Archive for the 'Guest' Category

Sep 16 2012

Eurovision Long Contest Part 3

Published by under Guest

Link to Part 1

Link to Part 2

How do I meld Slovakian football into this rant? How do I take up my story from the end of Part 1 and its declaration of Villarreal at home as my personal favourite Ibrox European night? How do I connect Rangers, Slovakia and a personal highlight in a life of soccer obsession? It’s frighteningly easy:

Rangers played two Slovak clubs, ever. Neither were Slovan Bratislava yet we played both our games on Slovakian soil, 46 years apart, at Tehelné pole; Both games were in the European Cup/Champions League; Vladimir Weiss The First played against Rangers in both legs in 1959, Vladimir Weiss The Second managed Rangers’ opponents in the 2005 fixture and Vladimir Weiss The Third played for Rangers; That Villarreal match at Ibrox was followed by an almost equally dramatic second leg, just as perfectly poised, and in El Madrigal I saw Rangers take the game by the scruff of the neck, score first, concede a second half equaliser, miss a sitter to seal our passage into the quarter-finals and go out on away goals; That remains the only time Rangers have ever played in the knock-out stages of the Champions League and we owed our progression to that point partly to the fact we’d drawn twice in the group stage with ARTMEDIA BRATISLAVA, the group also featuring Porto; In 1959/60 we reached the semi-finals of the old Champions’ Cup format for the only time in our existence, and in the second round we narrowly defeated Red Star Bratislava who themselves had elimintaed Porto with, as per Artmedia in 2005/06, an away win in Portugal’s second city.

The coincidences are manifold, tidy and fairly striking but the biggest link of all is that which connects TJ Cervena Hviezda Bratislava of 1959/60 with FC Artmedia Bratislava, and I’m not merely referring to the fact both have been indelibly linked with, merged with, were or are FC Petržalka: It’s that very list of the mind-numbing name-changes which connects yet has almost destroyed both Slovakian clubs to have met Rangers in the wake of their first ever national league titles. Renamings, mergers, rebirths and financial wipe-outs which result in plastic ressurections so far down the national football pyramid you fear the club’s profile will only be visible through a microscope. This, for UK punters, was what happened to Czech and Slovak clubs. But it rarely happened to British clubs and it would certainly not be something to trouble The Rangers Football Club Plc. Ah, the naivety of the me who wrote Part 1 of this rant … last December.

Of course it happens to Belgian and French clubs. It happens to clubs from all over the world - always has. Some parts of Europe are renowned for merging, inventing and destroying clubs willy-nilly. I saw Paris Saint Germain at Ibrox in one of Rangers’ better UEFA Cup runs, ten years ago. They had Ronaldinho, Nicolas Anelka and Mikel Arteta in their side. Now they’re buying Ibrahimovic and threatening European domination. Yet PSG were formed in the mid 1970s. They played in two Cup-Winners’ Cup finals and a Super Cup final in the late 1990s. So, despite Rangers having 100 years on them, PSG could soon be equalling my club’s tally of continental showpieces. Regime changes are at the heart of such fluctuations. Be it boardroom apparatchiks or spivs, the right move can have you on the cusp of greatness no matter your lack of history and the wrong one will take your entire history away from you. Rangers were once known as Scotland’s establishment club and that, as much as the kind of ropey business deals which western Europeans would love to think characterise only former communist states, has been at the heart of us becoming perhaps just another re-formed, mongrel institution. 

The Rangers time-line has been broken. A new company has taken on the history I lived and breathed as my own. There will be no “Rangers 2012″ or “FK Inter Rangers” – the resurrection and re-branding has all taken place at that ever-shady corporate level. But messing with the nomenclature of a football club can be fatal. Fulham and Fiorentina would disagree, having been brought back from the brink only to carry on as normal – or even better. But those guys play in big, money-laden, internationally-renowned leagues. Investors local and foreign will throw money at anyone with a franchise in that cash cow. Boardroom difficulties at clubs in Europe’s “Big 5″ leagues are merely an opportunity for home-grown tycoons or money-laden foreigners in need of a personal profile make-over…or a Western European passport. 

Scotland’s football infrastructure is, however, more comparable with Slovakia’s. Sponsorship is thin on the ground and flighty. If the club itself displays any instability then obscurity quickly beckons. Rangers now have more in common with Bratislava’s Red Star and Artmedia than they could ever have imagined when playing them at Ibrox and Tehelné pole. Once the regime changes begin they can be hard to stop and often result in an endemically temporary feel to everything about a club. The collective faith, once tightly contained, becomes transient. Crvena Hzievda used to be Sokol SNB Bratislava and became TJ Internacionál Slovnaft Bratislava. It got worse and now they, like the even more altered FC Petržalka 1898 are as far away from UEFA football competition as their old Glasgow sparring partners should be. In truth, Rangers admission even into the bottom tier of the Scottish League was in itself an insult to the some infinitely smaller sized but ultimately better run clubs who’ve spent years applying for membership.

My personal trip to Bratislava, recounted elsewhere on this blog, came as a result of both a fascination with the venue and a lust for football glory. That season I travelled to Porto too. Artmedia and Rangers’ other group stage opponents, Internazionale of Milan, were being punished for fan trouble and so the San Siro was closed for our trip there. But I ended up at El Madrigal for the Villarreal second leg in the knockout stages. Basically, I was going to every European tie involving Rangers which I could afford. In our run to Manchester we played a total of 19 European games – I was at 11 of them. Ever since Manchester, no away games. Four years after Manchester – no Rangers 1872.

Last season I saw Rangers lose their first Champions League qualifyer first leg to Malmo, at Ibrox and when the Swedes completed the job in Scandanavia, I saw NK Maribor of Slovenia eliminate us in the resultant Europa League qualifyer. The second leg was at Ibrox. Carlos Bocanegra, the captain of the USA, seemed an appropriate scorer of what is and may well remain the last ever goal scored by a Rangers player in European competition. On 14th November 1956, in Nice’s Stade du Ray, South African Johnny Hubbard scored Rangers’ first ever truly competitive goal on foreign soil, from the penalty spot. Here, fifty five years later, in our very own footballing Côte d’Azur, another New Worlder scrambled home what may have been Rangers’ last strike in our old world. Now I watch a team which plays in a league featuring no club which has ever competed in any of the three European competitions, far less reached a final. And that, for many, includes the Rangers of 2012.

Prague may offer more holiday options than Bratislava but, for Rangers, the results are diametrically opposed. The capital of Bohemia is the only Czech location Rangers have experienced in European competition. While the opposition within the city limits has been varied, the final outcome has been monotonously predictable. We go to Praha, lose, can’t turn it round at Ibrox and go out of Europe in the first round of the competition. Every ten years. We’ve done it once in each of the three Euro competitions. Dukla, before they felt the need to escape those city limits, destroyed us at 3-0 in the first leg of the first round of the 1981/82 European Cup-Winners’ Cup. After what was done to us at infamous old Juliske, our 2-1 home leg win was academic. On the only other two occasions on which we faced a Czech side, we kept it tighter but made it increasingly painful.

In 1991/92 we lost 1-0 at the Letna but went 2-0 up against Sparta just three minutes into extra time in the second leg. When Andy Goram, the greatest goalkeeper I have ever seen, makes a mistake to allow a fatal own goal just five minutes later, you know Prague has the sign over you. Scotland international and Rangers legend Stuart McCall scored twice at home to Sparta that night. In September 2002, all-round Euro legend Ronald de Boer’s brace seemed to have recovered the situation against Zizkov. Ales Pikl and Ludek Straceny had scored the two unanswered goals in front of a massive 3,000+ crowd at the Strahov. As per Sparta in the Champions Cup, Zizkov in the UEFA Cup were taken to Glaswegian extra-time. Almost 48,000 went wild as Neil McCann performed the old chestnut of putting us in the lead before the inevitable Prague-tastic killer of an away goal. Marcel Licka netted after 101 minutes. One of his team-mates was sent-off after 117 minutes. And in the 122nd minute, Rangers goalkeeper Stefan Klos – a Champions League winner with Borussia Dortmund – came up for a corner, got his head to it, nodded it downwards, onto the post … and out. We’ve never played Napoli in UEFA competition – for Rangers, it was always a case of “see Prague and die”.

But this is about Rangers and Slovakia: We’ll end with the Rangers-Red Star game from 1959 but the real theme of this second, infinitely more depressing part of my rant has been how the European fixation may have destroyed Rangers. The money we spent trying to out-do Celtic’s achievement of 1967 contributed to our Icarus moment. I therefore find it ironic that Artmedia reached that same 2005/06 Champions League Group as Rangers by inflicting Celtic’s most humiliating ever European defeat. Tehelné pole has hosted two games in which Rangers scored away from home and drew - matches which ultimately advanced them in Europe. But in many ways its greatest memory for Bluenoses is in hosting a lovely 5-0 thrashing of everything Rangers like to think we are not.

Back in 1959/60 Rangers’ defeat of Red Star allowed them to make the semi-finals of a European Cup edition which ended with a Hampden final. We were utterly destroyed by Eintracht in the semi (and, considering what happened to the Germans in the final, it’s perhaps better we didn’t progress to meet Puskas and Di Stefano’s Real Madrid in Mount Florida) but reached the following season’s Cup-Winners’ Cup final. Fiorentina emerged victorious over us in 1961 but becoming the first Scottish club to make a European curtain-closer and getting so close to the biggest final of all, all within the space of one season, seemed ample proof of Rangers’ role as Scotland’s greatest sporting institution. Six years later we’d have to rethink that. 

Social historians say Rangers became a focal point for Scottish protestantism after newspapers of the day lamented Celtic and Hibs’ domination of the game in the early part of the 20th century, calling for a Scottish Club to defeat “the Irish invaders”. Is that what it all came down to then? Did our desperation to show what we weren’t, above what we were, sew the seeds of our demise? The Warsaw Pact regimes plainly used football, as per all sports, to evidence their ideological and moral superiority to Western capitalist governments, yet look now at so many of the once proud clubs of the Slavic countries. Look at what a sectarian signing policy (which also “came down” in 1989) did for Rangers. Look at what Communism did for Red Star Bratislava. Both clubs more than had their moments but, ultimately, we have to regard their current situation. Rangers fans, however deluded it is, feel as blameless as any Slovakian punter was over the fate of the Artmedias and Inter Bratislavas.  What is true is that the regimes come and go but it’s the punters who’re left to suffer.

Rangers have suffered the same fate as so many of the one-time greats of former Moscow satellites. Like female competitors of 1970s and 80s Olympics undergoing sex changes in later life because of the hormone injections, being designed to win only in the name of envy has long-lasting reprecussions. Magdeburg, Carl Zeiss Jena and Lokomotive Leipzig all graced the Cup-Winners’ Cup final in the name of the DDR but far from gracing the Bundesliga since the fall of the wall, they’ve barely kept themselves operating. Financial or chemical, the doping seemed worth it at the time but now Slovakian football, like all Eastern European football, isn’t just as exotic to me as it once was - because now it also represents a warning me, my fellow Rangers fans and our club as a whole didn’t heed: You can indeed want it too much. 

But it was quite a game when Red Star were the champions of Czechoslovakia, Rangers the champs of Scotland and European competition so young it involved a whole different kind of baggage: Armstice Day 1959 is probably an appropriate date for the Glasgow side’s first truly competitive meeting with Eastern European opposition. Moscow Dynamo’s famous 1945 British tour saw 95,000 pack Ibrox for the first glimpse of a club from behind a curtain which would instantly lend its metallic name to the most famous defence in Rangers history. There was an Ibrox friendly with Dinamo Zagreb in 1957 and I’d love to tell you the Red Star tie was Rangers’ first against a side from old Czechoslovakia but no prizes for guessing which city provided the opposition for an October 1946 Ibrox friendly. Perhaps it was Sparta’s 3-1 defeat that day which inspired Prague to become the killer of all future Rangers’ European hopes. We honestly intended no offence.

Nevertheless, this European Cup clash was still very much the adventure for both sides. Red Star were playing only the second tie of their debut Euro campaign. They provided Rangers’ fifth ever opponent in what was just our third involvement in these new continental contests. UEFA competition was, basically, just four years old. Proceedings were kept political when the man they called “the Wee Prime Minister”, Ian McMillan opened the scoring after merely a minute. It wasn’t just his surname but the fact he controlled proceedings on the park like Harold of Downing Street controlled the country which gave McMillan his nickname. Amazingly for one of the greatest inside-forwards in our history, he was a part-time player – a fully qualified quantity surveyor. This perhaps explains both why he ran so little but loved the continental game so much. Unlike the ”pie and a pint” Scottish domestic game, McMillan must have felt this was one of those matches against coffee house footballers which he was about to measure, quantify and own. If I’m mixing metaphors please take it as form meeting function, because very little about this game went as McMillan or anyone else in blue expected. 

A crowd of 80,000 Scots on a November night in Govan must have seemed like a far crueller scenario than the September evening in Oporto which got Red Star into this round. However, the quickly-learned durability which saw Red Star win 2-0 in front of 60,000 Porto fans in the steamy bowl of Das Antas became almost instantly evident at Ibrox.The legendery Adolf Scherer, Vrútky’s very own, equalised within a quarter of an hour and before the stop-watch struck 30 minutes, his international team-mate Milan Dolinksy had Red Star in the lead and Govan very, very still.

I have one book which shows a picture of this clash. Just one. It’s black and white but it glows with the romance of European competition. We know how the colour was applied. Rangers were in all-blue and “Cervena Hviezda” in white shorts and socks with the red and white stripes on top making their strip as similair to their Belgrade counterparts as their Slovak name to the Serbo-Croat. In the photo there is something just visible on Adolf Scherer’s shorts as he whips a half-volley past George Niven in the Rangers goal. It could be dirt, grass, his number – or it could be a star. As I said in Part 1, it’s the difference to the Rangers strip, the difference of a foreign strip on our visitors and the glare of the floodlights which heightens the excitement. On top of those essentials, what was happening on the pitch on November 11th 1959 must have sent the punters present into a state of heightened reality. 

Somebody punched Sammy Baird. Referee Daniel Mellet remained neutral but did not do much for the notion of Swiss accuracy when he sent off Stefan Matlak instead of his Red Star team-mate. Jiří Tichý was widely reported to have got off with the offence. Reports also tell us the sending off happened in the very same minute, the 43rd, as Rangers’ equaliser from Alex Scott. The future Everton striker didn’t score from the spot so perhaps the punch was a reaction to the Rangers celebrations. Whatever the cause, the Slovak fighting spirit was proven beyond all doubt when ten-man Red Star re-took the lead in the 68th minute. Scherer again showing just why he would go on to score the goals which put Czechoslovakia into the World Cup final in Chile two years later.

I wasn’t at Ibrox for this game. I wasn’t born for another 10 years. I saw the Red Star of Yugoslavia get some sort of revenge for their Bratislavan brothers, as I stood on the same West Enclosure terracing which had been present in 1959, but that wasn’t til 1990. However, I can guarantee you the 80,000 would not have been happy. Any notions you have of Rangers responding so quickly - outside-left Davie Wilson, the latest in a line of immortal Rangers wingers, scored our second equaliser just five minutes after Red Star went 3-2 up – because of a never-say-die optimism amongs the home fans are sadly misconceived. It would have been more like a “sort this out, Gers or YOU die” atmosphere baying down from the Ibrox slopes. This ingrained impatience with failure and Red Star’s one man disadvantage finally told when another of those Rangers legends, centre-forward Jimmy Millar, scored the first leg winner (almost certainly with his head) on the stroke of full time.

Seven goals, the lead changing hands multiple times, one red card, the wrong man dismissed and goals in the first and last minute. Oh, and I forgot to mention, because reports don’t give a time, somewhere in amongst all this Eric Caldow missed a penalty. Rangers and Slovakia might not come together too often but when they do they certainly make up for lost time.

Okay, the Berlin wall wasn’t yet built but I can tell you the return leg, seven days later, was Rangers’ first time behind the “Iron Curtain”. I can confirm it was certainly our first time in Slovakia and as far east as we’d ever been in a history, at that point approaching the 90-year mark. Now, again, I’d also love to tell you the return leg was Rangers’ first time anywhere near that part of the world but we had a thing going with Viennese clubs in the Nineteen thirties. Rapid and Austria came to Ibrox, Rapid on several occasions including once in the mid-fifties. And we played Rapid Vienna in the Austrian capital too. But, while putting in literally minutes of research for this rant, Rangers historians Bob Ferrier and Robert McElroy’s gargantuan tome on everything Rangers was flicked through with forensic haste and it transpires Rangers travelled to Mitteleuropa as far back as 1904: 

There are no precise dates but we do have a list of games played “away” to foreign opponents during and/or after May of that year. It’s obviously a tour. Rangers’ initial opponets were (appropriately enough) First Vienna. I hope and trust this was at their iconic Hohe Warte ground, a stadium I visited back in 2000 with more satisfaction than I felt in walking the Ringstrasse or entering Freud’s house. Thereafter, we played two matches against a Danish side which are annotated as having being played in Vienna, and next is a fixture against Vienna SC. So I can imagine that the next two matches, also “away”, against foreign opponents, were also part of the same tour and almost definitely played in Vienna. Like I say, I’d love to tell you it was against a Bratislavan side – especially as the two cities are so proximitous – but, well, you probably know before I even say it: Our second last match of that Viennese tour was against a select side from, erm, Prague. We then beat “FK Prague” 5-0.  The Prague select was defeated 6-1. So there you have it. The root of Prague’s future determination to punt Rangers out of Europe at every turn, no matter the club we faced: The Ibrox club had, in the summer of 1904, inflicted humiliation on at least one player from EVERY club in the capital of Bohemia. What goes around …

And what went around at Ibrox in November 1959, came around at Tehelné pole in November 1959.  Local accomodation, food and transport was all made or found to be difficult for Rangers. The cold war heat was full on (of course this kind of thing never happened to British clubs when in Spain, Italy or Greece). Red Star moved the game to the biggest venue in the city and 60,000 saw Jimmy Millar do what he was want to do. With Alex Scott having capped a controlled, classy away performance by netting a breakaway move in the 69th minute, Jimmy had one last thing to sort out. He was famed for settling scores when the time was right. With ten minutes to go and the tie seemingly in the bag, Rangers powerfully built centre forward went looking for Jiří Tichý and avenged the first leg assault of Sammy Baird. Another Swiss ref, Josef Gulde, did like his compatriot in the first leg and produced a Red card for the away team. But Red Star, as we know, were made of stern stuff and while a punch from Millar usually saw the end of his opponent’s involvement, Tichý showed the fortitude which would see him too into that 1962 World Cup final in Santiago. He scored with a minute to go. It seemed only fair, after such an epic tie, that Red Star didn’t lose on the night and Rangers gained their first ever away draw in European competition in the process.

The crowd was a tenth of the size in 2005 when we drew again on the same pitch, this time with Artmedia. And the reaction of the Rangers fans that night contained 1/100th of the positivity that would have been felt back in Scotland 46 years previously. We thought we’d blown our chances of Champions League progress when we had a similairly stern tussle with Artmedia but I stood amongst the seats of “Tribuna” section CHS, off Bajkalska Ulica, knowing I was privileged to be amongst the first (now possibly the last) Rangers support ever to enter that great ground in that great city. There would have been no away fans in 1959. Just as there was no “Rad XXV” or “Sedadlo 234″ as my 500 Sk ticket promised – just a lot of unmarked light blue seats slapped down on the same terracing which had witnessed Millar and Tichý getting into it and Red Star and Rangers trading blows of raw football excitement. Our manager in 2005, Alex McLeish would have to leave to sate the Ibrox boo-boys despite creating history that season, just as our gaffer in 1959, Scot Symon, would eventually be sacked in disgustingly shoddy fashion simply because Celtic had won the 1967 European Cup. Karol Borhy and then Valdimir Weiss may have thought their Glasgow counterpart had won the battle, but they ended up victims of Rangers’ losing war with their fans’ impatience. 

Red Star would go on to win the Mitropa Cup in 1969, under a different name. Rangers would win their European title in 1972. Jiří Tichý would eventually win three league titles … with Sparta Prague. And in the next round of the 1959/60 European Cup Rangers would defeatSparta … ofRotterdam. Two of those small Scottish clubs who deserved SFL membership before Glasgow Rangers? Cove RANGERS and, from Edinburgh, SPARTANS! Oh well - maybe there are some bonuses to being a Third Division, fourth tier, brand-new incarnation of an old club: Even if the money being thrown at the newco Rangers means they’ll probably win a domestic cup sometime soon, June’s liquidation means it’ll be at least three years before we’re allowed back into UEFA competition. Which guarantees at least three years before we ever have to go back to bloodyPrague. Keep yer ”Karluv most” and “Staromestske namesti”  – give me Tehelné pole any day of the week.

Rangers and Bratislava might be liked by incompetent football ownership but we are also united by great players, great managers and memories of visceral nights of continental glamour. No regime can ever take that away from us.

 Alex Anderson

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Jun 08 2012

Fat Eck’s Euro 2012 Preview

Published by under Guest

When the boys from Britski Belasi ask you how you think Euro 2012 is going to go you know it’s time to step up. I’ve seen their site. I’ve read their articles. I know how much they know about the game. When my postman, milkman, parole officer or next door neighbour ask me “who you backing for the Euros, Eck?” I just chuck a polite “Anybody but England, mate.” their way, perhaps a “Gotta be the Germans again, eh?” or even a “Portugal might be worth a tenner each way…”. Whatever. A one-liner covers it. That’s all they’re looking for. That’s all mere mortals require of me. But when you’re asked the same question by internet soccer gurus who can throw 10,000 words at you on the complete history of every left-back who pulled a groin muscle playing a Slovakian cup match at Tehelne Pole on a wet Tuesday night, in the month of March, with red hair, and size 9 feet, you know there’s nothing “casual” about this particular enquiry.

So let’s have it. Let’s have a Euro 2012 “chat”, lads. I’ll bite. I accept the challenge. Let’s see if I can give you an opinion worth printing.  Okay. Right. Deep breath … and here we go:
Spain will win it.Okay? How’d I do? That match up to your levels of expertise and in-depth analysis of the world game? Pretty incisive stuff on my part there. Pretty sharp, I reckon. That’s about as in-depth as it’s possible to go on this topic, right?  I mean there’s nothing else to say. Especially if you’r Continue Reading »

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Dec 27 2011

Message From Fat Eck: Eurovision Long Contest, Part 1

Published by under European,Guest

Okay, Britski Belasi. Okay then. You’ve just got yourself a deal. You guys want to know why I love your website? You seriously want to understand why a fat middle-aged bloke in Glasgow found himself gutted when Slovan exited this year’s Europa League (Yeah, they may have been eliminated as soon as the draw was made but least Slovan actually qualified for the thing, unlike a couple of ”relatively recent European Finalists” within a few train stops of my house)? You want to know? Erm – no you don’t. 

You only think you do. You think you want to know why I was only slightly less devestated to see Slovakia fail to make the Euro 2012 finals than Scotland (but a whole lot more surprised). But really – trust me – you don’t. No. You don’t really want to know why I was the one Rangers fan who hung arond after the final whistle to enjoy one last look around Tehelne Pole while the rest of my comrades sloped off miserably to catch the first bus to the airport after a 2-2 draw with Artmedia’s “whipping boys” in the 2005/06 Champions League. If you’d had ANY idea how long the explanation would take, you’d never - ever – have asked.

 

But you did. You asked. You asked the one question which had anyone who’s ever previously met me sitting up straight in bed at 3am shrieking “Oh god no! Someone else has asked Fat Eck about why he’s so interested in continental football!!” And may god have mercy on your souls, coz see this – see this scroll of cyber text, longer than Filip Sebo’s non-scoring run at Ibrox - this is only Part 1 of the answer.

 

For me – for me, you see, it’s always been about Europe. And when I say “always”, I’m only out by roughly seven years:

 

I asked my mum to buy me the Borussia Moenchengladbach strip for my 8th birthday. I’d seen them losing to Liverpool in the European Cup final just a few months earlier. You can imagine how she got on with that request in the sports shops of North Ayrshire in 1977. In the days before television saturation of the global game I only saw foreign sides when they played an English or Scottish team in Europe. And the relative insularity of TV coverage across the continent meant the strips weren’t generic in style like now. By the time Panathinaikos played Legia Warsaw in the Champions League in the 90′s, the only difference between both sides’ home and away strips, right down to the font of the numbers on their backs, was their club badges. So although Liverpool were a far greater side in the 70s and 80s, Moenchengladbach’s strip was just so different from the run-of-the-mill Umbro or Admiral jobs, seen every weekend on Sportscene or The Big Match, that I just had to have it. Mum asked around. Think I ended up with Meccano.

 

It’s truly always been about Rangers. But when I first fell in love with European football it was just the sheer romance of such difference from the Saturday afternoon norm (and back then, Saturday afternoon wasn’t just the norm – it was all there was). European football wasn’t like switching from black and white to colour but more like from VHS to DVD. It was the floodlights, the UEFA flag flying over Leitch’s Main Stand, the fact that Rangers would sometimes wear different shorts or socks or even their away strip – at home! In the seventies it was unusual to see John Greig or Derek Johnstone wearing an actual captain’s armband. When you’re a kid, in 70′s and early 80′s Scotland, this stuff is unbelievably exciting and glam. As were the visiting sides. If it wasn’t bronzed Italian stallions in finely cut skinny strips posing like the egomaniacal individuals they were - long before the day when such guys were captain of Rangers – then it was your automaton, robotic Eastern European sides, playing in a cheap, bland, self-coloured outfit with a startlingly romantic crest and playing with the discipline and communal efficiency you’d expect from guys who were probably gonnae be executed if they went back over the Iron curtain without an away goal.

 

As I grew up and the international barriers came down, as football in each individual country became a street of the global village, and Rangers began wearing all sorts of strips and fielding thoroughly polyglot sides even in the flippin Glasgow Cup, my attitude to European football hardened and my obsession deepened. If we can win on the continent we’ll almost always have enough quality, by default,  to do it simultaneously in Scotland. So for me Rangers should always target Europe, we should always build towards that.

 

The disproportionate size of Old Firm resources compared to all other Caledonian rivals ensure Rangers qualify for Europe every season and a club of our size should never be content with just winning such a small domestic league. The achievements of Scottish clubs in Europe down the decades is pretty phenomenal for a nation of our size, if all our clubs were demographically representative of their geographic location. But for clubs with the infrastructure and fan base of Rangers and Celtic to have just one European trophy each and only seven finals between them, in half a century of continual access to continental competitions, is pretty shameful.

 

With the Scottish domestic scene so poorly regarded – rightly or wrongly - by the rest of the world, what Rangers do in UEFA competition shows my club in the starkest relief. That’s where we can be truly, objectively judged as a football entity. At Ibrox, not winning the SPL is failure, no matter how close we come. In Europe we don’t have to win a trophy or even reach the semis to demonstrate competence or even greatness. We just have to compete with the best. Compete. It’s on the international club scene that the relative greatness of any Rangers side is gauged in a true light, one which reflects on Scotland as a whole. Continental football is, if you like, the only arena available to Rangers which is consistently big enough for our ambitions and for our sense of our selves.

 

But the contextualising comes later in life. Declaring it the big boy’s playground is only the self-justification of an adult who still goes weak at the knees when the Zetas, Zenits and Crvena Zvezda Beograds of this planet come to town. No offence to Hamilton Accies but familiarity does breed a certain amount of contempt. With European football, especially home matches in UEFA competition, it’s the subtle changes to a familiar setting which excite. The proximity of the exotic is intoxicating. It’s like concert-going – some acts are less well known but, like seeing Gillian Welch at the Barrowlands, rock your boat particularly hard because you know and love their work so well. Barcelona at Ibrox is like having U2 in your living room.

 

To pick one Ibrox European night out of them all is difficult. I remember my dad getting me out my bed, when I was 8 years old, to watch the BBC Scotland Sportscene highlights of us beating Juventus in 1978/79. Even though Ibrox was 30% rubble for that game, the floodlights, Juve’s strip, Rangers in ALL-blue, the foreign ref - this was all as visceral as the result. I remember being so chuffed that, in the next round, we became the first team to beat PSV in Eindhoven and I’ll never forget the utter emptiness of the Thursday night home leg against Cologne – the weather delaying the European Cup quarter-final just heightened the tension. I watched it live on the telly at my Gran’s and vividly recall sitting on her living room carpet, devestated. Dieter Muller introduced me to the dark emptiness of conceding the away goal. By age 9 I knew exactly what the European Cup was and how it related to the other European trophies. And not just because my cousin was a Celtic fan.

 

I was 15 before I had a first-hand experience of Ibrox Euro nights. Internazionale of Milan in 1984. A pivotal moment in my life. The teenage me also had tickets for U2 at the Barrowlands that night – friends had arranged a bus to the gig and as I was the guy who’d introduced Under A Blood Red Sky to the entire school, there was an expectation that I’d be first name on the list. Rangers were 3-0 down from the first leg and I had, at that point, every U2 single and album ever released. I had another 3 years of U2 fandom ahead of me but their Joshua Tree tour and album was the last I paid them any attention. I’ve been to a total of ten concerts in my entire life to date. Something inside me in 1984 already knew this was how it would go and why. Bono and The Edge made history in Glasgow that night – Rangers didn’t. But I wouldn’t have swapped places with my musical mates for the world. My aunt and uncle took me to see Inter in Govan and it was a magical occasion. Maybe it was the fact Karl-Heinz Rummennigge, Liam Brady, Giuseppe Bergomi and Alessandro Altobelli – who’d scored in the 1982 World Cup final and scored against us that night - were all on the pitch or perhaps the fact Rangers wore white and Inter were in their famous nerazzuri home strip … it was more likely the fact Rangers won 3-1 on the night and gave us all a great buzz – but I was hooked forever.

 

Inter killed the tie in the first half after we’d got off to a great start and you got the impression they could score any time they wanted to. When we went 3-1 up, Rummenigge strolled up the pitch from centre, with Craig Paterson and co all unable to stop him, waltzed to the edge of the box and crashed one off the under-side of the bar. It was a message to say “by all means have your night in front of your fans - but don’t get too uppity” but the message I got was that this was the level I wanted to see Rangers live at. The ground was far from full and we were never seriously going through and, in all honesty, the Aberdeen or Dundee United sides of that time could well have put Inter out - but the atmosphere was electric and the glamour of the whole night consumed me. Frank McDougal and Davie Dodds were just annoying localish bampots playing for north eastern upstarts. Bergomi and Rummenigge were gods, playing for a club used to fielding nothing else.

 

If that diluted first taste of Europe had left me so exhilirated I could only imagine what it must be like to be seriously challenging for a place in a European final. I was born too late to remember anything about Rangers winning the 1971/72 European Cup Winners Cup but while being top of the pile in Scotland is an essential minimum for a happy life, the rest of my Rangers-supporting existence has been largely up or down dependant on how close we’ve come to recreating that continental success.

 

My instinctive generic memory of Rangers at Ibrox is the thrill of the teams coming down the tunnel and, unfortunately, conceding away goals. That gut-wrenching moment where, in a 40,000+ crowd you actually hear the ball swish the rigging because everyone’s holding their breath. It always seemed like the same goal we lost too. No matter the opponent – Italian, Czech, Russian or Greek – in my black recollections it was always some wee tricky midfield ponce stroking a daisy-cutter from one corner of our box into the opposite bottom corner of the net. There was the feeling that the “real” European sides always kept a clean sheet at home. We rarely managed this and I thought it symptomatic of our inability to reach a respectable level in Europe on a regular basis.

 

In that case the home games of our run to the 2008 UEFA Cup final Manchester should provide my favourite Ibrox Euro night memories. To see my team finally shut up shop completely, and not through intimidation or brutality but just sheer defensive class - the very aspect of the game my club is most renowned for – was the proudest moment of my Gers-supporting career.  But it was a four-match “moment”. It was a four month “moment” and, apart from the Werder Bremen destruction - the night I saw for the first time in my Ibrox-attending life that Rangers were proper, serious, gut-instinct candidates to make a European final - the games were so tension-filled that no real celebrating took place.

 

Panathinaikos, Werder, Sporting Lisbon and Fiorentina at Ibrox were all first legs. So as classily competent as the team was, there was no finality or decisiveness about those games and, to be honest, the further Rangers got in the 2007/2008 UEFA Cup the more junketeers and tourists seemed to appear in the stands as the tickets got more expensive. I’d spent my entire adult life dreaming of a Rangers team which could keep a clean sheet at home and would play European nights WITHOUT floodlights – not because it was a July pre-qualifier but because it was an April/May semi-final – and here it was; here we were not losing a goal in ANY of our UEFA Cup home games and keeping a clean sheet against Zeta, Red Star Belgrade and Barce-flippin-lona in our earlier Champions League campaign, here we were in our first European semi-final for 36 years and the team were being BOOED OFF THE PITCH at half-time! That spoils the Ibrox memories of a momentous run.

 

Objectively, the best European run of my life did not end in a final appearance. In the first season of the Champions League Rangers elminiated Leeds United in the qualifiers. This cross-border clash ensured we became the first British team to set foot in the most lucrative club competition of them all and we didn’t lose a game all season. The noise at Ibrox against Leeds was the loudest I’ve ever experienced and that run was the closest our club has ever come to getting the one remaining monkey off our backs – Celtic have won the European Cup and we haven’t. Two groups of four, the winners went through to the final. In the only season of the Champions League where group runners-up got nothing, Rangers finished second in the group. In the first match we came from 2 down to draw with eventual trophy-winners Marseille and we didn’t lose home or away to the French giants, Brugges or CSKA Moscow. One more goal in France, in our penultimate match, and we’d have been in our first ever European Cup final, the first ever Champions League final - and we’d have played Milan exactly the same way Marseille played them in Munich but … hey …

 

My favourite Ibrox European goal was Scott Nisbett’s against Brugge in that 92/93 season. It was a cross-cum-tackle which took a freakish bounce on a night we were down to ten men and trying to hold on for a draw in the pissing Glasgow rain. We won and that super non-strike summed up the pluckiness and grit of that side – their refusal to let what others saw as “silky smooth style” intimidate them from their very real talents – and duly put us closer than we’ve ever been to the biggest club game in the world. Every time I see it replayed on telly – the surprise in the face of the Brugge keeper, the commentator’s voice and the swelling Ibrox roar - it brings a lump to the throat as the combined senses of vindication, ecstasy and relief come flooding back. We wore, that season, one of the few away strips we’ve ever had which instantly looks like a Rangers strip and battled on to override our naivety with true determination and esprit de corps.

 

There was a real feeling of “what the hell” about 1992/93 (it created an expectation the nine-in-a-row team could never live up to again) and, of course, everyone feels that one more goal in Marseille would have set us up for an inevitably poetic equalling of Celtic’s 1967 triumph: We were in the middle of winning a  domestic treble, also during a run of nine-in-a-row league titles – all as per Jock Stein’s Lisbon Lions - and we should play Milan while they’d played Inter. But a set of personal circumstances meant I didn’t get to the Brugge or CSKA Moscow games that season: I just watched them on telly. It’s as a result of how I felt missing those games that I’ve never missed another home Champions League game, be it group stage, knock-out or qualifyer. First thing I tick on the season ticket renewal form every summer is “all home European games”.

 

The night we drew 1-1 with Inter to become the first Scottish Club to progress to the knock-out stages of the Champions League is up there. It was a moment of personal catharsis because it was Inter, the club I’d seen on my first ever European night at Ibrox, 21 years previously.  They were already through and their fans were magnificently sporting at the end. It was a beautiful night but for me there was a slight sense of anti-climax. This was a moment I’d lived for – a stage of obvious competence I’d wanted so badly for so long for Rangers. The pain and longing was exacerbated by the attendant increased publicity around European club football after 1991, all games live on the television and Ibrox close to sold out for every clash.  By the time it happened I felt like I was never going to see Rangers get out of a European group stage. Before that 2005/2006 campaign we’d reached the group stages of the Champions League SIX times without progressing and, just to put the boot in, the previous season saw us in the UEFA Cup’s newly conceived Group Stage: We won the first two games by an aggregate of 8-0, there were 5 teams in the group, three teams went through and we only had two more games to play yet we STILL failed to flippin’ qualify!

 

So by the time the final whistle had gone for the Inter match the following season and the whole stadium waited to hear if the Artmedia-Porto game in Bratislava had gone our way, I was ready to faint with the tension (just as well they didn’t show the game live on the Ibrox big screens because Porto had a shot from ten yards into an empty net which would have put us out but the ball stuck in the Tehelne Pole mud, a yard from the goal-line. That would have killed me stone dead). I’d always imagined it would be like this when we finally did make it through – I always imagined it’d go right down to the last kick of the group. But I’d also imagined Ibrox would go utterly bonkers – absolutely crazy – that the team would do two or three laps of honour and that no-one would want to go home.The final whistle went in Slovakia. We were through. Thirteen years of hurt evaporated. Ibrox did erupt and I did go bonkers. The players … gave us a wave and everyone went home. That was it. Over. I was utterly underwhelmed. The grief we’d been through with the Champions League – the desperate search for the right manager, the profligate splattering of cash at every European journeyman pro we could find, the slaughterings by the Scottish media and rival fans, our Chief Executive Campbell Ogilvie helping to invent the flamin’ tournament itself - all this seemed to indicate that we were DESPERATE to get out of a Champions League group. All this seemed to indicate that we’d be ECSTATIC to finally do so. And yet there was barely as much as a song or a lap of honour when we finally managed it. Just a cheer, a wave and Ibrox emptied only slightly slower than it did when we threw away a 2-goal lead against Falkirk three days earlier. Maybe everyone else knew what I was about to find out – that qualifying for the knock-out stages wasn’t half as bloody exciting as playing in them:

 

Perhaps it’s because I spend too much time obsessing about Rangers in Europe, too much time fantasising about order and efficiency, maintaining clean sheets at home and mapping out a realistic strategy for making the final of a European comeptition. Perhaps I think about it so much every season that my favourite European night at Ibrox was one which just blew the socks off me, and evaporated all my expectations. Getting through a Champions League Group stage took us 13 years of trying and 13 years of heart-ache. We would either go out by the skin of our teeth, all guns blazing like we did to CSKA Moscow in 1993 or at Bayern in 1999/2000. Or we’d be utterly humiliated and never at the races as when Panathinaikos were thumping us 3-1, with goals from the half-way line and Juventus were inflicting our record Ibrox European defeat as back-up goalie Billy Thomson rolled about flapping at ever more distant Italian legs in the Broomloan Road goalmouth. Either way, it was a story of unending pain and misery. So when we eventually did get through, I wanted an insurance policy against elimination. I wanted us to get the biggest and best of opponents so that we’d be in a no-lose situation. We’d earned that right.

 

The 1992/93 campaign was actually our most successful ECL ride ever – we finished second in one of two quarter-final groups and were, in Marseille, just a goal away from the European Cup final, but the early format meant we still didn’t get out of the group. The 2005/2006 progression was as symbolic as it was financially vital. But it was a major moment in Scottish football history. So I didn’t want Villarreal in the last 16. I wanted a team who were objectively regarded as bigger and better than Rangers on all fronts. I wanted a team with a long European history. I wanted no pressure or real expectation on Rangers and I wanted an away trip to a smashing big super stadium. I wanted Milan, Barca, Benfica, Bayern, Liverpool, Arsenal, Ajax or Juventus. In fact there were only two sides in the last 16 draw that season who had never previously made a European final. One was Lyon, a team already synonymous with the Champions League itself. The other was Villarreal who’d done nothing other than knock Celtic out the UEFA Cup two seasons previously.

 

When the last 16 draw was made I was sat at my anodyne desk in that big open-plan office in which we’ve all entered data at one time or another, waiting for news from the one manager in our office allowed access to the internet. She had the UEFA.com website up and a female Rangers-supporting friend would run from that PC round to my corner of the office as soon as we were picked out the Nyon bowls:

 

HER: “Alex, it’s Valencia!!”

 

ME: “Oh, interesting  … wait … What? Valencia urnae in it!!” (she runs back round the corner then, after 30 seconds, re-appears)

 

HER: “No – it’s Liverpool!”

 

ME: “Damn! Well …Okay – but that means possible trouble when we go down to Merseyside. Mmmm. Okay though.”

 

HER: “No. Wait a minute – Liverpool drew Benfica … hang on …”

 

ME: “What the fu…” By this time I was climbing the walls and my Celtic-supporting colleagues were on the floor. She re-appears, knackered:

 

HER: “It’s Villarreal – I knew it was a team with Vs and Ls in their name – it’s Villarreal!”

 

ME: “Ach, shite!”

 

I knew Villarreal were a hell of a side but I was scared their small ground and their lack of any trophy-winning history, especially in Europe, would allow people to think Rangers were favourites. I knew we were playing a top Liga team, a world class side - it was as simple and dangerous as that – but I worried that the fact it wasn’t Real Madrid or Barcelona would put The Teddy Bears (The Gers) under unrealistic pressure. Also, I wanted just a little more glamour. I wanted a more famous club. The fact that Villarreal had beaten Everton in the qualifying rounds and eliminated Manchester United from a group stage in which the Spaniards conceded just one goal, actually seemd a bit lost on me, for all my worrying about properly contextualising our opponent.

 

What happened though was that the lack of history behind the club known as the yellow submarine, allowed every Rangers fan to focus clearly on the quality of the actual playing staff we were up against and to drink in the occassion itself. At Ibrox that night a damp, blustery dark February night, I finally got that feeling I’d been so dissapointed to find the Inter game lacked. The moment of finally qualifying for the knock-out stages was an anti-climax – the moment of actually playing in those knock-out stages was like an electric current running through your body, for over 2 hours. I’ve rarey been so drawn into the moment, hardly ever so enveloped in a game and an event. Everyone else watched La Liga on Sky every Sunday night. Most Bluenoses knew more about Villarreal than I did and all my worry about under-estimating them proved to be self-involved, over-anxious piffle. Ibrox rocked from beginning to end. Not always in a good way – Alex McLeish was under real pressure as manager that season and there was frustration at the failure to introduce Belgian trickster Thomas Buffel to the action earlier  – but this crazy, helter-skelter season had been building up to this tie, this moment in time.

 

I was already booked up for the away leg at El Madrigal and I just wanted us to go over there with a fighting chance. It turned out both games would be epic. Both score draws which could have gone either way. That they didn’t and that Villarreal managed one more away goal than us is because they were the better side, no argument, but Rangers lived with them – Rangers scared the living daylights out of them and I’ve rarely been prouder of us. But that was a matter of reflection – the Ibrox first leg allowed no such luxury.

 

This was a monster tie for both clubs. Considering Villarreal had Riquelme, Juan Pablo Sorin, Marcos Senna and Diego Forlan in their team – guys who were or would become captains of Argentina, European Championship-winning naturalised Brazilians, top scorers at World Cup finals – and Rangers had wee Stevie Smith and Chris Burke playing, we were the team living up to the occasion more spectacularly. And the occassion was living up to and beyond everything I’d ever dreamed of. The Champions League knock-out stages exceeded my expectations of them. This was one occasion I just couldn’t think myself out of, worry my way through or calculate Rangers around. We were past the point in the competition of “coming up short”, all that was left was glory. This was just great fun. End of.

 

Our big Croat striker Dado Prso, scorer of four goals in a single Champions League match for Monaco against deportivo La Coruna, decided to handle the ball in his own box in the first seven minutes. Villarreal scored their penalty. A player I adored – a player so reliable for Rangers – had a brainstorm and cost us. It was that kind of game. Chris Burke – a player I never really warmed to and whose attitude I trusted as little as his fortitude -  dribbled, kicked and punched his way through the middle of a South American international-laden midfield and defence to tee up Peter Lovenkrands for an absolute barn-stormer of an equaliser. It was THAT kind of game. Burke was amazing. He tore their Argentine captain, Arruabarrena to pieces and he had to be replaced by Juan Pablo Sorin … the actual captain of Argentina.

 

Diego Forlan looked a mile offside as our stoppers, Kyrgiakos and Rodriguez stood and watched him waltz the ball into our goal. The referee gave it and in the stands we all just looked at each other, dumbfounded. It was only when we got home and watched the highlights on STV and the new offside laws about passive and active play were explained to us that we realised the ref and his linesmen were also world class. Kind of. Villarreal had the ball in our net twice more – at least one of them should have been allowed. Rangers had a clear penalty denied for a Villarreal hand-ball in the last seconds but not before we’d equalised, for a second time, through a Pena own goal in the 82nd minute. Alex McLeish turned the game into a battle we could compete in, rather than an on-the-deck exhibition of passing and dribbling which Villarreal would cruise through. The clash of styles was as aesthetically pleasing as it was intellectually engrossing. And a Rangers team which had heard fan protests outside the main doors of Ibrox in December went out there and got steamed in with the never-say-die attitude which coarsed through the stands.

 

In all my worrying about this game from the moment the draw had been made I’d actually done myself a favour. I’d convinced myself we were playing a club we’d get no credit for beating but who had so much more money and resources than us because of the league they played in. I’d become so neagtive about the match that when I walked into the Govan Rear stand that night and took my seat, the whole occasion just ambushed me. There was no goal-difference, points or co-efficients to fret over. There was little point in considering quarter-final opponents or beyond. Rangers were, finally, just slap-bang in the middle of the business end of the Champions League and we had to sink or swim. This was so captivatingly momentous that you couldn’t think beyond this 90 minutes and the pace of the game, the desire of both clubs (both were playing their first ever match in the Champions League knock-out stages) forced all extraneous thoughts and worries from your head. It was visceral. Just as I thought there were no secrets in UEFA competition anymore I discovered I wasn’t as smart as all that:

 

Villarreal, El Submarino Amarillo, werent Spanish after all. They came from a new country – the hinterland of all the big leagues where money you have now means more than histroy you didn’t have yesterday. These clubs are the glamorous names of tomorrow and the dazzling all-yellow fatigues of Villareal’s polyglot Latin mercenaries rung as true as the all-white of Real Madrid, the black and white stripes of Juventus or the big red bib of Ajax. It was the perfect counterpoint to the traditional Rangers home strip our own polyglot mercenaries wore that night. The Red and Black socks with the white shorts went out and got ripped into an emerging European force of stars. That buzz I had as a kid when Gordon Smith and Alex MacDonald turned over Juventus – that buzz was back. The 2-2 draw with Villarreal on 22nd February 2006 is my favourite European night at Ibrox so far.

 

But that’s only half the story – half of a story which, I promise you, does include Slovakian football at some point.

Alex Anderson

 

 


5 responses so far

Nov 04 2011

Paris & Bratislava; a tale of two footballing cities

Published by under European,Guest

Delighted to welcome old friend and Paris resident David Williams to the blog with his account of another disappointing night for Slovan Bratislava in the group stages of the Europa League:

Earlier this year, during a week’s break in Eastern Europe, your guest blogger and a couple of fellow Parisian holiday thrill-seekers had the pleasure of accompanying former schoolmate BritskiBelasi and his elite selection of expat Slovak football cognoscenti to Slovan’s victorious Champions League home leg against Kazakh champions Tobol Kostany.

That balmy Zlatý Bažant fuelled July evening at a surprisingly atmospheric Pasienky- a perfect caricature of this Westerner’s vision of Eastern European stadia, with its stark, modernist floodlights and scoreboard, despite its patent limitations as a football ground and spiritual home for Slovan – couldn’t be much further removed from adrenched and rather dreary Parc des Princes in early November.

Of course, no sane person would spurn a visit to the “City of Light”, but Paris really is a lot more pleasant in the springtime, or at least before the clocks go back. As long-term 1920s resident Ernest Hemingway once remarked “All the sadness of the city came suddenly with the first cold rains of winter, and there were no more tops to the high white houses as you walked but only the wet blackness of the street.”

Thus it was, unseasonably mild temperatures apart, that Hakim and I returned, accompanied by Jérémie and Stéphane this time, to see our summer crush in the flesh for a second time as they sought to replicate the kind of performance that earned them a draw at home to PSG, one of the self-declared most financially ambitious clubs in Europe, their bombast bolstered in recent weeks by the continuing clamour surrounding David Beckham’s mooted arrival in January.

Pre-match expectations settled on a modest but essential victory for the home side given PSG’s variable form in Europe, in stark contrast with their domestic dominance of 9 wins in the last 11, including impressive victories against Montpellier and Lyon.

From the off, there were clear differences in quality and approach between the two teams, with PSG attacking relentlessly, but without much success, through a tasty quartet of Erding, Pastoré, Nenê and Menez, while Slovan made a virtue out of necessity with 10 men behind the ball. This pattern lasted right until midway through the second half when PSG finally broke the deadlock, a cruel turning point coming just seconds after Halenar’s horrendous miss from only 10 yards following Guede’s excellent work down to the right byline. Subsequently, PSG sat back and allowed a much more adventurous Slovan to take the game to them in their own half, and the match at last developed something of an ebb and flow.

More authoritative match reports can doubtless be found elsewhere, but in a scrappy match more notable for heavy rain and poor control rather than high quality and silky skills, players who impressed for an outpaced, outmuscled Slovan included Martin Dobrotka, an assured presence at the back all night long, and Filip Šebo, who had a mild penalty claim in the first half and looked an excellent all-round package… despite a performance where nothing quite came off for him. Slovan may look hard at their midfield which struggled to break after Parisian attacks, frequently being harried and chased off the ball all too easily. However they did construct some long passing moves towards the end of the game, winning in the process their only two corners of the match in the closing minutes right in front of their delighted fans – a hearty 250-strong contingent who provided robust supportfor their team from beginning to end, despite being massively outnumbered and horrendously abused by the PSG fans, for whom perhaps the 0-0 draw a fortnight ago still rankled [could be their non-admittance to the game which rankled-Ed.]

As for the atmosphere generated by the home fans, much has changed in recent years since the dissolution by the French authorities of the six sets of “ultras” which used to command the two kops (Boulogne and Auteuil) behind the goals. In brief, repeated clashes between different factions led to the death of a Boulogne fan in 2010, banning orders for those in the hierarchy and a principled boycott by many former ‘foot soldiers’ who stayed away en masse from home games in the 201011 season, while the club was ‘cleaned up’ and sold to Qatari investors and a more family friendly clientele encouraged to fill a half-empty stadium (my previous midweek visit to the Parc in May 2011 was before some 27,000 spectators, about average for the season but over 20,000 short of full capacity).

This season, however, PSG have become the best supported team in France with an average league gate of 40,610, thanks to strong performances and heightened expectations following the arrival ofArgentine record signing Pastoré (for a mere €40 million). While the atmosphere last year was noticeable for its youthfulness (shrill teenagers mimicking the coarse hooligan culture they had grown up with), the middle aged demographic had now returned in a respectable midweek crowd of over 35,000. The two Kops were in good voice, particularly after the goal when the cannabis-perfumed Kop d’Auteuil exploded into life, culminating in a somewhat classless “Poznan” celebrationthat obviously brought to mind PSG’s nouveau-riche counterparts Manchester City.

Given the apparent volatile nature of Slovak football, it is probably best that I let more seasoned observers pontificate on Slovan’s prospects for the Corgon Liga, now that their Europa ambitions have been extinguished, and on their potential (likely?) European involvement next season.

As for PSG, they just about redeemed themselves and now have a good chance of qualifying for the latter stages of the Europa – a competition in which their new owners expect them to be a lot more than just also rans. After their strong start to the first third of the Ligue 1 season they will also surely be hoping for a top-three finish come May time and Champions League football next season, but would definitely have to strengthen and/or become much more clinical in front of goal to have any realistic chance of reaching the knock-out phases, a feat their great rivals Marseille only achieved in 2010-11 after three consecutive failed attempts.

 David Williams

9 responses so far

Jul 16 2011

Slovan Bratislava 3-1 AS Trencin

Published by under Domestic,Guest

Yesterday saw the season opener in the Corgon Liga with Slovan’s match against Trencin moved forward by a day to better accommodate the team’s 6,000 km trek to Kazakhstan.  It being holiday time, my brother Rich was in town, so what better way to start the season on the blog than with his account of the match, and the experience, at Pasienky:

Before this game, I had heard a few different tales about what to expect from a game at Slovan, with the only common theme between all of them being “it’ll be an experience…” So I headed off the stadium not knowing what to expect but promising myself to ignore what I’d heard before and just soak up the atmosphere in whatever form it presented itself.

Before the game we’d popped in to the old Slovan ground at Tehelne Pole and got a couple of pictures of ‘Britski Belasi’ in amongst the trees now replacing the stands there. Whether this was a deliberate ploy or not, I was now quite eagerly looking forward to getting to the new stadium and mixing in with some fans. The atmosphere outside the ground before the game was very relaxed, and with my new Slovan away kit I was looking forward to a good game of football.

Parking place outside Tehelne Pole, gates open? Oh, go on then ...

The lack of away fans really doesn’t help an atmosphere develop – there were 4 guys standing in the corner of the away fans’ section right up until 5 minutes before kick off when they were asked to leave. I thought this was a shame – I was looking forward to hearing how they would get on taking on the Slovan ultras in the singing stakes. But alas it wasn’t to be. We heard later that the Trencin fans had been put off by political differences between them and the Slovan ultras. How true this is I don’t know, but it certainly meant that the Slovan fans were going to have to make all the noise. They managed to get themselves together after about 10 minutes or so – once the fat bloke had the megaphone taken off him the drums got going and the atmosphere picked up.

Belasa Slachta doing their bit

Away end. This sight is becoming rather too familiar ...

The game itself started at a good pace – a well-taken early goal from Marko Milinkovic ensured that Slovan didn’t make a sluggish start, which could have been forgivable considering this league game falls between Champions League qualifying matches. The goal was well deserved and in all honesty, Slovan looked dominant in every area of the game.

A rare Trencin attack

This was the first game for AS Trencin since promotion last season, and to be fair, coming to Slovan is probably as difficult a first game as it gets in this league. Their core players, including their number 10, David Depetris from Argentina, looked like they could be fairly useful but were just muscled off the ball any time they got near the Slovan goal. Slovan looked quicker, stronger and more assured on the ball and after the second goal, another neat finish, this time from Milan Ivana, they looked like they could score when they wanted to.

With Slovan looking comfortable (I’m not sure Trencin had had a shot on target so far), half time not far away and talk of steak sandwiches being banded about, we didn’t see the build up the to Trencin goal, but I did look up in time to see Depetris take a pass outside the area, round the Slovan goalkeeper and finish confidently. Were Trencin about to make the game interesting? In short – no. Slovan scored with their next attack, a goal from the popular Filip Sebo meant that Slovan went in at half time feeling comfortable.

Trencin, before they started parting like the Red Sea

The first half may have been a bit different if Trencin’s goalkeeper had even the slightest grain of confidence in his own ability – a couple of flaps at crosses and some poor kicking meant Slovan could, and probably should have scored more. As it was, the contest was in effect over by half time and the second half was played out with barely a mentionable act occurring. Slovan seemed happy to hoof the ball up towards Sebo but without much success. Trencin had more of the ball but couldn’t muster up more than a couple of long-range efforts on target.

Comparing this game with watching football in the UK is nigh-on impossible, for a start I don’t know of anywhere in England where you can get in for as little as €3. The ultras kept the players on the pitch going without the negative attitude and frustration that sometimes occurs from fans at home.

"We are here & you have fear" , Trencin had rather too much fear tonight

Next time we’re here, my girlfriend Millie and I will definitely try to get to a Slovan game again, a good night of football is hard to beat but hopefully some away fans will be there too!

Rich Richardson

Slovan's newest fan, author of a great article! Welcome back anytime, Rich!

 

3 responses so far

Jun 23 2011

12 Years on: A Tribute to Peter Dubovsky

Published by under Domestic,Guest

Absolutely delighted to welcome Ralph Davies back to the site with a very fitting tribute to one of Slovakia’s greatest ever footballers, Peter Dubovsky, on the 12th anniversary of his tragic death:

The first and the only time I saw Peter Dubovsky play was 8th September 1993 in Cardiff. He was part of a talented Czech and Slovak team that were challenging for a place at USA 94 . In the 67th minute, Czech giant Tomas Skuhravy won a free kick (Eric Young never touched him) about 40yards from Neville Southall’s goal. At that moment in the game,  I remember turning to my friend and saying there was no way the RCS could score from there, firstly we had Big Nev in goals and secondly it really was „miles out“.  Up stepped the RCS number 10 and smacked it straight into the top corner. It was  a stunning free kick and I am sure if it had been scored by a bigger nation, we would still be seeing it on our tv screens now.

Peter Dubovsky was quite simply an outstanding footballer and tragically taken from us on June 23rd 2000. The Slovak forward, who had been climbing with his brother, died when he jumped from a 10 metre high waterfall while holidaying in Ko Samui, Thailand. He hit his head on the rocks below and died almost immediately, he was 28yrs old.

12 years on and he is still fondly remembered as the greatest of all Slovak footballers by fans and his fellow professionals. Peter broke onto the Czechoslovak scene as a 17yr old striker at Slovan Bratislava and two years later was a full international making his debut after the world cup in 1990. At 20 he won the Czechoslovak golden boot having scored 27 goals in one season (this included a scoring streak of 18 goals in just 14 games), a quite incredible amount in a league not known for high-scoring games. The following season he „only“ managed 24 goals including Slovan’s only goal in a UEFA cup game against world giants, Real Madrid. Scouts flocked to Tehelne Pole and Slovan were to receive two serious offers from two of the big players in European football, Ajax Amsterdam and Real Madrid. When Peter Dubovsky turned down Ajax in favour of Spain, they signed up a young Jari Litmanen, that says everything about his talent.

Dubovsky in action for Oviedo in 1999

In his first season at the Bernebau,  „Dubak“ played 25 games scoring 1 goal , but  a year later and following the emergence of Raul Gonzales found himself out of the first team picture and on his way out of Madrid. In his final season he managed just 6 games scoring 1 goal. However, he stayed in Spain and spent  5 years at Real Oviedo , while continuing to  regularly turn out for his beloved Slovakia, managed by former Celtic and Aston Villa manager Dr Josef Venglos.

I found an article where Venglos compared the loss of Dubovsky to when Manchester United lost Duncan Edwards when he said „ The fans and the players loved this man like Man Utd fans loved Duncan Edwards.He will be remembered as a legend of Slovakian sport. It is so sad that he was never able to fulfil his potential.“ Like many Slovaks he was deeply affected by his  death.

Lubos Moravcik , a close friend and Slovak teammate tells a story of  the RCS playing an inform Romanian team in Kosice. The Romanians had arrived in Slovakia expecting to win and with the scores level at 2-2 and the RCS down to ten men, Dubovsky scored a hat-trick which Moravcik described as „the best hat-trick I ever saw“ and that Dubovsky had made Hagi and co look ordinary.

The legend lives on in Slovakia with an award for the the best Slovak u21 player, bearing the name of Peter Dubovsky. It was created in the search for players who have the same qualities and  the current stars of Slovak football, Hamsik, Weiss and Stoch have all won the trophy.

Even now, his boyhood team Slovan Bratislava hang a flag with his picture at home and away matches.

Dubovsky Flag next to ours at Senica away

The  greatest shame is the game lost a player perhaps approaching the peak of career and a footballer that was not only the best  ever Slovak footballer, but one of the best Europe has ever produced.

The final word goes to Josef Venglos  who summed Peter Dubovsky up perfectly when he said „ Peter Dubovksy was a Slovak, who played like a Brazilian“.

Follow Ralph on Twitter as he follows the ups and downs of Czech & Slovak football

19 responses so far

May 05 2011

FK Senica v SK Slovan

Published by under Domestic,Guest

First v Second, village minnows vs capital city giants.  About as poetic as Slovak football gets and we’d been looking forward to this for a long time.  Ralph Davies talks us through a different kind of away trip:

Welcome to the village at the top of Slovak football.

 

 

Most of the people on the train travelling down to Slovakia were hockey fans. I don’t need to tell you how huge the sport is in both the Czech and Slovak Republics, so it shouldn’t have surprised me when the train was full of supporters heading to Bratislava for the clash between Czech Republic and Finland later that day. All of them in colours and all of them sharing bottles of slivovice with fellow passengers [you hid that well Ralph  - Ed].

I was the only football fan in my carriage (unless the old lady opposite me was hiding a Spartak Trnava top under her jumper), probably the only one going from Brno to Senica to see the top of  the Corgan Liga clash between 1st placed Senica and 2nd placed Slovan Bratislava. Just to give some background to FK Senica, in 2008/9 season they were playing 4th tier football in Slovakia. The following season they ‚merged‘ with top flight Inter Bratislava and were allowed to take their place in the Corgon Liga. To me, that sounds exactly like Franchise FC and it’s such a shame that Slovak football lost a club like Inter, I am not even sure if the club exists anymore [they have started out again in the 5th tier, Bratislava league-Ed].  Going into today’s match, Senica were sitting ‚proudly‘  at the top of the league and looking at hosting European football next season.

Europe here we come, FK Senica go 1 up.

I digress, My first port of call was Kuty, a train station on the border, to meet Britski Belasi who was joining me for the trip.  After a quick pivo at the pub at Kuty train station (70cents for a large Corgon) we were on the train to Senica.  The town itself has a population of of just over 20,000 and has no mention in any guidebook. When I told friends I was going there, they couldn’t believe that I was staying the night. The general view „ Why? There is nothing to do there.“  My research had told me that there 48 pubs in the town. Of course we would find something to do.

Reasonably priced beer, check. Over-priced away end tickets, check.

After a short bus journey from the out of town train station to the centre of the town, we found  the first pub. It was a rough looking establishment with a slighly rougher clientele.  Almost upon entrance, we were told that  wearing Slovan colours was showing disrespect to people of Senica – not the best of starts. However,we were allowed to  finish our beers  but, not before being told by one of them  that Senica weren’t „allowed“ to win the title and that he was sure that the championship was heading to Slovan. The first pub, the first beer and the first mention of corruption. Welcome to Senica.

Pub number 2 was the hotel bar. We’d obviously chosen well as the Slovan squad were using it as a place to rest  before leaving for stadium.  As the players came into the bar for the final team meeting we thought abut asking them for a lift to the ground. Well, we were all going that way.  Instead we had enjoyably open chats with Karim Guede, Mamadou Bagayoko and top scorer, Filip Sebo aka Sebo Goal. Filip ( first name terms, see) in particular was friendly, spoke excellent English and told us things that can’t be published here, but will definitely be recounted should you wish to join us on future trips!  10 minutes later and with a wave goodbye we left them for Karel, a taxi driver with no interest in the local football team, to take us to the ground.

Karim & Mamadou .. Top Lads

Pub number 3 was a restaurant next to the ground. Unknown to this Britski Belasi tour there was an alcohol ban in all pubs around the ground.  However, we did charm the waitress into pouring us 2 large Bernards to wash down the chicken steaks we had also ordered. As we sat at the bar, we got chatting to the barmaid, who told us in no uncertain terms that if we wanted a good night out after the match, we should go to either Skalice or Trnava. Perhaps the stories of Senica were true.

As we walked towards the away end, it was obvious that security was tight. Slovan Bratislava have a reputation and it’s not a particularly good one. I had heard horror stories of Slovan hooligans smashing towns up all over Slovakia and as fans they are not  well liked. (As the photos that accompany this article will show, the away end was a lot of fun with no trouble whatsoever). Around 500 fans had made the journey up from the capital for the game and it wasn’t long before they started to fill up the away end.

The police hang around.

Open, curved terraces with fence at the front your thing? Slovakia's the place.

The game itself was really a game of 2 halves. Senica had the better of  first half and deservedly went ahead when Czech striker, Jaroslav Divis acrobatically scissor kicked the ball home to make it 1-0 Senica . Slovan were struggling to get into the game and at half-time they must have received a real rollocking from their coach Karel Jarolim as the 2nd half was a completely different story. In 69th minute,  Bosnian midfielder Mario Bozic lashed home  from  just outside the area and  ran to join the party in the away end. The celebrations were not to end there as after what seemed like a 20 minute onslaught on the Senica goal,  Guede was played in by the captain Zofcak, he calmly played the ball across the penalty area for the oncoming Sebo to fire home from just inside the 6-yard box.  Cue, wild celebrations behind the goal…

Sneaked past security & saved for 88 minutes. Ultra culture.

And that is how it ended, the 2-1 victory took Slovan to top of the league, one point ahead of Senica with 4 games left. With Zilina falling away  and possibly even relinquishing 3rd place, it’s Slovan’s title to lose.

Back to the away end the players and fans celebrated together for a good 20 minutes after the final whistle and  as a long suffering Zbrojovka Brno fan, it was great to see the joy on the faces of the Belasi behind the goal.  You get the feeling that Slovan were moving onto better things both on and off the pitch. Lets hope so.

SK Slovan, Vstante ked ste Belasi

We headed back across town, dodged a few stray fireworks, flares and smoke-bombs in the street, as the Slovan procession of cars set off for the 90km drive back to the capital horns tooting, flags aloft.  We were sure that there would find a couple of decent bars on the way home, but were truly disappointed and ended up hatching our own plan to open a sports bar for when European football hits the village of Senica next season.  Back in the hotel much earlier than expected, it was obvious we hadn’t missed anything as chants of “Sebo-gol Sebo-gol, Sebo-gol” resonated through the thin walls from an adjacent room. It turns out we weren’t the only Slovan fans in the only hotel in town that night.

Ralph Davies

Ralph is based in Brno & travels all over Czech, and now Slovak football following his beloved Zbrojovka and Slovan. Follow Ralph on Twitter right here.

For a full set of photos from the trip, click here.

And for a video from in the middle of the celebrations at the end, click here.

12 responses so far

Feb 27 2011

Pernis v Kello : Slovaks keeping Scotland honest ..

Published by under Guest

I am pretty sure that fans of Slovak football will agree that this kind of article is what makes our blog tick; Andy Hudson, friend of the site, football traveller and all-round good bloke, travelled to Hearts v Dundee United and offered  to check out the Marian Kello v Dusan Pernis Slovak goalkeeping rivalry exclusively for Britski Belasi:

It was the battle of the Slovak number ones; two players who have been vital for their teams this season and who are now battling it out to heap pressure on the national team’s incumbent of the goalkeeping jersey, Jan Mucha. This battle wasn’t being played out in Slovakia though. It wasn’t even being played out in Eastern Europe. The battlefield was on the Gorgy Road in Edinburgh; the location was Tynecastle Stadium and Dusan Pernis’ Dundee United had travelled to the Scottish capital to take on Marian Kello’s Heart of Midlothian.

Kello, who won his first cap in the recent international against Luxembourg, has been in fantastic form over the last few months and has been one of the reasons why Hearts find themselves comfortably in third place; until consecutive defeats against the two teams above them, Celtic and Rangers, they even held hopes of gatecrashing the Old Firm’s grip on the table. The national team head coach Vladimir Weiss has been due to watch Kello, who at the time had kept six clean sheets out of the previous seven games, in December but the big freeze in the UK scuppered that plan.

Pernis was omitted from Weiss’ squad for the foggy game in Luxembourg, having previously been a member of the World Cup party and capped 3 times. During his first year in Scotland he was instrumental in Dundee United winning the Scottish FA Cup, consistently delivering top notch performances.

It was Kello who started as the busier Slovak on a cold Tynecastle day. Within five minutes he was picking the ball out of the net following a right wing United corner. Hesitating amongst a stuttering defence, Kello was beaten at his near post by a deft flick only for the referee to disallow the ‘goal’ due to some minor pushing. It wasn’t long before Kello was beaten again and this time there was no referee turning saviour. A right wing cross was met with a looping header from 9 yards out and Kello, caught in no-man’s land between his line and the forward, could only throw himself backwards as the ball casually arced over him and into the top corner of the goal.

Hearts came back into the game after falling behind but found Pernis in great form saving from Skacel when the forward was one-on-one and making a good save low down from an edge-of-the-box shot. Both ‘keepers noticeably instructed their defence to keep shape, especially Pernis who saw his captain, and United’s only fit centre back, limp off injured during the first half.

Throughout the match Pernis displayed great kicking and United launched a number of attacks as a result of their keeper hitting it long and accurate. Kello, after the poor start, proved to be quick off his line and confident with crosses.

The two Slovaks were crucial to the final score of 2-1 to Hearts. On the stroke of half-time Pernis spilled a tame shot straight to Skacel who stroked in the equaliser. The original shot had come from the right edge of the United box and Pernis, although down comfortably to collect the ball, allowed it to slip from his grasp; surprisingly considering the lack of pace on the shot. Hearts scored the winner with two minutes remaining when a Zaliukas header gave Pernis not chance.

However, the real drama was still to come. Deep in injury time the referee awarded a penalty to United. There were seconds remaining; the away side needed to convert to have a real chance of using their games in hand to catch up with Hearts in the table. But Hearts have Marian Kello. The penalty was hit firm; Kello’s palm, stretching upwards, proved firmer and won the points for his side.

At the final whistle it was Pernis who reached Kello first; little was said over a brief handshake. Kello believes he can improve as a player and be recognised further by his country and Pernis won’t give up his place in the national team without a fight. It was the Hearts man who came out on top this time but with both ‘keepers amongst the top three in Scotland it’s a fight that has plenty of running time left.

Andy Hudson is on Twitter, oh yes; follow him!  RIGHT HERE

Andy is also an inspirational groundhopper; he does grounds, he does them hard, and he ALWAYS  writes them up:  check out his blog, GANNIN’ AWAY

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Feb 10 2011

Slovakia humiliated in Luxembourg

Published by under Guest,International

While I’m far from delighted with the result, I am absolutely delighted to welcome Kirsten Schlewitz onto the blog.  Kirsten writes a lot of great football articles from her home in the USA and her footballing preferences are uncannily in line with us here at Britski Belasi.  Through her family origins, Kirsten follows Slovakia with particlar interest and this is the first, of hopefully a few, guest appearances on the blog:

When I was eight years old, my father and I drove around in what is commonly referred to as a “pea soup” fog before pulling into the driveway. We made it up to the door of the house before realizing we were at the wrong door. I share this story because that’s what it was like watching Slovakia play Luxembourg on Wednesday. By the second half, it was near impossible to see the ball, much less identify the players nearest it. But although Slovakia lost 2-1 to Luxembourg, the circumstances weren’t quite as dire as one might believe by simply reading the scoreline.

Due to my inability to see much of the match through the mist-o-death, this match report might not be as detailed as some might like. Yet on the plus side for many, you won’t be subject to a minute-by-minute account of how Miroslav Stoch looked in the last thirty minutes of the match, mostly because I never saw the player who has so firmly captured my heart. It all evens out, I suppose.

Much of the match was spent in utter frustration. Some of that came from the play on the field—particularly when the back line kept booting the ball up the pitch, only to send it straight to the Luxembourg keeper. The home defense held a high back line that kept any Slovakian player from pushing through to snatch one of these long balls. Soon, though, my frustration turned to the announcer on the Fox Soccer broadcast, who was unable to name a single Slovakia player, save for Róbert Vittek, for the first 24 minutes of the match. And as I’m sure you’re aware, Vittek was not on the pitch on Wednesday. Fans of Slovakia expecting a decent commentary in English are typically disappointed, but most of the time it’s at least expected that the announcer can identify the players. C’mon, Marek Hamšík? It’s not like he’s unknown, and half of the reason he’s known is for his hair. He’s fairly un-missable.

Anyway. The one true bright spot in the first half, and Slovakia’s sole scorer, was Erik Jendrišek. He was able to get himself into space and was the only Slovakia player to really trouble Luxembourg’s admittedly strong defense. The goal came in the 56th minute, off a beautiful cross that Hamšík hit on the volley. Jendrišek easily beat the Luxembourg defender (ok, I don’t know their names either, but I’m not paid to know) and slipped past the keeper to put the ball in the corner of the net. The rest of the Slovakia players went off to celebrate with Jendrišek but had difficulty locating him amidst the fog.

The celebration was short lived, anyway. Four minutes later, just as I got distracted by Miňo Stoch stripping down on the sidelines, Luxembourg’s substitute Daniel Da Mota scored. Luxembourg had been awarded a free kick and there was a scramble near the goal. Juraj Kucka, who had a pitiful match in every way, headed the ball straight to Da Mota’s feet, and the striker had no trouble poking it into the net.

Just a few minutes later, Kucka made way for Radoslav Zabavník while Vladimír Weiss, who also had a decent game, came off for Stoch, who promptly disappeared into the mist and made me sad. Then Peter Pekarík came off and František Kubík, earning his first cap for Slovakia and making certain fans of ADO Den Haag ecstatic, I’m sure, replaced him (I know there must have been tactical changes involved in these substitutions, but I challenge you to see them in the swirling fog). Finally, Marián Kello took the place of Ján Mucha. These substitutions, many of which would not occur in a competitive match, ultimately led to the goal and Luxembourg’s win.

It was Da Mota, again, who found the net for Luxembourg. He grabbed the ball and easily stepped around Zabavník. Kello, on the pitch for just a few minutes, decided to run toward the play rather than staying in front of goal, left the net wide open. It was a simple goal for Da Mota, but one that likely would not have occurred had Mucha still been in the net.

And that’s how the score stayed: 2-1 Luxembourg, with both goals courtesy of Da Mota. It looks bad, I know. After all, Luxembourg are at the bottom of Euro Group D, their only point coming from a draw with Belarus.  While the fog shouldn’t be used as an excuse, the conditions were truly horrible. Add to that the fact that almost every one of the referee’s calls went in favor of the home team, and the last minute substitutions that caused a few mental breakdowns in defense…well, the loss really isn’t a surprise, when evaluated that way. Yet bringing in, say, Milan Lalkovič certainly wouldn’t go amiss. The youngster’s speed and precision in front of goal could have put Slovakia ahead much earlier on in the match, and saved the team from having to use the fog as an excuse.

Oh, and if you’re still upset with Slovakia’s loss to Luxembourg, take a look at this photo:

The night before the match, Vladi Weiss decided to teach his teammates how to play Monopoly, and share the results on Twitter. On Wednesday morning, he declared himself the Monopoly champion. So Slovakia have one victory on their side this week. Any thoughts as to whether Daddy Weiss needs to pull his “Get Out Of Jail Free” card? (Thank @Napoli_Blogger for the horrible pun).

Follow Kirsten on Twitter here

And be sure to check out her excellent blog here

(yes I’m Villa-inclined too Kirsten!)

4 responses so far

Feb 04 2011

Rangers v Hearts; Weiss v Kello, who impressed more?

Published by under European,Guest

As demonstrated here, Slovak footballers are certainly spread far and wide throughout European football.  It was 13 years ago that arguably one of the country’s best ever exports, Lubo Moravcik moved to Celtic and what a player he became North of the border.   Based on his legacy, you would expect compatriot and one of Slovakia’s best young talents, Vladimir Weiss to be welcomed with open arms by followers of the game in Scotland.

Certainly Weiss’ talent and potential was recognised early as Man City picked him up at the age of 16 from Inter Bratislava. Weiss made just one first team appearance for City and was loaned out to Bolton where a few decent performances started to make people take notice.  However he always seemed struggle with the physical side of the game, and never quite managed to fully establish himself, even at Bolton.


I for one thought Weiss new loan move to Rangers this season was a good one.  In Scotland there will still be matches of the intensity of the English Premier League but Weiss should be able to hold down a regular starting spot, get more time on the ball and start to show his class against some of the weaker opposition in the league.

What makes Weiss playing in the SPL even more interesting for followers of Slovak football is that both Dundee United and Hearts have Slovak goalkeepers on their books.  Andy Hudson travelled to Glasgow v Hearts and after a few beers last week agreed to pay a little closer attention to both Weiss and Marian Kello who is arguably the in-form keeper in Scotland at the moment and report back to the site.

I’m delighted to post Andy’s report and I’m sure Rangers fans will also have plenty to say on the form of Vladi Weiss this season, enjoy!

Vladimir Weiss is a player with a big reputation. Turning down Stuttgart, Sampdoria and Celtic to sign on loan for the Scottish champions, Rangers, Weiss was expected to have a storming season on loan. With this in mind I made the trip to Glasgow to see him in action for Rangers against Hearts.

The first thing I noticed about Weiss was his reluctance to ‘get stuck in’. On a wet and windy evening at Ibrox there were a number of meaty tackles flying around. Weiss seemed to avoid being hit through some neat, one touch, play. He played out wide and was relied upon to deliver quality free kicks.

The problem he had was that he drifted out of the game on a regular basis.Rangers were fairly poor, despite winning 1-0, so it may be that he suffered largely because of that and the inability his team mates to pick up a quick, passing game. There was a general feeling in the stands that he should have been getting in the mix a lot more than he was. What is a definite is that he has so far scored in a quarter of his appearances – 5 goals from 20 games is a good return for a wide midfielder.

The Slovak who did stand out at Ibrox was the Hearts ‘keeper, Marian Kello. Kello was selected in the Slovakia squad for the first time for the forthcoming match against Luxembourg. This was following a string of fine performances, especially in a victory against Rangers in January, that have seen Hearts rise up the table and at one stage being talked up as possible title challengers.

Although Kello wasn’t tested on too many occasions he organised his defence well, communicating with them throughout, and displayed safe handling in difficult weather conditions. His kicking was suspect at times, though the wind was a contributing factor, but considering his confidence in coming off his line the opinion of him can definitely be classed as positive. At the age of 28 he’s coming up to the prime years of his career and has already played almost as many games this season as he has in the previous two seasons when he was on loan from FBK Kaunas. A call up to the national team and continuing the improved performances that has turned him into a Hearts favourite could see Kello enjoying a fine, if slightly delayed career.

As mentioned by Andy, Weiss & Kello will be teammates next week as they meet on Monday in Luxembourg ahead of Slovakia’s next friendly game on Wednesday.  Britski Belasi will of course be reporting on their, and the rest of the squad’s performances, although one hopes it will be Weiss who is the busier of the two in that match.

Andy is a passionate football traveller and writer.  Check out his excellent blog Gannin’ Away and be sure to follow him on Twitter, right here.

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