Monday, March 31, 2008

Semechki for all

Semechki.... The small sunflower seeds that are so popular at Eastern European football grounds were in abundance at the Arsenal v Shakhtar game on Sunday. Free entry and enough seeds , served in red cups with the Arsenal logo on, led to a crowd of 33,000 chomping fans entering the ground. I don't know what state the ground was in today, but I presume the local sparrow population was pretty chuffed.

The game was also fantastic and one of the best I have seen in a while. Unfortunately Arsenal lost 4-2, but they always entertain. Nobody apart from Metalist has scored more, and nobody apart from Zakarpatty has conceded more.

Arsenal went ahead in the 25th minute with a goal from Zakarluka, who I haven't seen play so well since his CSKA days of yesteryear. The same can't be said of Vitaliy Reva, who was a goalkeeper of heroic status at CSKA, but seems to be a nervous wreck in goals for the Arse.

Anyway, surprisingly it stayed at 1-0 until half time, and we expected Shakhtar to get back in it with a dodgy penalty in the second half, but things didn't work out like that.

Shakhtar came out fired up in the second half, nearly as fired up as Nadiya was about the guy behind her dropping the loathsome semechki on her seat. The pressure was too much for Reva and the defence though, and Shakhtar got an equaliser on 51 minutes with a goal from Jadson. The game then took another twist though with Lysenko putting Arsenal ahead. However, his somewhat OTT celebrations were fairly short lived as Kravchenko equalised yet again on 67 minutes(bloody hell, so Shakhtar still have some Ukrainians playing for them). The inevitable then happened , as the flood gates opened and Brandao and then O.Hai, finished off the job.

In general, Arsenal looked great going forward and horrendous in defence, so the statistics don't lie on this occassion. One thing I have to wonder about though is why Bito came on for Arsenal. He runs around like a headless chicken in slow motion, let's hope he proves me wrong about this analysis in the not too distant future.

The afternoon was rounded off with a couple of beers in the park with Ewig and his mates, classy!
The photo shows that OTT goal celebration, or were they just looking for the free semechki?

Friday, March 28, 2008

Angry Shakhter

On Sunday Arsenal will take on Shakhter.

Arsenal have made a couple of impressive performances lately with the win over a desperate Vorskla being followed by an away drubbing of high flying Metalist. So you might think that there would be reason for optimism, as second place Shakhter come to town this weekend.

However, that is the problem, Shakhter are in second. Their lead before the winter break seemed unasailable, as Dnipro were starting to buckle and Dynamo looked a shadow of their former selves. Dynamo are now top and in fine form, although Shakhter still have a game in hand. After losing to Tavriya last week they are going to be angry and God knows what form of punishment their lunatic, billionaire, political manipulator and club owner Renat Akhmetov has subjected them to.

In the past after humiliations in Europe he has allegedly had them doing push-ups on the plane home and ordered a steamroller to crush all the cars belonging to the players in the car park.

This season he has brought together one of the most expensive teams in the World, and most of the players who were tempted by the money are still there. One exception being Christian Lucarelli, who took the money, set up a newspaper in his home town of Livorno and then buggered off to Parma. Again European glory has eluded them, Akhmetov said qualification from the group stages was a bare minimum, however after a bright start they failed to even gain a UEFA cup space. I doubt that failure in the league will be tolerated.

To be fair to him, he has had to buy players who will play in the Ukrainian League and live in Donetsk, which is why the outlay for some of the players has been over the top to say the least. They also have one of the best training grounds in the World, which bizzarely includes an aviary for the players to chill out by looking at a cockatoo, or something like that.

Of the current crop of recruits hoping for a move to Western Europe, Brazilian Brandao looks the best, however despite being to be able to beat any player he sometimes comes unstuck on crappy pitches, and last time I saw him he beat 3 players only to lose the ball in the snow.

The pitch on Sunday should be in better condition, and although I hope for an Arsenal win I am not holding my breath.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Who Supports Who in Kyiv

Only my own ramblings, but here goes.


When I first came to Kyiv in 2000 CSKA were the team I decided to support. At the time they had a pretty good team, but very little support, due to the dominance of Dynamo. What support they had seemed to centre around eccentrics, dissatisfied youths and old guys with nothing else to do and out of towners, who didn't want to support Dynamo, but would probably prefer to watch Karpaty. In other words they were the underdogs, and what British person doesn't like an underdog?

Like most ex- army teams they were woefully short of cash and the stadium showed it. Over the next year the scoreboard disintegrated to the point where the kids behind the goal wrote the score in cardboard and put it up on the holes that had appeared on the once electronic device, a Cup semi-final in November 2001 with Dnipro went to penalties and the referee had to play it at the end where the floodlights were better (about 60 watts) and one time an old geezer told a kid off for running across the stand, as he may have fallen through it, he was only half joking.

On the other hand, they had a pretty accomplished side and in 2001 had a decent run in the UEFA cup culminating in a win over the mighty Red Star Belgrade before going out to Brugge.

Things were not well at the club though, they lost some fans when in that season they lay down and died for Dynamo in the Kyiv Derby, losing 5-1 at home and the mayor of Kyiv at the time, Omelchenko fancied having a football club to play with. He was never going to get his hands on Dynamo, so he focused his attention on CSKA. However, Central Sports Klub of the Army was not a hip name to be associated with and what went on in the winter break of 2001 was confusing to say the least. Finally it emerged that a new club, Arsenal Kyiv would take CSKA's place in the Vische Liha and CSKA would be relegated to the First division. Obviously, most of the star players left, and not to Arsenal, and what had looked like a partnership never happened, leaving CSKA languishing in the division that their second team had been playing in only 3 months before.

Arsenal managed to pick up some of the fans who had left CSKA after the derby debacle, people who liked football, but not the arrogance of Dynamo and people like me. A lot of people said that they would continue following CSKA, but the reality was we were not going to give up football and games in the first division are played mainly on weekdays, so if you have a job you can't go.

CSKA are now at the wrong end of the first division and are playing mainly at Dynamo's training camp outside of Kyiv at Konchazaspa. If they get relegated it will probably, sadly spell the end for them. They will go the same way as most ex-army clubs in Eastern Europe, with CSKA of Moscow, another minor club who have had their fates changed by Abramovich's billions being the exception.

Now they still have a hardcore fanbase, but it is made up of people who like mindless violence a lot more than football, in general.

Arsenal Kyiv

After the aforementioned winter break I started watching Arsenal Kyiv at Respublikansky , at first the crowd seemed to be made up of people who were just curious about what was going on and school kids on a freebie and a few old faces from CSKA. After a while I noticed a banner for an internet site appear, so I contacted them straight away, with a view to writing an article about them for another internet site. It was a good move, as it led to me meeting some of the people who have become my best friends in Kyiv. They had a small, but keen ultra movement, who mixed and still mix English and Italian styles of fandom. What also struck me was that most of them seemed intelligent and there was none of the stupid racism that was rife in Ukrainian football at the time. The fans come from all different walks of life and different regions of Kyiv, which has its flip side in that they can't really agree where the club should play, when and if they find a permanent home.

Obolon Kyiv

Finding out anything about Obolon was a nightmare, me and Phil even went to the part of town where they are from in search of the ground at the time, Smena. However, we had to give up and drink vodka in the street, purely for medicinal reasons. I would have given up completly after that, but Phil was more persistant and finally made contact with Andriy, who sold us some crappy scarves and took us to our first Obolon game.

This was in April 2001 and incongruously was held in Respublikansky Stadium. At the time Obolon were in the second division, but were making big steps towards promotion, in that game we saw them win against Cherkasiy's second team and we saw them win every time after that.

We even managed to get some Obolon 2 games in at Smena.

At that time it was strange to see such a minor team playing in such a big stadium, and the crowd seemed to be made up of passers-by who had spotted the beer van outside, us and ex-Rangers player and now national team coach, Oleksiy Mikhailichenko.

Obolon were gaining momentum though, and with promotion came a wider fan base, made up mainly of people with relations at the brewery, and home games were played outside of Kyiv in a village school's stadium at Shastliva, as they tried to find a ground of their own. It was always an adventure getting up there and was very often fuelled by large amounts of alcohol, which added to the match atmosphere, although what I was doing leading a pitch invasion in a game against Mikolaev is still a mystery to me.

Promotion followed promotion and Obolon found themselves in the Vishe Liha, where they hung around for a couple of seasons, however plans for the new stadium ran a ground and they ended up in the same position as Arsenal, playing at Dynamo and Respublikansky. They managed to put on one game against Krybas in 2002 at their stadium (you don't have to ask the score), however relegation followed.

Since then Obolon have climbed back to top of the first division, and although they don't seem to want it, promotion seems to be already in the bag. The old fan club seems to have disappeared and now the fans seem to be made up of people from the local area and alcoholics who enjoy the cheap booze ( they might lose these fans if they get promotion, as boozing at grounds is strictly restricted in the Vische Liha nowadays.)

Dynamo Kyiv

Who supports Dynamo? Everybody and nobody. Dynamo in the Soviet times were a symbol of Ukrainian pride and their past glories are the both legendary and mythical, something I will divulge at a later date.

I have had a season ticket for Dynamo in the past and barely miss a home game, however there is something dislikeable about the fans.

Most of them tend to be day trippers, who would rather take photos with their new scarves outside the ground than watch any football. They also think foreigners shouldn't be there or that you should join in with the neo-nazi elements in the crowd for being English.

I'm sure some of them are nice people and they seem to be playing nice football again. I just wish other visitors to Kyiv would take timeout to get a real experience of Ukrainian football rather than the Dynamo version.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Give him a Ball and a Yard of Grass

This week's music/ football crossover is from The Sultans of Ping FC.
The Sultans are/ were a band from Cork who were Cork City fans. They were most popular in the early 90's and their single Where's Me Jumper? was a hit on the student circuit at the time. However, unfortunately most people can only name this song although the Sultans released 3 albums.

Apart from their name being football related they also have 3 songs related to football: I'm in Love with a Football Hooligan, Back in a Tracksuit and best of all Give him a ball and a Yard of Grass.

This song is about ex-England, Forest and Liverpool midfielder / striker Nigel Clough. During his time as a footballer I didn't have much time for him at all, mainly because of my dislike for the clubs he played for. However, as boss and sometime player of Burton Albion he has done a great job and the Brewers are looking good for the Conference play-offs this year, so well done to him. He has stayed loyal to Burton over the years despite being continually linked to the Derby or Forest job every time one of them has a bad run of results, so that's every couple of weeks.

In the song the Sultans sing He's a nice young man with a lovely smile, well he's a grumpy old sod nowadays who annoys fans of ex-league clubs now in the Conference under the pseudonym of Newark Colin, when writing on the Net, which earns him more plaudits.

I also remember in a Burton programme he was asked What advice do you give to young players? His response was My dad told me to sign for Liverpool. Never listen to your dad. Sound advice if your dad was Brian Clough, but that's another story.

If you fancy listening to the Sultans of Ping there are plenty of MP3s including Give him a Ball and a Yard of Grass at:

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

A Day of 2 Games

Double headers are few and far between and when they happen it usually feels like the canonball run from one stadium to another, today was a bit more relaxed, in a way, and I saw 2 good games and didn't feel guilty as I was excused from going to some kid's birthday party.

First up was Obolon v Prikarppatiya. I have to say that Obolon's ground is a real sod to find, situated in a housing estate at the end of a metro line and without floodlights doesn't make it easy and neither does the fact that very few of the locals know the way. I had been there twice before, but I still found it hard and ended up phoning Andriy for directions.

Luckily I found it in time and it's a good job I did. First of all the beer is dead cheap and straight from the brewery, it costs the equivalent of 20p and tastes good, so it's a good job the club have the sense to have plenty of portaloos there. The weather was terrible, hence the poor photos from today, but the football was satisfactory, and the atmosphere (aided by cheap booze) was pretty raucous.

The first half saw Obolon dominating without looking like scoring and I was wondering whether the rumours that they were going to give up trying for promotion, as they can't afford to play in the Vische Liha were correct. However the skeptics were proved wrong as Obolon eventually won 2-0 with 2 headed goals. It seemed that prikarppatiya were very vulnerable in the air and Obolon could probably have had a couple more if it wasn't for bad luck.

I was also pleasently surprised to see Erwig from Arsenal at the game and we had a beer on the way to the metro before I embarked on the second stage of the double header.

I was pretty late getting to Dynamo, as was expected, as I missed the first 20 minutes, and the first goal. Luckily the Kryvbas hoodoo was finally buried the moment that I entered the stadium, as Shatskih hammered the ball into the back of the net to score Dynamo's and his second of the match. Shatskih, who is often known as Burratino (Pinnochio) because of his 'wooden' leg looked the sharpest he has done for a long time. In fact Dynamo as a whole looked sharper than they have for ages, so maybe the change of coach from Szabo to Semin ( with Luzhny taking control as caretaker boss in the interim period) has paid dividends. Probably the only person who would disagree is Szabo, who was ranting away about how he was hounded out of the club on TV a couple of weeks ago. On the other hand maybe they were more assertive as Tavriya had beaten Shakhter earlier in the day giving them the chance to go top, although their other performances since Semin took over would suggest that they are on the up.

Bangoura scored the third goal on 77th minutes and it wasn't until this point that Kryvbas started to play, maybe they finally realised that their offside trap wasn't working, but 3-0 is how it finished.

The strangest thing about Dynamo is the fact that although I was late loads of people were still messing around outside and taking photos of themselves by the Lobanovskiy statue and by the end of the match most of them had buggered off early. Admittedly the weather was crap, and luckily the stewards are pretty half-hearted, so I spent the match standing in different parts of the ground, but you have to wonder what the point is of making an effort if you can' t be bothered to watch the game for more than 20 minutes, especially when the team performs like it did today.
The top picture shows Obolon, on the left is the main stand which hasn't been completed due to the club running out of money when there was a hostile takeover bid of the brewery. On the right were the fans ( mostly out of shot) including a group of headcases who had travelled up from Ivano Frankosk.
The second picture shows the view of when I entered Dynamo stadium

Friday, March 21, 2008

Football Culture - Subbuteo,oh,oh,oh,oh

I don't subscribe to most of the rubbish that is said about the decline of society in Britain. I mean all this rubbish about ASBO and binge drinking, also gave the likes of Disraeli and Gladstone a headache, they just didn't have the jargon to know what to call it. However, the new subbuteo is pretty indicative of the rise of the individual and the selfish attitudes that were set all those years ago by Thatch. You might ask am I still blaming her for some of the crap things that happen? Well, yes I bloody well am.

Anyway, what annoys me about the new subbuteo is that kids are encouraged to collect a team of superstars, so there's no more Yeovil, Bournemouth or Plymouth to collect and apart from Gareth Barry and Micah Richards, there's probably no Villa, Man City or Portsmouth, just a team of Galacticos . Let's hope it is as successful for them as it was for Real Madrid.

Subbuteo has been around since 1946, when it was just a set of cardboard men on plastic bases, a bit like its latest incarnation, it probably reached the height of its popularity in the 1980's when there were hundreds of teams produced from around the world including some of the bigger non-league clubs of the time like Yeovil and Blythe Spartans, it also featured in a song by Half Man, Half Biscuit and on t-shirts for The Farm.

However, more difficult times were around the corner, as computer games came out and sales dropped culminating in the sale of the original company and the recent developments.

On a brighter note subbuteo seems to still have enough popularity to fuel a cottage industry of a kind with Zuego, Santiago (see picture) and Astrobase teams being produced in the UK and Italy and leagues continuing across Britain, Holland, Germany and Italy, although I suspect that alot of the players should be old enough to know better.

My own personal memories of subbuteo are playing with my mates, or my ex-nextdoor neighbour, who was in his 30's and who beat me even after 6 cans of Special Brew. He was always Coventry and I was always Villa, so I suppose subbuteo on these ocassions really was about as far away from reality as it could be. I also remember collecting tokens from Match to get free teams. I imagine that at the time Subbuteo were trying to tap the French Market, as I got Monaco, St.Etienne and Auxerre. Needless to say the Anglo-French cup was big in our house.

I suppose next time I'm at home I'll introduce Sean and Nadiya to old school subbuteo, as I still have a fair old collection in the attic. Let's hope that crap like the new subbuteo and Pro-evo soccer fall out of favour and that Zuego can corner the market for football games, although I some how doubt it will happen.

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Football and Music - Part 2

A few weeks ago I was talking about the Zidane album by Mogwai. This time it's George Best by The Wedding Present.

Never has a band and a footballer been so paradoxical.

Best burst onto the football scene after being discovered by Manchester United's legendary scout, Bob Bishop, who said the club had to 'sign him at all costs'. He was born in 1946 and made his debut in1963. He is generally regarded as one of the best footballers of all time and won the league in 1965 and 1967 and the European Cup in 1968, where he performed excellently. However due to alcoholism and his other vices his career was over by 1975. He also played for several American clubs, Bournemouth, Fulham and Hibs.

The Wedding Present ironically haven't been so 'rock and roll' in this respect. They were formed in 1985, made their first Peel Session in 1986 and released George Best in 1987. Rather than being glamorous they have been steadily successful and have produced some good albums. There is even a Ukrainian link as they produced some Ukrainian Folk Tunes for John Peel in 1988. We won't split hairs about some of the songs being Russian, as it was a brave move for an indie rock band associated with the C86 movement. They are still going today and will produce their 21st album this year (if you include Peel Sessions and Compliations) and will appear at the Indie Tracks Festival in Derbyshire in July.

The Wedding Present were the first band I saw live and their live performances continue to be energetic affairs. At that gig support was provided by a noise-rock band called The Boo Radleys, who later came on to be kings of the Britpop scene and The Real People, who should have done.

Here's a link for the album, if there are any objections I'll take it down quicker than George Best could turn lager into piss

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Ukrainian Football This Weekend ahead- Kryvbas my Nemesis

My favourite 2 Vische Liha clubs do battle on Friday evening as Metalist take on Arsenal in Kharkiv and I'm faced with a bit of a conundrum on Sunday.

Dynamo take on Kryvbas and Obolon take on Prikarpattiya on the same day. I was unaware that Obolon were playing this weekend, as most of their games tend to be on weekdays, due to them being in the first division, although they are looking good for promotion. The only reason I found out was that I saw the Horse from the fan club in the street. However, I don't have any clue regarding the kick off time and a phone call to Andriy and a browse of their website didn't shed any light on the situation. Furthermore their ground is situated at the arse end of town and even the football daily Komanda prints kick off times for the Vische League wrongly, nevermind the first league. That said, it will test my resolve to go to Obolon and give Dynamo the elbow a bit if and when Obolon get promoted.

I find Dynamo pretty annoying, most of their fans tend to be football tourists coming from the sticks to Kyiv for a day out and taking photos with brand new scarves, so I'm hoping Obolon can get promotion and provide a decent alternative for when Arsenal are away. The plus side for Dynamo is that their stadium is situated a 10 minute bus ride away and to be honest I have had a season ticket for them in the past. Probably the biggest reservations I have about Dynamo's game this weekend is the fact that the opposition is Kryvbas.

Kryvbas have been hanging around in the top flight since the Ukrainian League started. They have reached the cup final once and once finished third, for the rest of the time they have hung around in mid-table. Their tactics seem to be that of a ficticious football club I read about years ago: try to win every home game 1-0 and get a 0-0 draw away. They have become my footballing nemesis. I have seen them on numerous occassions including on a trip to Metalist Kharkiv and I have never seen them concede a goal or score one. The trip to Kharkiv was before the express train was running so a round trip of 24 hours for no goals wasn't that great, on top of this me, Sean and Ewig probably encountered one of the worst 0-0 draws of all time when they took on Arsenal at the end of the first half of the season ( it wasn't actually the worst game I have seen that would have been back in 1997 when Torpedo Luzhniki took on Zenit in the Russian league, there were about 4,000 fans in a 90,000 stadium the police made me sit in the right seat and the game was so dull the journalist from Sport Express who was covering the match fell asleep- presumably he made the report up after, I doubt he sat through a video of it)

In fact the only 2 times I have had a chance of seeing any goals in a Kryvbas game have been denied me.The first was when we planned to go to Kryvyy Rih to see them take on CSKA, it was purely for football reasons, the town isn't known for its tourism. We had bought our train tickets only to be informed by the guy in the cloakroom at work that the game had been postponed for a week, so not only did we lose our money as we couldn't go on that day, but CSKA won 2-1. The second time was a fixture in Kyiv between the same 2 teams, this time Komanda and its dodgy kick-off information was to blame. The paper and infact the press office at CSKA told us the kick off time was 3 o'clock, so we met at 1:30 and had a few pints in the cheapo bar over the road. We then ambled over to the ground to find that the kick off time had been 2pm and CSKA were 3-0 up at half time, and that's how the result remained.

To be fair to Kryvbas they have been punching above their weight for years and continue to finish mid-table despite financial mishap after mishap, including almost being closed down in 2006.

My prediction is that Dynamo will beat them 2-0 on Sunday, although I doubt it will be pretty and hopefully I'll organise the trip up to Obolon and Andriy will get off his arse and come. At Obolon you can drink cheap beer straight from the brewery, when Kryvbas come to town you wish you had stayed in the pub, either way football is back and I might even get in 2 games in one day (maybe)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Arsenal Kyiv - Back in Respublikanskiy

After groundsharing for a while with Dynamo, Arsenal are now back at Respublikansky, and although I missed the first game with Zorya (which ended in a 1-1 draw) because it was on a Friday evening they didn't disappoint this time.

6 years ago when Arsenal were playing at Respublikanskiy I met some of the people who have become my best friends in Ukraine, so it was good to catch up with Bo and Ewig from the old days when we used to have a few beers and sing all game. The 'Ultras' are a younger bunch now and fancy themselves as hooligans, which is a bit lamentable. It appears that Ewig and Bo still control a lot of other things, including the printing of a fanzine ( which I haven't seen yet) and tickets for the sector that celebrate 5 years of the Arsenal Ultras.

I was accompanied by the family for the game and thankfully it was a cracker, and the atmosphere was better than Dynamo, so at least the kids are more likely to follow Arsenal than Dynamo.

Vorskla opened the scoring with a goal from Chichikov on 19 minutes, which had us wondering if they were as bad as we had thought they were. They certainly didn't appear to be. Demetradze equalised on 25, in an unusual starting appearance - he usually comes of the bench to little effect. However, Tsuppi converted a penalty 10 minutes later to put Vorskla 2-1 up at half time.

Arsenal started the second half brightly, with Jose getting stuck in as usual, but it wasn't until Bito came on that things started to really take shape. Seleznov finally got an equaliser after 77 minutes, before converting a penalty in the last minute. It was the third penalty appeal and gave Arsenal a derved victory, especially as Vorskla had spent long periods of the game time wasting when they were 2-1 up.

Most of the crowd went home happy, and I was happy to be following Arsenal once more in the Respublikansky Stadium.
Notes on pictures from top to bottom:
1. Action on the pitch shortly after kick off, after attracting 40,000 to the first game at Resrublikansky ( free beer was involved) attendance fell to the usual 5,ooo mark.
2. The self styled ultras. I found it quite funny that they still sang songs in English that I had introduced all those years ago.
3. They think it's all over....... but the ref adds 4 minutes on due to Vorskla's time wasting earlier in the game.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Club focus - Vorskla Poltava

The first match I went to after the winter break was Metalist v Vorskla, Vorskla again provide the competition on Sunday when they take on Arsenal Kyiv at Respublikansky, so who are they?

The side that were to later become Vorskla started out in Poltava as Kolkhoznik ( Collective Farm Workers) when they were formed by Mikhail Stakhurskiy in 1955. In that year they took part in a tournament of Physical Culture, surprisingly the following year they won the Soviet Cup and in 1956 were admitted into catergory B of the Soviet league, where they spent 11 years and changed their name to Kolos.

What happened after this is unclear from all the research I've done, it appears that Kolos stagnated and by 1982 had reached new lows finishing in last place in the 2nd division of the Ukrainian zone of the Soviet league. What is clear that during this period is that another Poltava club that was to become a part of Vorskla were in the ascendancy in the region.

In 1968 Selstroi reached Division A of the Soviet league, where they promptly changed their name to Stoitili (builders). However, soon afterwards the Soviet league was restructured and they had to join the second division, where they played without much distinction for the next 12 seasons.

At the start of the 1984 season the teams in Poltava were connected under the umbrella name Vorskla ( the river which runs through the region), where they played in the second division of the Soviet League. In 1988 they managed to gain promotion to the first division where they played until the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In 1992 Vorskla joined the Ukrainian league and played in the first division for 5 years before gaining promotion with a record 103 points. The following season they finished 3rd in the Ukrainian league and played in the UEFA cup. Since then Vorskla have been everpresent in the top division of the Ukrainian league without achieving much. I have seen them beaten on several occassions and this season could see relegation, as they are currently in the bottom 2 and apart from the defeat to Metalist, they lost to Shakhtar last week. We'll see what fortune has in store for them on Sunday.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Football Culture - Fanzine Culture

Fanzine culture in British football was most prevalent in the 1980's and early 1990's. At this time it was often very easy to find 2 or 3 publications on sale at most top league grounds. However, times have changed, so I was surprised to see that the fanzine of the year for 2007 - 2008 is up and running albeit sponsored by what seems to be another anachronism The Football Pools .

I haven't been back to Britain for nearly 3 years, so I can't say how important printed fanzines are, although last time I was there I noticed that The Oatcake was selling like hotcakes at Stoke and Clough the Magic Dragon seemed to be doing a roaring trade at Burton. It's true that the British public as a whole have always been keen to get their hands on printed journals, as newspaper circulation in the UK compared with other European Countries illustrates, but in recent years the Football Pinks and Greens from various cities that formed an integral part of Saturday evening have fallen by the wayside, so it may be correct to assume that fanzines would have followed suit.

Some commentators have been quick to blame The Internet as one of the factors in the decline of fanzine culture, but to me this seems a bit lazy, and it may be stated that they provide a valid alternative. For example, Yeovil's Ciderspace has always existed as an excellent on-line fanzine and Gillingham's Brian Moore's Head has made a successful transition to an on-line fanzine after ceasing publication in 2005. Some people might be misty eyed about the old fanzine seller flogging fanzines in the cold weather outside The Shay just covering his costs, but wouldn't you rather have a couple of pints in the pub before the game and then publish your thoughts for free on The Internet in the comfort of your own home? Exactly. Not that I want to be disparaging about the people who still sell the fanzines, as they are doing a kind of service to the local club, community and fans, but I think some of the people who are dismissive of Internet based fanzines shouldn't belittle them either.

It's not just the technological changes that have led to some fanzines transformingfrom shabby magazines to electronic versions, but changes in society that led to a demise in some of the impact that fanzines had. In the 80's British football was in turmoil, it limped fro m one disaster to another, attendances were at their lowest and most politicians saw fans as animals; even Tory MP David Evans was of this view despite him being the chairman of Luton Town. Therefore fans needed a voice and the new desktop publishing technology available at the time was just what they needed. It's no exaggeration that fanzines such as King of the Kippax (Manchester City), The Mag (Newcastle United) and Not the View (Celtic), actually had an impact on the powers-that-be and Luton supporters through fanzines managed to do what Wimbledon didn't by Saying no to MK. On the other hand some fanzines like Bernard of the Bantams (Bradford City) and Wise Men Say (Sunderland) provided a bit of light relief at what was a difficult time for football in Britain.

By the start of the 1990's fanzines had become more mainstream with shops in Manchester and Nottingham selling fanzines from clubs across the country and more popular national fanzines, such as When Saturday Comes appearing in mainstream newsagent's like WH Smiths. Sociologists were also writing tomes on fanzine culture and I even found a paper from the period given by an Argentinian professor where he eulogises about the impact the Paper Tiger had at Aberdeen. Other countries were also following the trend with fanzines from Scandinavia (including one from Gothenburg in English), Germany and Holland appearing. It has been suggested that this mainstream acceptance of fanzines led to their downfall, as they no longer represented the fans. I think this suggestion along with the suggestion that the Internet led to a dearth among fanzines as perhaps oversimplifications.

The biggest changes to football culture came in the late 1990's, at this time Euro 1996 had attracted every Thomas, Richard and Henrietta to football and a new Labour Government was trying to show everyone how much they liked football, which formed a stark contrast with the Thatcher years. When Saturday Comes - The half decent football magazine, was charging more than a half decent cover price, however a lot of it's articles still focused on the negative aspects of the game at a time when everyone was happy. WSC has continued to be a popular magazine standing by its ethos from the early days, but other fanzines that remained pessimistic during a time of optimism either folded or ended up as parodies by having to grumble about how crap the new kit looked or how rubbish the pies had become.

We all new the good times couldn't last, and now maybe we should have listened to the fanzines in the mid to late nineties. Ticket costs continue to spiral, the gap between the rich and poor clubs has become even worse and the total disregard for the traditional fan base with the idea of playing premier league games abroad shows that the bubble could burst very soon, so maybe it's time once again to reclaim the game and salute the fanzines

Monday, March 10, 2008

Bannikov Main Stand

The main stand at Bannikov training complex
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House of Football and Banniko

One of the stands at Bannikov with the House of Football in the background
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The House of Football

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Entrance to Bannikov Training Complex

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Bannikov Training Complex and House of Football

A lot of the facilities at present in Ukraine are not yet ready for 2012 and some of the training facilities would have Roy Keane running back home like a big baby if he were still a player, so the facilities at the Bannikov Training Complex are impressive in that they are already in place and offer some great opportunities for young players and football specialists as a whole.

A few years ago the site, which is above Respublikansky Stadium, where the 2012 final will take place was just a running track and a badly maintained grass pitch which was occassionally used by non-league teams. The running track remains, as do other facilities for athletics, but they are now flanked by 2 astroturf pitches with stands and the House of Football.

The main pitch is often used for youth internationals including the under 18 tournament also named after Bannikov and some of the matches in the Lobanovskiy tournament, which has morphed into an under 21's tournament since in recent years.

The whole complex is named after Victor Maksimovich Bannikov who died in 2001 at the age of 63. He was both a player and a coach for the USSR and won the award of best goalkeeper in the USSR in 1964 and 1970. Later in his career he became one of the leading lights in the foundation of the Ukrainian League and Football Federation and held the post of first vice-president of the Football Federation of Ukraine when he passed away. He also won plaudits and awards from UEFA for his work in physical training.

It is of little surprise then that the House of Football contains state of the art technology and video facilities to help players and coaches analyse performance. It also serves as a meeting place for experts in the field of football and has recently held seminars on coaching methods and refereeing matters. It has also served as a place where some of the commercial considerations for 2012 have been discussed and decided.

The complex was opened in December 2006 and also houses a museum.

Photographs to follow

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Proven Wrong

Well, I didn't go to the match, but Dynamo won 2-1 and the league is starting to have a familiar feel to it with Shakhtar and Dynamo in 1st and second, although Dnipro and Metalist are both in with a shout, however Metalist drew 0-0 with Tavriya and Dnipro haven't looked like being able to break the Kyiv / Donetsk dominance of late.

I was wrong about the crowd at the game as it drew a very respectable attendance of 14,000 +. On the other hand the congratulations to Ihor Surkis on the Dynamo site was changed to a congratulations from him to all the women at Dynamo, maybe he read my post, although I somehow doubt it.

The cup in Ukraine also has a familiar feel with Shakhtar and Dynamo somehow avoiding each other yet again in the semi finals. At least things are going to be different in England this year with Barnsley putting Chelsea out and Pompey winning at Old Trafford. Thank God for that, I used to love the FA Cup, but of late it's always been won by one of the big four, but not this year.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Women's Day

Women's day apart from being a day when all the women get flowers and presents is one of the biggest holidays in Ukraine, so I'm wondering why there is football on today. Normally I'd be heading off to Dynamo v Metalurh Zapporizha today, but I'm not that callous.

It's a bit of a shock that the PFL haven't thought about rescheduling the games today. Most men will be doing something for their wives and girlfriends, and those who don't have one will probably be doing something for their mothers. It's not a sexist statement, but football just isn't that popular with Ukrainian woman to the extent it is in Western Europe and East Asia. Added to this Monday is a bank holiday and people will have nothing to do, so there is every chance that playing the games on Monday would have boosted attendances rather than reducing them, which is the effect a Saturday kick off will do.

Actually, the stupidity of the PFL is nothing new, as was illustrated in November when the Dynamo v Shakhtar game (one of the most important in the football calendar) went ahead despite one of the worst blizzards I've seen. I went but plenty of people stayed away and the game was practically a farce, and this is just one example.

More work commitments and foolish kick off times will probably lead to me missing more games this half of the season, which is pretty annoying. You can understand a bit off meddling due to TV commitments, as that's a problem everywhere, but as far as I can make out the clubs aren't getting a great deal from that either.

On the subject of Women's day and football foolishness a trip to Dynamo's official site tells us that Dynamo have installed a new PA system, as if the old one wasn't annoying enough and as if the money wouldn't have been better spent on ground improvements. There is also a picture of some cheap flowers wrapped in newspaper to commemorate the day, but do they congratulate the women fans? No they are there to congratulate president of the club, Ihor Surkis, who unless he's had a sex change during the winter break isn't a woman........ No wonder the women are staying away from the ground.

Friday, March 7, 2008


There is no doubt about it Zidane was one of the greatest footballers ever, and 'Zidane- A 21st Century Portrait' is a film that is a damn site better than such turgid rubbish as 'Goal'.

I was lucky enough to see the great man play in the flesh, and on TV I don't think you realise just how good he is, although the aforementioned film does a damn good job of portraying him in full flow and ironically ends with him being sent off.

I saw him play for France against Russia in Moscow, for Juventus against Lazio in Rome and for Real Madrid against Dynamo in Kyiv.

Another great thing about the film is the soundtrack which is written by Scottish post-rockers Mogwai. Here's a link for it for sampling purposes. If there are any objections I will remove it straight away.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Football starts again in Ukraine

Well, thank god the winter break is over or so I thought until I saw that Arsenal were playing Zoria on Friday evening. As it turned out Respublikansky was re-opening and a crowd of 42,000 saw the game, which would have usually attracted about a tenth of that.

Anyway, I used the opportunity to go to Kharkiv and catch up with some old friends, and check out the new stadium as well as a spot of tourism in what will be one of the venues for 2014.

The journey there wasn't great we paid for first class tickets, but second class looked better. The first class compartment was tiny and for 6 people and came accompanied with a TV showing DVDs of ex-Soviet films everyone had seen a hundred times before. Therefore we went to 2nd class and indulged in a light refreshment or 6 before arriving in Kharkiv at 1230 where we were met by football journalist, Tolya Hamaev.

After a couple of beers and a trip round the town, which took in the biggest square in Europe a monument to the ex-leaders of the USSR and a football monument signed by Oleh Blokhin we made our way to the stadium.

The atmosphere at the stadium was more like a Britsish one than you can find in Kyiv and the redevelopment of the stadium should be complete in time for May's cup final and will be a good venue for 2014. One problem though is the pitch. The groundshare with FK Kharkiv along with winter and saturday's downpour made it look worse than a lot of park pitches.

The first half was interesting enough with Metalist dominating for long periods without really looking like scoring. They did score 2 goals but needed the help of 2 penalties given away by poor defending. Devic converting them both on 24 and 44 minutes.
The second half was more of the same with Metalist also dominating the whole game and Zhilo looking like scoring Fomin made sure of the result on 77 minutes.
After the game we were joined by Vasya for a meal at Tolya's house after wrestling to get on the tram. We drank plenty of vodka and beer before heading to the station for some brandy, needless to say we slept well on the way back to Kyiv.