A big day in the north

11 06 2015

FC United 0 SL Benfica 1
Broadhurst Park’s official opening
29/5/15

This day wasn’t just a fantastic occasion for British semi-pro football, it was a notable event for lots of people in lots of places.

More articulate people than me told us about Broadhurst Park’s fantastic story in the week leading up to the match so I don’t need to bother with all that. You can read David Conn or Amy Lawrence on the BBC or this brilliant blogpost by one of the club’s founder members. I was swept along by the emotion of the day so you’ll have to rely on a more emotionally sober review of the day to gain a feel of what happened.

What I can say is that I had what I might call “an FC United moment” during this match.

In the days before the match a thread on FC’s message board told us that a special edition of Under the Boardwalk had been produced. I loved that fanzine, I thought that it would be nice to have a copy. I pictured a bloke clutching a fistful of fanned out copies, a box at his feet and a knowing smile upon his welcoming face.

Sadly I couldn’t see anyone matching my preconceptions outside the ground. I asked a programme seller but they knew nothing.  I asked the board member by the main entrance but he’d only read the same message board thread as me, I asked a half time draw ticket seller but they didn’t know anything, the bouncers at the clubhouse door didn’t know what a fanzine was and the people in the under the terrace bar hadn’t seen a copy. I accepted that the fanzine was an in the know kind of thing and went to the back of the terrace

At half time I saw a bloke carrying what looked like a mythical fanzine so I sidled up to him.  He’d bought in the pub but he didn’t know if they were selling it in the ground. Even though he was going to send his copy to his brother in Australia he thrust it into my hands.

I tried to protest, I tried to give it back to him, I tried to plead his brother’s case, I tried to give him my programme, I even tried to pay him for it but he wouldn’t accept money. He just said that his relatives and mates would probably have bought his brother about 12 copies. Even though I was deeply embarrassed I was genuinely touched by the thoughtfulness of someone that I’d never met. On the other hand, you’d have to be a proper heartless bastard not be touched by a gesture like that.

This wasn’t quite the way I’d envisaged obtaining a copy of the fanzine. I knew couldn’t deprive someone of a fanzine like this, I couldn’t leave this kind of gaping social wound. I knew the fanzine existed now so I went on the hunt for other copies, there had to be other copies. At the bottom of the steps I saw more people with the fanzine. I asked where they’d got their copies and, more importantly, whether there were any left.

The bloke’s reply was like sunshine “Yeah the lad was over there not long ago, I think he’s got another box of them, I’ll go and find him, how many did you want?” I paid for a copy and went to search for the other fanzine’s erstwhile owner, luckily he was still in the same spot. He thanked me profusely. I felt even happier than he did, karma had balanced itself. I could sleep now.

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Hope lies in the proles

22 05 2015

A fortnight ago I had a fantastic Thursday evening. The irritating Tory advertising boards of north Wales ate my dust on the road to the Super Furry Animals.

Everything about that Manchester evening was fantastic, the Albert Hall’s scuffed glamour, the stained glass windows, the support act, the sound, the slowly descending dusk, the SFA, the woolly hat I bought, the mental trip back to 1997, absolutely everything.

The world felt like a hopeful place as we walked back to the car park on Oxford Road, the fact the gig took place across the road from the site of the Peterloo massacre wasn’t even an omen.

I got home at about twenty to one and turned on the television for a hopeful taste of a hung parliament.

Labour had already won three seats. Hip hip hooray!

I wondered how many Labour MPs there would be.

BBC Wales’ presenter wasn’t saying much, or I wasn’t listening, so I swapped to BBC 2.

Dimbleby was excitedly telling us about an exciting exit poll.

The exciting exit poll indicated that the Tories were due for a majority.

I listened in hope for another 5 minutes but the words melted together.

After hearing the phrase exit poll for the twelfth time I went to bed thoroughly disenchanted and exceedingly worried.

Six hours later I awoke with a deep sense of foreboding.

I went downstairs and turned on the TV.

Dimbleby was correct.

The pundits were very excited about a historic turn of events.

I was completely devastated.

It got worse.

The area of north Wales that I call home was completely blue on the BBC’s computerised hexagonal map.

I checked teletext.

Chris Ruane had lost his seat to a GP standing for the NHS privatising Tories. A GP STANDING FOR THE NHS PRIVATISNG TORIES.

I checked the internet; Ruane had lost his seat by 237 votes.

I was sickened to the bottom of the pit of my stomach.

The bleak mid spring election fueled a progression in my state of mind. Friday’s mental rollercoaster went as follows; shock > depression > disenchantment > numbness.

It wasn’t just the general result that got to me it was the completely sickening result in my constituency. The Labour AM Ann Jones penned this tribute to our lost MP.

My tribute to my friend and comrade, Chris Ruane.

I have been humbled and honoured to work with Chris Ruane for the past three decades. I remember with fondness the night he was elected as the MP in 1997, when I was his election agent. Over the following years, Chris’ dedication to his constituents has been unwavering. As a local councillor and then as Member of Parliament, Chris has made such an enormous contribution to improving and strengthening our communities. He has made a significant impact on a national and a local level.

He has been a passionate advocate for those most in need of a champion. He has worked with real vigour to see investment in our towns, and his legacy is littered with achievements. We have worked together as colleagues to save local services, bring prosperity and regeneration to the local area, and to bring change on a national level.

All that know him will know how warm, funny and kind Chris has always been, no matter what. I am proud of the dignified way he has dealt with the results of the election. It is a testament to his outstanding character and incredible strength. Our communities will be worse off for losing this dedicated public servant and champion of the our local area. I also send my thoughts to Chris’ staff who have worked tirelessly and now enter a uncertain period of their lives.

I thank Chris Ruane for his incredible service to our local area and to public life. For the past eighteen years, Chris has never forgotten his Rhyl roots. From Rhydwen Drive to Westminster, Chris’ politics have been shaped by his background and he has never been afraid to fight for what is right. Whatever he decides to do from here, he will have my full support.

The election results are deeply troubling. The new majority Conservative government’s ideological obsession with shrinking the state and making pernicious welfare cuts will mean the next five years will be harder than the last. Vicious cuts to the Welsh block grant will put many of the public services we cherish at risk.

I will continue to stand up for fairness, decency and social justice as the local Labour Assembly Member. As Chris will tell you, it is the highest privilege you can have to represent your constituents and I pledge to everyone right across the Vale of Clwyd that I will continue the work we have done to date and stand up for our communities as we enter a period which for many will be an enormous struggle. While we have suffered a setback, the struggle for equality, liberty and fairness goes on.

I once had the displeasure of a twitter debate with a Tory politician from our area. I would say that he was something else but that wouldn’t mean very much, I suspect that most Tories are “something else”. Despite the clear effect of austerity measures upon Welsh Assembly’s budget Labour AMs were to blame for every problem in Wales, especially the NHS and effect of Westminster budget cuts. He breezily added that the austerity measures in Westminster were absolutely necessary however due to Labour’s well-known profligacy. This brand of logical punitive pessimism now covered the north Wales coast like mildew.

When I was younger Rhyl was a mini-Blackpool, in 2015 the resort is unloved by both casual observer and snooty north Walian. The fun fair closed in 2007 and local government budget cuts forced the Sun Centre to close last year. At least half of the once gaudy promenade is now a mould grey mixture of apartment buildings and spare ground.

Pubs have closed, night clubs have literally gone, the high street has lost many familiar names and scary levels of urban deprivation scar parts of this once vibrant place. Like all unprofitable towns Rhyl is the end product of Thatcherite logic.

Most north Walians have experienced this alarming decline. When I write “this alarming decline” I don’t mean the abstract concept that people like Toby Young write about in newspaper articles, I mean real heartbreaking decline.

Not only has our constituency lost a decent MP we’re now represented by the party that views its residents with utter contempt. The implication of the voters’ choice was quite disturbing.

Over the following weekend bubbling anger replaced numbness. The Tories had hoodwinked voters with seductive negativity. I know it’s easy to say this but it doesn’t make it any less true. The people that voted for the Tories are responsible for the Tory victory, they allowed themselves to be hoodwinked.

In the post-election demoralisation some commentators told us that we’re not really allowed to blame ordinary everyday hardworking working people for the nasty party’s victory. They give us plenty of other reasons;

Ordinary everyday hardworking working people naturally dislike immigrants,

Cultural Marxists had negatively labelled the ordinary everyday hardworking working people that hate immigrants without good reason,

Labour lacked a credible leader,

Labour were too right wing,

Labour were too left wing,

Labour forgot their roots,

Labour took their core vote for granted,

Labour’s voters didn’t turn out,

The Scots created a negative atmosphere with their quest for revolution,

The media created the wrong atmosphere,

The ordinary everyday hardworking working people are entitled to their ordinary everyday hardworking working people opinions,

Blah,

Blah,

Blah,

Blah.

None of these cast iron explanations explains why so many people decided to place a cross in the Tory box.

The people that voted for the Tories are to blame for the simple reason that they voted for them. We know what we’ll get with the Tories because their negative view of human nature has conditioned them to peddle pessimism. Their pessimism was even stronger this time. The Tory voters knew what they were voting for.

They were able to deal with the media coverage. They knew what the Tories had done and what they hoped to do. They knew the Tories don’t want to regulate the market economy or end non-dom status or punish bankers, they knew the Tories are going to target vulnerable people on benefits, they knew the Tories want to force people into jobs with zero hour contracts, ahem “flexible working arrangements”, they knew the Tories want to privatise the NHS. They knew they were voting for the Tories’ putrid ideas. They knew they were voting for selfish pessimism. They chose potential tax cuts above everything else. They were able to weigh things up, make a reasoned choice and they still chose the Tories’ putrid ideas. Knowing that you live amongst such brazen selfishness is more than depressing.

If we look further afield than north Wales it looks even worse, vast swathes of disaffected Labour die hards are said have become UKIP voters. They featured one of these characters – a sandwich shop owner from the north west England – on the first post election Wednesday edition of Newsnight. She justified her switch by talking about immigration, other etceteras and the occasion her Labour candidate looked at the UKIP sign in her sandwich shop and walked off quickly. The owner was miffed that the candidate hadn’t come in to her shop to try and personally convince her about Labour or something.

These people not only think they have the divine right to publically express their idiotic prejudices they think their prejudices should be taken seriously. Until these people realise they’re completely wrong in their choice of concerns they deserve nothing but derision. I don’t care if this sounds harsh, these people think about the problems caused by capitalism and see answers in a party led an ex-merchant banker, they worry about our society’s complex issues and find answers in the words of incoherent populists.

By missing the point so spectacularly these people let the real politicians off the hook by allowing the wrong points to gain traction. Knowing that you live amongst Tory faced people is one thing, suspecting that you not very far from these unreal people is quite something else.

I refuse to understand how Labour’s so-called failed approach can be used as a justification for choosing a party that’s almost the polar opposite of core Labour values. If you can switch from values of the left to the right so easily why were you a true Labour supporter in the first place? It’s simple, if you want a humane society it is wrong to dislike people you’ve never met simply because they’re foreign or non-white. I imagine that these people wouldn’t like complete strangers abusing them for no reason in particular.

The report asked how Labour could win back these people but why would Labour, or any progressive party, need supporters that are vehemently against immigrants? These people should be ashamed of themselves, our society needs solidarity not scapegoats.

Parties should attract people with their values rather than the drift net of gimmicky policies. If people took the time to meet the people involved with their local parties they would find that the local members generall shared the values of the party they joined. People moan about identikit parties but if parties bend towards the ever changing whims of the electorate they will all look the same, even more than they already do.

To return to the issue at hand. By the end of the first post-election weekend a sense of doom added a serrated edge to my now simmering anger. Our eloquent democracy had spoken and we all had to live with it. It was just a shame that our brief taste of democracy coincided with people’s poisonous thoughts about their fellow human beings. There were alternatives to the Tory frame of mind but outside Scotland the alternatives weren’t as popular as they should have been.

We have become passive spectators awaiting the horrors to come.

As we moved towards another weekend my thoughts remained a potent cocktail of doom and anger. I tried to look on the bright side but the pounding hangover provided flashbacks of the articles that appeared within hours of the exciting exit polls.

The Daily Telegraph published an article that had this title “Do we want better health care, or do we want to keep the NHS?and posed this question;

What does it matter if someone makes a profit out of health care?

Within hours of the Tory victory this appeared on the Independent.

DWP releases document on cuts to disabled work access scheme hours after election result.

Two days after the election this appeared in the Telegraph.

Finally, nothing is holding David Cameron back. So what will he do?

This was the Daily Mail’s front page the day after the election.

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You know it’s going to be bad when that “newspaper” twists the knife by revelling in their victory. Forget “bad”, things were actually going to become worse.

There are few things more stomach churning than the craven two faced piety of the self-proclaimed civilised right. Tory gloaters saw the typical reaction of the immature left in the vandalised war memorials, protesting anarchists and excrement covered windows of the first post-election weekend, “Did we act like that in 2005? they asked. Two days before their pious questions the gloaters voted for a party that applies a tax to poor people if they have an extra bedroom and  orders dead people to attend benefit assessments.

The atmosphere created by the self-interested is corrosive to everything. It protects the strongest and the richest, makes everyone subservient to the market economy as if it’s a natural state of affairs and turns people against each other.

Labour, our supposed side in the election, is forced to conform so they cannot be the party they should be, even though there’s a desperate need for them to be the party they should be. The minds of potential Labour leaders are lost in the market driven electoral maelstrom, they want their party to become even “more business friendly” while other Labour figures want their party to remove the last vestiges of their raison d’etre.

Amazingly some on the “left” think that we have tolerate prejudice because we have to understand them  and just have to live with they world they help to create. Bollocks to that, we should show their concern the contempt they deserve, we should demand better from our fellow citizens.

Whether or not Labour is impotent is immaterial people still voted Tory – a spoiled vote is still a vote – and there absolutely no excuse for viewing the world with Tory eyes;

“Since the crash, British politics has been one epic act of misdirection. Lay off those bankers who shoved the country into penury! Just focus on stripping disabled people of their benefits. Never mind the millionaire bosses squeezing your pay! Spit instead at the minimum-wage migrant cleaners apparently making us poorer. So ingrained is the ritual that when a minister strides into view urging the need for “a grown-up debate”, we brace ourselves for another round of Blame the Victim. The only question is who gets sacrificed next: some ethnic minority, this family on low pay, that middle-aged dad who can’t get a job.

Here is how political misdirection works in real time. Yesterday, Unite’s Len McCluskey came under a barrage of criticism for suggesting that Labour live up to its name and support “ordinary working people”. Evil paymaster! Meanwhile, on the front page of this paper, digger firm JCB called on David Cameron to prepare to take Britain out of the EU – and this was just a company having its say.”

A day after the election the prime minister stood proudly at the VE Day commemorations. 70 years ago Britons lived in a  virtually destitute bomb damaged country and yet they made a more hopeful choice at their election, in the less trying conditions of 2015 people voted for naked self-interest, and people say that we live in a civilised country.

For better or worse Britain is my home, the place I’ve lived all my life, the place where the people I care about live but Britain didn’t feel home in the week after the election. I was surrounded by selfish bastards, how could I look my fellow citizens in the face? They will have voted Tory. Britain, my septic island home, was now poised on the precipice of despair in the Valley of Our Souls. Hope was a foreign country in a galaxy far, far away.

I hope most of this post has come across like a bitter rant because at the moment I’m rather bitter, as someone said in work last week, I hope these Tories don’t moan about the NHS in five years time.

Just over a week from my last visit to Manchester I went back. Two slabs of hope bookended a period of almost shattering despair. After about 30 minutes in central Manchester the week of existential purgatory was over. Manchester’s vibrancy perked me up, all was not lost. The Socialist Worker stall was full of angered hope, FC United’s ground pointed to the success of another way. I didn’t need to wallow in thoughts of spiritual loss, life was still there! 2020 is a long way off but there was hope.

Hope lies in the proles, but you need to do better, much better. Get your arses in gear for fuck’s sake.





Some Matches

17 05 2015

York City 1 Cheltenham Town 0
League Two
3/4/15

I saw the last ten minutes of the match, we were on a coach trip and the coach park was nearby.

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FC United of Manchester 1 Curzon Ashton 1
Northern Premier League
6/4/15

A win was needed for the promotion push, a win didn’t arrive.

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Wales 1 Slovakia 2
Women’s international friendly
8/4/15

Wales didn’t win.

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Witton Albion 0 FC United of Manchester 0
Northern Premier League
11/4/15

A win was needed for the promotion push, a win didn’t arrive.

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Bangor City 1 Connah’s Quay 2
Welsh Premier League
12/4/15

We lost another match to Connah’s Quay and they’re terrible. I don’t know what we’ve done to deserve the ignominy.

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Bangor University v Aberystwyth University (I don’t care what the score was)
2015 Varsity Thing
18/4/15

Posh students, wearing a “University Golf Club” jacket and slip on shoes, bantered about the opposition’s goalkeeper’s mother being a whore, too many unnaturally confident young people called me mate. I was a steward and the experience was worst I’ve had in this interminable Nantporth season by a considerable distance.

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Prestatyn Town 1 Bangor City 3
Welsh Premier League
19/4/15

Bangor City safe on the pitch. Prestatyn gone, good riddance, too many chips on too many shoulders.

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Bangor City 4 Rhyl 3
Welsh Premier League
26/4/15

The most exciting match I’ve seen all season, Bangor’s two late late goals looked to have prevented Rhyl’s European play-off hopes. The convoluted FAW ideas mean that the issue wouldn’t become clear until after the Welsh Cup final.

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Llandudno Albion 3 Rhyl Town 1
Some Cup
1/5/15

It’s not often that you watch a match and think “I can do that”, today was the day I could say that.

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FC United of Manchester 3 Invitational XI 2
Test Event for Broadhurst Park
16/5/15

I’ve never been to a test event before, I hope there all as good for the soul as this one was.

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Nearly four years ago I missed a football match

10 05 2015

Just over four years ago Bangor City became the champions of Wales, nearly four years ago Bangor City played in the champions league, nearly four years ago I missed a football match.

My story starts with a Swiss draw, in a Swiss town, near a lake, in Switzerland…………

15th June 2011

Before today the outcome of the European draw and getting to the away leg were my main worries, at some point today “will I be allowed to put my flags on display?” crept into my collection.

The flags of the Jet Set slant from a certain direction and they are tolerated in Britain’s septic isle through support, bewilderment and indifference. Would they gain the same reception “on the continent”?

The problem is that flags have “varied, wide-ranging interpretations”, both decent left-wing fans and Cro-Magnon right-wing fans use flags. Take this example;

UEFA’s Disciplinary Committee had fined FK Dinamo Zagreb 20,000 Euros because Zagreb fans had waved the Macedonian flag!

The Croatian public are stunned by this bizarre punishment and can not believe the European footballing body would be this unprofessional and racist. Dinamo Zagreb fans waved the Macedonian flag in their UEFA match against Greek based club PAOK”

The Greek government disputes Macedonia’s right to call themselves Macedonia. Hence Macedonia has to be called The “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” in the United Nations. The Dinamo Zagreb fans were obviously using the Macedonian flags to make a point. Will my flags excite a few emotions?

My own experience has shown that you have to be careful with flags “on the continent”.

– In 2006 I was prevented from displaying this flag in Graz because a steward told me it was “too politisch!!”. It was probably my fault, Wales were playing Trinidad & Tobago and I should have realised that Jack Warner didn’t want his eyeballs burned.

– In 2003 I was waiting for another member of the Jet Set outside the San Siro when two Carmarthen fans walked past displaying their flag. Two muscle-bound ultras tried to steal it. Fortunately their leader forced them to return it.

– In 2007  I went to watch Shelborne v Dundalk on the eve of the Ireland V Wales match in Croke Park and I was nearly the victim of a theft;

“Did anyone come across any Welsh at Tolka?? “

– “There was a ‘llandudno jet set’ flag at the corner of the riverside and ballybough end”

“That the s.kooligans spent the whole half planning to steal…”

And then there was the Montenegrin experience of my mate Phil;

“You might want to get in early.You might also want to keep your flags until you’re inside the stadium. The Ultras value them as trophies and this photo emerged of the stolen Welsh flags being displayed upside down after the game – the Ultras message that they “won” the fight.

I’ve heard that some were taken by Dickensian street urchins being paid by the older mob to dive and run off with the flags hanging outside bars. Other stories suggest the Ultras were a bit more brazen and simply beat up anybody who protested.”

Caution seems to be the approach as you’ll never know who’ll take offence, or even just take the flag. I don’t want to become the victim of a  vicious attack and I don’t want to cause a diplomatic incident.

I sense my flags could cause offence if we drew the wrong club. Two of the flags feature the hammer and sickle and half of the clubs that Bangor can draw are from “behind the iron curtain”.

BATE Borisov Belarus
Maccabi Haifa Israel 
Dinamo Zagreb Croatia
Rosenborg Norway
APOEL Cyprus
Wisła Kraków Poland
Litex Lovech Bulgaria 
Viktoria Plzeň Czech Republic
Slovan Bratislava Slovakia
Sturm Graz Austria
FK Partizan Serbia
HJK Helsinki  Finland
Ekranas  Lithuania
Maribor Slovenia
Zestafoni Georgia (country)
Malmö FF  Sweden
Shamrock Rovers Republic of Ireland

The fans of these clubs might see an unwelcome reminder of Stalinist tyranny. I imagine that my feeble protestations about the hammer and sickle’s other connotations – Anti-Stalinist POUM in the Spanish Civil War or Eurocommunism –  wouldn’t placate irate ultras shouting at me in a language I can’t understand.  On a similar note one of the flags contains the Palestinian flag, I wouldn’t imagine that the followers of the Israeli club would be happy at seeing that. (Whether I’d go there in the first place is a moot point).

With this in mind I thought it sensible to check whether the fans of our possible opponents might have a problem with my socialist flags (and then hope to avoid them.)

Dinamo Zagreb

“It was brought to the attention of Celtic Fans Against Fascism that there have been increasing numbers of Dinamo Zagreb’s hooligan gang – the Bad Blue Boys – making visits to Glasgow and following Celtic in Europe in recent seasons. Much of the information available about the Bad Blue Boys suggests that they are predominantly right-wing in political outlook and have an extreme nationalist and Nazi element among their support.

On at least two separate occasions over the years the BBB have attacked our anti-fascist friends from St Pauli at Celtic’s European matches (in Zagreb and Budapest). The attacks were politically motivated. The BBB know St Pauli’s anti-fascist reputation and attacked them because of it.”

Wisla Krakow (and this is from a Krakow tourist website.)

“Unfortunately there is a dark side to Polish football. The rivalry between Wisla and Cracovia is so bitter and idiotic that it often descends into bouts of intense violence amongst the supporters, sometimes involving unlucky bystanders, so take our advice and try to steer clear of any fans on derby days! In general, avoid red-and-white stripes (Cracovia) or stars (Wisla) on your clothing, too. An additional blot on Polish football is that the few black players plying their trade here are often subjected to mindless verbal abuse from the fans. It’s a sad reminder that there is long way to go before we kick racism out of football (or the country in general).”

Slovan Bratislava

“On Friday 20th April (2007) a group of supporters of SK Slovan Bratislava displayed a banner to celebrate the birthday of Adolf Hitler.

The banner carried the words Alles Gute Adi (“Happy birthday Adolf”) and a smiley face in a form of Adolf Hitler. The letter S in this sign was replaced by a sigurnia – a symbol used as a sign for SS units.

This incident took place at the league match against FC Senec (1:1). Slovan supporters also were chanting “racist, fascist, hooligans, repeated several times.

This was not, however, an isolated incident connected with Slovan Ultras supporters. They are infamous for their similar racist and fascist behaviour – at a match with Artmedia Petrzalka on April 7th, in Bratislava, the same group of ultras chanted monkey noises directed at the German-born Karim Guede, who playes for Togo and as a defensive midfielder for Artmedia.

The approach of club officials and players is also quite disturbing. Players of SK Slovan greeted and clapped their supporters after the match. Slovan Ultras also published an article describing their meeting with club officials, which took place a couple of days after the match with Artmedia. The article says that the meeting was held in a very friendly atmosphere and they have been praised for their support for the SK Slovan team and received support for their activities from the club officials.

Not a word about the racist chanting, which happened at the same match, and not a word about the nazi symbols.”

And there’s this from November 2008;

“Bratislava – More than 50 people were injured in nationalistic-fuelled violence at a football game in south-western Slovakia. Thirty-one people were arrested in Saturday’s rioting – 18 fans for the home team in Dunajska Streda, one of the most important centres for Slovakia’s ethnic Hungarian minority, and 13 from the away team from Bratislava, a police spokeswoman in Bratislava said.

Violence had been feared ahead of the championship game between AC Dunajska Streda and Slovan Bratislava as hundreds of football hooligans and neo-Nazis from Hungary were expected to travel to the match. “

APOEL (taken from Nicos Trimikliniotis’ article; “Preventing racism, xenophobia and related intolerance in sport across the European Union”)

“Despite the ethnic division of the country for the last years, even to this day the ‘left-wing’ teams (Omonia, AEL, Alki and Nea Salamina) retain supporters amongst Turkish-Cypriots, whilst the ‘right-wing’ teams (APOEL, Anorthosis, Olympiakos, Apollon) are generally seen as nationalistic and some their supporters carry the Greek Flags to the matches, whilst in their banners one may often see far right-wing symbols.

The display of Greek flags causes tension with left-leaning fans;

“AN OMONIA FC fan burnt the Greek flag on Sunday during the Nicosia football derby with archrivals APOEL, seemingly worsening the overly hostile climate between the supporters of the two clubs.

At the capital’s GSP stadium it appeared as if two different worlds had met: on the APOEL side — whose fan base is traditionally right-wing — there was a plethora of Greek flags being waved while on the Omonia side none were on display by its mostly left-wing supporters.

That was until an Omonia fan pulled out a Greek flag from his pocket and proceeded to light it on fire. The incident occurred just a few minutes into the….”

There is also this;

“APOEL is known to be a bastion of Disy supporters, the right-wing party now in opposition. An unofficial website proclaims the team is “100 per cent anti-communist“.

FK Partizan

It’s difficult to find evidence but it’s probably safe to assume that because their ultras chose the name “The Gravediggers” – with sub-groups called “Anti-Romi” and “Irriducibili NBG” – their fans probably aren’t too liberal.

The other clubs in the draw don’t seem to carry baggage. For example Malmo FF;

“MFF Support describes itself as “an idealistic and non-political association working against violence and racism“.

Looking at the flag situation it’s possible to deduce the following;

1. The left-wing connotations of my flags could enrage the fans of Dinamo Zagreb, Slovan Bratislava, APOEL, FK Partizan and Wisla Krakow so they’re are ruled out.

2. The Palestinian flag could enrage so this rules out Maccabi Haifa

3. The hammer and sickle could offend so the clubs from ex-state-socialist countries – BATE Borisov, Dinamo Zagreb, Wisła Kraków, Litex Lovech, Viktoria Plzeň, Slovan Bratislava, FK Partizan, Ekranas, Maribor and Zestafoni – are ruled out.

4. Sturm Graz are ruled out because of the over-zealous stewarding

The choice is down to; Malmo FF, Shamrock Rovers, Rosenborg and HJK Helsinki.

I’d go for Shamrock Rovers but I actually don’t care which of the four it is, well as long we play the second leg away on the Wednesday. Work-related you see.

17th June

Today I sent this e-mail to my hero Michel Platini, I hope it does some good….

“Cher Monsieur Platini,

On Monday Bangor City will finally take their place in the ante-chamber of the room containing the top table of European football and we cannot wait to taste the detritus of reflected glory. I say “finally” because the vicissitudes of UEFA’s blue sky thinking meant that Wales was once considered bereft of a televisual market capable of producing adequate revenue streams. As a result Bangor City was cruelly shifted to an adjacent property with smaller tables in 1994 and 1995.

But do not fear monsieur, that’s ancient history and we Bangor fans have suppressed the injustice deep within. At present we Bangor fans are too busy awaiting the draw with all of the enthusiasm that is humanly possible to worry about ancient history. We cannot sleep for thinking of the tantalising possibilities that the draw provides. Actually monsieur it is because of the draw that I am writing to you. I am asking for two points to be considered.

My first point is that I would like Bangor to be drawn at home in the first leg. If we are drawn away I can’t go due to the timing of the school holidays – As Eric might have said to Andrew Preview; “I have all the right holidays but not necessarily at the right times!!!”

My second point is that I would like a kind draw. I do not mean this in terms of the opposition’s playing strength (although this would be nice). I am referring to the proposed displays of the Bangor City flag drapers. Please indulge me on this point as experience has shown that one has to be careful with flags “on the continent”.

– In 2006 I was prevented from displaying a flag in Graz because a steward told me it was “Too Politisch!!”
– In 2003 I was waiting for a friend outside the San Siro when two muscle-bound ultras ripped a big  flag  from the clutches of two Carmarthen fans.
– In 2007 I went to watch Shelborne v Dundalk and I was nearly the victim of flag theft.
– In Montenegro Ultras value stolen flags as trophies and this was witnessed by my friend Phil

I don’t want to become the victim of a vicious attack or cause a diplomatic incident I just want to fly my flags. Unfortunately I sense my flags could cause offence if we drew the fans of the following clubs;

Dinamo Zagreb are “….predominantly right-wing in political outlook and have an extreme nationalist and Nazi element among their support.

Wisla Krakow – “Unfortunately there is a dark side to Polish football. The rivalry between Wisla and Cracovia is so bitter and idiotic that it often descends into bouts of intense violence amongst the supporters, sometimes involving unlucky bystanders…..”

Slovan Bratislava – In April 2007 a group of their supporters displayed a banner carried the words “Alles Gute Adi (“Happy birthday Adolf”) and a smiley face in a form of Adolf Hitler.

APOEL – They are known to be a bastion of DISY supporters, the right-wing party now in opposition. An unofficial website proclaims the team is “100 per cent anti-communist“.

FK Partizan – They’re mates with Rhyl F.C.

Please bare the fact I want to avoid these clubs in mind when you’re performing the draw Monsieur Platini. If it’s not too much trouble I’d also like you to bare in mind the following points as well.

The hammer and sickle flag could offend fans of clubs from ex-state-socialist countries as they might see it as a reminder of Stalinist tyranny, not as a symbol of POUM or Eurocommunism. I don’t posses the requisite language skill to debate the point.

I have another flag that contains the Palestinian flag and  I can imagine this might enrage Israelis; please can we avoid Maccabi Haifa?

I don’t want to go to Sturm Graz either because of the over-zealous stewarding

Monsieur Platini this leaves us with; Malmo FF, Shamrock Rovers, Rosenborg and HJK Helsinki as suitable candidates. Please try to make it one of them!

Please remember that your schedule from last season cost me a holiday, you owe me!!!

Yours in Football,

The Llandudno Jet Set”

19th June

Today I received a response from le grand Michel. It was a shame I couldn’t understand most of it.

“Cher Llandudno Jet Set

“Non, non, non. Je ne regrette de rien.

Les Pays de Galles est nul, Vous Welshies n’êtes rien. You are the sweat from ze Baboon’s bottom ha ha ha ha ha.

Comment vous vont-elles les aiment-elles les pommes, connard?

Bonnet de douche et bonne chance.

M. Platini”

I put it through Google translate…………What a rotter! I may have to admit defeat in my quest for justice.

On the other hand if Michel costs me a holiday for the second year in a row because of UEFA’ s inherent anti-Welsh racism I’ll be sending him a shoebox full of dogshit through the post.

20th June

Today was the draw, here’s a run through.

6:55 am – I wake up with a head full of unshakable bleakness.

8:20 am – I walk to work in the lovely summer sun. The joy I should be feeling is masked by a discernible darkness.

9.40 am – I log on to UEFA’s website to check the time of the draw – Midday CET – and check if they’ve managed to include Bangor City – They have –  a sense of impeding doom clouded everything.

10:35 am – I get final confirmation from our man in the know that Bangor are in a mini group of 12. We can draw BATE, Rosenborg, Wisla Krakow, HJK Helsinki, Malmo or Shamrock Rovers.

I have two emotions; Anger (Platini didn’t listen to me) and hope (I’m not asking much; Shamrock Rovers, home leg first, both matches on Wednesdays). The darkness starts to have a silver lining. My sun is rising!

11:05 am – Second qualifying round draw commences. My sun is back, bring me sunshine, bring me Shamrock!!!!

11:19 am – HJK Helsinki v Bangor City. Jesus Finland again. We are away first. I can’t go.

My worst fears are confirmed, I have a mental eclipse.

11:20 am – Despair has descended, Platini actually hates me.

11:34 am –  HJK’s intellectuals start leaving messages on Bangor City’s main message board;

– “What do you think the next happen now? RAPE TIME!”

“HAMMERTIME! will be a knockout in the first leg. “

– “Listen now you cunts! You’re shit and you now you are. I say that 5,6,7-0 atHelsinkiand maybe a draw away. I’m sorry but you don’t stand a change. You somehow won against Honka but you most certainly wonät win against us!”

“It’s rapetime! Bangor’s pub fatties will be in big trouble.”

– “It’s barbeque time!”

“We have Litmanen, Jari Litmanen! You have fatties, pub fatties!”

– “massage it with an egg! HJK to win on 9-1 aggregate.”

“Be careful when you arrive to Helsinki. This time it will not be funny village team in the forrest like Honka was. HJK is a huge club and they have notorious firm called sakilaiset. Avoid them if you can: http://youtu.be/DcpI16NQTNQ

– “We have won professional teams 5-0, 5-1 and 6-2 so far this season so I can’t see no reason why we wouldn’t hammer an amateur team on the field.”

“Most of your players are at work now and meanwhile inHelsinki.. The professional players are on the training field practicing for the next game.”

Some sentiments may be lost in translation but I like the sound of “massage it with an egg.”

12:09 pm – The more sensible HJK fans get involved;

–  “I think most of the trolls you’re getting at the moment have nothing to do with HJK and more with you humiliating Honka last year.

Granted HJK is the most hated team inFinland(23 times champion). We expect to go through from this draw, but past results have shown there is no room for arrogance. See you in Helsinki and Wrexham?” 

“Welcome toHelsinkiand friendly apart from those monkeys like sakilaiset”! Most of the people will be nice”

12:35 pm – I curse the soul of Monsieur Platini.

12:50 pm – I curse the soul of Lennart Johnansson.

12:55 pm – I curse the soul of Artemio Franchi.

1:05 pm – I curse the soul of David Cameron.

1:30 pm – I curse the soul of Jamie Redknapp.

2:00 pm – I curse the soul of Harry Redknapp.

2:30 pm – I curse the soul of Louise Redknapp, and Tim Lovejoy.

3:00 pm – Our man on the inside tells me that they’ve switched the ties around. Now we are at home in the first match. Now I can go! NOW I CAN FUCKING GO!!!!

3:20 pm – Someone else texts me; “Nothing’s been confirmed yet, don’t book anything!”

3:25 pm – I wonder how long the flights to Helsinki will be available.

8:25 pm – During the Llandudno Jet Set’s latest match in Llandudno’s gladiatorial six-a-side league I made a decision;  “I must be in Finland!”. This poignant moment is only ruined by the match ball flying past my head and into the goal. (The other team are now winning 3-2.)

9:00 pm – Check Phone – No confirmation of dates from our man in the know.

9:05 pm – Check Expedia.co.uk for flights, Birmingham and Manchester are best bets – No confirmation so far.

9:10 pm – Check e-mail for confirmation – No confirmation so far

9:11 pm  – Find flights from Birmingham for £202. Check e-mail for confirmation – No confirmation so far

9:15 pm – Find flights from Manchester for £169. Check message boards for confirmation – No confirmation so far

9:20 pm – Find flights from Manchester for £162. Check UEFA website for confirmation – No confirmation so far.

9:25 pm – Find flights from London for £132. Check e-mail for confirmation – No confirmation so far

9:30 pm – I finally receive text from our man in the know – “The dates are 99% certain but don’t book anything until tomorrow!”

21st June

I attended Bangor City’s practice match with Anglesey’s Island Games team and sniffed around for any information. I heard that the match dates are 99.9% certain. “The Team have booked, so we are going to later tonight blah, blah, blah.”  That curly tosser of a UEFA president has still to confirm the actual dates……

Every August bank holiday I notice that the fixtures for the group stage in the “Proper Champions League for Proper Clubs” are subject to the little star. Last year I checked what the little star denoted. A little star denotes that certain fixtures are subject to confirmation by a cabal of heartless administrators within a period of roughly 114-246 hours after the draw is made. Of course I may have been hallucinating. But then what am I complaining about, uncertainty is the biggest thrill of all in this humdrum existence. Anyhow, I am reassured that they treat “The Bangor Cities” of this world in the same way as they treat “The Anderlechts” of the world.

10:35 pm – I see flights from Birmingham to Helsinki on my required dates – Leaving Tuesday night (arriving on Wednesday in plenty of time for the match) and returning Friday. They cost £202.

10:36 pm – I check with our man in the know. He says the dates are “Deffo”

10:37 pm – I book those flights.

10:38 pm – I’m on my way to Helsinki!!!

22nd June

9:00 pm – I book two nights accommodation in Helsinki’s Olympic stadium. I can’t wait to bask in all those memories; Emil Zatopek’s greatest hour, the start of Welsh football’s last great false dawn, a big owl resting on a goal, Karolina Kluft winning a medal………….mmmmmmmmmmm Karolina.

I plan to enrol on an intensive Finnish course.

With the help of the internet I go on a mental trip around Helsinki………It’s bus 55 from the airport……..I need to get a Helsinki card ……… oooooh I must go to the exhibition about the Winter War ………. The public transport system is excellent ………. How much is a day ticket?…..

I feel good (and knew that I would!!) The sunshine is bright and my summer will be great!!!

11:00 pm Unfortunately Monsieur Bignose (he haw he haw he haw) still hasn’t fucking confirmed the fucking date of the fucking matches. In order to keep my spirits up I design a flag for my travels. It’s entitled “HOMAGE TO THE HJK INTELLECTUALS WHAT INVADED THE BANGOR MESSAGE BOARDS.”

23rd June

3:30 pm – The following message appeared on facebook;

“Please note the following statement issued from UEFA: In case of qualification of BK Häcken (SWE) and FC Honka Espoo (FIN) to the Europa League second qualifying round, the match HJK Helsinki (FIN) vs Bangor City FC (WAL) must be played on Tuesday 19th July.”

3:31 pm – The contents of the message finally hits me and something falls over in my head.

Giddy euphoria is replaced by a bilious sickness in the pit of my stomach.

The fact that I’ve paid for non-refundable flights suddenly hits me.

The fact that my plane arrives in Helsinki on FUCKING WEDNESDAY FUCKING MORNING is suddenly written in 100 feet high floodlit pink letters in my imagination.

FUCKING UEFA, A FUCKING CHIMP WITH ACCESS TO FUCKING WIKIPEDIA COULD HAVE WORKED OUT IN FIVE FUCKING MINUTES THAT HONKA COULD BE PLAYING AT HOME THE FUCKING DAY AFTER BANGOR WERE DUE TO FUCKING PLAY.

DESPITE FUCKING ORGANISING THE DRAW, DESPITE CARRYING OUT THE FUCKING DRAW AND THEN DESPITE PUTTING THE FUCKING OUTCOME OF THE FUCKING DRAW ON THEIR BASTARD WEBSITE UEFA TOOK SEVENTY FUCKING TWO FUCKING HOURS TO DEIGN TO FUCKING ANNOUNCE THERE “MIGHT” BE A CHANGE IN THE FUCKING ARRANGEMENTS.

And to think I ignored the neurotic internal voice metallic taunts“Are you sure? Are you sure?” as I read out my card details to the helpful man working for Expedia.

Incidentally, there’s no confirmation of any events on UEFA’s website and the phone of our man in the know has suddenly gone silent.

24th June

I awake with a black hole in my soul.

I curse the soul of Monsieur Platini.

I curse the soul of Lennart Johnansson.

I curse the soul of Artemio Franchi.

I curse the soul of David Cameron.

I curse the soul of Jamie Redknapp.

I curse the soul of Harry Redknapp.

I curse the soul of Louise Redknapp, and Tim Lovejoy.

I curse the soul of Gregg Wallace

I curse the soul of Jon Gaunt – “Gaunty” to his friends

I curse the soul of Fearne Cotton

25th June

Again I awake with a black hole in my soul.

I curse the soul of Monsieur Platini.

I curse the soul of Lennart Johnansson.

I curse the soul of Artemio Franchi.

I curse the soul of David Cameron.

I curse the soul of Jamie Redknapp.

I curse the soul of Harry Redknapp.

I curse the soul of Louise Redknapp, and Tim Lovejoy.

I curse the soul of Gregg Wallace

I curse the soul of Jon Gaunt – “Gaunty” to his friends

I curse the soul of Fearne Cotton.

I curse the soul of Richard Littlejohn

The clouds don’t lift

26th June

I have a thought;

“Bugger it, I’m going to Helsinki whether Platini likes it or not!”

27th June

My head is at peace as I realise that Honka and Hacken will prevail.

30th June

Honka drew 0-0 at home with Estonian team and Hacken draw 1-1 away in Luxembourg. Man I love Freeview teletext!!

1st July

My hopes are rekindled. I have the chance to dream again. The sunshine has returned. Is that birdsong?

7th July

Honka win 2-0 and Hacken win 5-1  in their respective second legs.

FUCKING HONKA ESPOO AND THEIR DECISION, THE BASTARDS ONLY HAVE A 3,500 AVERAGE YET THEY NEED A GROUND WITH A 10,000 CAPACITY. THE SELFISH BASTARDS, THEY’RE NOT EVEN FROM FUCKING HELSINKI.

9th July

I now have evidence there is a conspiracy against the Llandudno Jet Set.

1. Honka nominate a ground with a 10,000 capacity for their second qualifying round match when their average is barely 2-3,000-ish.

2. UEFA make their draw and Honka are magically playing at home in the second leg in the SAME week that Bangor City are in Helsinki (This is fishy because the Europa League draw took place after the Champions League draw).

3. UEFA casually announce their plan to shift Bangor City’s match after the club had sorted their arrangements. It’s all adding up….

The concrete evidence comes from two places. Firstly, tweets from TWO different sources on Twitter;

@EganRichardson .”….or have Honka play in Vantaa, they don’t need 10,000 seats. I’ll be surprised if they get more than a thousand for Häcken.”

“….club football isn’t big in Finland, “

“Is there a chance they’ve developed a passionate hatred of Bangor, and are doing this purely out of spite?”

@mirkobolesan“I think they’ve developed a passionate hate of @LlandudnoJetSet

Secondly, a post on the When Saturday Comes message board;

“Last time Honka played a euro game in Töölö they got a crowd of about 300 and lost to an Azeri team. During the second leg against Nomme Kalju, one of the Finnish tabloids had an article on their website titled ‘will Honka humiliate Finnish football again?‘. They’re not massively popular over here either.”

I rest my case. It’s patently obvious that Honka and Platini has a vendetta against the Llandudno Jet Set.

This will not stand!!I decide to move for Platini’s impeachment

The first step in this campaign will be to make this flag for my Finnish trip.  I will proudly fly it during the Honka v Hacken match.

10th July

You just can’t sleep for the twists and turns (of the knife) in this story!!! Your humble narrator returns………..

If you care to remember the trouble began with a short message of 40 odd words, the kind of short message that’s spirit-crushing and numbing, like being jilted by a cold disinterested girlfriend. Mind you even though the message caused all my trouble I really can’t blame the message, it’s just a group of words;

“Please note the following statement issued from UEFA: In case of qualification of BK Häcken (SWE) and FC Honka Espoo (FIN) to the Europa League second qualifying round, the match HJK Helsinki (FIN) vs Bangor City FC (WAL) must be played on Tuesday 19th July.”

The fact that this message was just like every other message of its kind – clear and unequivocal – helped me to deal with the situation. There isn’t a hint of grey; if Honka and Hacken won Bangor WOULD be playing on the Tuesday. I reconciled myself to this fact, it’s UEFA’s rules and….;

“…..the problem has arisen because Honka, who were beaten by Bangor in last season’s Europa League, have nominated HJK’s Sonera Stadium for their second round home leg.

The fixture would be played on Thursday 21 July but Uefa regulations state that the away side must be allowed to train on the pitch, traditionally the evening before.”

 The doubt was obliterated by a text from our man in the know and another page on the internet;

“We’ll (Bangor City’s Official Delegation) get in there for late Monday evening [and] the players can have a good rest and a light training session before the match on Tuesday evening.

“But hopefully the best thing that could happen is for Honka to be knocked out in the first qualifying round, with all due respect to them, and it won’t affect anyone then.”

Jones has admitted a change of date for the second leg in Finland could inconvenience some City fans who have already made travel arrangements.

“We do apologise on behalf of the club for that but unfortunately it’s out of our hands and [there’s] nothing we can do,” he said.”

All of a sudden I felt like the proverbial “Sonny Jim” and like I said, to be fair Graham, I was getting on with my life.

Every member of the blue army (I’m Commissar first class) reassured me that I’d have a day with the blue army in Helsinki. Then I remembered that I’d get to see a match while I was over there, not the right one but it would be something. I was even looking forward to visiting that Winter War exhibition.

Now that the world wasn’t totally depressing I began to think of other things. I’d planned to meet up with some of my friends from Midtjylland in the Marches this Thursday. Yes life was back to normal, the fact I was missing Bangor’s away match wasn’t even gnawing at me, I was fine, never felt better mate. Then….

This afternoon a charitable soul left the following message on Bangor’s Blue Moider Message Board;

“Haha. The second qualifying round tie had been changed because of Honka in the Europa League on thursday but actually they are not even playing in Helsinki Stadium. They will play in Vantaa! Those Uefa bastards! :D

The shock of the announcement took several minutes to sink in. The reason that UEFA gave for moving Bangor’s game no longer applied. I’d conditioned myself to certain ideas then a curve ball caused strike 3 for my peace of mind.

FOR FUCK’S SAKE, WON’T THOSE BASTARDS LEAVE ME BE?

I was desperate to prove that the message had been left by a notorious wind up merchant so I checked UEFA’s website . Then I checked Honka’s website. Unfortunately both websites confirmed that Honka weren’t playing in HJK’s stadium anymore.

Then I had another thought; this was good news, now we could play on Wednesday!!!.

This was an illusion shattered by a text from our man in the know;

“No, Bangor’s game is confirmed for Tuesday”.

Before the draw I wasn’t aware that the word “confirmation” was so nuanced. Honka’s nomination of HJK’s ground must have been “confirmed” otherwise UEFA would not have gone  to the trouble of notifying us. I can’t see why Bangor City seem to be getting the shitty end of the deal, well apart from the obvious conspiracy, a thesis reinforced by today’s other news. The referee for tomorrow’s match is Anton Genov and Monsieur Genov was suspended for dodgy dealing 2 years ago;

“Uefa has suspended a Bulgarian referee while it investigates “obvious irregular betting patterns” around an international friendly between Macedonia and Canada on 14 November. Anton Genov, will not be allowed to officiate an international, Champions League or Europa League fixture during the investigation.

“After interviewing the referee in question, Uefa has decided not to appoint Anton Genov to any European matches until further notice,” said a Uefa spokesman, Rob Faulkner, in a statement.

Genov awarded four penalties, two to each side, during Macedonia’s 3-0 victory in Strumica.

Betting operators reportedly were alerted by the number of wagers placed on at least three goals being scored and on the number of penalties awarded.

The 43-year-old has been on Fifa’s list of referees approved to take charge of international matches since 1999. Referees must be on the list to be considered for selection to officiate at World Cup finals.

On Monday the Bulgarian Football Union fired its referee commission which has responsibility for appointing officials to matches and assessing their performance. The BFU cited a series of mistakes made by referees in league and cup matches.”

Cartesian logic allows me to deduce  the following;

Bangor City won’t win a free kick tomorrow night.

Here the process;

HJK are worried about facing Les Davies => HJK have bigger pockets than Bangor City=>There’s a bent referee taking charge => I saw Monsieur Genev swanning around Rhyl in a brand new fur coat this afternoon => UEFA have it in for the Llandudno Jet Set => Ergo Bangor City won’t win a free kick tomorrow night.

Football stinks!!!!

11th July – A Plan is formulated!

UEFA are still going ahead with their plan therefore……here’s my plan for the FC Honka v Hacken match.

1. I will blag my way in.

2. I will unfurl this flag;

3. The flag will be seen by 100s of millions on television.

4. In this age of social media the flag will become a beacon of protest before going on to be regarded as THE avatar of the zeitgeist.

For the Stadium Walls

I will make a mixture of chocolate cake and chocolate mousse to create my very own dirty protest against my disgusting  treatment at the hands of UEFA and FC Honka. I will need to buy a bucket in Helsinki.

On the Streets

I will liberally place these creations around the avenues and alleyways of Helsinki.

The Result

The corrupt edifice of UEFA will collapse within the next 4 and a half years.

13th July

Bangor City 0 HJK Helsinki 3
UEFA champions league second qualifying round first leg

UEFA’s patently corrupt dealings had caused a tussle between the positive and negative parts of my psyche. First there was a chance I could still see Bangor away, then there wasn’t, then there was, then I didn’t want to go. Then those Honka bastards won in Estonia. Then I thought “Sod it, I’ll go to Finland anyway“. At the end of the day it was “Next stop Rhyl!!!”

Even though this tie had become a mere unwelcome intrusion I still went. I’m a happy camper today, time and logic had brought peace to my mind.

It felt quite odd to be in Rhyl on a July Wednesday evening but a couple of drinks sorted this. Twitter had provided a loose plan about bumping into a couple of people; the man behind European Football Weekends and someone from the When Saturday Comes message board.

I waited around the assigned location of the meeting, the Vegas bar, but I didn’t notice any new faces. There weren’t as many of the usual faces either, a delayed train from Bangor someone said. At about 5:15 I left for the ground to try and sell some stuff.

The ground was alive with people, including some flag carrying dudes from Helsinki. Bangor City were in the European Cup, the sun was on our faces and victory was in our hearts.  ‘Twas a great day to be alive!! Unfortunately Litmanen wasn’t present, I’ll never see him live again. I’ve seen Robbie Savage play quite a lot, life’s a beach as they say in Rhyl.

In the first half Bangor were fine until a defensive slip and a failed offside trap created a HJK goal. This was rather dispiriting as the club that tends to score first in Bangor’s European matches tends to win (It’s not usually Bangor City) We attempted to push HJK back but there were only a couple of dangerous shots on target. When half time arrived things were still hopeful, we just needed a good start to the second half.

The second half was excellent for the first ten minutes. We had the pressure, we had the possession, we looked like we could do something but we didn’t have many shots and most of the time the ball didn’t seem to bounce in the right place.

HJK didn’t look light years away from Bangor, they were simply more clinical with scoring opportunities. For example HJK’s second goal was a scorching breakaway preceded by ten minutes of constant Bangor pressure.  The fact that HJK didn’t look that fantastic meant the blue army still held on to the embers of hope for next week.

The match wasn’t just frustrating because Bangor hadn’t turned their possession into a goal or two, three characters – number 11 Mathias Lindström, number 17 Dawda Bah and number 19 Aki Riihilahtisullied the evening. These three have been added to the Jet Set’s list of infamy. (Present members; Martyn Naylor, Lee Hunt, Neil Gibson.)

The first one that came to my attention was the rather precious Bah, he seemed to be a bit of a player but clouded this idea with his antics; he got into such a tizzy lecturing Bangor players for attempting to tackle him he forgot he was a dirty bastard, he also got so worked up while castigated Bangor players for “diving” he forgot that he liked to win free kicks. I cursed his soul.

Lindstrom was a masterclass in defending, if you like the cynically violent style. A push in the back here, a nudge here, a full frontal assault there. At one point he literally dragged Les from the pitch just before a corner was taken. Then this fucker laughed about it. I cursed his soul.

As for Rihiilahtii, he tried to sexually harrass Les at every available opportunity. He was literally all over him and when I say literally all over I mean LITERALLY ALL OVER HIM. At first I struggled to recollect his vaguely familiar face. It was the assassin’s smile that reminded me that this fucker used to play for Crystal Palace. I checked Dylan’s programme, he was Aki Rihilaahti, and to think I nearly went for a drink with him in Aston Villa’s player’s lounge (a story too long and tedious to recount). I cursed his soul.

Unsurprisingly UEFA’s bent ref failed to see any of this nefarious activity.

Just before we left Rhyl FC they remembered that Bangor fans were scumbags and we had to leave in the manner of Andy Dufresne; via a narrow alleyway next to an open sewer. What a charming way to treat visitors.

For an excellent, and  less partisan, view of the day read  European Football Weekends.

14th July

XXX XXX XXXXXX X FC Midtjylland 3
europa league 2nd qualifying round first leg

A match happened this evening.

When the draw threw these two clubs together it appeared to be the perfect opportunity to reacquaint myself with the Black Wolves. (Bangor City fans and the Black wolves developed a bit of a friendship when we played each other in 2008.)

Fate was on my side, during the week before the match Hekler (one of the main faces in the Black Wolves) got in touch via Facebook. My doubts about giving XXX XXX XXXXXX money evaporated in thoughts of comradeship.

I was looking forward to a trip to Wrexham until I checked the match details; it was due to take place in the Marches, another sign Platini is conspiring against the Jet Set! Well big sweaty bollocks to UEFA I still made arrangements with Hekler; we would meet near the five-a-side pitch with country club accoutrements.

The staff of Arriva Trains Wales, those unsmiling bulwarks against anarchy, caused me to missed my train. Despite my entreaties about missing a train to a very, very important  football match the man with a heart of purest granite refused to let me pass. I promised to buy a ticket on the train but“Mister I don’t make the rules” wouldn’t have that. There’s just no trust anymore.

I finally arrived in Gobowen, down the road from XXX XXX XXXXXX, 5 minutes before kick off. My taxi driver was disappointed the FCM fans were less numerous than the hundreds of Irish fans that had used his services in the previous round. He continued wittering until I told him I was Bangor fan, whereupon he was struck dumb. The anti-Bangor omerta over Shropshire bites hard

Park Hall thronged with three empty sides, all I had to do was find Hekler and the boys in the vast crowd. I put on my honourary black and red Black Wolves scarf  and sashayed past the admiring glances of the bovine masses in the temporary stands. I saw the envy in face after face.

I eventually found Hekler on the front row just past the halfway line. There were 4 FCM fans and all were very friendly. Hekler’s welcomed me with the international “Where the fuck have you been?” shrug and we settled down for a pleasant chat whilst the match passed by.

FCM were too good for XXX XXX XXXXXX as their speed, movement and skill wasn’t impeded by the plastic pitch. Some notable Welsh Premier board posters hoped this wouldn’t happen. Hekler told me that FCM play on plastic all the time in training so it wasn’t a surprise they were comfortable. The half time score was 0-0. Half time meant a few beers with the Black Wolves and it was good to spend time with people from far away whilst pursuing a common activity.

The second half was more of the same; FCM in general control while XXX XXX XXXXXX offered a threat from occasional bursts and set piece work. the latter being the avenue by which they constructed their goal. A corner led to Steve Evans heading the ball home. I could see tension in the shoulders of the Black Wolves.

Thankfully we only had to wait five minutes for the equaliser, and then a few more minutes for FCM’s second. FCM scored a third just before the final whistle. Nobody really likes seeing XXX XXX XXXXXX win, even their fans secretly realise each victory is a football crime.

After the match FCM’s players came over to say hello, even I had a few high fives!!! We all entered the Venue for some strange looks and a few beers before I made my excuses and left in another taxi. It was nice to know that football can bring people together.

20th July
 
HJK Helsinki 10 Bangor City 0
UEFA champions league second qualifying round second leg

I wasn’t able to go to this match but I didn’t let a small detail like this stop me from going to Helsinki.

Postmodernists tell us that “pseudo-events” are  common occurrences. The Heysel Stadium Disaster, the Gulf War and September the 11th didn’t happen per se, even if we watched them happen on the news, or were actually there. Postmodernists say that we don’t actually watch events happen, we watch representations of events, stuff that looks like events. They call these representations “pseudo-events“.

Postmodernists also tell us that meta-narratives no longer explain the world because each person’s version of reality is as valid as the next person’s view of reality.

The educated amongst you may dispute these ideas because they sound like a load of gobbledigook. The more charitable may limit their praise to the fact that these ideas helped The Matrix to come to fruition. I doubted postmodern ideas until today, now I see that they are not just plausible they are right!

My first act in Birmingham airport was to find a computer. I paid a pound for 10 minutes of internet access to read one line updates on UEFA’s website.

At exactly the same time as I was reading a computer screen other Bangor fans were in Helsinki watching Bangor play. Who can possibly decide which group of fans was having the true football experience? Weren’t we both doing the exactly same thing? We were both hoping a short match incident would bring joy. I let the surreality of this situation slide because postmodernism had been proved.

I knew postmodernism was right, I just knew it.

I mean If I couldn’t take heart in postmodern ideas how the fuck am I meant to explain this all to myself and retain a degree of sanity?

I’d have to pretend that I was sitting in FUCKING BIRMINGHAM AIRPORT READING ABOUT A FUCKING MATCH THAT I SHOULD HAVE WATCHING IN THE FUCKING GROUND, PLATINI YOU’RE A FUCKING CUN……………….

According to UEFA’s text the 29th minute of the match was just like any other but it wasn’t like any other moment, it was the moment I realised that the postmodernists ironically held the monopoly on truth. In the 29th minute of the match these simple words appeared on the screen;

29′ – Hoy (Bangor City) makes a save.

As you’ll know,”Peter Hoy Football Genius” is a full back. My postmodern epiphany meant that I could no longer feel the match, I couldn’t visualise the stadium, I couldn’t visualise the crowd, I couldn’t visulise the corrupt refereee, I couldn’t visualise the bounce of the ball, I couldn’t visualise anything.

How did I know the match was actually happening? I had no way of knowing. All I had was only a representation of a match, a match via the cypher of a typist’s imagination. It was quite clear that I was in the middle of a “pseudo-event“. When I left to check in the score in the “pseudo-event” was 0-0.

I was 20 minutes too early for the check in desk but too far away from a computer. I was suddenly surrounded by instructive books in Smiths, I owed myself the chance to develop my personality. Before I knew it I had killed 23 minutes, forgotten about the treachery of Platini and developed my personality.

I say “developed my personality” but this skeleton of a phrase doesn’t do justice to the self-development I underwent. Today was be the day I was on the road to blue-sky thinking by finally committing to becoming the faciliator / caretaker / Jongleur. I’d make changes like a “The Boardroom Tiger” with the vision of “The Workfloor Osprey” and  the wise direction of “The Car Park Owl”. I now felt able to delegate, legislate and fornicate at the same time. I could survive and thrive!!! I was a Tiger!!!!!!! ROOOOAR!!!!!!!!!! Just after I’d developed emotionally I had to check in.

The strain of removing my belt before the almighty security scanner evaporated the second wave of my personal development. My dignity / share value fell quicker than my trousers. This was probably why every Gordon Gekko wannabe wore braces, although they would have to have plastic clasps to make it through 21st century security gates.

My unopened bottle of pepsi was considered so offensive it had to be surrendered, you can’t tell me that the carbonated drinks industry and Platini aren’t behind the ban on taking more than 100ml of liquid in your hand luggage.  I was less a Tiger more a dormouse yearning for another reasonably priced internet terminal.

I saw another terminal and my heart skipped a beat, I logged safe in the knowledge that Bangor would be 2-0 up. The screen decided to tell me that Bangor were losing 8-0. I remembered that I watched watching a “pseudo-event” and therefore wasn’t actually happening. My footballing habits predated my epiphany so I remained logged in until the end of the “pseudo-event“. The “pseudo-event” may have ended 10-0 but it was a “pseudo event” so it didn’t matter.

Even though it was a “pseudo-event” other people had been hoodwinked into believing this was a real event. The message boards hummed; “Ha ha ha Bangor are shit” they said, “This is the worst day for Welsh Football ever” they said, “Bangor, you’re an embarrassment” they said.

If only the poor saps knew they’d been hoodwinked!!! As I boarded the flight for Paris I pitied the poor saps, I laughed at the poor saps.

21st July

Aeroport Charles de Gaulle may be many things but it’s no place to spend a night, especially if you’re awake. There’s no absolutely no light relief, no shops are open, no change machines are available and the only entertainment is walking past the same disgruntled would-be passengers every 20 minutes. The authorities won’t even let your imagination flow as they turn off the departures board.

The only thing you can do is wait for madness to take hold.

I tried to obtain change but my polite requests were met with shrugs of condescension, when I finally found someone behind a desk that was willing to help a 10 franc piece was part of the change, Euros had only been legal tender for nine years.

For the first three hours the only things that occupied my mind were the potential causes of the crack in the pane of glass that faced me and the thoughts, the thoughts, the thoughts.

……………….. FUCKING PLATINI, YOU AND YOUR BASTARD IDEAS LOOK AT WHAT THEY’VE LED TO YOU CUN………………..

When every possible detail of the crack was considered I ended CSI Insomia and developed my conclusion; a blunt (or sharp) object from a French (or non-French) source had collided with the glass thus causing the crack. The next ride in my mental fairground was guessing which person would be next to walk past, and then betting against myself. I was right 3 times!!!

………………….. I’LL COME TO SWITZERLAND ONE DAY, JUST YOU SEE IF I DON’………………..

I thought it prudent to sit near people but unfortunately the seats I picked were situated near a snack machine. People taunted me with their copious amounts of change. The elusive bounty of the machine glistened, taunting, silently taunting.

I looked at the clock, there were only 6 hours until my flight.

……………………….. I’LL SHOW YOU HOW TO MAKE A FUCKING DRAW YOU CURLY PRI ………………………..

I hit upon a novel idea, I would try to fall asleep. This is harder than it sounds in an airport where bench armrests prevent comfort, although even with the armrests my plan worked beautifully.

A couple of rough shoves  awoke me. I slowly turned my head around. Four thick set armed policemen were standing over me.

The most intellectual flic spoke les bon mots; “En Vacances monsieur?” My startled brain remembered enough GCSE French to produce a passable answer; “Oui monsieur, Je vais au ‘elsinki parce que le grand connard Platini est un grand connard”. Halfway through my answer they saw a gentleman of north African extraction lying on the opposite bench. They thought putting the fear of God up him would be more satisfying.

This was probably the most unsettling 10 minutes I’ve ever spent. The whole quartet glared at a fellow human being as if they’d just wiped him off their foot. The head policeman obviously didn’t trust his story. He checked with HQ, HQ called back, he asked the confused guy more questions and then checked with HQ again. The tone was beyond threatening. Then they just left, as if their Pizzas were now ready. The look on the man’s face said it all; resignation. If ever ten minutes could partly explain social problems this was it.

…………………………. FUCKING PLATINI, YOU AND YOUR MATES IN THE POLICE, YEAH VERY GOOD YOU’VE SEEN THE IPCRESS FILE……………. LOOK AT YOU, YOU SICK BASTARD, USING ONE OF MY FAVOURITE FILMS AGAINST ME ……………………………….. I’LL GET YOU ONE DAY, SEE IF I DON’T…………………..
…………………… Platini’s plan worked; I had forgotten my name, I had forgotten the Ipcress noise, I had forgotten the Ipcress File, I had forgotten why I was in Paris …………….

I still had 5 hours to kill in a closed airport.

…….. I’LL GET YOU CURLY TWAT IF IT’S……………..

Somehow I made it through with 20 minutes of sleep, warm thoughts of cold Helsinki hospitality and drunken Bangor bonhomie helped immensely. I touched down in Helsinki just in time for the Finnair bus to leave without me.

Helsinki was very warm, all I needed was a warm Olympic Stadium hostel welcome, a cold shower and socket to recharge a phone. I was safe in the knowledge that last night’s match was a “pseudo-event” .

I arrived at the hostel in a state of shock. on the last stretch of the walk to the hostel I had walked past the Sonera stadium – HJK’s ground – as it sits next to the Olympic Stadium. This was very upsetting. I suddenly remembered that I should have been there to watch Bangor…………………I was going to be there until that curly prick Platini intervened.

After a cold drink and a sit down I remembered that yesterday’s match was a “pseudo-event”. The combined effect of tirdeness and stress upon a fragile yet complicated human mind is terrible.

Unfortunately I became unsettled again, just before I entered the hostel I had noticed the car of the Bangor fans that were supposed to be staying in the hostel (they had spent the last three months travelling around Europe in it). For a second I comforted myself that it was a hallucination but there was an unmistakable Bangor City car sticker in the back window. I tried to find my friends but they weren’t in the hostel and the person on the front desk hadn’t seen them, had I actually seen the car?

As I was getting ready I noticed that Cabs had sent me a message. I was to meet them in “Henry’s”. All I had to do was take a “3 or 4 tram” and get off by “the station’. There only problems I had were that I didn’t know the location of the tram stop, the station or the famous Henry’s.

After 30 minutes I sent out like De Gama. I found the tram stop, I found the station, I found the famous Henry’s. My only problem was that I  couldn’t find anyone I knew. Jesus, Platini had even hacked my phone to give me false texts. I began to think the whole idea of Bangor playing in European competition was a “pseudo-event“.

Without many other options I walked the streets of Helsinki to drink in the continental atmosphere. During my promenading I found evidence that the “pseudo-event” had conned the Finnish tabloid, they thought it was a real event and Bangor had actually lost 10-0. I would continue to believe that Bangor had lost heroically on away goals until I saw someone from Bangor wandering about in a daze.

I noticed that the Finnish tabloids went to town over Bangor City. One screamed 10 -0 on the front page of it’s sport pullout. The other seemed to make a big thing about the Bangor players being in a pub after the match. This seemed a bit of a shitty thing to do but that’s tabloids for you. They seem to have a morbid fascination with Bangor City being Pub Fatties in Finland. I continued my walking tour in a daze, were the tabloids actually correct, how could they fake photos? Nobody does that.

I must say that they do like bricks and wood in Finland. My reference point for Helsinki was the film “Billion Dollar Brain” so I tried to find the main landmarks associated, I found the big catherdral upon whose steps Karl Malden and Harry Palmer had to shoot a spy. I found the department store where Harry Palmer bought some snow shoes…..

When I finished this whistle-stop tour I managed to find a pub showing le tour de France, which was a first for me. I could have watched snooker in another part of the pub.  Finland was certainly a groovy kind of place.

As I made my way to the hostel in the Olympic stadium I saw there was a match taking place on the pitch next to the Sonera Stadium, HJK’s women’s team seemed to be playing against another club. Then I remembered that the Sonera Stadium was the ground that I should have been watching Bangor play before Platini stuck his oar in. By scheduling this match Platini was taunting me, really rubbing my nose in the dirt.

I scanned the sparse crowd and saw my nemesis there, unrepentant and aloof in his unmistakable suit and curly wig. I could hear his actual taunts delivered in a voice like a velvet mace;

 “I don’t know wh-at zee pwoblim is Monsieur, you wanted to watch a match in ‘elsinki on this day, the too-wenteeth of Jooo-ly. Well ‘ere you are monsieur, hee haw hee haw he haw haw haw, ‘ere is a match……. Zat’s what you get for standing up to Platini, mwah mwah mwah, ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha”.

Hitchcock was directing my life, I decided a lie down was prudent.

Apres le repose I found the owners of the ethereal car and the joy was indescribable. Before long we were all off in the direction of Henry’s to meet the rest of the Blue Army. Unfortunately the rest of the Blue Army confirmed that last night’s match was not a “pseudo-event“.

Everyone seemed happy that I’d made it anyway although they’d been a little concerned that I’d gone missing; somehow everyone thought I had arrived last night. Thoughts of conspiracies and revenge were well dulled with litre cans of lager and a lovely local brew known as a “Long Drink”.

The next thing I remember is waking up at 2:30am just as the tram was coming to the end of the line. One of two things had caused this situation; either I was a little drunk or Platini’s agents had spiked my drinks. By the way, have you noticed how all buildings start look the same after an hour’s tired staggering in the haze of dawn?

22nd July

FC Honka 0 SK Hacken 2
europa league 2nd qualifying round 2nd leg

Today was “Honka protest day”. The flag was ready, the stickers were ready, and I’d had 3 hours and 20 minutes sleep in two days. Those FC Honka fuckers had ruined my summer so I was determined to go and support Hacken.

Just after Alwyn and I bid the blue army a fond farewell we had time to kill. The remaining members of  the blue army (Alwyn, Alex and Guto) were due to leave on a late ferry. I still had several hours before I was due to meet Egan, my guide to Espoo and the north of Helsinki.

I’d made contact with Egan via the WSC messageboard and Twitter a couple of weeks ago and he’d suggested that I could go with him to watch Honka, thankfully Egan didn’t seem to like Honka much. Just after we met in the station, he confirmed that I was on the right path, not only are Honka less than a proper club they’re quite arrogant with it.

The ground we were due to visit wasn’t in the Sonera Stadium or Espoo (home of Honka) it was in Vantaa. Our destination was a constant reminder of why Platini must be held to account.

My feelings veered towards apoplexy as Egan suggested that HJK moved Bangor’s match a day forward because they knew we’d have less chance to prepare, they knew most of Bangor’s players were working on Monday. My source also insinuated that Platini was in favour of this.

The train to Vantaa was rather warm. Bangor had played in Vantaa last year and the Blue Army told me of an Irish bar near the station. It was considerably cheaper than all those Central Helsinki bars. We spent a very pleasant hour in the summer sun. After the thrist quenching we tried to find the ground, which wasn’t as easy as google maps suggested, a council estate didn’t look like a cul-de-sac on a computer. We found our way through thanks to a glimpse of floodlights.

Egan’s day job – television journalist – meant I was able to enter the ground as a photographer, or as I prefer to remember it, esteemed journalist. I proudly wore my press pass into the press room. I proudly accepted a free bottle of pepsi as a proud member of the fourth estate. I’d finally arrived. Jet Set 1 Platini 10, I was back in the game! And my fame had spread, a friend of Egan asked me “Are you the Bangor fan that was messed around by the Machiavellian machinations of Platini?”

As I grew accustomed to my new role I casually spoke with a fellow journalist, he disputed my view of last week’s Bangor v HJK match. He didn’t think Bangor were unlucky, he also thought Rhyl was a nice place so I began to doubt the validity of his thoughts. Then said that he liked Les Davies so it turns out he was alright after all, in fact I would go as far as saying that he was my new best friend!!

Putting flags on display is usually fuss-free but today it was different. A steward thought I was besmirching a Finnish national symbol with my subtle protest. He checked with his boss to see if everything was ok. Egan’s explanatory skills earned the thumbs up of the supervisor. I hung the flags from our tier.

We could hear the flag-created stir in the lower tier, I reasoned that it was the usual bewilderment. I tried to bask in the protest but I noticed a couple of white shoelaces where the flag should have been, one of the laces was embellished by a spinning brass eyelet. The spinning brass eyelet underlined my grave loss. Bloody hell you can’t turn your back for five minutes in Finland!

About a minute later another steward appeared. “Can you take the flags down? It is not allowed for another club’s flags to be there. They won’t like it (Pointing down at the Honka Ultras). You will have your flag back in a minute“. Cue another steward with a sheepish grin.

The first steward glared at us for the rest of the match as if we were dangerous criminals. A Scouse bloke was fully supportive of the Jet Set’s position. The pettiness of bureaucracy seems to the most international of all languages, I didn’t need another reason to wish for an FC Honka defeat but I had one. I managed to recover my composure to hear the pre-match rock soundtrack, it was the only time I’ve heard Rage against the Machine before a match.

Thankfully Honka’s defeat arrived without too much fuss. I’ll leave it to the a Swedish newspaper (via google translate) to fill you in;

Hacken went to Finland with a 1-0-lead after last week’s game and is also in qualifying for a European League.

 John Chibuike opened the scoring in the first half (42) and Daniel Forsell permanently closed the match with only ten minutes left to play, 2-0.

– We make a good game, tactically speaking, and when we do 1-0, it will be a long journey for them, while we are growing, says Hacken coach Peter Gerhardsson who think like this about advancement to the Euro League qualification round 3:

This was a charming result as the Honka fans were less than charming, Firstly they ripped my flag because they couldn’t let last year’s defeat against Bangor go. Secondly they were too loud and sang boring songs, apart from the ones they’d pinched from Bangor City.

The worst aspect of the Honka fans is that Egan and I distinctly heard a couple of them make monkey noises when one of Hacken’s black players “dived”. This was not only a disgusting throwback to the twentieth century it was rather odd as they didn’t seem to mind their own players diving.

Hacken’s victory meant a smug promenade out of the ground for Egan and I. It was nice to have met Egan, another part of the network of good football fans in Europe.

On the way back from Finland I had another lay-over, this time in Amsterdam. Upon landing I needed to feel the fresh Amsterdammer air. When I tried to leave through the passport control gate. The policeman took one look at my polo shirt, saw the words “WELSH PREMIER LEAGUE CHAMPIONS 2011″ under the badge and asked “What is this?”  A customs official with a streak of humanity, well I never!! I replied with “Well it’s a bit like the Eredivisie but not as good!!”. The look of admiration upon his face was eloquent enough; Bangor City had yet another fan.

 





They say his name’s “Lucky”

6 05 2015

I’m an regular occasional visitor to unfamiliar football grounds. Here’s what happens after I visit them.

In September 1998 I went to watch CD Tenerife 2 Real Sociedad 2 whilst on holiday. In May 1999 CD Tenerife were relegated.

In September 2000 I went to watch AS Saint Etienne 1 Lille OSC 1 whilst on holiday. In May 2000 AS Saint Etienne were relegated.

In February 2002 I had a look around FC Saint Pauli’s ground whilst at a conference. In May 2002 FC Saint Pauli were relegated.

In August 2008 I went to watch Charlton Athletic 0 Yeovil Town 1 in the League Cup whilst on holiday. Not only were Yeovil a division below Charlton at the time Charlton were relegated at the end of the season.

In August 2009 I went to watch Aston Villa 2 Rapid Vienna 1, Villa lost on away goals.

In November 2009 I went to watch the abandoned Chester City v Eastborne Borough match whilst Christmas shopping, In March 2010 Chester City were wound up.

In August 2010 I went to watch Aston Villa 2 Rapid Vienna 3, Villa lost 4-3 on aggregate.

In August 2011 I had a ticket to West Ham v Aldershot Town in the League Cup. The match was called off due to the “London Riots”. In the rearranged match West Ham lost 2-1. Aldershot were two divisions below Aldershot at the time.

In August 2012 I went to watch Millwall lose to Crawley on penalties in the League Cup. Crawley were a league below Millwall at the time.

This season I went to watch…..

Blackpool 1 Norwich City 3 in September. Blackpool were relegated at the end of the season.

Wigan Athletic 1 Rotherham 2 in December. Wigan were relegated at the end of the season.

Tranmere Rovers 2 Northampton 1 in December. Tranmere were relegated at the end of the season.

The last ten minutes of York City 1 Cheltenham Town 0 in April. Cheltenham were relegated at the end of the season.

I wonder, who should I relegate next season?





It’s all about looking at things in the correct way

28 04 2015

Last week FC United of Manchester, the club I co-own, was promoted to the Conference North. I have opened this post with that particular sentence because you may have missed last week’s news.

I may have only been to eight of their matches this season, I may not be a streetwise Mancunian and my claim to co-ownership may be based on the easy gesture of handing over £12 every July but I still feel proud that I feel part of something fantastic, however infinitesimal that part may be.

It’s difficult to turn my happiness and sense of satisfaction into recognisable words. I don’t feel ecstatic solely because of my own feelings, I have an inkling of what this success means to everyone connected to the club and it feels fantastic to be part of something like that.

I know that I’m slightly involved in something special. I’m entranced by FCUM’s place in the fabric of the North West’s social history, A Fine Lung, An Undividable Glow and Under The Boardwalk provided a masterly education. The interactions I’ve had, in both real life and on social media, have turned the easy gesture of handing over £12 every July into something significant.

FCUM’s political stance mean that the club is a living and breathing example of grass roots activism in action. Their political stance shows that FCUM is not just an example that football or sport should follow it is example that our wider society should follow, as tonight’s tweet from the club shows;

Our members have also agreed that the club will not work with organisations that operate Workfare as the scheme contravenes our ethics.

Success always feels great on its own terms but when you co-own a club like FCUM the success means even more. While FCUM’s success is fantastic on its own terms it’s even more fantastic in the present political environment.

The 2015 general election campaign has become the latest stop for the depressing cavalcade of scapegoating and division creation. During the last 5 years politician after politician has highlighted problem group after problem group. There’s been no end to the threats to our society faces; the public sector, “The Unions”, teachers, benefit claimants, the EU, the immigrants, the metropolitan liberal elite, the Scots.. This scapegoating has become frenzied during the campaigning season.

As you read these words rank stupidity and petty bigotry grow ever more acceptable. Rancid right wing bigots were once reviled but have now annexed the moral high ground. When they “tell it like it is” the unalienable right of free speech becomes an impervious shield of steel.

When people tell it like it is courtesy and consideration become ideas from the dark ages. When people tell it like it is prospective parliamentary candidates don’t freely use racial epithets they tell bad taste jokes and people say that it’s fine for other people to be machine gunned because they are “migrants”.

When wanton individuals shriek evocations of free speech it’s one of the most one of the most bitter ironies of life in 2015. The bastions of free speech will use their principled outlook to lambast the agents of Cultural Marxist control then complain that brainwashed cultural Marxist sheeple are criticising their point of view twenty four hours later. They sometimes threaten public sector employees with e-mails that feature their pernicious thought crimes. “Your boss won’t like to hear what you’ve said.” they say, telling it like it is.

FCUM’s success could not have come at more opportune moment for me. Their promotion is a timely reminder that there is another way of doing things in our austerity laden times. FCUM represents a better way of doing things; welcoming, inclusive, socially attentive and above all, hopeful.

It’s just a matter of looking at things in the correct way.





The seductive glamour of your glittering European elites

10 04 2015

The glorious champions league returns next week. Twitter looks on the champions league as some shimmering ideal of human achievement.

@Iptamenos23 – @pithion Επίσης η Καστοριά πήρε το Champions League.

@morrismoldov – Fyra dagar till Champions League-kvart. Ahhh peppen.

@uh_milko – На финал UEFA Champions League с Ginza Project

@movie_japan_wcu – 久保途中出場!ヤングボーイズが大勝!】ヨーロッパリーグ(EL) 欧州CL チャンピオンズリーグ UEFA Champions League オアロ スロバン・ブラチスラバ

@SamPodZvezdama – In GAZPROM’s Football Club, you can win prizes all round the UEFA Champions League.

@MoneyMaker1032 – In GAZPROM’s Football Club, you can win prizes all round the UEFA Champions League.

@frankworrall –  In GAZPROM’s Football Club, you can win prizes all round the UEFA Champions League.

@aydanels20 – In GAZPROM’s Football Club, you can win prizes all round the UEFA Champions League.

@merseypride – In GAZPROM’s Football Club, you can win prizes all round the UEFA Champions League.

@T_Nambahu – THE MAGIC OF THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE… Got that child like excitement…and I’m a neutral

I look on the champions league as a giant leech draining my enthusiasm for interacting with other human beings. I prefer to remember the time when the European Cup was a mere sporting competition, the time when Swedish clubs were able to win one of UEFA’s competitions.

 

Everything changed when UEFA jazzed things up in 1994. I was at the dawn of their bluesky thinking. I should have been watching Bangor City in the European Cup but the champions of Wales, along with the rest of Europe’s dead skin, were forced into the UEFA Cup. Their crime was to exist in a less buoyant market television market. UEFA have entrenched this approach in the last 21 years. The European Cup had to wait another 17 years to see Bangor City.

It wasn’t solely UEFA’s fault, a new breed of plutocrat appeared on the scene. Not only were they unencumbered by traditional ideas of football they threw erudite money at a coquettish sport. The plutocrats said the next logical step in football evolution was a self-contained “European Super League” and UEFA allowed the top leagues of Europe to take over the European Cup.

First the glamourous national leagues were allowed two clubs in the competition, then it was three, then it was four. After a bit UEFA deigned to allow the slightly less powerful national leagues to have two places in the champions league to reflect fairness.

The cumulative effect is seen every season. Twenty-two clubs from thirteen countries gain automatic qualification to the so-called “money-spinning” group stage. You might think that this would mean that the other forty one associations are left to fight for the scraps of the other ten places but it’s not that clear cut.

The play-off round contains another five big glamourous clubs from the five most glamourous national leagues and the third qualifying round contains thirteen clubs from the next ten most glamourous national leagues (some of which are represented in the group stage). In effect the clubs from forty national leagues are fighting for the hope of a smell of five places at the top table of European football.

I decided to check whether my outlandish perception was correct so I decided to do a bit of research.

In the history of the European Cup (1956-2015) 123 different clubs have reached the quarter final stage. If we add a watershed of 1992 (The creation of the champions league) we can see a difference. Up to and including 1992 107 clubs reached the last 8 of the European Cup, therefore only 16 new clubs have qualified for the last quarter finals in last twenty three years.

To spin this in a different way;

  • Before 1992 there was an average of 2.97 new clubs per year.
  • After 1992 there has been an average of 1 new club every 1.4 years.

The overall stats for quarter final clubs in all three competitions point towards a measure of equality;

  • In the EURO. CUP/champions league (1956 – 2015) 123 clubs from 30 countries qualified.
  • In the UEFA CUP/europa league (1970-2015) 158 clubs from 28 countries qualified.
  • In the CUP WINNERS’ CUP (1960-’99) 170 clubs from 26 countries qualified.

Other stats reinforce the idea of a developing elitism in the European Cup / champions league;

  • Between 1956 and 2015 123 clubs representing 30 countries qualified for quarter finals.
  • Between 1992 and 2015 33 clubs representing 12 countries qualified for quarter finals.

A comparison of champions league quarter finalists and UEFA Cup / europa league quarter finalists since 1992 reinforces the idea even further;

  • champions league had 33 clubs from 12 countries
  • UEFA Cup/europa league had 77 clubs from 19 countries.

The table underneath underlines the idea with a red pen by showing the national leagues that have provided the European Cup/champions league quarter finalists in different historical periods.

Country 1956-‘66 1967-‘80 1981-‘92 1993-2000 2001-’15
Spain 14 (16%) 9 8 (8%) 9 (14%) 31 (26%)
Italy 9 (10%) 7 9 (9%) 9 (14%) 18 (15%)
England 7 (8%) 11 (10%) 7 5 30 (26%)
W. Ger / Ger 7 (8%) 11 (10%) 9 (9%) 10 (15%) 15
Scotland 5 8 3 1
Holland 5 10 (10%) 3 4 3
Czech 5 5 3
Portugal 5 5 7 5 5
Yug / Serb 5 5 5
France 4 4 5 6 11
Hungary 4 4
Austria 4 3 2
Belgium 4 5 6 2
Switzerland 3 3
Sweden 2 2 3 2
Bulgaria 1 2 3
E. Germany 1 5 2
Denmark 1 1
Greece 2 2 2 1
Turkey 1 1 2 1 3
USSR / Russia 4 9 (9%) 3 1
N. Ireland 1
Romania 5
Finland 1
Ukraine 2 1
Croatia 1
Norway /Cyprus 1 1
Totals 88 112 96 64 120
Top 3 37 (42%) 32 (30%) 35 (35%) 28 (43%) 84 (69%)
 

The implications of this evidence against UEFA’s bluesky thinking are as clear as an azure sky of deepest summer.

    • Firstly, certain leagues seem to be most powerful in each period.
    • Secondly, the locations of  the most powerful leagues can change.
    • Thirdly, since 2000 the range of national leagues represented in the champions league last eight has been restricted.

Since 2001 69% of the clubs in the champions league quarter finals have come from three national leagues, therefore the three most glamourous national leagues have a virtual stranglehold over champions league income, their glamourous domination is almost total. If we ever needed evidence of the corrupting influence of money upon sporting competition this table this contains it.

In the previous four and a half decades the slightly shifting location of the three/four most successful national league only produced between 30% and 45% of last eight clubs. While it may appear that the successful European clubs have always come from the same cluster of national leagues (Spain – Italy – England – Germany) the successful clubs were never concentrated to the degree they are now.

In modern football parlance “glamourous” is usually a synonym for “richest” and the divisions within European football have been ossified. Pep, Zlatan, CR7, Messi and the rest of our heroes may thrill us with their multinational ballet of football art and their post-modern paeans to Rinus and Valeri but should we be cherishing this kind of football world? What if the moral core of the entire activity is rotten?








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