Tuesday, 27 February 2018

SK Slavia Praha

SK Slavia Praha 1-0 Bohemians 1905
Eden Arena, Prague

Date of visit: Sunday 25th February 2018
Ground number: 5
League: HET Liga
Ticket: Accreditation
Programme: Free
Beer: 40kc
Attendance: 9,648

Eden Arena, Prague

Slavia Prague. Another team I can't stand. They aren't quite on Burnley's level yet in terms of my hatred but they are getting closer each year. Unfortunately I just happened to visit both within the same month.

Ok, in all honesty I just dislike them. As a Sparta Prague fan of 13 years (and a season ticket holder for most of them) it's not really negotiable. Slavia are the enemy. Since becoming a season ticket holder I've only seen two title wins and was forced to sit in the stadium and watch Slavia lift the trophy last season. They've taken a step backwards recently and that would be more enjoyable to watch if it weren't for the fact that we've taken a bigger one!

I'm quite a frequent visitor to Eden for work reasons and I'm not going to sit here and say I hate it just because it's Slavia. The stadium itself doesn't have much of an identity. It's modern and there's very little inside the stadium which says ' THIS IS SLAVIA' but to be fair they are improving and have gone some way to decorating the outside with Slavia legends as you can see from the picture above.

Today's game was a big one. The Vršovice derby againt Bohemians 1905. The two clubs are about 3 tram stops apart (...and a lot further apart in football terms). This was a home debut for Slavia's new manager Jindřich Tripišovsky and after a disappointing defeat the previous week against lowly Jihlava and the good form of Bohemians you could sense the nerves around the stadium.

Bohemians 1905 fans turned up in numbers. Well...I say numbers....they had more than they usually take to away games but you'd expect a better effort considering it's a short walk. I could be wrong and maybe their ticket allocation was limited by Slavia...so I'll let them off for now.

Bohemians 1905 fans ready for kick off
Bohemians are having a good season under Martin Hašek and given Slavia's shaky start I really expected both players and fans to be well up for the game. I was disappointed. The players failed to take advantage of sloppy play from the home side and lost the game 1-0. As bad as Slavia played they still looked a league above Bohemka. The away side just didn't have any quality in the final third. As for the fans....ridiculously quiet. Poor effort.

I should probably add that it was -9 degrees which might explain the lack of noise from the away fans. It really was uncomfortable. Absolutely freezing.

Setting off for my afternoon match. The temperature didn't improve!

The majority of Sparta fans would never admit it but I am happy to hold my hands up and say Slavia (...at least at the present time) have a much better atmosphere than we do. The stand with the main fans is the north end behind the goal (Tribuna Sever). They manage to fill it quite well every game and they really do know how to make a noise. It's a shame that they rarely fill the other end and you often see empty seats but on European nights the stadium must be rocking.

The ultras put a lot of time and effort into the banners (as do Sparta) but I missed getting a picture of the pyro in this game as my hands were too cold to fiddle with my phone! Fair play for the 'Our Vršovice' banner though.....

I would recommend visiting all the Prague clubs when in the city. Each of them has a particular charm but i'd say the best atmosphere can be found here. If they continue to disappoint and crash out of Europe early next season then the fans that jumped on the title bandwagon will leave again (Czech fans are very fickle) and that might change things. If that happens I'll be happy to come back and experience their misery. Until then...see you in the real Prague derby next month!

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Berliner AK 07

Berliner AK 07 0-0 VSG Altglienicke
Poststadion, Berlin

Date of visit: Sunday 18th February 2018
Ground number: 4
League: Regionalliga Nordost
Ticket: €10
Programme: n/a
Beer: €4
Attendance: 284

Poststadion - Home of Berliner AK 07

Waking up on Saturday morning and actually making the hotel breakfast this time was a good start. The task was to get out and walk around the city. We had a lot of making up to do after the Friday write-off (see previous post HERE).

I still felt rough so for the first time in my life I was experiencing a true 2 day hangover. It was nowhere near as bad as Friday so a couple of litres of Starbucks filter coffee went some way to sorting me out. We set off walking from the hotel to what remains of the Berlin wall and then planned to head towards the Brandenburg gate, the holocaust memorial and checkpoint charlie. The usual tourist stuff.

The Berlin Wall

Brandenburg Gate

The memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe

Checkpoint Charlie
After another litre of Starbucks we were crossing the river and google decided to tell us there was a microbrewery nearby. This was the perfect opportunity to test my current hangover status. The place was Brahhaus Georgbraeu and it was excellent. A little pricey but friendly staff and excellent beer. We had a couple and so far so good. I was back in the game.

Test passed. A great little beer.

Georgbraeu, Berlin
The plan for the evening was always to watch the FA Cup game between Manchester United and Huddersfield then go on an organised pub crawl. I'd done quite a few of these crawls across Europe in the past and was intent on choosing a tour which wasn't full of American frat boys. I was also still a bit delicate so didn't want to go crazy. My plan was to slowly enjoy a few beers and ignore all the free shots.

We went for the 'Anti-pub crawl: Alternative Berlin Tour' and it was great! The idea is they take you to smaller underground bars which tourists typically don't know about and in small, intimate groups. Despite a little lack of organisation they kept their promise. The tour cost €12 and includes free entry to all bars/clubs and a free shot between each place. We arrived at the meeting point at 21:00 and would you believe it...Dark Bar. I immediately went back into hangover mode as the smell of stale beer from the carpet hit my nostrils and it took me about an hour to drink my first beer. I would have been a bit quicker but tequila bar man 'accidentally' tipped the first pint all over my trousers (beige) and shirt. Cheers mate. The first stop on the tour (and every stop after that come to think of it) required public transport. A little annoying but I suspected it might happen and we had bought day tickets earlier (€6).

It's quite hard to put the first venue into words. It was basically a room surrounded in graffiti ridden concrete with a ping pong table in the middle. There was a bar selling bottles of amazing beer from a local microbrewery (I opted for the weisenbier) and a dj in the corner. You would never ever know from the outside that this is a bar. It was just a normal doorway. After a quick google search I can tell you it's called Dr Pong. Basically it consists of friendly people drinking, listening to the music and playing 'around the world' on the ping pong table. Amazing.

I'm not usually a fan but this was a great weizen bier

Dr Pong, Berlin

Unfortunately this is where my photos ended as it was on my instagram story only but we then visited a craft beer bar just by the Berlin wall where I had a great pale ale and met a Chinese man who not only was a top manager of Lego but also had plenty of stories (and pictures) of Prague brothels. As you do.

Another tram journey and we ended up in the absinthe bar. This was pretty hardcore as far as absinthe bars go as they were selling 90% stuff and doing the whole spoon, sugar and fire shabang. Naturally I stayed on the beer. We then met up with the other group and entered a club. I have no idea what it was but the music was acceptable, the dance floor was friendly, we had a good night and were in bed for 3am. Success. If you're in Berlin I really do recommend this tour.

My cautious approach to the pub crawl paid off and we were up bright and early on Sunday for breakfast and a taste of German regional league football. I had my heart set on Berliner FC Dynamo but unfortunately their match was called off so we settled for Berliner AK 07. It was quite handy that their stadium (Poststadion) was located about 5 minutes walk from the main train station I had my train to Prague from there later in the day so planned to put my luggage in a locker and head to the football. The locker cost €4 and I had planned my remaining euros perfectly so I wouldn't need to use an atm. Imagine my horror when after putting the money in and taking the key I realised I had left my hat, scarf and gloves in the bag. Idiot. I refused to pay another €4 to open the locker and close it again so stubbornly went to the stadium without protection from the -2 temperatures. This was a mistake. It was bloody freezing.

Berliner AK 07 is a very strange football club. It's actually a multi cultural football club with ties to Turkey. They had a relationship with Turkish club Ankaraspor and even took their name and kit but despite reverting to their original name and colours they still have a Turkish fan base. There were two Turkish players on the pitch for this game and they stood out massively as both sides wasted chances to eventually settle for a 0-0 draw.

Berliner AK 07

It was a lot colder than it looks

Berliner AK 07 'ultras'....mainly Turkish

Poststadion, Berlin

One thing that surprised me given the size of the club and the measly 284 attendance was that you couldn't use real money for food and drink. You had to go to a cash desk and purchase club currency. I assume it's some kind of tax dodge but it was an absolute pain in the backside. You even had to pay 50 cents (in fake currency) for a deposit on a plastic beer cup, Madness.

Berliner AK 07 ticket office
The club with its own currency!

After leaving the stadium we went back to hauptbahnhof for some food and a coffee before going our seperate ways. I got the 17:30 train back to Prague and Martin headed to the airport. All in all an unforgettable weekend which has undoubtedly had a lasting affect on me as it caused me to question my beer drinking limits. Those manic days are gone for me now and I have the magical city of Berlin to thank for finally pushing me over the edge and into the responsible drinker club.

One thing is for sure...Berlin is an amazing city with its own atmosphere unlike anywhere else. I'll be back soon for a sober Hertha visit, Union Berlin and of course, Berliner FC Dynamo.

Hertha BSC

Hertha BSC 0-2 1. FSV Mainz 05
Olympiastadion, Berlin

Date of visit: Friday 16th February 2018
Ground number: 3
League: Bundesliga
Ticket: €21
Programme: Free
Beer: Carlsberg €4
Attendance: 30,908

Back in November my cousin Martin and I planned this little trip to Berlin. The plan was to arrive Thursday evening, spend Friday and Saturday exploring the city and take in a couple of games....Hertha vs Mainz on the Friday night and Berliner FC Dynamo on the Sunday afternoon. It didn't quite go to plan but it was certainly an eye opening weekend.

I took the train from Prague (600kč/€23 return for a very comfortable 4 hour direct train) and Martin flew from London. We arrived at the hotel within an hour of each other (H2 Hotel Berlin-Alexanderplatz €91 per night inc breakfast) and decided to head straight out for a much needed German beer. It was hard not to notice the Hofbrauhaus next to the hotel and that seemed like as good a place as any to start. Much like its Munich older brother the atmosphere was good and the beer tasted great.

Hofbrauhaus Berlin

When in Berlin.....drink Munich beer!

The hofbrauhaus is obviously not the cheapest pub in town so off we went to find some local beers. I'm not sure why but the first place we went to was a Czech chain pub (The Pub). Those familiar with Prague/Brno will have probably tried it's self serving beer pump on tables system. The beer wasn't actually Czech though with a local beer going down well while watching Napoli vs RB Leipzig on the big screen.

After 'The Pub' we sampled two nearby microbreweries. The first was Brauhaus Lemke, a huge craft microbrewery right next to Alexanderplatz. It was a Thursday night so most places seemed to be dying down at this point and this huge brauhaus was no exception. We had an excellent pale ale before moving onto the nearby Berliner Marcus Brau. This was a really small place but it had a lot of character. They had a wide range of homemade products including spirits, honey and mustard as well as their own beer. I asked the waitress for a 5 litre 'tower' to surprise Martin but she politely declined as they were closing at 11 and she obviously couldn't see us finishing it in 30 mins (pfft). In the end we had to settle for a pint and a shot of their homemade beer spirit. It was all very tasty and a nice way to cap off our first night in Germany's capital.

A nicely bitter, hoppy Pale Ale from Brauhaus Lemke

The last beer of the night....or was it?

We left Marcus Brau just after 11, loaded up google maps to get back to the hotel and got a good nights sleep to ensure we were in top condition for the rest of the weekend. At least that's what we should have done.

I hold my hands up here. Martin was ready to go back and for some reason I, completely out of character (as these days I generally prefer daytime drinking and hate being out late) decided I wasn't ready for bed. I was truly in the Berlin spirit and felt like I had a lot more to give this quiet Thursday night. Looking back a month later I now know that it was probably one of the worst decisions I've made since drinking an entire bottle of peach schnapps to myself on the first night in Ibiza back in 2004.

We walked in the opposite direction to the hotel and found a dark little bar (for reasons that will probably become clear I don't know the names of most bars or have any pictures from this point onward). Dark bar was ok. I remember a dj and very average beer. It was a friendly enough place. After a while we then went to Belushi's bar....otherwise known as backpacker central. These places are all over Europe, are cheap enough and usually attached to a hostel. We met a group of Americans and it's at this point where things started taking a turn for the worse as we were doing shots at the bar. I'm going to cut the story short now but flashbacks are....barman wanting to throw me out, arguing with American girl, American girl chasing me down the street trying to punch me. I know what I said to her to make her want to punch me but I won't put it here. Let's just say drunk Dave wasn't very complimentary.

After running away from the angry American we ended up back in dark bar (at around 2am). According to Martin I was doing tequila shots with the barman but I only remember one girl who kept saying 'dickhead' to everyone. She was quite funny and I think either her or her friends took us to the next place which turned out to be a gay venue. I have one flashback here which is that me and Martin were the only people in the place wearing tops. It was an absolute maze. I don't know what I was drinking and I lost Martin. To summarise....I remember running away from the Angry American just before 2, I remember men with no tops on in a maze of a nightclub and then waking up at 15:00 the next day. My mobile told me that I had walked 5km at 6am and managed to find our room. Martin's wallet told him he had taken a taxi back to the hotel around the same time. No idea.

The problem with this was that we had wasted an entire day in Berlin. The second problem was that I appeared to have the biggest hangover ever known to man. I felt absolutely awful and the Hertha match for me was in serious doubt.

After another couple of hours trying to sleep it off we rallied and got on the U-bahn to the Olympic stadium. It's about 14 stops from Alexanderplatz and takes around 35 minutes. It was truly the worst underground journey I have EVER had. I was stood next to the door because I kept thinking I'd have to jump off at the next stop to throw up. That's how bad I felt. Martin had a second wind and was talking to me but I didn't have the energy to reply and was just concentrating on making it to the stadium.

These next few photos are courtesy of Martin as I couldn't really function.

Berlin's finest at the very efficient ticket collection point.

The exterior of the Olympic stadium really is something else!
I was so angry with myself that I really couldn't enjoy the Hertha experience. The stadium was beautiful inside and out. There were no huge crowds and everything seemed to work really well. I loved the outside especially and wanted to walk around but I was dying and just wanted to get to my seat, sit down and get through the game.

We got to the seat, sitting down wasn't going to happen. The seats were above the ultras main tier but still in that area so nobody actually sat down for the game. My heart sank. I just kind of leaned on my chair for 90 mins and to make matters worse there was a British stag party a couple of rows behind us being rowdy and throwing beer. I was secretly hoping a Berlin fan was going to punch them but in the end all that happened was one of them spotted the Blackburn Rovers badge on my hat. Brilliant.

View from the main home sector.

The game itself was poor. I saw Mainz pick up away points for the second time in the space of 8 weeks and Hertha really disappointed. Nobody seemed capable of stringing a couple of passes together and Mainz took their chances to get a deserved win in front of 200 or so away supporters.

Not so super Hertha...

A word of warning as well...the beer in the stadium is terrible. It didn't matter for me (Martin bought me a pint which I managed 2 sips of) but it's a shame they don't have a local (or at least German) beer. Carlsberg is on sale and it's about as good as you would expect. Not very.

All in all it was good to attend a game here and the atmosphere was great. I'd like to come back when I'm not at death's door.

We headed back into town. I went straight to bed in a desperate attempt at salvaging the weekend and Martin...he went back to Belushi's!

The weekend continues HERE

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Burnley FC

Burnley FC 1-1 FSV Manchester City FC
Turf Moor, Burnley

Date of visit: Saturday 3rd February 2018
Ground number: 2
League: Premier League
Ticket: £30
Programme: £3
Beer: Carlsberg £4, They also had a bitter (maybe Tetley's)
Attendance: 21,658
Final score: 1-1

Turf Moor, Burnley

Let's get one thing straight - I despise Burnley FC. I genuinely hate them more than any other club on the planet. My second match since starting this blog just happened to be one of theirs and as you can see from the picture above...I was right in the middle of their main fans. Happy days.

If you google 'most fierce English football rivalries' and Blackburn vs Burnley isn't in the top 10 you can forever ignore that website as a source of trustworthy information. I'm a Blackburn fan and Burnley is and forever will be our biggest game. It's the same for them even though they are currently playing in the top half of the premier league. I have the misfortune of being outnumbered at least 20-1 in terms of Burnley and Blackburn fans within my own family. Growing up was great...we were good, they were shit. Nowadays the table has turned somewhat...for now.

I've been to Turf moor many times watching Blackpool and was also in the Burnley home end watching them against John Barnes, Ian Rush and co in the FA Cup 3rd round. I know the town and the stadium well. Apart from one season we shared with them in the first division back in 2000-2001 we hardly played each other in my lifetime so my first opportunity to visit Turf Moor watching Rovers was when we drew them in the FA Cup in 2005. The match finished 0-0 and the situation could be summed up by the opening paragraph of the Guardian's match report that day.

'With riot vans parked outside and police helicopters hovering above, it is tempting to imagine the Chief Constable of the Lancashire police spraying a mouthful of coffee across his desk when he heard this would go to a replay.'

I had a ticket for the game after skipping university to stand in a 6 hour queue. A week before the match I got a letter from the Lancashire police. It was informing me that under no circumstances was I to drive to the game, take the train to the game or get any form of public transport to Burnley that day. My only option was to drive to Blackburn, park up at Ewood Park and get on the official supporters coach. Then and only then would I be given my ticket. The same rule applied to the poor Rovers fans living in Burnley, some of whom lived only a few metres away from the stadium. They had to travel to Blackburn, get the coach, go to the match, back to Blackburn then back to Burnley. There was no escape. The police closed the M65 motorway and we set off. 79 double decker coaches each surrounded by 3 police motorbikes. As we drove through Burnley itself it seemed like every house had its residents standing on the porches. Mums, dads, kids, babies...all giving us the finger and wanker signs. We felt pretty special. As we got off the coach we were escorted into the stadium by police. The noise for an hour before kick off, the entire 90 minutes and an hour after kick off was deafening. I can still remember every detail. That's a real football derby.

Thirteen years later and I'm back again. This whole thing came about as I drunkenly told my cousin I'd go to a game with her Burnley-mad 7 year old daughter. She reminded me in January and I thought 'why not?'. It was against Manchester City so there'd be a good chance they'd get a pasting and i'd heard so many stories of 7 year old Rosie on away trips (mingling with all the hardcore fans, pubs before games, playing pool with some pretty tough looking gentlemen) I felt I had to see it for myself.

One thing that strikes you as you approach Turf Moor is the current attention they have compared to just a few years prior. Sky and BT trucks everywhere, security, anti-terrorism barriers....they are premier league now and they don't look out of place. 
The new kind of visitors at Turf Moor

Despite being a premier league club, walking around the outside of the ground it still has the traditional feeling it used to. The old ladies selling raffle tickets, the old men selling programmes and the smell of Bovril coming from the catering vans. The club shop looks like it's had a makeover but I didn't bother having a look for obvious reasons.

It was a cold day and obviously I couldn't wear my new rovers hat and scarf that's been serving me well throughout the Czech winter so I had to break out a Sparta and HC Litomerice combo. I had also brought Rosie a Sparta hat from Prague so at least she wasn't fully claret and blue. Rosie was under strict instructions not to mention to anyone that I was a Blackburn supporter and I have to say, given she's seven years old, I still felt a little nervous that she'd have an outburst mid-game. I was put even more on edge when she informed me in the stadium, with a straight face, that 'Lancashire is full of tits, fanny and clarets.'

with Rosie....my guide for everything Burnley and Sparta's new fan!

Burnley started the game quite well until Danilo hit an absolute sreamer from 25 yards to put City 1-0 up. Burnley lost all shape after that and it was one way traffic. Luckily for the home side it was only 0-1 at the break.

If you follow me on twitter you probably know that the current state of English football grinds my gears a bit as I think they have little respect for the football fan but one thing that would make it more bearable would be to relax the regulations. It's the same old story here and across most British stadiums. Half time comes and you are packed in like sardines as you are not allowed to drink alcohol within sight of the pitch. Madness. The funny thing is you can go to the exact same stadiums for rugby matches and happily enjoy a pint at your seat. It's a hangover from the 80's and needs to be stopped. 

As I went downstairs at half time to attempt to order a pint of the finest Carlsberg (urgh) while trying not to be crushed I saw a sign for 'Bene & Hot £2'. This is a bizarre part of the Burnley experience that I guess everyone should sample (once). Benedictine is a french herbal liqueur and quite amazingly 30 percent all of Benedictine consumed in Britain is done so in Burnley. This all started with the 11th battalion of the East Lancashire regiment during the first world war. During the freezing winter of 1918 the battalion was based in Normandy (where Benedictine is made) and the troops drank it with hot water to keep warm. On their return they brought some back and passed on their taste for 'Bene & hot'. Today one working mens club in Burnley goes through over 1000 bottles a year and I'd be willing to bet that Turf Moor is the only stadium in the world offering it as a half time tipple.

Bene & Hot....only in Burnley!

I went back up for the second half and it was quite a strange experience to have everyone around me, on cue every seven minutes, singing 'No nay never....til we play Bastard Rovers...no neveeer no more.' I just stood in silence. I can handle that but around the hour mark the chants turned into 'Jack Walker is dead, dead, dead' which was a bit much. 

Apart from the pathetic chants the atmosphere was poor. Burnley fans have never really been that good at making some home noise (that goes for Rovers as well) but the Man City fans were even worse. Away games in England are usually an opportunity to let go and outsing the home fans but City were absolutely shocking. They were at least a couple of thousand strong and hardly made a peep all game.

After soaking up pressure from City Burnley managed to snatch a late equaliser. I stood silence as everyone around me erupted with joy. I won't lie...I was a little bit happy. These were some of the world's best players against little old Burnley, their fans were rubbish and Burnley deserved the point.

It was an interesting afternoon in East Lancashire and I'm really hoping my next visit here is for the derby. Until we meet again, dingles!