Saturday, January 04, 2020

Lakenheath FC

Lakenheath 4 Framlingham Town 2 - Eastern Counties League, Division One North

Lakenheath is a village situated in the Forest Heath district of Suffolk, close to the county boundaries of both Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, at the meeting point of The Fens and the Breckland natural environments. Lakenheath Fen Nature Reserve, created in 1996, restored wetlands from agricultural fields that were growing carrots. In May 2007, it was reported that cranes were nesting in the site for the first time since the fen lands were drained in the 16th century. The village has a single Victorian primary school, constructed in 1878, which was extended in 1969, again in 2004 and most recently in 2011. Lakenheath is remarkable for its medieval church, built about 900 years ago in wood, eventually being rebuilt in the local flint construction style. The church on the exterior has an embattled parapet that has an array of gargoyles and other carved faces at the string course at the base. The interior includes medieval paintings and carvings on the pews. The faces of the church's wooden angels bear the scars of the English Civil War, as none of the angels retained their original facial detail, due to religiously motivated vandalism by puritan soldiers. Lakenheath is host to the largest deployment of United States Air Force personnel in the United Kingdom: RAF Lakenheath. The social impact of the United States Air Force fighter airbase and its nearby sister, RAF Mildenhall, on the economy of Lakenheath and on the nearby towns and villages is important. The United States has maintained a presence in the community since bombers were stationed there during WWII, conducting raids on Europe.

The football club played in the Norfolk & Suffolk League until it merged with the East Anglian League in 1964 to form the Anglian Combination, at which point they were placed in Section D of the new league. The club were runners-up in Division Three in 1968–69 and finished second in Division Two in 1974–75. In 1981–82 they were runners-up in Division One, earning promotion to the Premier Division. However, the following season saw the club finish bottom of the Premier Division, resulting in relegation back to Division One. The club finished bottom of Division One in 1985–86 and were relegated to Division Two. Lakenheath FC later transferred to the Cambridgeshire County League and were champions of Senior Division A in 2007–08, earning promotion to the Premier Division. The following season saw them finish as runners-up in the Premier Division. In 2010–11 the club won the Premier Division title. Despite finishing only eighth in the Cambridgeshire County League Premier Division in 2017–18, Lakenheath FC was promoted to Division One North of the Eastern Counties League.

I was fortunate to be offered a lift to Lakenheath. The journey is possible by train, but the services are not frequent. On arrival at the village, we made our way directly to The Nest and secured a parking place. I also took the opportunity to enter the ground to take some photographs. Afterwards it was time for some refreshment. I was told later that Lakenheath once boasted nine pubs.

Nowadays there are just two pubs remaining. Within a few minutes' walk from the ground, on the main street is The Brewery Tap. At this friendly establishment, I enjoyed Eat Drink & Be Merry (3.7%) from Parkway Brewery Co and The Perfect Finnish (3.8%) from Woodfordes. The pump clip for the latter (4 handpumps in this pub) features Teemu Pukki, Norwich City’s Finnish striker – a nice play on words.

Before returning to the ground, we grabbed some solid refreshment from Historic Fish and Chips (opposite the pub). I’m not sure how historic this shop is (it looked very modern), but the food was very good. On arrival back at the ground, there was already a buzz about the place. All the main facilities are located at the side of the pitch where you enter at the pay hut. To the right is a covered seated stand. This structure has seen some service but is still in good condition. To the left is the main clubhouse building containing a licensed bar and function room. This building also houses the changing facilities for both players and officials.

The opposite side of the pitch is where the dugouts are situated. The remainder of the playing area is railed off although there is no access behind one goal and half of the side opposite the stand. I was immediately struck with the location of the ground, drawing a comparison with The Rock (Cefn Druids). This should not be a surprise as both grounds are situated in what were previously quarries. The surrounding backdrop makes this a very impressive setting for watching football. We sat in the rear of the stand for the match with some regular stalwart supporters of Lakenheath. Their knowledge, of the history of the club helped immensely. Everyone I encountered was extremely friendly and these people are clearly very proud of the club and the progress made.

Despite playing on a difficult surface, both teams impressed me with their passing and commitment. The home side started brightly, but gradually Framlingham Town grew into the match and it was credit to the home keeper that they only trailed by one goal at the break. Lakenheath were soon back in the ascendancy in the second period and were leading 2-1 before Framlingham grabbed an equaliser. Two further goals secured the victory for the home side, although this scribe believes a draw might have been a fair reflection of the ninety minutes. The Nest is a fine place to watch football and I was pleased to witness such a good match.

Attendance: 82
Admission: £5:00
Programme: £1:00
Tea: £1:00

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Spalding United FC

Spalding United 2 Sutton Coldfield Town 2 - Northern Premier League, South East Division

Spalding is a market town on the River Welland in the South Holland district of Lincolnshire. The town was well known for the annual Spalding Flower Parade, held from 1959 to 2013. The parade celebrated the region's vast tulip production and the cultural links between the Fens and the landscape and people of South Holland. At one time, it attracted crowds of more than 100,000. Since 2002 the town has held an annual Pumpkin Festival in October. Spalding is located at the centre of a major region of flower and vegetable cultivation, due to the rich silty soil, which mainly comprises drained, recovered marshland or estuary. There are many garden centres and plant nurseries, as well as a thriving agricultural industry and various vegetable packing plants. The main vegetables are potatoes, peas, carrots, wheat, barley, oats, broccoli, spinach, lettuce, cabbage, kale and Brussels sprouts. Spalding railway station is situated on the Lincoln Central - Peterborough railway line, operated by East Midlands Railway. The service is irregular, and it does not run at night or on Sundays. It does provide convenient access to Peterborough for employment and shopping. The service to Peterborough was withdrawn by BR in October 1970 as part of the closure of the East Lincolnshire route from Grimsby and Boston, but reinstated in June 1971 with a grant from Spalding Urban District Council.

The football club was established in 1921 when the previous Spalding Town was reformed. The new club played in the Peterborough & District League, which they won in 1930–31. They then stepped up to the Northamptonshire League, which became the United Counties League (UCL) in 1934. They won the UCL in 1974–75 and after several successive top-four finishes, re-joined the Midland League in 1978. They finished fourth in 1981–82, so were placed in the Premier Division of the Northern Counties East League when it was formed by a merger of the Midland League and the Yorkshire League in 1982. They won the first ever NCEL title with a 1–0 win on the final day of the season. After internal disputes within the NCEL related to the miners' strike, Spalding re-joined the UCL in 1986 and were champions in 1987–88, resulting in promotion to the Midland Division of the Southern League. After finishing bottom in 1990–91 they returned to the UCL. The club started the 2013–14  season by winning seventeen games in a row, a league record. The run ended on 14 December 2013 when they lost at home to AFC Rushden & Diamonds. The club went on to win the league, earning promotion to First Division South of the Northern Premier League. The Club has played at the Sir Halley Stewart Playing Field since being established. It was originally known as the Black Swan Ground, until being renamed after Halley Stewart, a local MP, in 1954. After World War II the club spent a season playing at a temporary ground in nearby Low Fulney. The record attendance of 6,972 was set in 1952 for an FA Cup qualifying match against Peterborough United.

My original intention was to attend the match at York Street between Boston united and Gateshead. When I left Cheshunt the match was still on, but as my train neared Cambridge, I saw on Twitter that the heavy rain over the previous few days had finally got the better of the pitch which had become waterlogged. However, all was not lost as Twitter also provided confirmation that Spalding’s pitch was playable having passed an early morning inspection.

My retired colleague, now living in Fakenham, was waiting at Kings Lynn station and kindly drove the shorter distance to Spalding. The Sir Halley Stewart Playing Field is located in the town centre and is only a few minutes walk from the railway and bus stations. After taking some photographs of the ground, we were able to adjourn to the Ivy Wall (J D Wetherspoon) where this Pieman enjoyed a couple of pints of Wise Donkey (3.9%) from the Kansas Avenue Brewing Co in Salford. A decent choice that accompanied my steak and kidney pudding superbly.

The stadium boasts an impressive grandstand, which straddles the half way line, and if viewing from the opposite side of the pitch, the enormous Chatterton Water Tower dwarfs this structure. Just along this same side is a small covered terrace structure. Another identical structure is situated behind one of the goals, adjacent to the clubhouse which contains a licensed bar. The changing facilities for players and officials are contained within the main stand. The opposite side of the ground is open, as is the remaining end, which doubles as the car park.

This was a niggly match, particularly in the first period where we witnessed a number of yellow cards. A lady spectator offered her handbag to the players as seemed appropriate at the time. Despite early pressure from the visitors, Spalding gradually eased themselves into the ascendancy. The home side took the lead courtesy of a penalty converted by Joel Brownhill, just before half time.

The match was turned on its head when two quick goals from Isai Marselia and Reece Gibson put the visitors in a winning position. However, Lewis Brownhill had other ideas, curling in a shot from outside the box for the leveller. Towards the end there was time for a red card for Sutton's Ryan Moore, before we trooped back to the car. Thanks must go to my retired colleague for driving, as we were fortunate to reach Kings Lynn station in time to catch the 17:44 train (although it eventually left at 18:00). A decent day out in Lincolnshire, even if the venue was different to the one we set out for.

Attendance: 119
Admission: £8:00 
Programme: £2:00 (40 pages also covers match v Lincoln United 1/1/20)
Tea: £1:00 

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Bayern Munich FC U19

FC Bayern Munich U19 3 Tottenham Hotspur U19 0 - UEFA Youth League, Group Stage  

Munich is the capital and largest city of the German state of Bavaria, on the banks of River Isar north of the Bavarian Alps. Munich is the third largest city in Germany, after Berlin and Hamburg. The name of the city is derived from the Old/Middle High German term Munichen, meaning "by the monks". It derives from the monks of the Benedictine order who ran a monastery at the place that was later to become the Old Town of Munich; hence the monk depicted on the city's coat of arms. In 1175, Munich was officially granted city status and received fortification. The city was heavily damaged by allied bombing during World War II and was hit by 71 air raids over a period of five years. Munich is famous for its breweries and the Weissbier (or Weizenbier, wheat beer) is a speciality from Bavaria. Helles with its translucent gold colour is the most popular Munich beer today, although it's not old (only introduced in 1895) and is the result of a change in beer tastes. Helles has largely replaced the Munich Dark Beer (Dunkles), which gets its dark colour from burnt malt. It was the typical beer in Munich in the 19th century, but today it is more of a speciality. Starkbier is the strongest Munich beer, containing 6–9 percent alcohol. It is dark amber in colour and has a heavy malty taste. It is available and popular during the Lenten Starkbierzeit (strong beer season), which begins on or before St. Joseph's Day (19 March). The beer served at Oktoberfest is a special type of Märzen beer with a higher alcohol content than regular Helles.

The FC Bayern Campus is a sports complex located in the north of Munich. It was built between 2015 and 2017 on the northern part of the Fürst-Wrede-Kaserne by the football club to create a central location for the clubs' youth teams. The construction costs amounted to €70 million. The campus has facilities for football, basketball, handball and table tennis, spread over an area of 30 hectares. The campus has 8 football pitches for youth teams from the U-9s to the U-19s and the women's and girls' teams. The Allianz FC Bayern Akademie is located on the campus site and the academy has 35 apartments for young talents who don't live in the Greater Munich area. The academy building also has offices for youth coaches and staff. It includes a stadium with a capacity of 2,500 for matches in Under 17 Bundesliga, Under 19 Bundesliga, DFB Youth Cup and the UEFA Youth League.

To reach the Campus by public transport from the city centre, you can take the U-Bahn line2, alighting at Harthof station. From here bus routes A41 and A70 will take you to Neuherbergstraße, which is 500 metres from the campus. The Fridge Magnet and I arrived at Harthof and were delighted to see one of these buses. However, a grumpy driver (probably the least helpful person I have encountered in Germany) waved us off his bus. It was actually heading in the wrong direction and it would be nice to think he was explaining this (his body language suggested otherwise).

After a 25 minute walk we arrived at the campus. This impressive complex boasts all the previously described facilities and I was immediately struck by the professional nature of the place. The 2,500 capacity stadium is the main feature and shows what come be done if there is a will. The fully enclosed arena has spectator viewing facilities (fully covered) on three sides. Behind one of the goals is an area of terracing for standing, whereas the two remaining sides are seated. Only one of these sides was open for this match and by kick off time was reasonably full. A refreshment kiosk was open selling hot drinks and some typically German meat in a bun.

Bayern Munich had already beaten Spurs at Hotspur Way earlier in the season and had already qualified for the next stage of the competition. Spurs could still qualify but had to better the result of Crvena Zvezda who were playing Olympiacos. Accordingly, even a win might not be sufficient to progress.

A header in each half from Flavius Daniliuc and Bright Akwo Arrey-Mbi put Bayern Munich in control and Angelo Stiller's strike from the edge of the box wrapped it up for the hosts on 74 minutes. The latter effort was most impressive and all three goals were followed by a loud rendition of the can-can over the public address system (this experience was repeated later in the evening at the Allianz Arena).

The young Spurs side had a brief spell where they were on top in this match, although already trailing 2-0. If they had scored from the number of chances they had, there might have been a different outcome. Overall though, the hosts were worthy winners.  This tournament runs parallel with the Champions League Group Stage and offers youth sides the opportunity to travel and play clubs from other countries. A positive initiative from UEFA – not often I find myself thinking that!

Attendance: ?
Admission: Free
Programme: None

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Ashton Athletic FC

Ashton Athletic 3 Northwich Victoria 1 - North West Counties League, Premier Division

Ashton-in-Makerfield is a town in Greater Manchester.  It is part of the Metropolitan Borough of Wigan and is 4.2 miles south of the town of Wigan. Historically a part of Lancashire, Ashton-in-Makerfield was anciently a township in the parish of Newton-in-Makerfield (as Newton-le-Willows was once known), and Winwick hundred of West Derby. With neighbouring Haydock, Ashton-in-Makerfield was a chapelry, but the two were split in 1845. The place has long been a centre for the manufacture of locks and hinges, but also sits on the Lancashire Coalfield, and so was a coal-mining district. As recently as the 1970s the district of Ashton-in-Makerfield had one of the highest proportions of derelict land, mainly in the form of spoil tips, left over from coal mining. Major land reclamation schemes have since completely transformed the area. Ashton-in-Makerfield railway station, which was situated off Lodge Lane in neighbouring Haydock, opened in 1900 as part of the Great Central Railway and closed in 1952. Today two local stations at Garswood and Bryn now serve the town, both on the line between Wigan North Western railway station and Liverpool Lime Street railway station.

Ashton Athletic FC was formed in 1968, initially as a Sunday league club playing in the Wigan Sunday League. After winning every division in the league in successive seasons, they switched to playing Saturday football, joining the Warrington & District League. Success in the Warrington League saw the club join the Lancashire Combination in 1978. However, the move up saw the club struggle, finishing bottom of the league in 1978–79 and 1981–82. When the league merged with the Cheshire County League to form the North West Counties League in 1982, Ashton were placed in Division Three, which they finished bottom of in both 1982–83 and 1983–84. After a fourteenth-place finish in 1984–85, they finished bottom of the table again in 1985–86. At the end of the season the club were expelled from the league due to Brocstedes Park failing to meet the ground grading criteria. They subsequently dropped into Division One of the Manchester League. They continued to struggle in the Manchester League, with several lower-half finishes before finishing bottom of Division One in 1989–90. They finished bottom again in 1994–95. The 2005–06 season saw them finish fourth in Division One, and after applying to re-join the North West Counties League following improvements to Brocstedes Park, the club were accepted into Division Two. The 2016–17 season saw them win the Lancashire FA Challenge Trophy with a 2–1 win over Radcliffe Borough in the final.

My journey from London Euston was to Wigan North Western, where after a decent late breakfast, I adjourned to The Anvil, a pub familiar to me. At this establishment I enjoyed a pint of Atomic Theory IPA (3.8%). This Jennings brew was excellent value at £2:50. I also visited The Moon Under Water (JD Wetherspoon), where Scaredy Cat (4.3%) from Moorhouses Brewery came in at £1:65 with my CAMRA discount voucher.

Bryn is the first station after Wigan North Western. I had intended to catch the 14:52 service and was actually sitting on the train. However, we somehow managed to lose our driver! Not to worry as the 15:21 ran to time and I was soon at Bryn. I would estimate that my walk from the station took less than twenty minutes to reach the ground (even less if you cut across the field just after the big church), where I was able to take some daylight photographs (just). With plenty of time to spare, I headed back to the area around the station where at “Mr English Traditional Fish and Chips” the haddock and chips was a tasty treat.

The ground pretty much backs on to the northbound slip road of the M6 (you cross over the motorway when walking from the station). All of the club and spectator facilities are situated on one side of the ground. A spacious clubhouse with a bar along with the changing facilities is housed in the main building. There are two covered seated stands. One is a long structure containing three rows of seats (there is a small area at the far end, which would also enable standing if the weather dictated so). The other smaller stand is marked for the use of officials but this was taken over by many of the visiting support for the first half of this match. My half time Bovril was purchased at the tea bar located in a converted shipping container. The remainder of the ground is railed off with hardstanding.

This match saw Ashton Athletic in 11th place pitted against 9th place Northwich Victoria. The well supported visitors took the lead with a deflected strike with little over a minute on the clock. Despite this setback, Ashton gradually grew into the match and levelled through Christopher Bandell midway through the first period. A super strike from Paul Watson and another goal from Bandell sealed the win for the home side and I believe the result to be a fair reflection of proceedings.

I have only seen a few matches in the North West counties League, but have always been impressed with the commitment on and off the field. The road immediately outside the ground is unlit and this pedestrian was grateful to those leaving after the match for acknowledging my presence. The 22:08 service from Bryn to Liverpool Lime Street ran as scheduled and I was at my hotel just before 23:00. I enjoyed my visit to Brocstedes Park and my only regret was that my gloves had remained in Hertfordshire!

Attendance: 119
Admission: £6:00 
Programme: £2:00 (16 pages)
Tea: £1:50 

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Solihull Moors FC

Solihull Moors 3 AFC Fylde 1 - National League

Solihull is the largest town in Warwickshire, situated 7.5 miles southeast of Birmingham, 18 miles northwest of Warwick and 110 miles northwest of London. Solihull's name is commonly thought to have derived from the position of its parish church, St Alphege, on a 'soily' hill. The church was built on a hill of stiff red marl, which turned to sticky mud in wet weather. A number of main roads pass through Solihull including the A41 Birmingham to Warwick road and the A34 Birmingham to Stratford road which becomes the commercial centre of Shirley, making for a busy town-centre feel along the main road. The M42 and the M40 both pass through Solihull and provide very rapid links to Oxford and London and to the rest of the motorway network surrounding the West Midlands. Birmingham Airport is located in Solihull. Solihull railway station is on the former Great Western Railway line from Birmingham Snow Hill station to London Paddington although trains now run along the Chiltern Main Line terminating at London Marylebone.

Solihull Moors FC was founded in 2007 by the merger of Moor Green (founded in 1901) and Solihull Borough (founded in 1953). Throughout the 2007–08 Conference North campaign, then-manager Bob Faulkner kept much of the same squad that had represented Moor Green the previous season, with some summer additions from elsewhere. No Solihull Borough players were retained. Solihull Moors' first ever league goal was an equaliser scored by Darren Middleton, in a game that also saw Moors score their first league point, a 1–1 home draw with Barrow in their first competitive game. Moors had to wait two further weeks for a first ever competitive win, beating Gainsborough Trinity 3–1 at home. The club finished their first season in seventeenth position in the Conference North, securing survival with a win away at Blyth Spartans in April 2008. In their first FA Cup campaign, Solihull Moors reached the Fourth Qualifying Round. Damson Park is situated on Damson Parkway in the Damsonwood area of town, about two miles north of Solihull town centre, next to the Land Rover car plant.

I travelled to Solihull using the frequent rail service from London Marylebone with the journey taking an hour and a half. Once through the Chilterns it was clear that there was a lot of standing water that had not cleared from the recent flooding but I was assured that the Solihull area was clear and so it proved to be. On arrival, I headed to the White Swan (JD Wetherspoon) for some solid refreshment. This was washed down with a pint of Stonecutter (3.7%) from the Lymestone Brewery in Stone, Staffordshire. The X12 bus service operates at 20 minute intervals serving Solihull and Birmingham via Chelsmley Wood. The route takes you directly past the ground, but does deviate through a large housing estate on the edge of Solihull but the journey only takes 15 minutes and is certainly an option for those not wishing to pay £5 to park at the ground.

On arrival at the ground I was able to purchase a match ticket from the ticket booth immediately outside the turnstiles. This can be done with cash or card and the ticket is then scanned as you enter the ground. The only disappointment was that the ticket itself does not represent much of a souvenir and is more akin to a supermarket receipt. I appreciate that I am being a tad harsh here and acknowledge the efficiency of the system. On entering the ground, I got the immediate impression that this is an ambitious club that are already geared up to host football at the higher level.

The main double deck stand is the main structure in the ground. The top level is for corporate attendees and there seemed to be a good number enjoying the fayre on offer. The lower level has good seating although for a new structure I was surprised to see so many posts, which may obstruct viewing. The opposite side of the ground is populated by three separate (temporary in appearance) stands. Decent covered terracing is situated behind both goals. The main stand houses the main bar but there is also a separate area in a corner of the ground selling Sadler’s Peaky Blinder craft ale and roast pork baps. A fine looking burger van selling the usual fayre was also in action behind one of the stands.

The match saw the home side record their fifth straight home league victory against AFC Fylde who are struggling to replicate their form of the previous season. Fine attacking play in the first period was rewarded by goals from Jamey Osborne, Paul McCallum from the penalty spot and Callum Howe. Just before the break Ryan Croasdale pulled a goal back for the visitors, which for the neutral meant we might see a bit of a fightback in the second period. To be fair, the second half was more of an even contest with both sides contributing well. In the end I agree that the result was reflective of the match.

As soon as the match ended it was straight to bus stop along with numerous others. Two buses (A1 being the other route) arrived just after 17:00 and so the group of teenage fans that went straight to the front of the queue need not have worried, as there was plenty of room for everyone! The bus reached the town centre with plenty of time to spare to grab some refreshments for the journey home. Unfortunately, the train to Marylebone consisted of only three carriages, but luckily I was able to find a seat, when a couple got off the train at the next station. The train was on time in reaching London and my onward journey was without delay.

Attendance: 1389
Admission: £16:00 
Programme: £3:00 (48 pages)
Tea: £2:00 (£1:50 from burger van behind stand)
Half-time draw winning numbers (not mine!): 1st 05587, 2nd 05526, 3rd 06075

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

FK Crvena Zvezna (Red Star Belgrade)

Crvena Zvezva (Red Star Belgrade) 0 Tottenham Hotspur 4 - UEFA Champions League, Group Stage

Belgrade is the capital and largest city of Serbia. It is located at the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers and the crossroads of the Pannonian Plain and the Balkan Peninsula. Belgrade was the capital of Yugoslavia from its creation in 1918 to its dissolution in 2006. Belgrade is a separate territorial unit in Serbia, with its own autonomous city authority. The Assembly of the City of Belgrade has 110 members, elected on four-year terms. A 13-member City Council, elected by the Assembly and presided over by the mayor and his deputy, has the control and supervision of the city administration, which manages day-to-day administrative affairs. It is divided into 14 Secretariats, each having a specific portfolio such as traffic or health care, and several professional services, agencies and institutes. Belgrade has an extensive public transport system consisting of buses, trams, trolleybuses and S-Train. The S-train network, BG Voz, run by city government in co-operation with Serbian Railways, is a part of the integrated transport system, and currently has three lines.

Fudbalski klub Crvena Zvezda (Red Star Belgrade) was founded in 1945 during World War II, when a group of young men, active players, students and members of the Serbian United Antifascist Youth League, decided to form a Youth Physical Culture Society. Dragan Džajić is Red Star's record appearance holder with 389 matches. The goal scoring record holder is Bora Kostić with 230 goals. Dragan Džajić played 85 matches for the Yugoslavian national football team, a national record. The club’s home ground is the Stadion Rajko Mitić, formerly known as Red Star stadium. With a seated capacity of 55,538, it is the largest stadium in Serbia and in the former Yugoslavia.

My journey from London was with the usually reliable Lufthansa. From Heathrow to Munich and then on to Belgrade. The connection was good and we reached the Serbian capital as scheduled. Once we had established the geography of the city (not immediately possible when disembarking from the A1 airport shuttle bus) we took the opportunity to enjoy a couple of cold beers before seeking out our hotel. On the day of the match, during the morning we wandered around the city until in an attempt to swerve the rain, we took refuge in a bar. This establishment was a complete contrast to the many new buildings that are gradually appearing on the Belgrade skyline. Of course there is still much of the old Belgrade to see and although the lavatory provision in this bar possessed a urinal, this was complimented by a hole in the ground for additional activity!

That afternoon I successfully used the Lufthansa online check in facility for the return flights the following day – what could possibly go wrong? Within ten minutes I received a text from the airline to say that my Munich to London flight had been cancelled, but that they were working on a solution! What transpired was that Lufthansa cabin crew staff had commenced a 48 hour strike period covering the Thursday and Friday (1300 flights were cancelled). I later received a communication informing me that I had been rebooked on a flight leaving Belgrade at 18:00 on Friday via Zurich which would have meant arriving at Heathrow at 22:00 as opposed to 17:00 the previous day! More on that later.

To add to these woes, the Belgrade police refused to allow the buses for the Spurs fans to leave from the city centre as planned. Instead everyone was told to make their own way to a location 9km from town, from where they would be bussed to the stadium. This was despite the protestations of Tottenham Hotspur, UEFA and the FCO. On arrival at the ground, which has a ramshackle charm to it, we experienced a relatively straightforward entry to the away supporters section. However, the toilet facilities (Portaloos) were located outside, so a one-in one-out system was in operation for that purpose. The photographs hereon will hopefully paint a picture of the stadium. This venue will not have received any investment in recent decades for improvements.

The match (yes there was one!) saw Tottenham Hotspur comfortably beat their hosts for the second time in this group, despite a couple of earlier scares. The home support at the opposite end of the stadium to ours was impressive in their passion and choreographed singing and bouncing up and down. I’m not sure if they watched any of the match though, as they were most likely too busy! Why let the football spoil a good night out? For the record the goals were scored by Lo Celso, Son (2) and Eriksen

The following day, due to our unscheduled extended Belgrade experience, we took a wander up to the ground for daylight viewing, which confirmed the tatty appearance. A decent Serbian meal (which Lufthansa will fund along with the extra hotel cost) and a visit to a craft beer establishment was a nice end to the evening. On the Friday we were (not without a few glitches) able to persuade Lufthansa to rebook us on their flights to Munich and Heathrow. In the end we reached Heathrow precisely 24 hours after we would have done on the same timed flights. My second visit to Serbia was eventful, but I have to say that most of the people I met were friendly and helpful.

Attendance: 42,381
Admission: 6,000,02 RSD
Programme: 100 RSD but not widely available (28 pages)