), the Mile End Stadium, and the scene for tonight’s game.

It’s a cool crisp evening, and Tom and I meet at Mile End Tube station, only 10 minutes’ walk from the ground. Tonight there is a full complement of Premiership fixtures, with both our teams playing, but a visit to see a relativity brand new team, in football terms, under the flood lights, is much more intriguing.

Thanks to Twitter and its legions of ground hopper, grass root, lower league, non-league football supporter’s on there, it did not take long to get in contact with Adam Richardson, the match day secretary, and a few tweets later, he was more than happy to grant us a few moments of his time for a few words on the club.

On arrival at the ground its self, after weaving ourselves through the numerous games of five a side, we entered through sliding doors to a reception reminiscent of your local swimming pool, and not that of a football ground. I think it was quite clear from the speed we were asked if we were here for the football, that we weren’t hear to use the running track, like the numerous, tall, fit, lycra clad people milling about.

£5 each later, and £1.50 for a very modest programme, 5 or 6 pieces of printed A4 paper folded together, but still a programme non the less, with the all important team sheets on the back, and words from the chairman, what else do you need? It will still be proudly added to my countless other programmes, that I cherish.

The same man who sold us our tickets, pointed us in the way of where we could find Adam, and through a second set of sliding doors, past more runners warming up or down, we were in the ground. At whatever ground we have been to, or any I have been to in the past, there is always that excitable feeling you get when you see the pitch, knowing it’s not long to kick off.

For a team in the 9th tier of football, the Essex Senior league, this must be one of the most impressive grounds. Admittedly not over flowing with age and character, but the facilities are very impressive, a great looking pitch, surrounded by a running track. As we stand track side, in front of the stand, a large covered bank of wooden benches. Adam finds us, welcomes us, and says he will be with us shortly, and allows us to go pitch side, to take some pictures, as he went about his match day routine.

Past the long jump pit, and over the running track, we wandered around, Tom with camera in hand, trying not to get in the way of the runners, still using the track, and as the away team warmed up on the pitch. Most grounds I have been to in London, are in built up suburbia, surrounded by semi -detached houses, but the Mile End Stadium is quite different. It has the feel of being inner city.

Canary Wharf dominated the scenery, all lit up and towering over everything else, a busy train line is only a stones thorough away as commuters thunder along and huge residential tower blocks surround you, various windows light up, but you somehow doubt any one is peering out to watch the game for free. If it wasn’t for the iconic land mark, you could perhaps think you were in any inner city, anywhere in the world.



After what I’m sure are umpteenth things to do, Adam invited us to the board room, for a chance to grab some insight into what the club is all about. The board room was a porter cabin, but had a comfy chair, some custard creams and a cup of tea made by one half of Adam’s right hand ladies, Twins Cholee & Charlie, who are in charge of hospitality, amongst other things, both said how much they enjoy being involved with club. Adam stressed how invaluable they are to the running of the club on match day

Adam has been with the club 5 and half years, since he was 17 years old. A local boy, with a clear passion for his local community and grass roots football, which has been noticed by a local radio station where he was promoted from their local football expert, to having his own show. He started from the bottom and rapidly climbed the ladder, within the club to his role today. Although only 22, he has the air of someone with a much older head on his shoulders.

As with most if not all the lower league or non- league teams, they are competing with the big boys for fans. With West Ham, and Leyton Orient only a hop skip and a jump away, it’s tough to get the younger generations attending regularly. Average attendances are about 30 – 40, but they do benefit from playing on a Wednesday he said, so they do attract a fair few ground hoppers.

The club itself started in 2000 by Mohammed Nural Hoque, and was originally called Bethnal Green Untd, but the name was changed in 2012, as they did not feel it was inclusive of the whole borough. There is real ambition here, rooted in a real sense of helping and including the local community. Tower Hamlets is very diverse and multicultural, and that rings true in the clubs ethos of an open door, welcoming all from all the many communities that surround the club. They hope with the help of the local council, that they can get the ground to an even higher spec, climb the leagues, and put Tower Hamlets on the footballing map. Last season they had one of their proudest moments in its very short history, going out in the last 16 of the FA Vase to the eventual winners Dunstan UTC. No mean feat for a club of its size and age.

Perhaps the biggest sign of their ambition is the recent appointment of Godfrey Obebo, as first team assistant coach. Who has represented Nigeria at the African Cup Of nations, and also played in League two for Bury and Halifax. His experience, at international and league level, if channelled correctly, could be a fantastic addition to the club.

The players exit from a door at the base of the stand, and line up next to each other, ready to walk on the pitch. Tower Hamlets in bright neon orange, with a black stripe, is in stark contrast to the kit of their opponents Takeley FC, who play in a light blue, and whose keeper’s shirt is the same shade of pink as Palermo’s. Takeley are from near Stanstead, and are playing only their 3rd game since Christmas, due to the bad weather playing havoc to their fixture list. Both teams walk out, across the running track, Takeley do the obligatory warming up, but TH join in a tight huddle on their side of the pitch.

Adam had referred to the season so far as a hard one “lacking in consistency”, currently 17th in the table, and at the point in the season where making sure you are not dragged in to a relegation battle is on your mind, this was clear from the time the team spent in the huddle, I’m sure discussing the finer points of their game plan, and insuring they get those all important 3 points.

I take my seat in the stands behind the four people representing the away team, a collection of older chaps with clip a board and flat cap. Tom is walking pitch side, trying to grab the action on film. The running track it would seem, whether it be the Stadio Olympico or the Mile End Stadium, is not really fan friendly and does make you feel sometimes a bit removed from the action.

The first half is dominated by a great goal, both teams being guilty of giving the ball away, and in the case of TH not taking their chances when presented to them. And what a nice goal it was, the Takeley player, Ogboing was unchallenged about 25/30 yards out, and was allowed all the time in the world, to strike the ball past the keeper and the home team were 1 – 0 down.

The rest of the half TH were on top, a spurned succession of chances and on one occasion only had the Takeley cross bar stopping them going in at half time equal. The most notable of chances was from a deep cross from the right hand side, that found a home player on the back post, unmarked, whose header looped over the keeper, and bounced off the cross bar and over, and their last chance of the half, a hard low shot from the number 10 Ayinde, from just outside the box, only for the keeper to make a smart, quick save down to his left and push the ball wide. As if like a signal to the ref, a plane roars over head from city airport, and the home team go in at half time 0 – 1 down.

Tom re-joins me in the stand for the second half, and we discuss the 1st half. One of the twins approaches us and asks if we want to buy a raffle ticket. £1 gives you the chance to win half of the takings they make selling the tickets. A nice idea to earn the club a little extra cash, but I’m not sure I would have been able to except the winnings with a clear conscience.

The second half was certainly exciting, nail biting, but ultimately disappointing for TH. The first half ritual of a team huddle is performed again, hopefully this time, having a bit more effect than the first time round.

The first chance of the half goes to the home team. A shot from the edge of the box, takes a deflection off a defender, sends the keeper the wrong way, and only goes a fraction wide. The resulting corner is met well by a home player, whose attempt is cleared off the line. We were sure it was in, but the ref and linesman, and without the aid of vibrating watch technology, thought the other way and played on.
Things just get worse for the TH, and it’s not long after their big chance to level, that they are 0 – 2 behind. A low flat cross from the left, finds a Takeley player unmarked in the box, a nifty glancing back header later, and things are looking dire for TH. Drastic times call for drastic measures, and the TH manager makes all 3 subs at once. Something you don’t see a lot of, unless you’re playing FIFA, and things are simply just not working.

TH continues to make chances, and finally they take one, and are back in the game. The TH player, Ayinde pinches the ball off the dawdling defender to the left of the box, and from a narrow angle one on one with the keeper, fires a shot over his shoulder, and they are back in the game.  

“Come On Oranges” “Come On Hamlets”

We were in for a frantic last 15 minutes, and the home fans are getting a bit tense. Number 10 is a bit trigger happy, the straw that breaks the camel’s back, results in a woman behind us hollering out, “stop shooting the ball number 10, and pass the fucking ball!!” The sentiment seems to be shared by the TH coaching staff, as not long after a person in a woolly hat appears behind the away goal, shouting, “don’t you understand get the ball in the box!?!?!”
  
The home team are looking leggy, and are desperately in search of the equalizer. The towering captain, number 6, who has not stopped talking to the team with his booming voice all game, and who has started to swear  more and more, as things don’t do their way, injures himself running back, trying to stop a counter attack. They have used all there subs, so he is going nowhere, and shouts of “AJ walk it off” come from the group behind us.

The subs have made a difference, especially the predictably compared Peter Crouch’esq player, who is causing problems at free kicks and corners, but whose hold up play and chasing down the ball seems to inevitably result in a free kick to the away team.

On 85 mins the football Gods are shining on TH, as a hand ball by a Takely player in the box means the ref can only do one thing, PENALTY!

Even though the crowd is small, there is a definite tension, over what could result in all important point. And it’s all down to the home number 18. I rush down track side to catch the penalty on film, set myself as does the taker, he runs up, and takes the penalty in what one fan described as like something from rugby, and blazes over the bar. The home crowd are stunned! I turn to see even Tom, with his jaw on the floor, he missed it, or as another fan put it, “he fucking fluffed it”

The game finishes 1 – 2, and I’m still pitch side when the teams come off. The booming Captain is muttering under his breath and the home keeper is in absolute disbelief at the manner in which his team mate took the penalty.

The 2nd half of the match, made it £5 well spent, and in Adam Richardson they seem to have someone who has the drive and passion to drive this club forward as best he can. With the facilities at their disposal, with such a large community on their doorstep, and even if they could win a tiny percentage of the battle with the big boy and continue to concentrate on youth development, I’m sure they will only progress, just perhaps more training in penalties.

Oh yeah, and who did win the raffle?

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE 



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