Pride Passion Belief

Three Lions, Four Friends & English football…

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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.

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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

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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

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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!

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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/

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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Dublin Fans Friendly: Ireland Vs England

With the friendly international between Ireland and England being played at the unusual time of 1pm, our fans friendly match against the Irish supporters association had to be moved from it’s traditional slot on matchday to the day before the game.

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England Team from Top Left: Barrie Tullis, Paul Newstead, Ned Pendleton, Rupert Maher, Tim Hort, Dougie Nattan, Dane Cloke (Captain), Alex Moore, Andy Hughes, Tim Shelton, Jim Gay (FA), Ed Rhodes (Gaffer)

Our match took place at Tolka Rovers AFC, about 2 miles North of Dublin city centre. Tolka are an amateur Irish football club based in Glasnevin, who play in the Leinster Senior League. With several England team regulars not flying out until Sunday the England squad was down to the bare bones when we met out host from the Irish FA, Gerry Reardon in the town centre on Saturday afternoon. The squad travelled up to the ground by bus and received a warm welcome from our opposition and our hosts at AFC Tolka. Despite being a non-league club in Dublint the facilities were excellent, especially the pitch and the bar, both of which looked in great condition!

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Attack is the best form of defence: England’s Mike Shelton runs at the position giving the English defence a well earned breather

The Irish team was made up from a variety of supporters clubs from around Ireland and the UK – many of the UK based players had travelled back home especially for the game. After the obligatory handshakes and coin toss, Ireland kicked off and immediately took the game to the visitors. A young looking Irish side look energetic and were helped in the first half by a blustery wind was blowing directly at the England’s goals For the first 10mins the English defence weathered the early storm and reduced the Irish to long range shooting from outside the box. However, as the first half continued the pressure mounted from England’s inability to get the ball out of their own half – a combination of poor passing and the strong wind preventing any distance on the long ball option!

Ireland pressed and probed and eventually broke the English resistance with a through-ball from midfield to the striker who neatly finished past debutant England keeper Dougie Nattan. Calls for offside from the English defence were overlooked by the referee who blew up to signal a goal and a 1-0 lead to the Irish. After the first goal, Ireland quickly really started to exert their pressure and extended their lead to first 2, then 3-0 following some poor defending from the visitors.

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England Goalie Dougie Nattan put in a ‘man-of-the-match’ performance but wasn’t able to stop this cool finish from Ireland’s Des Tomlinson

The large pitch and lack of substitutes looked to be hampering England as they puffed and panted their way into half time. Player-manager Ed Rhodes limped off with a pulled hamstring on around 20 minutes and was replaced by Andy Hughes, himself only on the bench due to an injury. One of the few positives from the first half was the excellent debut performances from 58 year old keeper Dougie Nattan and left Leeds based midfielder Mike Sheldon. Mike in particular was able to provide some much needed respite for the English defence by running at his Irish full back and working the ball up to Alex Moore and Paul Newstead, who, up until this point, hadn’t received much service at all from midfield.

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England Captain Dane Cloke is unable to stop Ireland scoring the final goal of the game in the 7-1 rout

At 3-0 down, England went into half time needing a minor miracle to get back into the game and certainly started off the second half on a positive note. The visitors managed to keep the ball better and work the ball up to Paul Newstead who held the ball up well. A tactical change at half time saw England move to a five man midfield, with Alex Moore switched to left midfield and Mike Shelton to centre midfield. Mike made up a three man partnership in central midfield with England regulars Barrie Tullis and Tim Hort and was able to exert more influence from a central position.

However, despite the good start to the second half, it was the Irish who struck first with another clinical finish, courtesy from Des Tomlinson. At this point it look like a ‘damage limitation’ exercise for England but the team battled on and got a goal back though Tim Hort who managed to squeeze the ball under the Irish keep from 20 yards out. Although the keeper got a touch, the ball trickled into the next to give England a glimmer of hope.

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Joint team photo in front of the clubhouse at AFC Tolka

England again caused Ireland some trouble as a nice through-ball from midfield which put Alex Moore through on goal. As he entered the area he was clipped by the Irish defender and the referee blew up for a penalty. Alex stepped up to take the spot-kick but the keeper got down to his right to make an excellent save. The ball rebounded nicely to the Moore but the rebound was blazed over the bar – it wasn’t looking like England’s day! The Irish rounded off a superb performance by adding three additional goals to their tally to make the final score 7-1.

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The game was played in great spirit and the England team were treated to a round of beers from our excellent Irish hosts. Following the game the English players all received a medal from the Irish FA and presented in return a plaque to our host from the Irish FA and Tolka AFC to show our appreciation for a great afternoon of football.

A full set of pictures from the game can be found here: https://flic.kr/s/aHskdHgPvL

If you would like to get involved in the England Fan Friendly activities please email fanfriendly@mac1.net to join our email list – our next game is scheduled for matchday against Slovenia

 

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Fans Friendly: Italy Vs England, Turin 2015

The England Fans Friendly against Italy had been arranged for early afternoon on match-day and was played at the Turin AFC Club located West of the City Centre. The club has strong links with Torino and hosts many of Toniro FCs youth training session and Academy games.

The Italian team captain, Andrea De Benedetti met the England team in the Piazza Castello and escorted the team to the stadium by bus. The England changing room was awash with new faces many of whom are new to the Supporters Club, having signed up to for the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign and finals. Alongside the new faces, the England starting line-up included some more established names which included a strong centre-back pairing of John Lunt and Graham Taylor. David Rhodes was restored at right back after missing the trip to Tallin and the spine of the team continued with Barrie Tullis and (Captain) Dane Cloke partnering in centre-midfield and Craig Tullis keeping his place up front.

England Team Photo
England Team Squad Photo: The game took place at A.S.D. Cit Turin Football Club

After the team photos, Italy got the match underway and immediately took the game to England. The Italians looked good technically and despite being direct with their approach play, kept the ball on the floor rather than playing balls over the top. Both teams had good spells during the opening exchanges but it was Italy who raced to a 2-0 lead within 20 minutes of kick-off. Despite being well organised at the back, the English defence struggled to contain the lively Italian no.10 who had bags of pace and looked to run at the defence at every opportunity.

AT 2-0 down, England didn’t panic and soon got back into the game courtesy of a neat finish from Craig Tullis after a well worked one-two with father Barrie! The celebrations were fairly short lived though as Italy restored their two goal lead within minutes following a great counter attacking move; the No.10 stealing the ball on the half way line and breaking through the English defence to provide an easy finish for his Italian strike partner.

Kick Off
Kick Off: England’s Craig Tullis poses for a pre-match photo with Italian midfielder Roberto Siclari

Despite temperatures of 25c on pitch-side, the pace of the game didn’t drop. Much like the Italians, the English side was made up of a mixture of youth and veterans and with 25mins gone, England began to make good use of their ‘roll-on roll-off’ substitutes, giving debuts to several younger members of the squad. Louis Minter replaced Chris Brook in attack and quickly made an impression, combining well with Alex Moore to win a penalty which he converted before half time, making the score 3-2 going into the break.

As is often the case, a goal before half time gave England the impetus going in to the second-half and it wasn’t long before the equaliser came. Chris Brook had been reintroduced as part of a three man attack and calmly slotted home from 10 yards out from a Craig Tullis’s cross.

As the Italians began to tire, the pace of Craig Tullis caused all sorts of problems and he put England 4-3 up about mid-way into the second half, this time being put through by Louis Minter. Italy continued to play some good football and were still creating chances – Jon Lunt making a crucial interception inside the box when Italy were odds-on to score.

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Presentation: England Manager Ed Rhodes presents Andrea De Benedetti with ‘fans friendly’ plaq

With about 10 minutes remaining England extended their lead. A cynical handball on the edge of the D resulted in a free kick from around 25 yards out – up stepped Captain Dane Cloke who hammered home a wondergoal following a clever lay-off from Barrie Tullis. The icing on the cake was delivered by Craig Tullis who completed his hat-trik in style, running from his own half and beating two players before finishing past the Italian keeper.

The afternoon finished off with a short presentation to thank our Italian hosts for a great game of football, their excellent sportsmanship and superb hospitality which concluded with a post-match beer (or two) in the club house.

If you would like to get involved in the fan-friendly activities please email your name, age and preferred playing position to: fanfriendly@mac1.net

Pictures: https://flic.kr/s/aHsk6hP4nj

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The Christmas Truce Tournament: Ypres, Belgium

Having been involved with the Englandfans football team since 2007 I was lucky enough to be invited along with 9 other regulars from the Supporters Club to play in the Christmas Truce Tournament in Ypres Belgium. The tournament was part of a weekend of activities to mark the 100th year anniversary of the Christmas Truce and was to be played on a grass pitch in Messines, Flanders – where the truce happened one hundred years ago.

There have been concerted effort throughout the football community to remember the Christmas Truce including a dedicated website, the #footballremembers hashtag, an advert from Sainsbury’s, a video from UEFA and a prominent mention in the Queens Speech.

I will never forget the first time that I played for the Englandfans football team – the sense of pride putting on an England kit and actually representing my country. Being invited to manage the England fans team in the tournament was an honour and I can only thank the FA enough for giving the team and myself this amazing opportunity – paying for our travel, food and accommodation throughout the weekend. An extra special thanks goes to Harpreet Grewal (head of the England Supporters Club) for all her work and support of the fans team since Mark Perryman started the initiative in 2005. The Belgium FA also did a fantastic job in hosting the tournament and particularly Lieven Der Kinderen who organised the whole weekend and went out of his way to make all the teams feel welcome.

The Boys - St Pancras

They bhoys at St Pancras station…

The weekend started on Thursday evening with a trip to a football complex which had been paid for by the Premier League. We set the scene for the weekend by watching the film Joyeux Noël (Merry Christmas) which gave us an idea of the conditions both sets of soldiers faced in the trenches of WWI. Whilst the Christmas Truce stands out in history as a great act of humanity against the backdrop of war, the film also left me with the impression that the bleak conditions also helped in bringing both sides together, allowing a moment of respite to attend the wounded and bury the dead. 

England Team Photo

Team from top left: Mel Kenny, Dane Cloke, Paul Newstead, Beb Knapper, Lee Pendrey, Graham Taylor, Craig Tullis, Barrie Tullis

Watching the film is a reminder of how grateful we should be to those who fought on our behalf. The #footballremembers campaign highlights how football brings people together and also is a great reminder that we shouldn’t take freedom for granted – it seems only yesterday that we received such great hospitality from the Ukrainian fans; playing a fans match in both in Donetsk during Euro 2012 and last year when we played at Kiev University during the World Cup Qualifying campaign. It is crazy how much can change in a short space of time and two years after hosting one of the biggest sporting events on the planet, our friends in Ukraine are now living in a war zone.

Kiev 2013 Vs Kiev 2014

Left (2014): Independence Square in Kiev up in flames | Right (2013): A picture I took during our trip to Kiev for WC Qualifiers

The Tournament

The Tournament itself was comprised of eight team – two groups of four. England were paired with Belgium, N.Ireland and Germany. Wales were in a group with Scotland and France and the Republic of Ireland. Our team was made up of 8 regulars who have played recently in Estonia, Switzerland and at the World Cup in Brazil. The grass pitch looked in decent condition to start with and for our first outing against Northern Ireland we passed the ball really well. Within five minutes we were 2-0 up – scoring two of the goals of the tournament – both were well worked passing moves which were finished off by Lee Pendrey and Craig Tullis respectively. With the rain pouring down and wind sweeping across the pitch England were caught napping at the beginning of the second half as N.Ireland, who had plenty of pace in the side, cut through our defence and quickly made it 2-2. As the pitch cut up in the second half, England looked a bit leggy and in the last minute the Irish made it 3-2 to deservedly take all three points after a great comeback.

Exchange of Pendants

England Captain Dane Cloke swaps pennants with the Belgium Captain

Our next game against Belgium was another close affair with the teams going in 1-1 at half time. However, it was Belgium who took the points, capitalising on two quick breaks and applying neat finishes to make it 3-1 at full-time. England were out and the dream was over for another 100 years!

At this point after four games on our pitch the lads were completely caked in mud (apart from Craig who had two goals but yet to make a tackle!) and we were happy to break for lunch where we were treated to a meal and a short speech from the head of the Belgium FA. In the afternoon we headed out to face a strong German team who were made up from the German FA. Strong, technical and athletic (exactly what you would expect from any German team) England did well to keep the score down to 3-0 as Germany progressed through as group winners with N.Ireland in second place.

Last ditch tackle from Baz

Baz attempts a last ditch tackle on the Germans

Despite three loses the lads couldn’t have put more effort in and the tournament saw some really good games of football, even as the pitches deteriorated throughout the day. At some points in the tournament the weather was pretty terrible and managing the team on the sidelines there were times when it was pretty damn cold. It is worth remembering that 100 years ago, the English lads that played football on this field didn’t have a warm coach waiting to take them back to a 4-star hotel at the end of the game. It was the French who went on the win the tournament, beating Germany and then Scotland in the final. In a nice touch, all the teams received bronze medals, with no trophy being awarded to the winners.

Menin Gate

Every night at 8.00pm The Last Post Ceremony takes place under the Menin Gate in Ieper – Ypres.

In the evening after the tournament we attended the The Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate which takes place every night at 8pm. The gate is a war memorial to the British and Commonwealth soldiers who were killed in the Ypres area during WWI but the whereabouts of their graves are unknown. Aside from being an impressive monument it was staggering to see how many names are engraved onto the huge arches. The Scottish team contributed to the ceremony with their manager playing the bagpipes and two of our tournaments teams laid wreaths during the ceremony. After the ceremony, the good spirit of the tournament continued long into the night as all the teams enjoyed several beers together. On the Saturday the English players with their counterparts visited a number of Christmas Truce locations in Comines-Warneton (Plugstreet) and Armentieres and experienced a reenactment of the truce.

On behalf of the team and myself I would like to again thank the Belgium FA for arranging such a memorable weekend – what a fantastic way to commemorate one of the most remarkable stories of the war. I’m sure our teams will meet again at future fan-led initiatives.

England & Northern Irish Teams

England and Northern Ireland enjoy a beer after the tournament

A selection of photos from the tournament are available on the Christmas Truce Gallery page. Please contact me if you would like a full set of photos from the weekend.

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Fans Friendly: Estonia Vs England, Tallinn 2014

The England fans-friendly in Tallinn was organised on match-day in conjunction with the Estonian fans association (Jalgpallihaigla), the British Council and the British Embassy. The direct translation of Jalgpallihaigla is ‘Football Hospital’ and the organisation is both a charity and football team which is made up of supporters of the Estonian National Team.

Our hosts were extremely welcoming with the England team being escorted to the stadium from Freedom Square in the centre of town to our pitch which was directly outside Le Coq Arena where England would play their UEFA qualifier later on that evening. On arrival, England fans and supporters were gifted with a couple of crates of cold beer – not exactly the best preparation for the game but greatly received all the same!

The Teams Line Up

National Anthem time….

After the national anthems, the game kicked-off at a fast pace with the Estonian team looking to capitalise on a few sore heads within the England team. A combination of a late night and early morning kick off looked to have effected some of the England players and allowed Estonia to take a firm grip on the game, opening the scoring within the first five minutes. A long, angled-drive from outside the box looked to be dipping over the stand-in English keeper until his outstretched arm tipped the ball on to the underside of the crossbar. The the ball bounced kindly for Estonia, sitting in the middle of the goal and leaving the Estonian striker with a simple tap-in to make it 1-0.

When Estonia made it 2-0 it looked as if England could be facing a tough day at the office. However, the English lads dug-in and started to gain good possession in midfield, getting good penetration down the left side from full-back Ben Knapper. After some decent possession, England started to look a little more stable at the back, with Dane Cloke and John Lunt reforming a partnership that worked well during the World Cup qualifying campaign.

Bazza on the ball

Barrie Tullis and Glen Thornton start to work some good possession in midfield

The danger for England was always on the counter attack and despite good possession, Estonia looked very dangerous – the main threat coming from their pacey number 11 and the 9, who was constantly looking to run in behind the England defense. With the next goal vital, England plugged away – with Craig Tullis hitting the angle of the crossbar from a ambitions shot wide to the right of the Estonian box. But it was Estonia who got the third goal, extending their lead with around ten minutes until half time. With some weary legs on the pitch, England made a double substitution; Tim Hort and Graham Goodge replacing James Ransden and Ben Knapper, the latter appearing to be feeling the effects of the previous evenings entertainment (rumoured to have finished at 6am!). From the substitutions it was Tim who was able to make an immediate impact on the game, being put through on goal by the English midfield and supplying a neat finish past the Estonian keeper. The half time whistle blew with England in the ascendancy – buoyed by their goal and still (just about) in the game at 3-1 down.

British Ambassador Chris Holtby is interviewed by Estonian TV

British Ambassador Chris Holtby is interviewed by Estonian TV

After the half time refreshments and some interviews with the local media it was back out for the second half. A weary England team didn’t look to be at the races at all and the Estonian team started to control the game. Despite some resolute defensive performances throughout the England team, the quality, pace and fitness of the Estonian team started to show as they dominated the second half. England weren’t without chances and Craig Tullis came close when he lofted a deft chip over the keeper, only to see it go narrowly past the right hand post when put through on goal. In order to stay compact, England were playing a high line at the back and were having relative success catching the Estonian forwards offside. However, it was only a matter of time until the offside trap was beaten and Estonia added goals number four and five in quick succession.

Craig Tullis through on goal

Craig Tullis through on goal

England were stuck a couple of harsh injury blows in the second half with the influential Richard Barnwell limping off with what looked to be a serious hamstring tear. It meant that the last twenty minutes or so were a real struggle for the English boys and credit to the team for digging their heals in and giving it everything until the last minute. Sadly it wasn’t enough to keep the Estonians at bay and by the full time whistle England were in ‘damage limitation mode’ and did well to keep the score to 7-1.

The game finished with a joint team photo and a presentation to say thanks to our wonderful hosts who were so accomodating – we look forward to welcoming Jalgpallihaigla back to Wembley next October. A quick word from the England team manager – next time the team will have a strict curfew! Next up…… Scotland.

Group Team Photo

Group Team Photo

A full set of pictures from the game are available: https://flic.kr/s/aHsk4J3VFF

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

 

 

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Fans Friendly: Belo Horizonte

England’s early kick off time against Costa Rica meant that the fans friendly activities in Belo Horizonte were scheduled for the day prior to the game on the 24th June, the same day that Brazil faced Cameroon in their final group game. Around fifty England fans met up at the Praça do Papa square in the Mangabeiras neighbourhood of the City. We were met by organiser Tom Gatehouse and after a short walk we arrived at the Papa Parque da Serra, Belo’s equivalent of Table Mountain. Located at the South of the City the Parque da Serra gives stunning views over Belo Horizonte.

Our guide spoke excellent English and was able to point out prominent city landmarks including the Mineiro stadium which would host England’s final group game, the dead-rubber against Costa Rica. Our tour was accompanied by a TV crew from Globo, Brazil’s largest TV channel, who were interested to add another angle to their World Cup coverage and show the interaction between England fans and the Belo Horizonte locals.

Following the tour our group jumped on a coach for the short ride to Savassi, a lively area of Belo which is home to many of the Cities bars and restaurants. After a short stop at the Praça da Liberdade one of the cities most picturesque squares our party made our way to the Chalé Mineiro restaurant. The restaurant operates on the ‘pay per kilo’ concept whereby food is weighed up at the end of your trip to the buffet and charged depending on how indulgent one has been!

https://flic.kr/p/odNnzh

From the restaurant we were guided again by Tom to a local bar to meet some local Brazilian fans to watch their final group game against Cameroon. Brazil is famed for their love of football and watching Brazil play whilst in Brazil is a priviledge that I’m sure every England fan will remember for a long time to come. With Brazil victory sealing their place as group winners the party got started and both set of fans enhoyed their Caipirinhas well on into the night.

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Fans Friendly: São Paolo

São Paolo is Brazils largest city and hosted England’s second group match against Uruguay. On the morning of the match the England fans team met up in the East of the City for our fans friendly match against a local Brazilian side from Vila Madelina. The game had been organised with the help of friendly ex-pat Vince, who had liased with the municipal government to organise and pay for the pitch. The game had also been sponsored by Beats Audio, the headphones brand masterminded by Doctor Dre himself. Beats provided refreshments for the game along with free t-shirts featuring either Danny Sturridge or Neymar.

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With a strong squad of around twenty players to choose from, the England team had a different look from the side that started in Manaus and opened the game brightly. The opposition team had come from a local favela and were a relatively young looking team. Thankfully the conditions were more favourable for England than the temperature and humidity experienced in the Jungle – a temp of around 17c and light drizzle meant the English were definitely made to feel at home.

The game started off at a high tempo with both teams competing for every ball. England were keen to show their Brazilian counterparts they could play and maintained some good spells of posession in the opening period. Its was clear that the Brazilian team were technically very good with both their centre back and central midfielders showing great footwork and close control when under pressure. However, this was a strong England team who were comfortable in possession and were able to stretch their opposition with some slick passing.

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Competitive till the end...

The first goal came from some excellent link-up play on the right hand side between Sam Overnall and right back David Rhodes. Just as it looked like the Brazilian left back had intercepted a slick one-two, Rhodes managed to extend a long leg and whip in a cross which looped over the keeper and nicely onto the head of striker Ashley Deekes who made no mistake, heading home from five yards out.

From the restart Brazil were straight back into the game, playing out from the back and creating some good chances down the left hand side. England remained confident in possession and looked dangerous on the counter attack, with Derek Atkinson breaking away and putting a delicate lob inches over the bar. It was Brazil who scored next, making their pressure pay with an excellent move down the left hand side, the pacey striker latching onto a through ball and finishing neatly past England goalkeeper Dickens Richards.

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Brazil close control

Before half time England manager Ed Rhodes began to show his hand, introducing brothers Daniel & Joe Simmons into midfield and Glen Thornton at centre back. The revised team kept a tight line and despite some dangerous attacks from Brazil, the teams went into the half time break at one-a-peice. Half time saw further changes to the England lineup with both Jo Friar and Brett Ackroyd making an impact from the bench. It was Brazil though who started off the brighter in the second half, with their pacey striker again showing a clean set of heels to the English defence and slotting and excellent finish in-off-the-post past England’s goalkeeper for the second half, Andrew Fryer.

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Overnall heads for goal

Brazil further extended their lead around 30mins into the second half as their striker claimed a well deserved hat-trick. Trailing by two goals and with only 15mins left on the clock it would have been quite easy for the visiting team to capitulate.  However, the English team stuck to their game, being tough in the tackle and showing good forward movement when in possession. From the substitutes it was perhaps Thornton who had the biggest impact, with some astute defending supplimented with accurate deliveries into the box from set peices. And it was from a set peice that England equalised – referee Dave Beverley blewing up for a free kick 25 yards outside the box, from which Thornton smashed an upstoppable shot into the bottom left of the net.

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Referee Dave Beverley blows for full time

With five minutes remaining it was clear that the game would go right to the wire. It was England who were applying all the pressure with several corners being put in from the right hand side. Brazil had replaced their keeper with Vince (our host) and after successfully defending three corners in a row, England were finally able to make their pressure count. A great delivery into the far post was met by Sam Overnall who headed towards the top left corner of the net. Just when it looked as though the equaliser had arrived, Vince sprang into action making an unbelievable save to his right hand side. Unfortunately for Brazil, the save of the match meant nothing as England were able to pick up the second ball and scramble it over the line to celebrate a scrapy but well deserved equaliser.

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Penalty Shoot out after 3-3 draw

After a closely contested match, the man in black blew up for full time and signalled for a penalty shoot out. As the players swapped shirts and the crowd gathered towards one end of the pitch, five brave English players put their names forward to attempt break England’s duck by winning a World Cup penalty shoot out for the first time.

It was Glen Thornton who stepped up to taks the first pen, again smashing the ball into the net past the Brazilian keeper. Brazil missed their first penalty and England capitalised by scoring their second to make it 2-0. Brazil scored their second penalty to make it 2-1 and then it was England’s turn to miss, dragging their third past the left hand post. Brazil equilized with their third penalty to make it 2-2 but England extended their lead to 3-2 with their fourth. The fourth Brazilian penalty was uncharacteristically blazed over the bar and England’s victory was complete as their fifth penalty was converted to secure a 4-2 win. 

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Presentation of the trophy

The match was followed with a short presentation in which our hosts thanked the English players for a great game and told us that it meant a lot to them that the English fans had made the effort to come an visit their community. We were lucky to have a visit from the municipal Mayor, who via our translator Vince, agreed that the fans friendly iniatitive is what the Wolrd Cup is really all about; meeting new people and learning about different cultures through football.

We would like to express a huge thanks to our hosts who showed us such a warm welcome and the Mayor who showed a real interest in the match and provided the pitch. A massive thanks also goes out to Vince and and Mark Perryman for all their work arranging the match.

A full set of pictures are available here: https://flic.kr/s/aHsjYYtPio