Got, Not Got

There’s clearly a very fine line between cunning and stupidity, and I am afflicted both.
Luring my wife towards holiday destinations where summer leagues play would, one could suggest, classifies as a wily streak at its most admirable. Fortunately she took the bait.  Not checking first for the local league schedules or the timing of its summer break… hmmm. It all happened so fast there just wasn’t time.
Having endlessly checked and double checked with almost every member of the Gotlands Fotbollförbund; as our plane took off for Stockholm there was little I could do to rectify the problem. As incredible as it sounds, there really was no sport being played on the island for our entire stay. At this juncture, all one do, is to try to consider how to make the most of a rather tawdry situation.
Hastily weighing up a green v yellow options, the Gotland blow was softened with AIK tickets for the initial weekend in Sweden’s capital; a four day stay in Abbaland en route to our island hideaway. More of that another time. As the three-seat wide prop-driven aircraft touched down in Visby, a lightness and laidback calm swept us into a serenity where football was pushed partially from our minds.
For all its strategic importance and conflict influenced past – every single neighbour appears to have invaded this place, at least once – Gotland is truly delightful. Sitting at the heart of the Baltic Sea, Swedish military bases remain though have little more than an innocuous presence. There’s just a welcoming charm; a rugged beauty, that Brits may only have witnessed in places like Skye or Cornwall.
A still independent nation in Gutes’ minds, locals have their own language – Gutnish – which even mainlanders struggle to adapt to. Like most local dialects however it’s gradually being fused with its more dominant sibling; Swedish. Let’s not pretend this will make life easier for ignorant visitors (me); Scandinavian vernaculars are a mystery that without total immersion its unlikely foreigners will ever truly master. Wonderfully attuned to the issue, almost every Gotlander(?) speaks faultless English and they’re thankfully not afraid to use it.
I was expecting an abundance of seafood but, for an island nation, the meal table seems heavy reliant on agriculture and livestock. As local industries go, farming is only dominated by concrete production and a very short tourist season. Second homes abound and Scandinavians flock to them for the summer – when sunlight fills nearly 20 hours a day – although the weather changes are swift even then. It should be noted that there is an almost continual pleasant cloud cover, which sits above the island’s centre, adding incredible dimension to what is already a photographer’s paradise.
Delightful rock formations and pretty fishing huts line the coast, which are home to both quiet beaches and bountiful wildlife. To the north a hardier sort dwells; the south has an impression of more lush pastures. Historic landmarks proliferate throughout, though churches are probably best navigational aid for strangers. Covering enough bases for its magnitude, the island is famous for physics pioneer Christopher Polhem, NHL Calgary Flames’ Håkan Loob and – no relation to THAT Ingrid – Ingmar Bergman, a filmmaker who could give Henry VIII a run for his money in the marital stakes.
Ensuring my marital harmony stayed intact, I had determined to make no extra-curricular trips to search out the islands stadia which lurk within discreet towns and fields and are, somewhat impossible at times to pinpoint. Thus at every port of call – whether breakfast, lunch or dinner – I’d surreptitiously gaze at maps or seek local knowledge… not always with great success.
“We play a game here, where you throw stones a sticks.” one waitress proudly exclaimed, before briskly adding to my surprised expression in wonderful deadpan English through an excited grin “That’s probably doesn’t sound too exciting but we like it,”
Despite noticeable evidence to the contrary, the irrefutably beautiful Gotland is home to a multitude of wonderful sports clubs. As a starting point, this family holiday soon became my reconnaissance mission – a hint at the arenas I’ve got and not got to revisit – to aid both my return and maybe for those who will undoubtedly follow (and there’s a chance my wife didn’t even realise it was happening). I sincerely hope this all helps…
The Golden Rules
1. On google earth many pitches resemble fields.
2. Only those clubs I located are documented below.
3. Local football fixtures can be found here: http://gotland.svenskfotboll.se/matcher-idag/
4. Never drive past a sign reading “Idrottsplats” follow it. There is a sports ground nearby…
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Team: Fårösunds GOIK
Location: At the very top of the island, sits the most northerly port town of Fårösund. Once strategically important to some military types, it’s a pleasant 40min drive north up the 148 from the capital Visby. Just before entering the town of Fårösund, one passes the small village of Bunge with its landmark open-air museum on the right. No more than a kilometre further on, turn right onto Tretvägen. The ground will be on your right.
Ground: This was the one; the one Swedish team that deep down I wanted to see. Once our accommodation had been secured at Fårösunds Fästning – a stunningly interesting old coastal fortress redeveloped into a small yet homely hotel with incredible food, staff and service – my next task had been finding the town’s stadium. A proper four-sided stadium; barriers run true to the pitch on three sides yet curved behind the southerly goal. A swanky gated drive leads to the clubhouse on the west side; a wooden building containing all the refreshment facilities one’s heart desires and an analogue match-time-keeping clock facing the pitch. I’ve been reliably informed that they also serve spectators a mighty fine Fika at the terraced tea bar (if indeed it’s called that in Sweden). Through parking is freely available in all the neighbouring streets, to the north a small area of off-street parking is located on Tretvägen by the turnstiles. Inside the turnstiles team sheets from a previous game were tantalisingly locked away. Once in these gates, numerous changing rooms are on your right, whilst further up, a typically fine open wooden stand is located. This could seat 50-100 passionate locals. Whilst the stand was blue quite naturally, all the buildings are all painted traditional “Any Colour As Long As It’s Gotland Red”.
League status: Sixth tier of Swedish football – (very regional) Division 4 – Gotland FF
Website: http://www5.idrottonline.se/FarosundsGOIK/
Nearby excellence: Blå Lagunen (swimming) is a truly wonderful spot, with a warm fresh water pool treasured by locals and tourists alike, Bungemuséet (museum) contains some fine examples of centuries old local architecture, technology and burial sites; guided talks are available. Rute Stenugnsbageri (food) is one of the greatest places to eat in the whole island; miss this at your peril.
Worth a visit: YES, YES, YES. The island’s top of the pops as far as I’m concerned.
Fårösunds GOIK (26) Fårösunds GOIK (22) Fårösunds GOIK (14) Fårösunds GOIK (8) Fårösunds GOIK (7) Fårösunds GOIK (4) Fårösunds GOIK (2) Fårösunds GOIK (1)
Team: FC Gute
Location: As befitting “the best team on the island” (the words of a rival coach) FC Gute have the most impressive facilities on Gotland. South-East of ancient Visby – the island’s stunningly picturesque capital – literally just outside this old city, is a large stadium. Drive up or down Kung Magnus Väg – sandwiched parallel between the medieval wall and the 140 – you can’t miss the floodlights at the home of the Gute.
Ground: It’s not a proper football ground – Gutavallen – it’s an athletics stadium, with a pitch marked out on the luscious turf therein. Changing rooms, clubhouse, and moulded plastic spectator seating arrangements are all located in the main stand; an impressive structure which of course sits along the home straight. Temporary steel framed, polycarbonate dugouts are placed against the grandstand front, just outside lane eight of the 100metre track. Though standing areas surround the advertising boarded-off track, there is no other terracing or stand. There appears to be a gate on the far side but, the main turnstiles are located on Kung Magnus Väg, beneath a stadium-named arch.
League status: Forth tier – (one of six regional) Division 2 – Södra Svealand
Website: http://www5.idrottonline.se/FCGute-Fotboll/
Nearby excellence: Just about every twist and turn in the walled city is steeped in history and picturesque views but, a few of the choice visits include; The Botanical Gardens, The Gotland Museum (well worth a couple of hours of anyone’s time), Surfers (the most in demand eatery in town) and, The Black Sheep Arms (the only British pub in Gotland). Being a British tourist on this island is without doubt a real novelty; the Anglo-Swedish owners are fantastically welcoming offering a fine range of food and drink, thus this pub is special. A Forza Gute scarf hangs above their dartboard.
Worth a visit: Visby is a must so – while you’re there – if you like that big league kinda-stuff…
Footnote: I’ve heard it said that Visby AIK also ply their trade at Gutavallen but I found no evidence of this. Their site is http://www5.idrottonline.se/VisbyAIK-Fotboll/
FC Gute (1) FC Gute (3) FC Gute (4) FC Gute (5)
Team: Hemse BK
Location: When driving back from Burgsvik to Visby all I could think of was that every big town must have a team. Naturally in Gotland terms, “every big town” could mean twenty house, a church and both kinds of flock. Under the guise of “let’s try a different route; see more of the island”, Hemse was always my target. In the centre of town is one major junction, where the end of the 141 meets the 142. Take neither. Instead at the crossroads, head away from the 141, up Ronevägen. As the small urban sprawl gives way to fields, a petrol station is on the left. Opposite this, is a tree lined drive into a tiny car park with gated entrance and turnstiles at the far end.
Ground: Inside Sudavallen feels more like entering village common land than a football club but, once through the gate you’ll find two much-loved pitches (one grass without floodlights, one artificial with). On the immediate right a small area of Nordic pines was being manicured by locals restocking their precious woodpiles; on the left the large storage building and groundsman’s shed was adorned with a digital clock. The drive runs between the two up to the grey clubhouse with training pitch behind. Inside a large party could easily be catered for. The main (grass) pitch is segregated from the fans by a huge oval wooden fence that would once have ringed a running track. The area therein is now completely lawn. Made from local resources, rustic dugouts and stand sat opposite each other on the back and home straights respectively. Though nothing was in use on our visit, there were also impressive tennis facilities within the complex. Gotland Red was the again the colour of choice here.
League status: Sixth tier of Swedish football – (very regional) Division 4 – Gotland FF
Website: http://www5.idrottonline.se/HemseBollklubb/
Nearby excellence: The coastal area of Ronehamn isn’t too far away.
Worth a visit: The town was a bit 1978 High Wycombe but, the club looks like the kind of place I could comfortably spend an afternoon or two.
Hemse BK (1) Hemse BK (9) Hemse BK (11) Hemse BK (8)
Team: IF Hansa-Hoburg
Location: Driving up from Burgsvik to Visby – as we headed for bangers and mash at The Black Sheep Arms – an extra ordinary site caught my eye to our right not 25 minutes out of town, between Grötlingbo and Harvdem. I was sure I’d seen an oversized football in a field… Suddenly an Idrottsplats sign flashed by too. We’d already passed another small roadside pitch (on the left) which I’d had no chance to stop for, and now can’t find; I wasn’t missing this one. A little too aggressively for family comfort, I hit the brakes, performed a perfect three point turn and turned down the identified rural track. Greeting us at the end was a vision of real beauty.
Ground: Hansavallen, may not carry the same prestige as Gutavallen in Visby, but it’s a damn sight more attractive venue.  Surrounded by lush treelines, the main gate sits on the 142. Behind it two huge stone footballs hand-painted in traditional black and white design. All the neat club buildings are of matching black design, accented in royal blue. There’s space for at least two pitches, a sandpit, and two tyre swings. Wooden benches and stepped grass banks surround the main pitch, whilst opposite the changing rooms are dugouts and analogue match clock. Get two teams in bright colours playing here and the colour contrast in the photos would be superb.
League status: Sixth tier of Swedish football – (very regional) Division 4 – Gotland FF
Website: http://www5.idrottonline.se/IFHansa-Hoburg/
Nearby excellence: Burgsvik (see elsewhere on here), the bays and coastline around Grötlingboudd och Gansviken.
Worth a visit: Without doubt, yes. Fårösunds GOIK aside, this club now tops my Gotland Gotlist.
IF Hansa-Hoburg (1) IF Hansa-Hoburg (6) IF Hansa-Hoburg (10) IF Hansa-Hoburg (16)
Team: IFK Visby
Location: Just outside of Visby, south down the 140, equidistance between Vibble and Vasterhejde is this proper looking club. It sits by a car park on the coastal side of the main road. Suggesting it has links to the local education system, underneath the 140 a foot tunnel joins it to the Vasterhejde Skola opposite.
Ground: A fully fenced off ground (thankfully with the gate left unlocked). Grey rather than Gotland Red all timber buildings line the near touchline, with perfect turnstiles, changing rooms, storage, groundsman’s hovel and a small built-in stand on the back. Not the best pitch I’d seen but, at least it was being watered unlike some other high-profile cases.
League status: Sixth tier of Swedish football – (very regional) Division 4 – Gotland FF
Website: http://www5.idrottonline.se/IFKVisby/
Nearby excellence: Visby the stunningly picturesque medieval capital of Gotland and all that resides in its walls (see FC Gute). Leva Kungslador a superb venue for lunch (the eat all you can buffet wins hands down). The resort I’d avoid but, Vattenland at Kneippbyn has some really great water slides where children and immature adults can be unruly.
Worth a visit: Naturally. What’s not to like?
IFK Visby (8) IFK Visby (4) IFK Visby (3) IFK Visby (1)
Team: P18 IK (and IBK Visby)
Location: To the immediate south of Visby there’s a tidy square of major roads, formed by the 140, 143 and 148. Beside the westerly part of the 148 resembles and medical or university campus. Within these grounds is a large sports club – IBK Visby – with impressive facilities. IBK specialise in many pursuits, though Floorball is the priority. To reach the football pitch, take the 140 south from Visby, turn left onto the 148. As “Uncle Joes” Bowling Alley comes into sight, take the first right. “Uncle Joes” is naturally quite unmissable but don’t stop. Follow the road for another half a kilometre and by the next right turn – Visborgsallen – the ground and sports club will be far more unmissable.
Ground: A large oval area – like a Hemse / Hansa-Hoborg crossbreed – fenced off but without a running track. Small timbered constructions make for the stand, beside a sports hall belonging to IBK. There are polycarbonate dugouts, digital scoreboard atop changing rooms, an outdoorsy fitness area in the woods to the east, a shed functioning as turnstiles and, even a scaffolding media tower.
League status: Division 1 Södra Svealand (women)
Website: http://www.laget.se/P18IKDAMER and http://www.visbyibk.com/
Nearby excellence: Visby the stunningly picturesque medieval capital of Gotland and all that resides in its walls (see FC Gute). Leva Kungslador a superb venue for lunch (the eat all you can buffet wins hands down). The resort I’d avoid but, Vattenland at Kneippbyn has some really great water slides where children and immature adults can be unruly.
Worth a visit: Women’s football has always been excellent. Along with Germany, Sweden has been doing it better than most for years. Couple that with the possibility of actually seeing live Floorball (whatever than may be), how could you not give this place a go. The third member of my Gotland top 3.
IBK Visby (13) IBK Visby (7) IBK Visby (5) IBK Visby (1)
Team: Roma IF
Location: In the centre of Gotland, halfway down the 143 from Visby on the west coast to Ljugarn on the east, is Roma. We naturally went for the pizza but found far much more. Take any of the tree-lined roads opposite the whiskey distillery – Kungsallén and Skolgatan are particularly beautiful – and turn left. Head for the furthest point, which should be Kungsallén. At its northern end the ground of IF Roma – Klostervallen – should be clearly visible.
Ground: Again a fenced of ground and, again thankfully with a way in. I slipped through the main gate; a father and son were out on the pitch practicing a few moves. Playing in yellow and black – the only one found thus far – the timber buildings were for once all colour coded in club rather than island tradition. The usual array of club buildings were supplemented with floodlights, announcers hut, fixtures board and a some fantastic benches – one can only assume for visiting dignitaries – high on the grass bank on the far side of the pitch. Sadly no evidence suggests they are twinned with i Giallorossi.
League status: Pajkar 10 (youth) – until last season there was a senior side playing Division 4 but Gotland FF is not displaying that anymore.
Website: http://www5.idrottonline.se/RomaIF/
Nearby excellence: The town’s skyline is totally dominated by the Gotland Whiskey distillery. I’ve since heard rumours of tastings… The Heritage Railway – Gotlands Hesselby Jernväg – stops in the town, not far from the football ground, at a wonderfully picturesque station on Klostervägen. And last but certainly not least, of course in a town called “Roma” there is a pizza restaurant. Romabrunnen – The food was good, staff friendly and salad bar was totally free with every purchase.
Worth a visit: For all that’s going on in the town, it’s hard to miss out.
IF Roma (14) IF Roma (10) IF Roma (7) IF Roma (1)
Team: IK Graip
Location: On the coast, towards the northern end of the 147 – which runs from Visby to Lärbro – Slite is home to the biggest cement factory I’ve ever seen. Obviously I have little experience in such matters but, this one dominates the skyline for miles. It’s even clearly visible from the Katthammarsvik peninsular, 50km south. Going up the 147 the ground is on the left side of the road, precisely where the coastal town (Slite) is on the right. If you pass the enormous cementa quarry – also on the left – you’ve gone too far.
Ground: The floodlights were the first thing that caught my eye as we drove up the island on our first day there. A single artificial surface sits neatly roadside between four of them. There are no stands and the clubhouse is not visible from the 147. More than once however, children were being coached as we passed.
League status: Pojkar 13 (youth)
Website: http://www.laget.se/IKGRAIPFOTBOLL
Nearby excellence: The cement works dominate here. There’s probably nice parts of Slite – on the coast, by the marinas – we just didn’t see them. Lärbro isn’t far north; Gothem isn’t far south.
Worth a visit: It has a working pitch and the best floodlights (we saw) on the island, so of course it’s worth a visit. Grassroots joy!
IK Graip (3) IK Graip (4) IK Graip (1)
Team: unknown (in Burgsvik)
Location: The town of Burgsvik is the gateway to the very south of the Gotland. A town with a notable tourist trade at the end of the 140. Sandwiched between to marvellous coastal drives – from Bondestugan Frojel Sandhamn Cottage to Ekstakusten, and from Vamlingbo to Hoburgsgrubben – Burgsvik is almost impossible to miss. Travelling south on the 140, turn left at the Shell petrol station onto Skolvägen and the pitch will soon come into view, on the left, opposite a small industrial area.
Ground: Without doubt, this ground was until very recently in good competitive use. To get it back to its prime would probably take minimal effort. The green turnstiles are still intact, as is the regulation pitch and a fixed railing barrier on the near side of the pitch. I even saw two fully-kitted men warming up but without proper goals it is unlikely that any league fixture was taking place. There were holes for posts at both ends of the playing area, though much smaller temporary onion bags were being used for local use.
League status: n/a
Website: n/a
Nearby excellence: The coastal drives are unquestionably a must. Museigården Petes may be worth a stop; the promoted refreshments are improved greatly by the old photos in the small private museum. Värdshuset Guldkaggen (restaurant and live music) is located at Burgsvikshamn. At the end of the harbour wall there are diving boards…
Worth a visit: Yes. A great spot for swimming, lunch and has a ground still on the cusp of operating.
Burgsvik (10) Burgsvik (2) Burgsvik (7)
Team: unknown (in Gothem)
Location: Down the 147 towards Visby, just south of Slite is the small village of Boge (childishly amusingly pronounced “Bogey”). Here the very rural 146 begins, running south down the east side of Gotland to Ala, via Gothem and Kraklingbo. Disappointingly Gothem bears no relation to Batman’s Gotham nor is it a city. Exiting the small town, the ground can easily be found on the left (near) side of the road.
Ground: Leaping the ditch beside the road, the first thing one finds is a log bench running the length of the field. That’s the stand. Behind each goal are fences of around 12 foot high, to prevent wayward shots hitting the woods behind the nets. Across from the road, changing rooms, clubhouse and a gym with football light shades hanging in the windows.
League status: n/a
Website: n/a
Nearby excellence: Katthammarsviks Rökeri allegedly serves the best fish food on Gotland. I cannot recommend this place highly enough and nor can anyone else on the island. When the southbound 146 arrives at Kraklingbo, take a left and head for the furthest point in Katthammarsvik. There, on the coast, in the harbour, is a restaurant that’s been famously smoking his own fish for over 70 years. That fish causes a tailback of cars arriving to be fed.
Worth a visit: There’s a ground with tea bar and a team playing here regularly, of course. If I knew the club’s name???
Gothem (6) Gothem (4) Gothem (1) Gothem (2)
Team: unknown (near Lärbro)
Location: About two-thirds of the way from Visby to Fårösund, is the town of Lärbro. The 148 runs through its heart. Driving from Visby, take the major left turn before the church. It’s signposted “149 Kappelshamn”. 1km up the road turn left towards Hangvar. The pitch is on the right just after STF Vandrarhem Lärbro/Grannen (holiday accommodation) and the Lärbro Krigssjukhus-Museum opposite.
Ground: Regulation grass pitch, marked out, with goals and a high wire fence shielding it from the road. With no structural feature, it’s camouflaged and thus easy to drive passed.
League status: n/a
Website: n/a
Nearby excellence: Gotland Ring (motorsport)
Worth a visit: In passing, for a selfie or quick kickabout.
Larbro (2) Larbro (3) Larbro (4)
Team: unknown (in Sudesands, Fårö)
Location: As a child we were wowed with numerous camping experiences. When we weren’t under canvas – being more blue than red in this respect – Pontins was the destination of choice. Sited on a once picture perfect bay, near the North East, Fårö, is Sudesands Semesterby & Camping. Without being disrespectful… it’s a Swedish Pontins. Yes I’m sure the facilities have moved on since the 70s but as I strolled through the private grounds in search of the pitch, the same atmosphere prevailed. There may even have been posters up promoting fancy dress dinners and ballroom dancing competitions (if only I could read them).
Atop Gotland is the island of Fårö. Car ferries to the island run 24 hours/day, between Fårösund (mainland Gotland) and Broa (Fårö), and they’re totally free. At peak time cars queue for some time to board in both Fårösund and Broa. To the novice there is little way round the wait however, locals of this tiny island are very adept at queue jumping. Upon your return, is you take the scenic road south from Fårö town via Hammars and Damba you will rejoin the main road 100 meters from the ferry. We found turning into the front of the queue, at this point, no problem at all.
To find the ground from Broa, take the main road north to Fårö (town) and then Holmudden. Sudersands is signposted to turn off right by Ebbas (restaurant). Landmarks are few and far between so this should be visible. Follow the Sudersands road, dodging the holiday makers to its zenith. There you’ll find a small car park on the left and an unmanned security gate entrance on road heading left to the beach. Park and walk down this beach road. Past the first field of holiday lets, the pitch will be on the left.
Ground: Regulation size, goals, benches on both sides on the grass banks, and probably a few kids warming up with the camp’s sports instructor.
League status: n/a
Website: http://www.sudersand.se/ (the campsite, not a football team)
Nearby excellence: Creperie Tati, Kutens Bensin (great food, endless recycled memorabilia and live music) and Sylvis Döttrar (bakery) are great eateries. The northern coastal road has many a natural feature; dog rock took our fancy. There are many quiet picturesque beaches from which to take your pick. Fårö Lighthouse is also worth a stop, as is Ingmar Bergman’s “Centre” and burial site, both in Fårö. He has four houses on the island but, no one will tell you where they are. It’s not quite Wicker Man but the locals steadfastly respect his privacy in death as they did when he was alive. Having tried to check three out, I can tell you that in Hammars there are only eight houses from which to guess at.
Worth a visit: For those with a passion for photography or quiet beaches, Fårö is certainly worth a visit; the pitch itself did little for me (or was that just a reminder of Pontins-past). What the heck treat yourself to a day trip.
SudesandsSemesterby & Camping (1) SudesandsSemesterby & Camping (2) SudesandsSemesterby & Camping (3) SudesandsSemesterby & Camping (4)
Team: unknown (in Tofta)
Location: South of Visby, a short way down the 140, is the once important medieval manor of Tofta. Now home to holiday lets, camping and golf, in the residential area – East of the 140 – there are just two notable attractions. At one – Vikingabyn – my son hoped to be taught how to throw an axe and ride a pig (it wasn’t open); at the other I hope to be taught the importance of Gotland grassroots sport. Heading south on the 140, turn left onto Bandavägen, then left again onto Smidesvägen. The pitch is situated on the left along with a timely reminder that Gotland is one of the finest environments of stunning wild flowers. A children’s playground sat roadside – which my children enjoyed whilst we stopped – and on the other side of the road a grass area contained smaller goals.
Ground: The area of ground is big enough, the goals are still in place; the pitch itself has been planted with thick rows of poppies.
League status: n/a
Website: n/a
Nearby excellence: Vikingabyn (the elusive Viking centre)
Worth a visit: Unless you like wild flowers, probably not.
Tofta (1) Tofta (2) Tofta (5) Tofta (6)
Even without the live sport, exploring this magnificent island and finding these grounds was a real joy; I will be back. The following map pinpoints each of the above pitches (red – clubs known, blue – teams unknown), and a few I missed along the way (orange). Best of luck ticking off the rest groundhoppers.
Posted in 2015-2016, Gotland FF | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thirty Hours In Praha

Italy or Australia… Was there really any debate? Were thoughts exchanged?
Whilst we’d reached the educational zenith of graduation – in a parallel universe – the zen-like David Hasselhoff had gradually begun tearing down the Berlin Wall. Back home, mortar boards were exchanged for crap employment, which in turn gave rise to savings and before too long, we were bidding farewells at Terminal 4. In the trials of youthful rites of passage, our next move was critical.
Long before some creative types had truly commercialised “gap years” – teary parents or not – this was our break from the dutiful responsibility of middle-class existence. Work was way off the radar for Steve and I.
Despite his father’s best intentions for North London, my compatriot and his starry-eyed brethren had all leaned much further north, to descendants of Aston, Buchan and Charlton. Caring for neither big club, the only ABC I’d ever known was Armstrong, Blissett and Cally. Differences apart, we were united by a love of football and open to ideas; the oyster of our world was about to open up.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
In 1978 – fixated in World Cup deliria – sat before the television, I couldn’t even comprehend this dazzling footballing universe. Without the current media frenzy, drooling over the sport from every crevice on the planet, only FKS and Panini brought these tournaments closer to home. Player stickers spiked one’s interest in style, badges and team shots taught us geography. If only I’d been older I’d thought… then cheering on Lima’s finest might just be possible.
Of course a pre-teenage me had precious little concept of finances and flight times but, there were just details I could overcome.
Ticker tape or not, in ’78 the Chumpitaz’ crew wowed me. In ’82 the enigmatic Socrates spoke, whilst Northern Ireland stole my heart. Barnes and Belgium were everything in Mexico; England and Cameroon made any Ordinary Joe’s ’90. The US saw Franco’s last stand, we davored Šuker’s genius in ’98 (see what I did there?) and smirked as Iran gave the previous hosts the bird. Soon every big club rushed out to get themselves a South Korean, before Germany’s Poles, Cahill’s goals and Zidane’s butt confused our preconseptions. Mandela took centre stage at the tippy-tappy games, the Dutch spanked Spain and a world watched as from its pedestal Brazil fell.
From Krankl to eternity, my qualifiers were always spurned for club games but when the summer came around; the Worlds, Euros and Swapsies blinkered my view. To miss quote the fab four; There are contests I remember… some forever not for better… in my life I’ve loved them all.

150620 U21 Eurpean Championships Praha (30)

I AM in SPARTA!!!

UEFA European U21 Championship
Czech Republic v Serbia
Saturday, 20th June 2015, 6pm
Stadion Letná (home of AC Sparta Praha)
Entrance Kč100, No Programme
Distance 444 miles, Attendance 16253
A cruel twist of paternal willpower and educational fate kept me from chez Sparta 32 years ago. Since then it’s gone through three commercial rebrands not a small amount of remodelling. Thankfully it’s still a real four-sided arena with all the quirky trappings of inner-city evolution.
Sitting flush to the main road from the airport, the ground is tidily hemmed between irregular residential streets and a park. Unlike the neighbouring ghastly global drive-through, Stadion Letná’s asymmetrical form – with colour-coded seats at close quarters – is a thing of utter beauty in the sunlight, and wondrousness in the shade. The club shop (sadly closed upon arrival) sits at road level where all gates lead up to an open concourse, three sides of which the hoi polloi could freely inhabit. There UEFA – probably respecting sponsors’ demands – had replaced the local souvenirs with meagre official merchandise, which garnered precious little interest from the audience therein. This was overshadowed somewhat by the far greater crime for those inside; the beverages.
Before jetting off I’d hastily typed into my phone “Things to do in Praha”. Regardless of the site checked, the answer was unequivocal; a variety of stunning landmarks in the old town, the palace and its gardens, and beer.
Like much of Europe, Praha does brewing with aplomb. With King Vratislav II’s royal approval, its Praha origins date back to 10th Century Benedictine Monasteries. The city may now be dominated by Staropramen but dozens of smaller breweries still thrive, drawing well-wishers from all over the continent. Evidently a thousand years of proud history meant little to Platini’s cronies, who felt we’d be far happier with the non-alcoholic cousin of a seventy year old, heavily marketed Danish brand.
Food consumed and frustrations spent all round, a quick tour of the venue found me in my seat without a programme. Glancing about, it was clear I wasn’t the only one. Still, I’d gleaned a pile of team sheets set out pitch-side for the photographers and made it my halftime mission – without any knowledge of any Eastern European dialect – to procure one. About me the partisan crowd was almost entirely Czech. A smattering of groundhoppers were spread liberally throughout the stadium, and an even smaller section of Serbs stood in the second tier to my left.
For fifteen minutes they were proudly boisterous but, once the anthems and opening exchanges were out the way, reality struck home. Having lost the toss and been forced to change ends, the Czechs seemed vigorously unprepared to make further concessions.
Having lost their opening fixture, any further poor showing would have meant curtains for the hosts. Subsequently they tore into the Serbs, offering little room for return. Throughout the match, the Serbs had possession but the strength of the Czech defence made any forays they attempted, totally fruitless.
The ever impressive Jan Kliment bagged the first of eventual hat-trick on seven minutes – rifling home a sublime Matěj Hybš cutback from 12 yards – and got the second 15 minutes later in true poachers style. In between, fullback Vaclav Kadlec struck the cross bar and Kliment came out second breaking one-on-one. The first and only real Serb attempt of the half saw big-bearded, Czech stopper, Tomáš Koubek save well from Miloš Jojić.
After the break the Czechs pressed on further and, their young support celebrated with whoops and cheers and clapping and desperate attempts at Mexican Waves. The latter of which gratefully failed.
Thankfully foregoing any further pathetic attempts to draw a penalty – yes Pavel Kadeřábek, we saw you late in the first half – Kliment rounded the keeper inside ten minutes of the restart and slotted home from a tight angle. Within five minutes, right in front of us, Hybš crossed from the goal line and Martin Frýdek volleyed home from the back of the box. It wasn’t technically perfect but, we’d all take it.
A fifth could have followed but Aleksandar Pantić’s block saved the day, after his keeper had been circumnavigated. As the posh seats on both sides of the ground emptied on 80 minutes, up in the Serb quarter they looked dejected. Contented with the day thus far, my mind however, was already planning the next stage of my journey.
Final score: Czech Republic 4-0 Serbia

150620 U21 Eurpean Championships Praha (39) 150620 U21 Eurpean Championships Praha (65) 150620 U21 Eurpean Championships Praha (84) 150620 U21 Eurpean Championships Praha (114)150620 U21 Eurpean Championships Praha (96) 150620 U21 Eurpean Championships Praha (73) 150620 U21 Eurpean Championships Praha (54) 150620 U21 Eurpean Championships Praha (76)

The Garden of Eden

UEFA European U21 Championship
Denmark v Germany
Saturday, 20th June 2015, 8.45pm
Stadion Eden (home of SK Slavia Praha)
Entrance Kč100, No Programme
Distance 448 miles, Attendance 13268
It’s not about “living on the edge”, I just hate Risk Assessments; they’re a blight on an over-protective society that refuses to offer any responsibility to common sense. Thus, I’d left home without much planning of how I’d actually manoeuvre between my ultra-bland hotel and two sporting venues, none of whose whereabouts had been designed to make this any easier.
With two games in a day, and a little over a 45 minute window between them; to cross a capital rammed with tourists literally anything could go wrong. My short weekend of freedom deserved far better.
Drawing criticism afterwards – that’s right I did – I hastily employed a besuited hotel chauffeur, and the resplendent comfort of his “Skoda Superb Limousine”. His very genial manner and Sparta leanings were amusingly offset numerous tales of his eight year old son following his father’s side (the local rivals) Slavia, and then there was his offspring’s innocent confusion as to why his father spoke perfect Russian but little English.
We can quibble over ostentatious practises affecting beer consumption but, the stress-free ease with which my day progressed, compared with those rushing for buses and trams at full times, whilst battling the elements, was marked. For the equivalent of just €50, it really was money well spent. Would I do it again? Hell yes. The floodgates to such small luxuries are well and truly open now.
Strolling out of Stadion Letná at full time, from the concourse I’d seen numerous battling taxis u-turning for quick escapes in the side streets. Through the crowds and out on to the main street I ambled. There beside the club shop, with door open for me, was George standing by his vehicle; “waiting for my [his] client” as he’d told the police. Not knowing this actually meant opportunist Englishman in Northern Soul t-shirt they’d agreed.
Fifteen painless minutes later; I alighted in the pouring rain, near the main entrance at Stadion Eden. Inside a rainbow was forming above the easterly facade of the 2008 construction. Scouring memory banks for said weather features above stadia, his could only be a good sign.
Two years in the making, Eden has some wonderful architectural features. Not your average concrete bowl, this asymmetrical profiled arena is higher above the posh seats, than the other three sides. Though not pre-planned I imagine this afforded them the room to store the match programmes that are seemingly only being given to the UEFA VIPs and sponsors this tournament. Still a kindly hint from a well-heeled German lady led to me strolling into said VIP seating, asking a couple of suited corporate stewards a couple of right questions and, leaving five minutes later with the booty.
With a late kick-off and no host nation, families made up a far smaller gate percentage than the first game. Down the far end, The Danes, resplendent in colour-coded Nordic costumes, congregated behind the far goal. Up our end, much as the rest of the ground Germans dominated. The ground however, despite incredibly cheap tickets, was far from full. Even worse, Carlsberg Void had been installed in this venue too, and was again informing us to “celebrate responsibly”.
Above the red seating – all of which had a perfect view of the action, and ample leg room – striking wood panelling lined the ceilings. Affording the cosmopolitan crowd easy opportunity to create a real football atmosphere and (also) taunt opposition fans, the consequent acoustics were marvellous. On the pitch. The atmosphere was only heightened by a fine up-and-at-‘em start.
With the Danes having the best of the opening exchanges, it would have been easy to believe they had a chance. Once however Germany had sized up the opposition, calculated the weaknesses, more and more the ball was fed to Amin Younes. Repeatedly skipping past his markers, Younes eventually destroyed the Danes resolve and created numerous spaces for others to exploit.
First Leonardo Bittencourt shot over with an open view of the Danish goal, then Yussuf Poulsen returned the favour when Marc-André ter Stegen narrowed his angle. Emre Can then split the defence and Kevin Volland shot home between the advancing keeper’s legs when through. Younes soon put wide after a fantastic passing move down the left and, the half petered out with the Germans rightfully ahead.
Highlighting the difference between a strong Danish side and a deadly German one, Volland struck in a deft free-kick form 30 yards so after the return. And before those celebrations had properly died down, Younes made for the goal line, lost his marker and crossed back for Matthias Ginter to glance a header on target.
The following procession saw Max Meyer hit the side netting, songs sung about small countries to the north, a very unmenacing pitch invasion and, the brilliant Younes deservedly walk off with all the plaudits.
Back in the car, George asked of the Czech chances of reaching the final…
Final score: Denmark 0-3 Germany

150620 U21 Eurpean Championships Praha (29)   150620 U21 Eurpean Championships Praha (27)   150620 U21 Eurpean Championships Praha (21)   150620 U21 Eurpean Championships Praha (122)   150620 U21 Eurpean Championships Praha (7)   150620 U21 Eurpean Championships Praha (26)   150620 U21 Eurpean Championships Praha (121)   150620 U21 Eurpean Championships Praha (104)   150620 U21 Eurpean Championships Praha (14)

Earlier in the day, the Czechs had been clinical but, one feels, more through desperation to appease the home crowd than by design. The Germans on the other hand would give many senior sides a good run for their money; they were functionally brilliant. Both had produced entertaining encounters but I just cannot see the hosts beating Germany tonight let alone in a final. Will they see out a mutual draw and both progress? Doubtful, all four sides on view seemed more interested in enjoying the sporting contest than being cynical.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
There’s an Italian bar in Melbourne – well there was – twenty minutes’ walk from our residence on Bourke Street where the Barnes rap was scrawled on the wall between the beds. Numerous dodgy dealings were probably going on out the back of said establishment – the police raided twice in our time – but in the bar a TV set became our Mecca for an entire three weeks.
Steve and I could have gone to Italy. We could have seen Gazza cry in the flesh; instead we plumped to go as far away as possible and reduce the size of the world forever. The regrets in this choice are thus small. For months we did all the things we should and shouldn’t but, for just three weeks we slept all day and watched TV all night, never missing a match of Italia’90. During the group stages, just the two us made the daily pilgrimage to the set in the corner; by the time Lineker was advising the bench to “have a word” the bar was packed with other travellers. Due to future work, that was the last time I could have attended a summer tournament, until this year…
I’m older now and maybe even more responsible so, I filled my days, wading through tourists to soak up some notable landmarks; the Karlův Most, Staré Město, graffiti spraying, Josefov, orloj, Vltava cruise boat turning,  Kostel Matky Boží před Týnem and Staroměstské náměstí, I’ve still no idea what’s going on with the local dialect, nor the student drama groups and their street “performing” on Sunday morning but; for thirty hours Praha was simply stunning (my wife will love it when I take her back), the football additionally was everything I wanted and more.
Going into the final group games of this summer’s tournament, the football thus far has been incredible. irrespective of the presence of a man with a stick behind the goals, all eight countries can still qualify for the Semi Finals and having finally tasted the tournament season in the flesh, I am already planning jaunts to France next year, Poland the year after and much more beyond. Like Tammi Terrell, I now want more, more more…

150620 U21 Eurpean Championships Praha (67)   150620 U21 Eurpean Championships Praha (97)

Posted in 2014-2015, UEFA European U21 Championship | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments