Pride Passion Belief

Three Lions, Four Friends & English football…

By

Day 3: Taxi to the Motherland

Rostov-on-Don train station. 5:30am. It’s bright daylight and it’s obvious now that we are in a host city; plenty of eager looking volunteers scurry around the station foyer offering advice and hi-fives to anyone who looks remotely like they’re here for the World Cup.

The plan is… There is no plan.

Option A is to stick around Rostov in hope of finding a ticket for Brazil Vs Switzerland. The only problem is that if we miss the overnight train we could end up arriving in Volgograd only a few hours before the England game. So we went for plan B – book a £40 flight to Volgograd. Rostov seemed nice enough, it’s a big city but didn’t seem to have the same level of history and options available in Volgograd so I think we made the right choice.

DSC_0402

The Riverfront area in Rostov is where the action is at…

We spent some time on the river front and have a walk over the bridge that leads up to the stadium. The Swiss & Brazilian fans were buzzin – even at 10am you can sense the anticipation that you get before the first match. It starts to dawn home that England are up tomorrow.

We ordered a taxi to the airport via Uber. Uber operate in Russia but the journey is often fulfilled by Yandex or other local companies. Our driver arrived in a 15 year old Lada – I’m fairly sure that it wouldn’t make the grade as an Uber-X in the UK, but it would do us just fine.

DSC_0380

One of the sights during our morning tour of Rostov-on-don

The level of English in Russia is really very limited but our cabbie made every effort to talk with us about everything from politics, religion, sport and back. His name was  Romanov, a good guy – he joked a lot, and, as with all cabbies – he had plenty of stories to share. The Brazilian girls that he picked up the previous night, the Iceland fans who gave him their flag and the time he drove the 1024km to Moscow in 18 hours straight.

Around 25mins into our journey he bought up the topic of Julia Securpol. In broken  English he told me that the Russian people were not the same as their politicians, and that England fans traveling around Russia shouldn’t have anything to worry about. Real Russian people were just looking forward to the World Cup and welcoming fans from all over the world, including the English. I added my opinion that the media also play their part – generating a level of fear before a tournament which plays with the mindset of travelling fans.

20180617_123446

DBR sparko in our Lada Taxi

The negative media stories can have an impact on you. This is despite us having witnessed the same pre-tournament scare stories before South Africa, Ukraine and Brazil, only to see a completely different picture on the ground.

We had been in the car for 35mins now. Prior to our trip I had Googled the location of the airport and I could have sworn it was only 8km from the city centre. Where was Roman taking us? Maybe he wasn’t such a good guy and was trying to rip-us off . I have to say I was a bit surprised that our Uber driver turned-up in a battered old Lada. Several thoughts flashed though my mind as we continued heading out of town. Was he going to drive us to Volgograd and then try to charge us? Did we actually get in the right Uber?!  I clasped my pockets to make sure I still had my passport and match tickets. I was starting to get a bit nervous. Roman was a big guy. He did have a bit of a crazy look in his eye. And his driving was a bit all over the place.

He reached down and grabbed a bag from somewhere within the open facade of the Lada’s steering column.  I could hear him jangling around with something metal. By now we were quite far out into the countryside. $h1t, now I actually was getting nervous – did he have a gun?

Whatever he was playing around with in the bag definitely sounded very much like a solid piece of metal. I was tempted to learn forward to get a better look, but thought better of it. DBR was sprawled across the backseat completely unaware of what was going on – you’re on your own here Ed.

Roman turned to look at me and reached into the bag…  He passed me a small metal gift. It was a small but heavy metal plaque with some religions images and quotes inscribed on it.

Roman was Christian and he wanted to give me the give because I told him I was baptised Greek Othodox when I got married to Maria. Rostov-on-don had a new airport – I had Googled the old one. We were five mins away from the correct airport. Roman is a good guy after-all.

Even if the above thoughts happened in a split second, I felt guilty for not trusting our driver who had been nothing but friendly with us – even if his driving was a bit nuts. I felt bad that we were only charged 845 Roubles (about £10) for a 45 minute journey. Far from being ripped-off, our journey was an absolute bargain. Roman had told me had wanted to see some World Cup games but hadn’t bought tickets because they were too expensive.

It’s important to be careful whilst travelling but also to have confidence in your own ability to put your trust in people, without your judgement being impacted by other people’s preconceptions. Russia is good so far, we’re very safe and loving every moment.

I thanked Roman for his kind gift and we departed on our flight. Next stop Volgograd, The Statue of the Motherland and the England game.

 

Advertisements

By

Day 2: Buffalo Nutsacks ⚽

Day two went a little bit like this…

  1. Head for breakfast at the Grey Bear, the scene of last nights party.
  2. Order what I thought were potato wedges, only to be informed they were Buffalo testicles – I thought the waitor looked at us a bit funny.
  3. Consume testicles. FYI they were squidgy, slightly warm towards the centre and very chewy.
  4. Persuade Swiss fans to join our feast.
  5. Drank lots of beers and debated everything from the the monarchy to Brexit with our new friends.
  6. Kept an eye on Iceland 🇮🇸 vs Argentina 🇦🇷 – can vaguely remember Messi missing a pen.
  7. Remember that we had chomped on a dead animals ball-bag. Feel slightly nauseous.
  8. Drank vodka shots.
  9. Fell asleep and missed the second two games.
  10. Devour KFC.
  11. Head to Krasnodar Station and negotiate Russian bureaucracy to change the train tickets we missed in the morning into brand new luxurious cabin-class overnight travel to Rostov.
  12. Wake up with a mouth tasting of sweaty balls.

Never doing that again.

By

Welcome to Russia. This is Krasnodar

After a fairly sweaty journey, we arrived in Krasnodar around 3am and took a punt on one of the dodgy looking taxi drivers loitering outside the airport. Nice car, smooth journey and he even called our hostel for us to get the exact location which could have taken us hours to find on our own accord. Decent start.

As we got our heads down at the Bla Bla Hostel around 4:30am an almighty SMASH woke us up – the whole room shook. WTF is that? It didn’t sound like something that should be ignored. DBR opens window. There is woman going a bit nuts in the street, and a guy clutching his chest, surveying the damage to his severely crumpled vehicle. BOSCH. WELCOME TO RUSSIA 🇷🇺

If you ever have a problem in life, you should ignore it until it goes away. And if it doesn’t go away? Just ignore it.’ – Ed Rhodes, circa 2004 (I’ve always wanted to quote myself)

No one looks like they were in immediate danger of death, so we went back to bed.

Day one proper started with a wonder around town and a visit to the “Victory Weapon, Museum of military equipment”. Soviet era music blasted out whilst we wondered around the half impressive display of seventies era tanks, rocket launchers and scud missiles.

Its bloody hot here, 30c and very intense sun. Just perfect for an afternoon pub sesh and x3 games of World Cup action.

First up Egypt 🇪🇬 vs Uruguay 🇺🇾: Cracking game – Uruguay are always neat and tidy and tough to beat – they remind me of Italy, but with Suarez & Cavani they can be both clinical and defensive. Egypt have great pedigree in the African Nations Cup and even without Salah are a good team. Uruguay edged the game and had better chances but 1-0 seemed a tough result in the Egyptians.

Morocco 🇲🇦 vs Iran 🇮🇷 was a big ask with limited sleep so we retired to the hostel for a powernap before heading back to the Grey Bear Sports bar for the big game of the evening…

Spain 🇪🇸 vs Portugal 🇵🇹: We were originally thinking of heading to Sochi to try and get tickets for this game but with the stadium 40km from the main town it would have been a bit of a gamble. It was also in the wrong direction from Volgograd, so we settled to watch the game with some very energetic Russians and a Fluminise fan from Brazil 🇧🇷. For those of you who were in South Africa, we have basically found a replica Mitchell’s bar: Great atmosphere, great game and enough beers for us to oversleep and miss our train to Rostov-on-don the next day….

By

Russia 🇷🇺 2018: Prologue

It’s been a while.

I have been writing this blog at every tournament since the 2010 World Cup, but I skipped writing about the Euros in France, 2016. Why….?

The main reason was that we hired a car and I drove from the majority of the tournament: from Marseilles to Toulouse and back again. I usually end up blogging whilst on the move; on coaches, buses, flights and trains. So driving meant I didn’t have much time to keep our 12 subscribers fully up-to-date.

It was my very intention to backdate our journey through France 🇫🇷 when we arrived back in London. But then the second reason. . . Iceland happened. What an ab-so-lute $hit$how.

I was only able to make the group stages in France and my last game was the dour 0-0 draw against the might of Slovenia. I have been following England at tournaments since 2004 and whilst standing on the terrace in St.Etienne probably wasn’t the best atmosphere I have experience watching England, it was definitely the best support. The chanting didn’t stop for a single second of the second half – complete unwavering support for our country. The performance on the pitch didn’t reflect the support in the stands and it was a taster of what was to come against Iceland.

It’s taken a while, but the pain is now out the system. Moments like the Iceland game do sometimes make you question why you do this. I don’t mean why you support England, that will never change. But why you spend thousands of pounds following your football team round the globe only to be let down time and time again.

Since the last Euros, I have got married and bought a new home with my wife which inevitably means I’ve been to less away games. But now we’re back.

There have been lots of stories about the safety aspect of coming to Russia. But to put it this way – if you’re a striker and on a hat-trik – you wouldn’t want to be subbed subbed off, would you?

This will be our third World Cup. We may have lost some soldiers along the way (Nedwards, Joyce, Paddy, Pendrey – #wishyouwerehere) but we are looking forward to Russia 2018 just like no other.

May the Gods bless Russia – we are coming….

Its #EnnglandAway time.

By

A nice headache to have…? Rooney is giving Hodgeson a nasty headache

So Woy has selected is final squad for the Euros. It’s a bold squad, packed with 5 plenty of pace, five strikers and one with the youngest overall age (25.8 years) at the tournament.

Mr Hodgson chose the same route as Glen Hoddle in 1998 – selecting a larger squad than required and before whittling that down to the 23 names that will travel to France.

So what are we left with then? The great thing that Roy Hodgson has achieved since taking over in 2012 is to make players want to play for England again, we have a 100% qualifying record and healthy competition for places.

England-v-Portugal-Last-international-friendly-before-Euro-2016
Smalling celebrates his winning goal against Portugal

During qualifying it has felt that we have a team rather than a group of individuals. However, with the final squad selection and the game against Portugal, it seems like the ‘big name / square pegs in round holes’ debate has surfaced again. This is for two reasons:

  1. Whilst Danny Drinkwater is never going to throw a Gazza-esque tantrum and was extremely humble with his good luck message for the lads, in my view, he should have been selected above either Wilshere or Henderson, neither of whom can be match fit. Drinkwater has been one of the most consistent players of the season and is the best option for the second holding midfield spot alongside Eric Dier in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
  2. Glenn Hoddle made a huge call to drop Gazza. But what should Roy do about the England Captain? Rooney is an integral part of the squad, he is the Captain, an experienced leader, and a true England legend… but on current form, is he good enough to be in the team?

I trust Roy Hodgson, he knows a million times more about football than me, but looking from the outside in, it seems like he is desperately trying to shoe-horn Rooney into the team. In my view, Deli Ali has to play at the tip of the diamond – it’s his best position and he is bang on form. I am a massive Rooney fan and his leadership qualities, record, and attitude make you want him to be in the team. The fact is, in this moment, Kane & Vardy are the two highest goal scorers in the Premiership, Sturridge is the most talented, and Rashford is the man in form. So Roy is left with a choice: – drop your Captain?…. or play him in midfield?

Rooney is a great all-round footballer but despite his experience, I’m not sure he has the discipline to play holding midfield? The other midfield options are:

  • Jack Wilshere – Leeds have had 6 managers since Wilshere last played 90mins for Arsenal
  • Jordan Henderson – not match fit
  • James Milner – reliable without setting the world on fire (maybe that what we need)
  • Danny Drinkwater – not an option, dropped for bigger names
  • Ross Barclay – not holding and doesn’t dominate games. Sub at best.

I firmly believe that you should not criticise without offering a solution. I would have included Drinkwater in the squad at the expense of Wilshere – whilst I’m a fan, he is just not going to be match fit, and when was the last time that a player that was injured pre-tournament smashed it on the big stage?

Portugal's Bruno Alves, left, fouls England's Harry Kane during the International friendly soccer match between England and Portugal at Wembley stadium in London, England, Thursday, June 2, 2016 . (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

Portugal’s Bruno Alves almost does Kane a nasty. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

The biggest criticism I have of this squad is that whilst it’s ‘nice’ to have a selection headache because we have some evenly matched players, we are yet again approaching a tournament with the manager not knowing either his best starting eleven, or his best formation. I have been using the BBCs website to select my favoured team but it is completely different to every friend I have talked to.

As the ‘Tinkerman’ proved this season with the exceptional performance of Leicester, team spirit and familiarity with your team mates can transform good players into an exceptional unit. Bearing in mind qualification was a given – why didn’t we experiment in the remaining qualifiers and finalise the team with 5/6 matches to go. After the Portugal game, Kane commented that the understanding between himself, Vardy and Rooney wouldn’t come overnight. But we have had two years since Brazil. We need to make the starting England eleven feel like a club team, and give them the opportunity to build a strong understanding and great team spirit.

There are 24 teams at the Euros and three wins from the warmup games against teams of similar standards to the group should not be scoffed at. I can’t wait to jump on the Eurostar on Thurs night, but whilst I have a half decent knowledge about football, I honestly can’t predict what this England squad will achieve. I’m excited for the Euro 2016 and whatever we achieve, we’re off to France to enjoy another great tournament of football. Beach holidays are fun but nothing quite beats the buzz you get walking into the stadium for the first game, standing alongside your mates and watching your country play football. #followenglandaway.

By

Fans Friendly: England VS Holland – Ark Academy, Wembley Park

Written by James Clarke…

England’s wait for a first victory over the Netherlands for twenty years continues… after the official fans team, like their senior counterparts, suffered a defeat to the Oranje on Tuesday.

Baddiel and Skinner and Gina G were battling it out at the top of the charts in the summer of 1996 when Shearer, Sheringham, Gascoigne et al delivered the performance of a generation against Guus Hiddink’s men under the twin towers. Two decades later, in driving rain a (John) stone’s throw away from the Wembley arch, England were themselves well beaten, losing 5-1 to a crack Dutch outfit.

Team PicFrom top left: Myles Wilsen, Nathan Agwunchah, James Clarke, Paul Newstead, Gary Shanihan, Paul Lindsey, Barrie Tullis (C), Graham Taylor, Alex Moore, Mel Kenny, Ethan Coffey, Ben Ashfield, Dan Hare.

Buoyed by an impressive showing in Berlin on Easter Saturday, manager Ed Rhodes encouraged his team to keep the ball on the deck and pass the ball out from defence. There was plenty of cut and thrust too, with Paul Lindsey dominating the midfield battle early on, Dan Hare – every bit the modern full back – rampaging down the left, and the marauding Ben Ashfield causing the Dutch defence plenty of problems.

It was Myles Wilson who came closest to breaking the deadlock for England, the pacey front-man getting in behind the Dutch defence down the inside left channel and opening up his body Thiery Henry-style, only to see his shot go agonisingly the wrong side of the far post.

England were made to pay moments later. They were guilty of stepping off one of the stylish Dutch midfielders as he strode forward, perhaps assuming he wouldn’t be able to find the back of the net from 25 yards. He was – with some aplomb.

Despite being backed by a vociferous away support, the Dutch created little else in the first half, often resorting to long balls which experienced centre half duo Graham Taylor and Paul Newstead – and on occasion, ‘keeper sweeper’ Mel Kenny – dealt with comfortably. But nor did England threaten the Dutch goal, and the men in orange led 1-0 at the break.

CornerThe Dutch take one of several first half corners

Rhodes raised eyebrows at half time with a bold substitution, stripping off his track suit and entering the fray at – nominally – right back. Once again England started the half on the front foot, and had the opportunity to make their pressure tell when Dan Hare whipped in a cross from the left, only for the Dutch defence to handle inside the area. Referee Dave Beverley was left with little choice but to point to the spot. It was Alex Moore who stepped up to the plate – having missed a crucial penalty in Ireland he banished that ghost by blasting the spot kick into the roof of the net. This was his Stuart Pearce moment.

Unfortunately that was to be the high water mark for England. The Dutch had a young fit squad, and used the rolling substitutes rule to maximum effect, constantly rotating their players and staying fresh. As the second half wore on they increasingly took the ascendancy. They scored two in as many minutes to effectively end the game as a contest, before adding two more late on with some clinical finishing against a visibly tiring English back line, two games in 72 hours finally catching up on the England team.

ThrowinRight full back James Clarke lines up for an England throw

Trailing 5-1, England’s hopes of a dramatic comeback were ended when the Beverley blew his whistle five minutes early, fearing for player and crowd safety as the weather conditions took a turn for the (even) worse.

The defeat may leave some England players nervously waiting by the phone when the squad for the fan matches at Euro 2016 is named. But how the Dutch would love to have that problem… And with several promising debutants and younger players in the England side, there is genuine hope of a strong future – for both England and the Netherlands.

If you would like to get involved in the Fans Friendly initiative please use the contact form on this blog or email fanfriendly@mac1.net with your name, email, contact number, age and preferred playing position.

By

France 2016 – Travel & Tickets

In the build up to 2016, London Englandfans will be holding regular football forums on travel, ticketing, security and general football chat. Our forums are currently held at the New Moon pub in Gracechurch Street in the City of London – please feel free to pop down to join us. Joining us for January’s forum we had Owen Gibson from The Guardian and Harpreet Robertson, head of the England Supporters Club.

Owen Gibson – Chief Sports Corrispondant at The Guardian

What do you make of all the goings on at FIFA & UEFA – do you see this effecting the tournament in France?

Platini was hoping to be triumphant in bringing the tournament back to France. It was actually France 98 when Platini and Blatter started to become close and the banning of Platini shows that the corruption crisis in football is not just to do with the rest of the world – Europe is complicit as well.

It’s important to note that the corruption that has been going on at the governing bodies doesn’t necessarily make for a poor tournament – generally the tournament organisers on the ground have still tended to do a good job. However, every time these guys were selling TV contracts under their value, or took over tickets to sell and put that in their own pocket, is money that could have been put to making the ticket prices cheaper or towards football development.

Owen Gibson - The Guardian

What’s the likelihood of the 2018 World Cup being taken away from Russia, bearing in mind it’s highly likely the vote was corrupt?

It’s extremely unlikely, purely due to the logistics. On the face of it, it seems ridiculous bearing in mind half of their athletes are barred due to doping issues. However, the tournament is two years away and the stadiums are already either built or being built so Russia will keep the competition.

Several fans have raised questions about how England fans are portrayed by the media. Will the Guardian, (or do you know if any of the other national papers) will be sending additional reports to write about the behavior of our fans over in France?

The topic of travelling fans is a less strong point with the papers and less sensationalist than it was back in [lets say] 1998. The British press will take more journalists over to France than previous tournaments in Brazil, South Africa or Ukraine – but mainly because it’s closer and the stories are more attractive with the home nations all in attendance apart from Scotland. The papers will pay attention to the security aspect but in general they hold a more balanced opinion than several years ago.

Would you start Wayne Rooney?

At the moment a team with Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane doesn’t look bad! With Sturridge and Welbeck still to come back the squad certainly seems to have a bit more depth to it that when we approached Brazil.

Who do you think will win the tournament?

France and Germany look good favorites. Belgium look good on paper, however they lack experience of winning at tournaments and the fact they have a lot of premier league players will work against them, the same as it does against England.

What are your expectations for England?

The Quarter finals would be an improvement on Brazil and the Semi’s would be a massive improvement. Anything less than that would be a disappointment.

London Englandfans at the New Moon Pub, Gracechurch Street

Do you think the Press will create a fever of expectation, as they often do prior to big tournaments? 

There has been a more realistic mood around recent tournaments which has taken a bit of pressure off the players. In the run-up to Brazil, the press possibly talked down our expectations too much. Either way, the lower level of pressure didn’t seem to work in Brazil – it is important to keep an element of excitement to give the team momentum. It’s worth remembering that England are not the only nation who feel the pressure of their fans going into the tournament – think about Brazil at their home last World Cup!

If there is one group we [the media] should talk about getting out of, it has to be this one. It’s also important to remember the press have a commercial element as well – they need to use tournaments to sell papers, but you certainly won’t see the press going overboard as they did with the so called ‘golden generation’.

Harpreet Robertson – Head of the England Supporters Club

The FA recently advised fans to apply for tickets by the 11th January – why have they done this when the dealing is the 18th?

The 11th Jan wasn’t a deadline, but an email to encourage fans not to leave their application until the last minute – the main reason being that if you have any problems with the form the FA won’t be able to assest everyone who leaves it until the morning of the 18th! Here are a couple of pointers for your application:

  • Activation Code – This code is provided by UEFA – you’ll need to get this first just so you have an account.
  • Access Code – means you’re a travel club member and you can apply for tickets
  • For Group bookings it is important to only us one access code (per group of up to four people)

MK 24130530572_a5b2b5a8e7_o 24156066381_d520163086_o

Is it fair to say that you’ll be using the CAP system for each category?

Yes, although the FA doesn’t have visibility of exactly how many tickets are available in each category.

Why has the last 16 game got the lowest amount of available tickets – only 3000?

Because UEFA don’t know which team will be playing in which stadium they have to assign tickets based on allocation for the smallest stadium, which would be 3,000.

What happens if people have different number of caps within a group?

A group will only be split in the instance that one or more member have enough to be guaranteed a ticket. In this instance, the person with enough caps would be allocated a ticket, whilst the other members of the group would be go into a ballot. This means that those with enough caps are not penalised for applying in a group. The remainder of the group would however go into the ballot being treated as a group – either all being allocated a ticket or not.

How will tickets be sent out, providing your applications is successful?

Group tickets will be sent to home address around 2/3 weeks before the tournament.

In previous tournaments, the organisers have only tried once to authorise a credit card before rejecting the application (if the card is rejected) – will the same rules apply this time round?

The FA will attempt to support fans who have any issues with credit card payments. England is one of only around five or six countries who have a loyalty scheme which means the FA  have a little more leeway to help in this type of situations.

It is important to make sure the expiry date on the credit card is post August 2016 when UEFA will make refunds for tickets IF we get knocked out.

How long will it take for to hear back on whether you’re successful?

It’s likely to be the end of January or early February – the timescale is dependent on how long UEFA take to provide the FA with information once they have check for things like duplicate entries (eg. if someone has already applied for a ticket directly with UEFA). Some key points worth noting:

  • Members should not submit duplicate applications – ie. apply for tickets in more than one group.
  • Applications should not include non-members (England supports club).

If you do either of the above your application will be cancelled. Once the application process is complete, the FA will run through the following process:

  • Take the top cappers and distribute tickets across the categories.
  • Ballot according to rules for the games that are over-subscribed.

You won’t need your credit card to pick up any tickets in France, all tickets post the group stage will be collected from the FA in the usual manor for away games – with your Englansfans membership card or valid photo ID.

What friendlies do England have planned prior to the tournament?

It’s likely that there will be three friendlies: one at Wembley and two in the North of England, although this will be confirmed around mid-February time.

 

 

By

Fans Friendly: England Vs Estonia

The England supporters team had a point to prove against Estonia having suffered a heavy defeat in Tallinn back in November 2014. With a valid excuse to swerve out of work early on a Friday afternoon a good sized squad had registered for the home fixture which was held within earshot of Wembley  at Stonebridge Pavillion.

The Estonian team also had a large squad of around 35 players and were really well backed by their travelling support. The Estonian fans certainly made their voice heard during a rousing rendition of ‘Mu isamaa, mu õnn ja rõõm’ – which translates as: ‘My Fatherland, My Happiness and Joy’. The England team look rather sheepish in comparison when the Estonian anthem was promptly followed on by a version of the Hakka!– a twenty second YouTube advert rudely interrupting ‘God save the Queen’.

England Team Photo

England Team from top left: Ben Knapper, Dave Rhodes, Graham Taylor, James Clarke, Mel Kenny, Dane Cloke(C), Gary Shanihan, Ed Rhodes (Manager), Barrie Tullis, Dave Oakley, Aiden Willis, Craig Tullis, Eden Shelley, Alex Moore.

With the comedy moment aside, referee Dave Beverley got proceedings under way and it was England, in all white, who started like the All Blacks; being firm into the tackle and driving Estonia back into their own half. England looked confident and were having a lot of joy from wide positions with new recruits Eden and Aiden both impressing on their full debuts. Around ten minutes into the half England made their pressure pay by latching onto to a mistake from the Estonian centre-back. James Clarke crossed to striker Gary Shanahan whose shot was parried by the keeper only to be neatly turned in to the net by Craig Tullis.

England continued to dominate the opening 20mins with only mild flashes of brilliance from the Estonian no.7 on the left wing threatening the England defence. It was Alex Moore who was able to extend England’s managing to control a defensive clearance on his knee and the hitting delicious volley from 25 years which cannoned in off the left hand upright.

Midfield Battle

England’s James Clarke battles for the ball against the lively Estonian Ronaldo…

At 2-0 down the Estonian team made use of their plentiful substituted and started to cause England problems with two youthful but very quick centre-forwards running at the England defence. Keeper Mel Kenny was forced into several saves before Estonia put themselves back in the game making it 2-1.

Estonia had come back into the game towards the end of the first half but even the neutral support (not that there were any!) would have to say England had edged it going into half time. Five minutes into the second half, England were able to extend their lead when Craig Tullis pounced on a stray backpass and rounded the last defended to slot past the keeper to chalk up his brace.

What had been an entertaining game up until this point then took several twists. Firstly, England left-back Dave Oakley limped off with a hamstring injury. Then a bizarre incident saw Craig Tullis skip past the last defender and through on goal to complete his hat-trik – only to hear the referee blow-up for an earlier infringement from the Estonian full-back. With shades of Gareth Bale’s goal against Barcelonia, referee Dave Beverley had done well to spot the infringement but had underestimated Tullis’s pace and blown up rather than playing the advantage.

Keeper saves

The Estonian keeper denies Craig Tullis from 12yds out. Excellent last ditch save

Estonia used their subs to good effect in the second half and their high pressing game paid off when they made it 3-2 on around the 60 minute mark. England’s luck didn’t get any better when Craig Tullis was bundled over in the box. Referee Dave Beverly took a good long look but decided it was just a tangle of legs and waived away the penalty shouts.

As England tired, Estonia again made good use of their subs and ran at England’s weary midfield – both the number 3 and 7 in particular looking dangerous in possession. With only 5 minutes to go Estonia equalised much to the delight of their travelling support. With the match poised at 3-3 the game really could have gone either way. Despite being on the back-foot, England used their sole striker as an outlet-ball to good effect and looked dangerous on the counter. This time it was Barrie Tullis this time who unlocked the Estonian defence to put son Craig Tullis through on goal. For the second time in half an hour, England’s centre forward was hauled down inside the box and this time Mr.Beverley had no choice but to point to the spot and award a penalty.

On a hat-trik and with just over three minutes on the clock, Craig Tullis brushed himself down and lined up to take the kick. The penalty was stuck cleanly but without any real venom. The Estonian keeper launched himself to his left hand side and pulled off an excellent last-gasp save.

Presentation of the plaque

Presentation of the plaque to the Estonian team

It had been an end-to-end game played in good spirit throughout. Although it was a friendly, the remaining few minutes were extremely tense. Just when you thought there couldn’t be any more drama, the Estonian team carved out one last opportunity – the number 7 was instrumental again, slotting the ball through to the Estonian striker who then squared to his team-mate to slot home past keeper Mel Kenny. The Estonian players reeled off to celebrate with the fans with what was almost the last kick of the game. With more than a suspicion of off-side England could have felt slightly hard-done by but congratulations must also go to the Estonian who kept going to the end and finishing the stronger of the two teams.

A special thanks goes out to Mari from the Estonian fans association for making the game possible and to our Estonian guests for a great game good time in the Torch pub afterwards.

A full set of pictures from the game are available courtesy of the official Estonian photographer ‘Brit Maria T’: https://flic.kr/s/aHskiuoVnS

If you would like to get involved in the Fans Friendly initiative please email your name, age and preferred playing position to fanfriendly@mac1.net

By

London Englandfans: Lithuania travel forum

Englandfans Lithuania Travel Forum – New Moon Pub: Thursday 17th September

England will travel to Lithuania safe in the knowledge that they have already qualified from Group E and will look to complete qualification with a 100% record. With qualification secure, the London Englandfans group met at the New Moon pub in Leadenhall Market to discuss tourism and travel plans for the trip to Vilnius. The panel for the evening consisted of:

  • Tadas Adomaitis – Consular officer responsible for Sport – Lithuanian Embassy, London.
  • Dave Cartledge, 3rd Secretary, British Embassy, Lithuania.
  • Stuart Fuller – Author of ‘The Football Tourist

21746145152_e3947621b0_z

Matchday – the LFF Stadium

Stuart Fuller has spent a good part of the last decade touring the world on away trips and writing about his travels. Stuart recently visited Vilnius to watch the (mouth-watering) clash of Lithuania Vs Finland.

Having visited the ground where England will play, Stuarts’ main advice for match night was to wrap up warm and prepare for the elements. The 5,000 LFF stadium is almost entirely uncovered and the weather in October is likely to be unpredictable with a good chance of rain – so essentially dress as you would for a wet away day in Accrington Stanley.

Where England play isn’t the biggest stadium in Vilnius but it is deemed to be the one with the best facilities. Having said that, Stuart advised fans that the stadium is largely uncovered and the weather conditions it could be fairly wet and windy – so dress for a Saturday afternoon at Accrington Stanley.

Stuart advised that Vilnius has been the capital of culture and for any fans that attend the walking tour of the capital can expect to find a picturesque old town with plenty of medieval architecture – Vilnius definitely isn’t a stag destination!

21570919659_db14f00a7b_z

Football in Lithuania

Tadas Adomaitis works in the consular part of the Lithuanian embassy in London but takes a keen interest in sport. Whilst there is likely to be a large interest in the England fixture, football is far from being the the no.1 sport in Lithuania where basketball is described as the ‘second religion’. The history of football in Lithuania dates back to 1911 when the first recorded football match took place, with the first league championship was played with five teams. 1995-99 represented the ‘golden era’ of Lithuanian football when the country hovered around 45 in the FIFA world rankings

Since then Tadas feels the country has missed some youth development and support from government in terms of funding. Governing bodies are chaired by some of the leading clubs and old generation people are still in football cubs and the federation and Tadas feels that football has moved on decades and a lot needs to change. However things are changing as a lot of new young players are being sent to top academies abroad. Tadas hopes that the experience gained abroad will hopefully filter back gradually into the Lithuanian system.

Things to see
Both Tadas and Dave Cartledge, who is based in the Bitish embassy in Vilinus recommended a trip to see the Gediminas’ Tower of the Upper Castle which has views overlooking the city and is part of the Lithuanian National Museum. Also on the tourist trail is the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania and the Church of St. Anne, a location which legend has it became a point of fascination of the traveling Napoleon Bonaparte. There are plenty of other picturesque locations in the capital and fans are encouraged to visit the Vilnius’s tourist board: http://www.vilnius-tourism.lt/en/

21782659522_ece2e3fafb_z

Food & Drink
Cepelinai or didžkukuliai are a Lithuanian national dish. They are a type of dumpling made from grated and riced potatoes and usually stuffed with minced meat. Šaltibarščiai is Lithuanian Cold Beet Soup and although on paper it didn’t seem to go down too well from the London Englandfans group it is apparently supposed to be an exceptional hangover cure! Forto Dvaras was recommended by Tadas as a place where Lithuanians would go for traditional food – there are three restaurants located in the old town which are well worth a try.

In terms of beers, there is plenty of variety on offer… most of the beers available are strong and cheap! Generally the beer is a bit stronger than the UK, Dave Cartledge explained – if it’s not 5% it’s not considered to be a beer! Recently there has been a rise in popularity for the independent family brewers and all of the following beers would be recommended by our panellists: Svyturys, Utenos, Kaunas, Vilkmergės and Dundulis.

Further info

Further information will be provided about an arranged walking tour of Vilnius along with details of the fans friendly activities. If you are interested in attending the next London Englandfans forum or signing up to the Fan Friendly events please email your contact details to Mark Perryman at fanfriendly@mac1.net

By

Ljubljana Fans Friendly: Slovenia Vs England

There were a few sore heads when England met at 9:30am at the Central City Hotel in Ljubljana en-route to the fans friendly with Slovenia. The team were greeted by a Slovenian guide, Marusha, who took us on a specially chartered bus to the stadium for the match. The game was held to the North of the City on a ground that was part of the Slovenian FA’s (NZS) training facilities

England went into the game with a strong squad of 17 players and faced up against a scratch team of Slovenians who had not played together before. The NZS had selected the players from the Slovenian supporters associations Facebook page following a campaign to promote the game in a national daily sports magazine.

18867402335_a551327796_k
England Team from Top Left: Dave Beverly (referee), Dave Clarke, Barrie Tullis, Dane Cloke (Captain), Ben Knapper, Gary Shanahan, Graham Taylor, Paul Newstead, Des Ireland, Simon Price, Phil McLaughlin, Ed Rhodes (Gaffer), James Clarke, Alex Moore, Will Flack, Rupert Maher, Tim Hort, George Flack, Jim Gay (FA)

After a heavy defeat in Dublin, England headed into the game with a few more of their regulars in the side, including Graham Taylor who was able to reform his strong centre-back partnership with Captain Dane Cloke. With a combined age of 100 it may be fair to say that Dane and Graham aren’t the quickest defenders in the world, but they certainly make up for that with their experience, especially the way they read the game. Overall though there was a more youthful look to the squad, with several of the younger players who made their debut in Turin coming back into the team after missing the Dublin friendly. Dave Clarke, Phil McLaughlin, Will Flack and Rupert Maher all filled the wide positions around the spine of the team made up from regulars.

18188537934_220efd35e5_k
Ben Knapper puts challenges the Slovenian centre half

Despite the early kick-off time of 11am, the temperature on pitch-side was in the high 20’s and that was reflected in the initial exchanges as the game opened at a fairly leisurely pace. The Slovenians had the majority of possession in the first 20 minutes but weren’t able to pose a serious threat to England’s goalkeeper Des Ireland. England looked best when they got the ball out wide and had a limited amount of joy down the right hand side with some neat combinations between Will Flack and Rupert Maher. The problem for England was getting decent quality balls up to the attackers – several times balls were worked up to either Paul Newstead or Alex Moore in attack but the midfield struggled to get up to support. Whether it was the heat, the hangovers, or the size of the pitch (which was much bigger than what most of us were playing on) England were struggling to move up and down as a unit and found themselves surrendering possession to Slovenia. By the end of the first half Slovenia must have had well over 65% possession and on the 40 minute mark they were able to make this statistic count. The Slovenian number 18 pounced on a loose ball just inside the area, swivelled on the spot and dispatched a precision half volley into the England net giving the home team a 1-0 lead going into the break.

At half time both teams were addressed by the Deputy Head of Mission at the British Embassy in Slovenia, Mr Jamie Hilton who gave a short speech to thank our hosts and demonstrate the support of the Embassy for initiatives such as the fans friendly events which bring fans together through football.

18188588924_baa6125c36_k
Captain Dane Cloke puts his body on the line

The second half was a little more open than the first and saw chances at both ends. Slovenia wasted a great opportunity to extend their lead when their number 9 was put through on goal only to slide his shot wide past the advancing Des Ireland. Goalkeeper Des was kept on his toes throughout the game and was pivotal in keeping the scoreline at 1-0. England manager Ed Rhodes rang the changes in the second half as the heat took its toll. It was two of the substitutes who carved out England’s best chance of the second half, with Simon Price latching on to Gary Shanahan’s cross, only to steer the ball wide of the post.

The game became more open as the second half went on. Barrie Tullis who had set his sights with a couple of long range shots in the first half saw a left foot shot from outside the box fizz over the bar. But it was Slovenia who finished the game the strongest, being able to overrun the English midfield despite the industry of Tim Hort and Alex Moore who must have covered more ground than anyone else on the pitch. After several close chances the hosts eventually made their superiority count when their number 10 stabbed home from 3 yards out following a goal mouth scramble.

18815491335_f10b2f4065_o
After the game: Slovenia & England teams at the Sports Park Kodeljevo, Ljubljana

At the final whistle the English players presented some gifts (courtesy of the FA) to the Slovenian players and were then treated to a traditional Slovenian lunch at a nearby restaurant. A huge thank you goes out to Nejc Fistrovic, who made the game possible. Not only did Nejc ensure everything ran like clockwork on the day he also starred in the winning Slovenian team – playing in goal for the first half and then coming on to centre-midfield in the second half!

If you would like to be involved in future fans friendly matches please email fanfriendly@mac1.net with your full name, England Supporters Club number, age and preferred playing position. A full set of pictures from the game is available here: https://flic.kr/s/aHskaEkoLm