tm4tj

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  1. tm4tj

    John Beaton

    Has already been announced. Legend on the local scene. RIP John.
  2. Cove Test On Tuesday night 25 year old Inverness Caledonian Thistle welcome the newest club to make the leap into the football leagues. Former Highland League outfit Cove Rangers have stepped up after gaining promotion into League Two since removing Berwick Rangers from the League set-ups. Congratulations to Cove and I'm sure they will make an impact. It's more Betfred action with Inverness looking to recover after a poor start in their opening fixture at Peterhead. We clawed ourselves back into the equation with a 4-1 win over Raith Rovers at the weekend. Goals from Jordan White, Coll Donaldson, Aaron Doran and Nikolay Todorov saw us take the full three points. That sets us up nicely for Tuesday's game against Cove at the Caledonian Stadium. We made life difficult for ourselves against Raith but a couple of swift strikes after they equalised was enough to take the wind out of their sails as we upped the pace and pulled away from them. Despite a lethargic first half, we ended the game well on top with some promising performances. Tom Walsh was the pick of the players on show with three assists, and there were excellent contributions from David Carson, James Keatings Jamie McCart and at times, James Vincent. Overall a deserved win and gives the fans some encouragement for the campaign ahead. The grass looked great as well! Cove began their new chapter with a narrow 2-1 defeat at Peterhead. Only the woodwork, twice, denied Cove from taking something from this game. They went even closer with a 0-0 draw against Dundee before the Premiership relegated Dark Blues took the bonus point after winning the penalty shoot-out 3-2. Daniel Park almost gave Cove the lead but his effort crashed back off the bar. Still, a tremendous performance in front of near 1500 appreciative fans. Sean Welsh and Shaun Rooney are out longer term. Brad Mckay missed the Raith game as did Kevin McHattie, both pulled a sickie. Carl Tremarco took a nasty knock against Raith but it takes a lot to stop the wee man from playing on. Good to see Aaron Doran and Daniel Mackay getting some game time, Mackay scoring twice for a young squad at Brora on Friday night. Cove were without several first choice players against Dundee, notably experienced captain Mitch Megginson. Daniel Higgins just joined the day before the Dundee game and was exceptional in defence. He had previously played under Paul Hartley when at Dens Park. Let's hear it for head groundsman Dale Stephen and his team as they have transformed the playing surface from Wet Sand to the Green Green Grass of Home in the space of six weeks The surface looked in great nick for the opening game against Raith Rovers at the weekend after six weeks of work improving drainage and re-seeding the grass in around 40 days. You can see more of the progress on the official site by clicking HERE And if you have some spare time Dale, my garden is in a bit of a boorach. Just sayin............
  3. ICT 4-1 Raith First game on the new grass and it we christened it with three points in our Group D game against Raith Rovers to put us third in the table on four points. In the other group game, Dundee earned the bonus penalty point to top the group on seven after a 0-0 draw with Peterhead who have six. Inverness eventually eased past Raith Rovers for their first win in the competition this season. However, despite getting an early opener through the head of Jordan White, we failed to build on that in an underwhelming first half where creating opportunities seemed to be somewhat difficult. Fortunately Raith were in no position to take advantage and the first half ended at 1-0 with Rovers building in confidence. Coll Donaldson picked up a needless booking for kicking the ball away after conceding a free kick in time added on at the break. Doh! The second half was only five minutes in when Rovers equalised after we gave them some space down the left flank. When the ball came in Lewis Allan drove it behind Ridgers from 15 yards, the assist coming from Kieran MacDonald. That stirred the hosts into action and within eight minutes we had scored twice to settle the tie. Firstly Coll Donaldson glanced a header in from a Tom Walsh corner and a few minutes later Aaron Doran rounded off a lovely move down the right and hit Walsh's cross first time into the net after a step over from White. Walsh was the instigator in most things ICT and he ghosted through three or four players before forcing Munro to tip his 25 yard effort over the bar for a corner. But he wasn't finished yet and substitute Nocolay Todorov ended the scoring when he headed Walsh's superb cross home from close range. Here's hot Toddy heading home his first for the club........... It's still early in the season but you can sense some promise on the park. We did appear a little cagey in the first half despite the early goal. David Carson is not a right back but he is very energetic and looks like he will be a good box to box midfielder. Donaldson took his goal well as did Doran, and good to see both striker and understudy score. James Keatings has plenty to offer once he is fully up to speed. My MotM today was Tom Walsh who was the man that made us go through the gears as we eased away from Raith Rovers who were well beaten by the end of the game. Tom talking after his MotM performance against Rovers......... And Robbo gives his thoughts post match............ Footage from Raith TV Date: 20/07/2019 Venue: Caledonian Stadium Attendance: 1054 Referee: Gavin Ross Inverness CT: 4 Lineup: Ridgers; Carson, Donaldson, McCart, Tremarco, Doran (Curry 83), Trafford, Vincent, Walsh, Keatings (MacGregor 72), White (Todorov 78). Subs (not used): C Mackay, Nicolson, Harper, Brown. Scorers: White, Donaldson, Doran, Todorav Booked: Donaldson (45+1) Sent Off: none Raith Rovers: 1 Lineup: Munro; Miller, Benedictus, Mendy, MacDonald, McKay, Hendry (Tait 89), Davidson, Anderson (Bowie 78), Allan (Vitoria 82), Mathews. Subs (not used): Watson, Smith. Scorers: Allan Booked: Miller (36), Benedictus (20) Sent Off: none a
  4. tm4tj

    New Kit

    And........ I'm not one for making judgements on these things, in fact i couldn't even tell you if they wore it today, but it has been mentioned earlier in the topic that it is underwhelming. And that's my opinion too. Of all the options available in the world, this is the chosen one. So be it.
  5. It was seeded, not turfed. And just for you, here's a photo taken July 12th.
  6. New Turf for Betfred Cup Action. Raith Rovers are the visitors on Saturday for our second Betfred group stage game. Both sides will be looking to do better after underwhelming opening results in the competition where Dundee and Peterhead top the group D table with 5 points. We will unveil our newly grassed surface after improvement work on the drainage and soil was undertaken in the closed season. Well done to Dale Stephen and his team for getting the pitch ready for action Here's a wee glimpse of the new grass pictured a week ago, and what a difference they have made in the space of a few weeks. From a sandy lunar surface to the green green grass of home since it was all dug up at the end of last season. Let's hope we can put the grass to good use and start off with a win. We drew 0-0 with Peterhead in our opening group game at Balmoor Stadium. The hosts took the bonus point after an astonishing penalty shoot-out. All the outfield players on the park at full time scored their spot kicks and it boiled down to keepers Mark Ridgers and Greg Fleming. Unfortunately, Ridgers sliced his kick and Fleming made it 11-10 to win the extra point. Raith went down 3-0 to relegated Dundee in their opening game at Starks Park. Raith have always proven to be difficult opponents and I expect no different tomorrow. Let's hope we don't need a 94th minute Richie Foran overhead kick to win the game this time round. In saying that, it's 19 years since they last beat Inverness! Rovers last victory was a 2-1 win in the First Division back in October 2000, and since then, they’ve managed just two draws in 18 meetings. The last time the sides met was in the same competition a year ago, when a late Daniel McKay goal sealed a 2-1 win for the home side after Grant Gillespie had brought Rovers level, following Nathan Austin’s opener. We also face another testing time at home on Tuesday night as new League Two side Cove Rangers come to Inverness. Cove showed their resilience against last seasons Premiership fall guys, Dundee by drawing with them at the Balmoral Stadium. However, they suffered the same fate as us in the penalty shoot-out for the bonus point. We have a number of injury worries ahead of this game. Sean Welsh is still unavailable after breaking his foot last season. Shaun Rooney is out for a couple of months and Brad Mckay was taken off with a hamstring injury at Peterhead. Daniel Mackay and Aaron Doran were also missing on Tuesday night, and Kevin McHattie has reported in injured. Robbo has hinted that we could see more youngsters due to potential injury problems. That could mean a start for Harry Nicolson at right back or maybe Cameron Harper given our defensive issues. It will also be an opportunity for home fans to get a glimpse of our new signings. James Keatings, James Vincent and David Carson are likely starters with Mitchell Curry and Nokolay Todorov maybe getting an airing at some point. And if you haven't already seen young Brazilian Matheus Machado playing, look out for him. He's going to be a star one day and big things are predicted for him along with Roddy MacGregor (he's one of our own). Plenty to ponder for John Robertson who was less than impressed with the way Peterhead dominated large spells of the game last Tuesday night. There was a hastily arranged friendly at Brora on Friday night and the good news is that Daniel Mackay (pictured right) played from the start and on his return from injury scored two goals in the first half, one from the spot. That game ended 2-2. Remember to have a listen to The Wyness Shuffle podcast created by some of our own fans for your pleasure. Here's the Official Preview from ICTFC. Lot of info in there. If you like a wee flutter, our new partnership with FansBet can offer you something. Just click on FansBet to get started. "Remember to select CaleyThistleOnline when you register and you’ll be helping us support ICT fan causes." FansBet are partners with Supporters Direct Scotland and already have many impressive stories of giving back to and empowering fans, ranging from funding away travel, share purchases, backing safe standing projects and many more. You can read some of FansBet’s Giving Back stories on their blog at https://blog.fansbet.com/fansbet-giving-back/partners/fan/ Here's the page for INVERNESS v RAITH where FansBet have ICT as big favourites to win. Just click on Scottish League Cup. Let's hope they are right! Always remember to adopt safe gambling and responsible policies.
  7. This is a relatively short piece I have put together for the Aberdeen match programme when they welcome Georgian side Chikhura Sachkhere on Thursday 1st August having already played the first leg in Georgia. For those who ventured out to Georgia for the first leg, I am hopeful that they will have returned full of tales as to just how wonderful Tbilisi is, as well as how friendly the Georgian people are too! Georgia is one of the best kept secrets of Europe, a truly diverse gem of a country, from the amazing beach resort of Batumi, through the mountainous beauty of Svaneti, Kakheti and Tusheti to the stunning location and amazing buildings of the capital. Georgian cuisine is one of the highest regarded in the world, and from its vineyards, a Georgian red wine is equally regarded and quite exquisite. This a brave little country, who endeavoured to stand up to the invasion of Putin’s Russia, and went to war to try to protect its territory, but ultimately lost South Ossetia and Abkhazia. These areas are sadly off limits to Georgians still as tensions continue. It is advisable not to wear any Russian shirts in Georgia, although when you are in Russia, you will find the people have a deep affection for Georgia. Amusingly, if you ever find yourself looking to post anything to Georgia like I do from time to time, the post office assistant will seem momentarily confused as South Georgia and then US state come up first! Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, this will be only the second club encounter between a Scottish and Georgian club with Celtic having played Dinamo Batumi way back in 1995/96! Aberdeen have played an array of teams from different lands, but Georgian opposition is newly added with these matches. Our National team have infamously come to grief, not once but twice in the Dinamo Stadium in Tbilisi. Dinamo were the flag carriers of Georgia in the Supreme Soviet League days, winning the title twice in 1964 and 1978 and they can always claim to be one of only three teams never to have been relegated from what was a high powered league, encompassing eleven independent UEFA nations, let alone the Central Asian Republics. Curiously the three sides who avoided the drop were all called Dinamo! The Georgian Dinamo even managed to win the Cup Winners Cup in 1981, in what was the only ever “Iron Curtain” final when they beat then East German side Carl Zeiss Jena 2-1 in front of the lowest ever European Final crowd of 4,750 in Dusseldorf! It was a UEFA own goal in a sense, just how many would have been allowed to travel to the West to watch?! It is amusing to see that both teams reached the final having played just four rounds! That’s how many matches Aberdeen or Chikhura need to negotiate just to get into the Europa League groups! As you’d expect, having been a big player in the Soviet era, when Independence came along in the early ‘90’s, Dinamo were and remain the biggest team in Georgia, and they have accumulated sixteen titles since. However, the club has had a number of financial issues in coming to terms with a drop in standard and enthusiasm from a much quieter league, resulting in them no longer completely dominating, even if they will always be the biggest club name in the country! The financial pearls of the league are only too visible, teams come and go, relying heavily on sponsors or rich local benefactors, as well as progression in European competitions, or selling on talent to make any money. At one point it was free entry to most league games as the authorities tried everything to encourage people to come to the stadiums, but crowds are still awful, sadly. Football has struggled in Georgia as the country has discovered a real rich vein of passion for the egg shaped game, Rugby Union. The progress of the Lelos as the Georgian rugby side are known has seen enthusiasm for the round ball game diminish. They have been so successful, the ground swell continues to grow whereby the Six Nations might just have suck it up and let Georgia get involved. They will shortly have two tests, home and away with Scotland ahead of both nations heading to Japan for the World Cup. Scotland will become the first ever top tier nation to play in Georgia. It is a big moment for rugby in this sport mad land, where wrestling is popular too! However, football is fighting back, and the Nations League gave the Georgian national team a chance to shine, and they grabbed it with both hands! Perhaps harshly starting in the bottom tier, they easily swept aside Kazakhstan amongst others to step into the third tier next time around, but with added carrot of being in competition with Belarus, North Macedonia and Kosovo for a place in the 2020 European Championships, with the play offs set for next spring. Buoyed by that success, the Georgian clubs have had reasonable success in round one of this seasons European competitions. Saburtalo Tbilisi who stunned the country by winning the league last season for the first time, also caught out the Sherif from Tiraspol, Moldova, winning 3-0 away in Transnistria before hanging on for a 4-3 aggregate success in Tbilisi. You’d expect Dinamo to see off an Andorran club, and they easily did, winning 7-0 on aggregate, leaving Torpedo Kutaisi the only Georgian club to fall at the first hurdle, but they were playing another summer league team in Ordabasy Shymkent from Kazakhstan who are going extremely well in the league, conceding only 9 goals in 18 games, and pushing for the title. Saburtalo and Chikhura stadium capacities will tell you a lot about the audience size for the domestic league in Georgia, with both only holding 2,000! It was both a shame and a surprise that Kutaisi, so much closer to Sachkhere doesn’t have a UEFA licensed stadium. Having been in Kutaisi, the third city of Georgia, it has a very tidy rugby stadium with a 5,000 capacity, surely the two codes could get together. As it was Torpedo and Chikhura had to join the Tbilisi duo in playing all European ties in two acceptable stadiums in the capital, resulting in the fixtures nightmare that saw this ties original scheduling reversed. While people will travel abroad in great numbers from here, and not bat an eyelid at travelling great distances for a midweek match, the sheer size of Georgia, the relatively poor transport infrastructure and disposable income, all combine to make sure the crowds for the Kutaisi and Sachkhere teams in Tbilisi were miserable. As I watched the return game with Fola in the cavernous Dinamo stadium, the lack of atmosphere was awful. It is also a real shame that Aberdeen fans didn’t get to sample Sachkhere’s delights in the foothills of Svaneti’s National Park, or even Kutaisi, which is relatively easy to fly to these days, and nearer for the Chikhura fans too. Sachkhere is a small town in Western Georgia in the Imereti region, it acts as a hub for the considerable farming community in the outlying lands. The football team Chikhura is named after the river that runs through the town, but they have had a variety of names since starting out as a club in 1938. The clubs modern history was largely modest placing in the third tier, and second until 2006/07 when they sampled top flight football for the first time, albeit merely for a season at that juncture. In 2012 they were back, and they’ve been there ever since. Before kicking off in Tbilisi last week, they’d played 20 games in Europe winning six and drawing 8. Chikhura are playing in Europe for the sixth season in seven having debuted in 2013/14 with an away goal progression against Vaduz. They have accounted for a couple of impressive scalps, Bursapor, once club of Kenny Miller and Kris Boyd, as well as Beitar Jerusalem. Only Maribor and Swiss club Thun have seen them off with a modicum of ease. Chikhura have almost exclusively a Georgian roster of players save one Bosnian in the ranks. European games will act as a welcome escape from domestic struggles this year. It is fair to say that they won’t be making the Europa League next season, they’ll just have to make sure they don’t get sucked into any relegation play offs. Given what has befallen Kilmarnock, I am sure no one at Aberdeen is taking the Georgians lightly. Last month I booked a trip to Luxembourg to capture the flavour of European games abroad for Football Weekends magazine for whom I write. I got especially lucky as three nights on the trot the Grand Duchy hosted European football, and by the time I flew out it became apparent that Fola Esch or Chikhura would potentially be playing Aberdeen. Fola is a relatively recent name of the Dons roster of Euro encounters, and I know that fans would have been hoping for much easier and cheaper flight to Luxembourg, but once you arrived in Georgia everything would be so much cheaper, and I really hope the locals friendly ways were felt. When Aberdeen played Fola the game was moved from their small Emile Mayrisch stadium in Esch Sur Alzette to the soon to be redundant National stadium, the Josy Barthel, with a new stadium imminently ready on the outskirts of the capital. Chikhura played in Esch, at Fola’s quaint tree surrounded stadium high on the hill above the town. Just under 1,100 were in attendance, but with allegedly only seating allowed to be used for UEFA games, only a few more hundred and it would have been a sell out! Thankfully, with rain periodically falling, the stewards were understanding and shelter could be sought under roof overhangs from the inordinate number of sheds in the stadium, or amongst the trees! Chikhura were the fitter side from playing in a summer league and they started the game the brighter, looking well organised and sharp. Having seen both legs versus Fola, both 2-1 wins, Chikhura are a reasonably slick passing team, that said, Fola weren’t great and if you aren’t unduly rushed off the ball, maybe any team can look good. The Luxembourg team had one warm up match before these encounters! Fola did take the lead, a quick through ball caught the Georgian defence sleeping and they conceded a penalty. A second half free kick just outside the Fola box crashed off the crossbar and Sardalishvili reacted first to stab home the equaliser. He would also get on the score sheet in Tbilisi. The winner in Esch was a slightly contentious penalty minutes from the end, a draw might have been fairer, but despite a lack of atmosphere in the enormous Dinamo Stadium for the return, Chikhura stuck to their task and ran out comfortable winners, with Fola’s away goal coming from another penalty very late, too late for any panic in the home ranks! View the full article
  8. #8 Now Published If you have not read these.................. what have you been doing???
  9. Rendalls Rambles#8 Another couple of seasons from James' remarkable lookback at our first 25 years in existence, and in his own words, the good, the bad and the ugly............ The Inverness Caledonian Thistle Years #ICT25 No.22 2015/16 (Games 993 to 1053) The Good, the Bad and the quite frankly ugly! Since I became interested in football on the other side of the seas surrounding this island it has been a longstanding dream of mine to watch my team play in Europe. At Meadowbank this was merely a pipe dream, and in 1994 who would have thought it could ever happen for Inverness, but it did. It brought up a JFK moment, I will always remember where I was when the news broke of the Europa League draw, do you?! I was in Salzburg supping coffee ☕ with an Armenian lass, as you do, when a message from home brought the news we were headed to Romania and Giurgiu. I knew the club, but hadn't a clue where it was. St Johnstone had drawn a club from Yerevan as it happens in an earlier round, and I was immediately writing to a colleague in the office to pass information on to my boss regarding getting there and where to stay. He went, had a great time, but in the return leg Alashkert playing their inaugural Euro ties beat St J, who were out before we'd got started. It became apparent that none of my wee ICT gang were going to Romania sadly, but I was determined not to miss out, after all I had been in Denmark for the first friendly! Giurgiu was south of Bucharest, tucked away on the Romanian side of the Danube. My stroke of luck came in the form of a Brazilian friend, Luciano who had a translation buddy in Bucharest who was willing to meet me at the airport and head south. I booked my passage for the day of the game! In the first leg in Inverness, it kind of demonstrated again the lack of any club organisation or undue pride in this momentos occasion. They'd printed half and half scarves for a game versus a Liverpool third string, but when Euro football came to town, it was just like any other game, aside from the usual sized programme being ramped up to a fiver! Odd quirk number one saw a goalkeeper, just signed that day, starting the game! Owain Fon Williams would prove his worth in the coming months, but their still remains a nagging doubt that the goal Astra scored that night was stoppable. They were slightly better on the night, if too willing to take a tumble holding limbs. It was disappointing to have lost at home but at one down, it wasn't an impossible position. Before we headed to Romania, it was known that West Ham or a Maltese side would play the winners, Astra had knocked the Hammers out last season! It was an early flight to Amsterdam and then Bucharest, complete with a loss of two hours in the time difference, making it all the more remarkable that Razvan had time to take me to my Bucharest hotel, before heading south, through Giurgiu into a major roadworks traffic jam to cross the Danube and eat in Ruse in Bulgaria before the game! We managed it easily and joined the away throng in the 'cage'. It was a fantastic away support, circa 600, and we so nearly got the goal that would have forced extra time, but alas despite a few near things, Astra held on for 0-0. It was back to the capital late that evening, but two more games were on my roster, at stadiums where ex-Caley centre forwards were plying there trade!! Going out having failed to score was disappointing, but we could have pride in the away display against a useful and experienced team. Before the season had started Yogi had gone to the board and got them to pay Russell Latpay's contract up until the end and release him. He was hellbent on getting Brian Rice in, and while we didn't know it then, he would oversee some of the worst moments in the club's history. This script gets reproduced on Caleythistleonline and by virtue I am unwilling to regale the tale of what I was told regarding the circumstances of this disturbing replacement of our assistant manager, suffice is to say, it still leaves a bad taste and further diminished my limited admiration of Yogi, who by the season's end did a runner before his stock fell too dramatically, but oddly no one has taken him on since! Post Europe, a 1-1 draw in the league at Perth was a tedious affair, and a chance to trade "what if" stories with another early Euro exitee! Livingston were recovering from financial woes but we saw them off 2-0 down in West Lothian in the League Cup. By November a 3-1 win at Motherwell was a welcome three points, but once again we lost at Partick with me in the stadium! But the year ended with a bizarre 4-3 win at Hamilton. Cruising 2-0 up we nearly blew the whole thing, save Liam Polworth and a late, late pile driver that will stay forever in the memory. By early January, the defending Cup holders trotted out at Stirling Albion and in the end we were hanging on for 0-0! Kilmarnock beat us 2-1 at Rugby Park, a regular away loss, followed by another win at Motherwell by the same score reversed. Dens is rarely a bad hunting ground but merely got a point ahead of a 2-0 loss at Tynecastle. We had been spluttering and the lofty high of last term might have set the bar too high but shambolic displays with no forward thinking prowess was beginning to become common place. Somehow we toughed out a 1-1 draw in the cup at Easter Road, and before the replay in Inverness another toothless loss at Perth was endured. Both these games had seen a huge centre forward from Cambridge called Hughes play, and he was absolutely useless, making Andy Barrowman seem like a great signing a few years back. The growing unrest and disquiet 'boiled' over among the usually calm centre stand crowd at the replay versus Hibs. Remember, they were a Championship team at the time and we were second best for long spells of the game. I have rarely seen such animation at a home game. An incident in the second half involving the Hibs keeper that went on for nearly ten minutes drew foam from our usually passive fans! You know, I am unsure if that goalie ever played again for Hibs! It merely acted as a mask for the discontent of our own teams display, and while some late bluster nearly brought an equaliser, at full time our Cup had gone, not that we expected to retain it, but the manner of the loss drew knives in the angry booos at the end. It was a night that signalled a changing of attitude in my opinion. If Yogi had enjoyed a honeymoon start, it was over now, and he knew it. It all fell flat after that, losses here, there and everywhere. By the summer, doubtlessly unable to find the right players to replace the departing heroes of yesteryear, Yogi blamed the board and scampered. Things were never his fault!! Elsewhere, Kairat Almaty were in Aberdeen on European duty, and I did the programme notes for the Reds magazine, getting a couple of tickets for the game for my trouble. I sat in the back row of the old stand just in front of Richard Gordon and Co in my yellow and black tracksuit top chuffed to bits with how Kairat managed the game, a 1-1 draw and a 2-3 aggregate success for the Kazakhs. Forres Mechanics were at East Kilbride in Cup, so I went through and had the joy of telling the Can Can directors that they had missed the equaliser from Forres, caught over doing the hospitality at half time!! Another Cup tie brought Fort W to Prestonpans, and you will never guess, they won 3-2!! I have a 100% win record with the Fort ☺. Huntly ended up along at Spartans twice, winning a pre season friendly 2-0, but going down 3-0 in December in a cup replay with sixth tier LTHV. Fraserburgh were in the central belt in a later round, but Falkirk were to good, winning 4-1, as were Linlithgow Rose who thrashed Wick 5-1 but some horrible officiating aided the result as Wick ended with 9 men. Hibs, perennial Cup Final blowers did it again, Ross County getting top silverware in winning 2-1, but a trophy that brings no Euro place these days. We will always have that wee extra over them ☺. I was inadvertently at Shires last ever league match, a 3-0 drubbing by Elgin, but I missed the relegation against Edinburgh City as I was on the Faroe Islands! English escapes took me to Holker Street, where Barrow saw off Southport, and an Easter duo, with Accrington beating Orient, and FC Halifax getting the better of Altrincham on a day they thought they'd done enough to survive, but a late missed penalty on the last day sent them down to the sixth tier, a week before the highlight of the Shaymens history. I was at Wembley to see them beat Grimsby to win the FA Trophy amid tears still lingering from the week before. Morpeth thrashed Hereford to win the FA Vase before hand, but the Bulls were the best supported of them all! The day after the Inverness game in Giurgiu, I was at Dinamo Bucharest's stadium, home for Marius Nicolae! Alas, a newly promoted side FC Voluntari from outside the capital were ground sharing while their home was being buffed up. A healthy Voluntari crowd saw a second 0-0 draw for me against Targu Jiu. The following night I was in the national stadium in my Caley shirt hoping to see any ICT stragglers like me, but none were spotted, aside Gregory Tade, rested by Steau ahead of Champions League qualifier versus Partizan Belgrade! This game brought two goals in a 1-1 draw with Cluj. After a few years away I was back in Italy with the top draw, the third tier 'friendly' between Ancona and SPAL, a 1-2 away win that took the Ferrara club to within touching distance of promotion. Ahead of this game I watched a turgid encounter between Bologna and Torino, and followed by Modena thrashing Perugia creating a false dawn before relegation, and a third 0-0 draw on my CV involving Sampdoria, this time at Sassuolo. The curtain on my Euro travels came down in the unlikely village of Stremnes on the Faroes where EB/Streymur beat Giza/Hoyvik 3-0 in the Faroese second tier as Whit Sunday had moved the top tier fixtures to the day I was flying home 😔. The final game of the season was in early June, a first ever Junior league match for me with Kelty Hearts ahead of jumping codes beating Linlithgow. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The Inverness Caledonian Thistle Years #ICT25 No. 23 2016/17 (Games 993 to 1,053) New depths: It was a brave move, doubtlessly a cheap option, but the moment we appointed one of our footballing heroes of the modern era, Richie Foran to the lofty position of manager, I knew it was a risk. With no experience, and left with Brian Rice as his only experience, the downward spiral sadly continued. In the end, after the dust settled, down we went, but it ended up frustratingly close! A litany of missed penalties would cost us, as well as Hamilton having gained three points, just, after two St Johnstone players decided to have a fight at the half time whistle! Dundee couldn't do us a favour on the last day, and we were relegated a mere one point behind Accies. The only consolation was we had accumulated the second highest points for a side going down, second to our first demotion!! Yet it all started reasonably well, winning narrowly at bumpy Central Park, Cowdenbeath in the new group stage League Cup, and continued along the road at Dunfermline in a fabulous 5-1. Driving home that night, Richard Gordon on BBC Radio Scotland said, 'Inverness are going to be fun to watch this season'! But while July moments of joy gave rise to possibilities all to briefly, reality hit home came as early as the opening gambits of August! We lost at Partick, again, and even worse, weakly submitted to Alloa, then a third tier team 1-0 in the League Cup, followed by a pathetic 5-1 mauling at Hearts. It wasn't a crisis yet, but Richie hadn't found the secret of getting a better link up between midfield and attack. It was fairly clear we would be fighting a battle at the bottom end of the table, and a crucial joust at Hamilton in October ended 1-1, then post a trip to Italy a return to Lanarkshire saw maybe the high point of the season, an imperious 3-0 win at Motherwell. Had we turned the corner? It spluttered on. In January we had a first competitive game at Elgin as a merged club, a renewal of old rivalries. It was a cracking day, and a competitive game, where we prevailed narrowly 2-1. Losing 3-0 at Hamilton was a sore one, but they showed fighting spirit at Tynecastle in a 1-1 draw. We even managed a similar score at Maryhill, a rare moment for me there where we didn't lose! Wins were needed, and another 1-1 at home to Ross County was further frustration, as was yet another at home to Killie. This sequence of draws would be another reason we went down. At least we weren't losing, but like last season, draws killed us! We couldn't repeat the success at Motherwell, going down 4-2, a too late in the day last hoorah at Kilmarnock failed to bring us a point, losing 2-1. I didn't head north for the last game, I just had lost faith, and with Dundee down so quickly at Hamilton their was no excitement in the possibility of getting the play off place. With my own charges a difficult watch, the wanderlust to other venues was always more relaxing. Hearts and Hibs were both in Europe. The JT struggled to beat FC Infonet Tallinn, who subsequently merged with Levadia in Estonia. Hibs were hosting Brondby, and I was going to the game with one of my Hibby chums. He was late, and as he had tickets I was stood outside as a roar went up to welcome to the teams, followed by immediate silence. I checked my phone, and sure enough the Danes had scored. When we eventually found the right stand, it was a quarter of an hour in, and we'd missed the only goal! There was a giddy week in late August into September, when East Stirlingshire were 7-3 up at HT at CSS, a new high of ten goals in a half! They only scored one more, winning 8-3. The following Saturday Bonnyrigg Rose 🌹 thrashed Burntisland Shipyard in the Scottish Cup 14-0, the biggest win of my football viewing! They only managed nine goals in a half though 😊. Wick were down in Dalbeattie in September, and with a horrendous wind howling down the pitch, it was a game of two halves, with Wick seeing it through 3-1. The next day, Leith Athletic were making a rare Scottish Cup appearance, a 0-0 draw with Cumbernauld. At Christmas time I saw Buckie beat Cove 1-0 as the fishing port town nibbled it's way to a Highland League success sandwiched in between braces by Brora and Cove to come! They would lose out to East Kilbride in the promotion play off, and the west side ran Cowdenbeath very close, but one missed penalty in a downpour saved the Fifers. A quick whisk in land saw Alloa's excellent start to the season count for nothing as Brechin forced penalties as well after a brilliant 4-3 lose, but 5-5 aggregate. City wouldn't necessarily regret going up, but they set a whole bunch of new records! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Thanks James, nearly there.............. You can read all about James' worldwide footballing travels in his own excellent blog FOOTBALL ADVENTURES WITH JAMES RENDALL
  10. Betfred Opener is an Eye Opener Despite a record breaking ten penalties scored, Inverness failed to win the bonus point after a no score draw at Balmoor Stadium Peterhead. And it was somewhat ironic that the man who missed the 11th penalty for Inverness was the man who had kept them in the game with a string of superb saves, Mark Ridgers. It was the Blue Toon keeper Greg Fleming that struck the final penalty which Ridgers failed to save to earn them the bonus point in an incredible penalty shoot-out 11-10. John Robertson aired three of his summer signings in David Carson, Mitchell Curry and James Keatings with James Vincent and Nicolay Todorov on the bench. Aaron Doran was rested and Shaun Rooney, Daniel Mackay and Sean Welsh were all missing through injury. Peterhead had former Inverness striker Rory McAllister on the bench. A low key opening to the tie saw Jordan White have the first strike in earnest after 18 minutes but Greg Fleming pushed it wide. Despite plenty of possession for the visitors, Peterhead were comfortable with it as we failed to create clear opportunities. Now where have I heard that before! David Carson had an effort deflected for a corner and from that Brad Mckay went wide at the back post. There followed a series of half chances, blocked shots and misses from the visitors but it was a familiar trend to be honest. Before the break Peterhead began to believe in themselves and Scott Brown flicked over at the near post. Minutes later Brown fired just over and two minutes before the break Gary Fraser went close with a stinging effort that zipped past the post. Half Time 0-0 Brad Mckay was replaced by James Vincent at the interval and the misses continued, James Keatings going wide, Brown doing likewise at the other end. ICT had Mark Ridgers to thank for keeping the score level as Jamie Stevenson thought he might score but Ridgers saved fantastically with his legs to deny him. Vincent came closest to breaking the deadlock but his header hit the post ten minutes into the second half. Keatings again fired over after a Tom Walsh free kick was part cleared and on the hour Ridgers was the hero once more as he saved from Aidan Smith after he cut into the box. Talisman Rory McAllister entered the game and Ridgers made a superb one handed save to deny Jason Brown as Peterhead turned the screw, however Fleming had to make his own superb save to thwart a Tom Walsh cross finding it's intended target of Jordan White. The hosts were gaining in confidence all the time and went close through Brown, Gibson and Michael Dunlop, who saw his header brilliantly saved by Ridgers. Just after that he skimmed the bar when he shot on the half turn. Inverness were now being roasted by the Blue Toon and they forced three corners in quick succession, all to no avail. Inverness responded with a late brace of corners and a booking for Trafford, but the game ended all square and into the penalty shoot-out it was. Full Time 0-0 Suffice to say that all the players left on the park scored their spot kicks until Mark Ridgers made a hash of his and his opposite number Greg Fleming scored the winner. Well done to Peterhead for taking the game to their more fancied opponents and maybe that was the eye opener that Inverness required after a comfortable pre-season. Caley Stan and RIG pretty much agreed about our performance on the night. The conclusion is that we were simply not good enough. STAN: Ridgers was the clear man of the match before sclaffing his penalty wide. It's one thing to draw a flat League Cup tie against a part-time side, quite another to be dominated by one as we were for most of that second half. We set up with Carson and Trafford sitting in front of the back 4, and what looked initially like a dynamic and interchangeable front 4 with Keatings playing as a 10 and Walsh and Curry pushing up high from the wide areas. There was the odd flash of creativity from Keatings - he's probably not match sharp yet. As with the friendlies, it was Tom Walsh that looked our biggest threat and he put a couple of decent balls into the box, one of which White should've connected with - the big man was played in on goal shortly afterwards but didn't have the composure to get a decent shot away. Carson moved to right-back when Vincent replaced McKay at half-time and didn't look comfortable there. But that doesn't explain what happened in the second half and I don't know what does. We were overrun - Peterhead were repeatedly able to pick their pass in the final third, and more often than not they got shots away from inside the box. I hope we get to see footage of the penalties. Charlie Trafford's was the highlight of the night. RIG: In many ways it was reminiscent of last season. First half we had a lot of the ball but struggled to create chances. Peterhead were content to sit in and absorb pressure and try and hit on the counter. White had our best chance of the half when he pulled a shot across goal / it was palmed away by Fleming. Second half and Peterhead were all over us. Our best two chances of the second half came from a Vincent header off the post and a White effort clawed away by Fleming. A truly stunning save (think Mikey Fraser v Celtic). Apart from that the home side dominated and should have been out of sight long before the penalty shoot out. Jamie Stevenson and Aidan Smith seemed to be getting a lot of space on their respective flanks and it was disappointing to see how easily Peterhead were able to create space for themselves in the box or drop a ball in behind our full backs to get a cross in. We looked all over the place defensively and it was only thanks to Ridgers that we went to spot kicks. Neither keeper got near the penalties until Fleming thought he had saved Traffords effort but as he got up to start celebrating the ball fell back down from the bar and spun over the line . Ultimately it came down to the keepers and Ridgers sadly sliced his effort off target before Fleming bagged the bonus point. Not really much to be impressed by from an ICT PoV. Looks like a change of formation is on the cards with a 4-4-2 / 4-4-1-1 played last night. Our only real change throughout the game was to swap Curry and Walsh. Hard to ignore the obvious Polworth shaped hole in our team at the moment. Date: 16/07/2019 Venue: Balmoor Stadium Attendance: 606 Referee: Steven Reid Peterhead: 0 (penalties11) Lineup: Fleming, J Brown, Eadie, Dunlop, Boyle, Ferry, S Brown (Leitch 88), Stevenson, Gibson, Fraser (McAllister 64), Smith (Armour 79) Subs (not used): Henderson, Lyle, Willox, Scorers: none Booked: none Sent Off: none Inverness CT: 0 (penalties 10) Lineup: Ridgers, B Mckay (Vincent 45), Donaldson, McCart, Tremarco, Curry (MacGregor 79), Trafford, Carson, Walsh, Keatings (Todorov 67), White Subs (not used): C Mackay, Nicolson, Brown, Harper, Machado, Scorers: none Booked: Trafford (90+1) Sent Off: none a
  11. Betfred League Cup Opener After a reasonable pre-season the 2019-2020 season kicks off with the Betfred League Cup group stages, where we travel to Balmoor Park, Peterhead for our first competitive game of the new season. Pre-season went well enough with various squads representing the club at Clach, Rothes, Forres, Strathspey Thistle, Buckie and Wick. Stiffer opposition was provided in the final week where we drew with Aberdeen and Hearts before defeating St Johnstone 3-1 last Friday. Plenty of goals scored with all of the strikers finding the back of the net and many of the youngsters making appearances with the big boys and acquitting themselves well. The downside of pre-season is that Shaun Rooney picked up a knock and could be out for a couple of months. Some new faces have signed on and James Keatings, Nikolay Todorov, David Carson, James Vincent and Mitchell Curry have all shown up well. Peterhead began their campaign with a 2-1 defeat of Cove Rangers at the weekend. Derek Lyle and Rory McAllister were the scorers. Difficult to know what to expect in the first few games of a new season as it's all a bit low-key prior to the League campaign starting. Who will make the starting XI? Sean Welsh is not ready for a comeback and Shaun Rooney is injured. Aaron Doran had a slight niggle and could be rested. After that it's anyone's guess who will take to the field. Watch out for rising young stars Roddy MacGregor and Matheus Machado should they feature. A bright future ahead for them and others coming through the ranks. More information can be found on the Official Site regarding ticket prices/preview etc. Here's a new initiative by some of our own fans who have created a new podcast and it's called THE WYNESS SHUFFLE Have a listen. More to come from the guys throughout the season.
  12. A skip through South West Luxembourg, the hotbed of Grand Duchy football, whilst enjoying a trio of European ties. Click to view slideshow. The day before the First Round of the European Draws were made in Switzerland for the 2019/20 season I decided that given the Edinburgh sides had let me down, I’d head overseas to catch a game. Perusal of the teams going into the hat brought Luxembourg to mind, as oddly the relatively small town of Esch-Sur- Alzette was providing two sides to the Europa League, so I reasoned one must surely be drawn home in the first leg. Having only been in the Grand Duchy for three hours way back in 1982 I found myself researching ways to fly there ahead of the draw; Brussels, Charleroi, Amsterdam and Paris were all considered, but lo and behold there are direct flights to Luxembourg from Edinburgh, who knew! Ahead of the Esch duo of Jeunesse and Fola going in the bowl, the Champions League draw coughed up F91 Dudelange v FC Valletta, adding the notion they might play on the Wednesday, allowing two games from my potential two night stay. An hour or so later a joyful punch of the air upon seeing Jeunesse paired with Tobol Kostanay from Kazakhstan was quickly tempered soon after when Fola were also drawn at home to a Georgian side Chikhura Sachkhere. I was convinced one of these games would be switched, and I hoped it wouldn’t be the Kazakh encounter. I held off booking for a few days waiting for UEFA to settle the matter. When it finally became apparent these three ties would be scheduled on three consecutive Luxembourg nights, I got greedy and booked a Monday to Friday trip to encompass the lot! The Luxembourgeoise football star has been rising in recent years, both in the International and European club arenas. It is hard to believe that Luxembourg reached the Quarter Finals of the European Championships in 1964, having defeated The Netherlands 3-2, before going out 6-5 on aggregate to Denmark after three games! Alas they gradually sank into the also ran category, ending many a qualifying group without a point, and rarely a goal. In the last few years they have rediscovered the joy of not losing as much, culminating in a proud away point with World Champions elect France, 0-0 in September 2017! F91 Dudelange became the first club side to make the Europa League group stages just last term, beating Legia Warsaw and CFR Cluj en route. They had a tough group with AC Milan, Olympiakos and Real Betis, who they held 0-0 to pick up their solitary group point, but it isn’t just F91 making strides, other clubs from the Grand Duchy are starting to grow in confidence. How far have they all progressed? Just ask Glasgow Rangers beaten by Progres Niederkorn 2-0, who advanced into the second round of a European competition for the first time in 2017/18 with that first ever competitive continental win at the 14th attempt! They obviously enjoyed the taste of success, having since beaten Gabala of Azerbaijan and the once illustrustrious Honved, both 2-0 last season, before narrowly losing out to Russians Ufa 4-3 on aggregate, who ironically went on to play Rangers in the next round! Progres had already progressed by the time I got involved this season, seeing of Cardiff Metropolitan on the away goals rule and were headed to Cork in the first round, meaning they were the only Luxembourg side away in the first leg. So with all this recent upsurge in fortunes for the Luxembourg sides, seeing three of them in action, as well as ask questions of the locals, it was a chance to get behind the stats and add credence to the Luxembourg revival. With a population of just over 600,000 Luxembourg is bigger than some of the smaller footballing nations of Europe, Faroe Islands, San Marino and Andorra to name but three, but while its land area is significantly less, it has a population of nearly double that of Iceland and we all know what giddy heights its national team has recently attained, although the Icelandic clubs have made very little impact in European competition. Ville de Luxembourg as the capital is known locally, whose old town and fortifications brought the city UNESCO World Heritage status in the 1990’s, is a leafy place surrounding and inhabiting a deep gorge. It feels like the city is still evolving, with an extraordinary amount of construction and major road upheaval as new tram lines are being put down. They say that a city forging ahead with new projects is a sign of affluence, and with one of the highest GDP in the world, in Luxembourg their prosperity is not in question! This will be further highlighted next March when everyone can travel by rail or bus, anywhere in the country for free! However, it is only 4 Euros for a day pass to travel all over the country now! It is a lovely wee capital, but with a population of only a fifth of the country’s total at 120,000. Small population hubs are spread throughout the country with Esch-sur-Alzette, where I am also headed is the second biggest with merely 40,000, and two Euro qualified football teams, not a bad return, are we taking notes Edinburgh! In relative terms, F91 Dudelange are the new kid on the block, and as the number in the title would suggest, they’ve only been going since 1991. The club is a merger of three Dudelange clubs, Alliance, US and Stade (remarkable they had three clubs with a population of less than 20,000!) , with all three having been successful in winning trophies in their own right, but none were nearly as dominant as the merged club, who have claimed 15 league titles since 1999/00, as well as 8 cups in that period too! With a capacity of just 2,558, the Jos Nosbaum stadium in Dudelange is too small for European games, so the big game with FC Valletta was moved 18 kilometres to the National Stadium, the Josy Berthel in the capital. This was the first time either side had faced a club from their opponents country, and while Valletta have 25 league titles, they’ve been at it a lot longer winning the league for the first time in 1914/15. Indeed in the same period since F91’s first title, the Luxembourg side win 15-8 on that score! The Maltese team will be remembered more fondly by Rangers fans, despatched 18-0 and 10-0 on aggregate in the days before the gulf in class narrowed immeasurably! The Josy Barthel stadium is about two miles from Gare de Luxembourg (the main train station), and a jolly pleasant stroll it is too, and yet this ground might not be used for much longer. Flying in (you rarely escape aeroplanes in the city as it is right on the flight path for the nearby airport!) I spotted a fairly advanced construction of a new stadium. Further investigation revealed that this is the new National Stadium, well out of town, but I am sure it will have excellent transport connections, as this is what Luxembourg does, with its very well organised transport infrastructure. The new venue is scheduled to be ready by the end of the year. I did that field reconnaissance walk to the Josy Barthel hours before the game, all in the name of hopefully capturing daylights snaps for my article, but it never fails to amaze me just how many grounds are open and available for plundering with gates wide open! It is an all seated arena with a limited number under cover in the main stand. It is a tidy place, if too many fences, needless ones I am sure between spectator areas and field, which partly spoiling the view, but then again, an unusually short 6 lane running track pushes the action further away anyway. Given I never saw such fencing in the seven other venues during my trip, it begs the question, why is it here?! The National stadium wasn’t my first ground of the morning as being a Racing Club de Avellenada fan, wherever there is a Racing team my interest rises! As it transpired, Racing Union’s Stade Hammerel was not far from where I was staying. This is another of those mass merger clubs, swallowing up Spora Luxembourg as they went, but judging by last season’s average crowds, Racing had the lowest in the top flight, despite finishing fifth! I did get a plausible reason for this, and it isn’t a case of fans staying away from the new club having seen their own club losing its individual identity. Luxembourg City has a huge number of transient workers, and Racing’s main issue is being too central in the city! On the weekend a significant number of people head not just out of town, but out of the country, leaving the centre of Luxembourg City largely to the tourists! So on a lovely early July evening, F91 Diddeleng (the Luxembourgish language name) trotted out with FC Valletta. Given that both sides were just recently back training, for a first competitive match this was an entertaining joust. The Maltese hadn’t come to just sit back, but with good reason as their defence was seriously ropey, and F91 soon realised they could get at them with a counter attacking style. Territorially Valletta might have been on top, but they were hit right down the centre of the field at lightning speed and Diddeleng led. In the solitary minute added on before the break, some neat home passing in the build up to a cross brought a fine second goal. It was all looking rather rosey for the Luxembourg side, but the old clique “two nil is a dangerous score” would come back to haunt them. Did coaching attitudes manifest the cautious approach at the start of the second half? F91 seemed to be playing to the remit of “don’t concede”, which merely gave Valletta the courage to push on. A fairly innocuous foul about 20 metres from the F91 brought a free kick, which was despatched with such class into the top right hand corner of the goal by a Brazilian named Packer, that even the home fans applauded. Buoyed by this exquisite goal Valletta smelled blood, as Diddeleng continued to lack any cohesion, and less than ten minutes later it was 2-2, waking the thirty or so Maltese fans, who had been largely quiet, from their slumber! The game became more and more stretched as F91 finally re-discovered the art of attack once more, desperate to re-establish a lead. There were a few near things, and a heep of Maltese time wasting, but on the final whistle, they all shook hands on a draw with a lovely sunset acting as a splendid backdrop. There is nothing between the teams, and I wouldn’t be writing off F91’s chances of progressing. If you are looking for a pre or post match pub, you won’t find anything close, but beer is served in the stadium. The following day I found myself travelling south of the capital, and changing train at Bettembourg for a relatively short trip down to Dudelange, a town of only 20,000 but it has four railway stations! The Jos Nosbaum stadium was home to US Dudelange, and now the buffed up home of F91. The ground is up a serious hill and it is easier to access if you get off the train at Centre or Usines station. Two minutes from Usines is Stade Amadeo Barazzi once was home to Alliance, a spartan ground with an artificial surface. If the stadium sounds very Italian you’d be right as many Italians came here to work in the mines and an area of Dudelange is still known as the Italian quarter. The Alyose Meyer Stadium is equally spartan, once home to US Stade, but this is now the training facilities for F91. If you want to have a look, it is five minutes up another steep incline on the other side of the town from Ville station. Long before Dudelange ganged up on the rest, Jeunesse Esch were the team to beat in the Grand Duchy with 28 league titles to its name. The club was founded in 1907 as Jeunesse La Frontiera D’esch, winning its first title in 1920/21, but the fifties through to the eighties was the clubs real heyday amassing 19 more in that period. Since F91’s first league success, they’ve only managed two more in 2003/04 and 2009/10, with a horror show play off win to stay in the top flight sandwiched in between in 2006/07! Despite being neutral in both wars, Germany occupied the country, and Jeunesse temporarily had to play in the Gauliga Mosselland as SV Schwarz-Weiss 07 Esch, where they were runners up in 1943/44! While Jeunesse have played 71 games in Europe, they’ve only won nine games, but they were the only Luxembourg club to reach round 2 of the European Cup on two occasions before the Champions League came along and diluted the mere Champions trophy all in the name of money! Jeunesse missed out on European action altogether last term, so they were relishing the opportunity to welcome Tobol Kostanay to their compact and tidy 4,000 capacity (albeit for UEFA games only seats can be used) Stade de la Frontiere, a tipping of the hat to the clubs origins. By sheer coincidence this was the middle match of the trio, and for me it was the centrepiece of the trip. As a regular follower of the Kazakh game, Kairat in particular, it was a delightful bonus to add a third team from the vast Eastern land to my viewing CV. Wonderfully, all Kazakh Premier League games are available on YouTube this season, and what better way to fill the gap between the seasons than get familiar with all the clubs and grounds I had never previously seen. Tobol (more commonly written as Tobyl from my viewing this season) is named after the river that flows through Kostanay, having settled on this name since 1995, previously drifting through names such as, Avtomobilist, Energetik, Kusyanayets (all in the Soviet era), as well as Kimik from 1992 for a brief period. The city is in the far north of the country, close to the Russian border and the club have the luxury of not one, but two stadiums, an indoor arena (used often in the early months of the season due to the weather outside) and obviously an outdoor venue, Central Stadium with a 9,000 capacity, but the return game with Jeunesse would be played in a near empty Astana Arena (or Nur Sultan if you want to be pedantic about the Kazakh capitals new name!) because the city of Kostanay does not have an International standard airport as yet, although I am assured it is imminently going to be ready! Tobol have been league winners just once, as recently as 2010, but this was just before FC Astana started benefiting from the sovereign purse as a flagship for success and Kairat’s billionaire owner continues to try to match them. However in 2019, the monied men are not getting things their own way, and as Tobol flew into Luxembourg they were jointly leading the table with Astana but with two games in hand too. Astana get assistance with an easing of their schedule with so much travel between Euro ties by playing additional league games ahead of the Champions League qualifiers, but it is the same for all four Kazakh entrants, so this is a tad naughty in my opinion! The Stade de la Frontiere in Esch is about a mile from Esch/Alzette railway station tucked away amongst a housing development that may have been miners houses at one time, with the Rue des Mines one of the surrounding streets that affords access to the main entrance. It is a well maintained ground, and this game would bring the biggest attendance of the three games, at just under 1,400. Jeunesse also have a good core of “proper” fans who created a nice atmosphere during this ultimately tame encounter. I am not unduly moaning, after all one of these Esch ties could have been switched, but making Europa League games kick off early so they are finished by Champions League game time, especially in Round One, really?! This was the hottest day of my days in Luxembourg and the heat took its toll with neither team ever really getting up a head of steam. In the second half Jeunesse visibly wilted and Tobol dominated the ball, as well as creating a few near things, bringing one fine save from the home keeper, but it ended 0-0. The half dozen Kazakhs fans, none from Kostanay, were happy, and doubtlessly the team weren’t disappointed either, but this is the thing with Kazakh football, they need to become more ruthless and stop being happy with draws on the road, especially when they are playing well within themselves. I get that they were straight back to the airport after the game for a long, long flight, ahead of another considerable flight to southern Kazakhstan for a huge league game with Ordabasy Shymkent on Sunday, so maybe I am being harsh on them. There are a few hostelries within easy reach of the Jeunesse stadium, Cafe Op der Grenz (Luxembourg language for “of the frontier”) doubles up as a supporters clubhouse, with the walls festooned with photos of Jeunesse teams of yesteryear, and on match day of a nice evening, you can even get yourself a sausage sizzle fried out on the pavement at the front door! The San Siro Bar isn’t very far away either, even if it is on a busy traffic corner for outside supping! The entertainment doesn’t end with the local pubs, as fast food outlets for Tacos or Kebabs and an Italian restaurant are all on hand right next door to each other, making it a proper match day experience, unlike up the hill at Fola, more later! Inside the stadium you will be able to grab a beer, and indeed a plastic wine glass of Champagne too if you fancy, albeit you need to go to the club shop to buy a Euro club card for crossing off with your spending at the beverage or food counters! With Progres Neiderkorn the only Euro represent that I wouldn’t see, ahead of the last game, I had time to pop down the tracks to see their stadium, as well as visit where they’d played Cardiff, and would be hosting Cork, at nearby Differdange. But first up was the most recent merger in 2015 in Petange, where local CS merged with suburban club Titus Lamadelaine, and are now enjoying the fruits of their pulled efforts finishing a giddy 8th in the top flight last season. Stade Municipal is nearer Lamadelaine station, the one after Petange if you are on a train that terminates at the border village of Rodange, the end of the line from Luxembourg City. The two villages of Petange and Lamadelaine are essentially one commune with a collective population of 7,500, more than double that of Niederkorn! Union Titus’s stadium is an out of town affair, and walking to it requires negotiating a busy roundabout. The 2,400 venue has a fabulous stand and I have the feeling this club might just be heading to the upper end of the Luxembourg domestic game, they seem to have all the proper facilities in place as well as a significant hospitality suite opposite the main stand. Neiderkorn is two stops back towards Esch and less than ten minutes from Lamadelaine on the train. The Jos Naupert stadium is also out of town, tucked in behind an Industrial Estate. It is around 1 ½ miles from the railway station, but unless you are headed here for domestic football, the stadium doesn’t have a UEFA license. The club has three league titles to its name, but the last time was 1980/81, and yet despite not winning anything in recent times, this small village teams confidence took off the night they knocked out Glasgow Rangers two years ago, and since then they’ve enjoyed some more European success. At the time of writing Progres were on the cusp of a re-match with the Scottish club having stunned Cork 2-0 away! Cardiff Metropolitan and Cork were both hosted five minutes along the road at the modern home of FC Differdange 03, a 2003 merger of the famous Red Boys and AS Differdange. Red Boys were champions six times, plus accumulating fifteen Cup wins, and while the merged club has yet to land a league title, they have added another four Cup victories to that tally, as well as being regularly involved in Europe themselves, albeit missing out this time around. The Stade Municipal is actually much closer to Oberkorn railway station, a few minutes further along the tracks from Differdange. The Avenue Parc des Sports is signed when you get off there, and is less than a ten minute walk. The third game was also in Esch-sur-Alzette, courtesy of good fortune that saw this modest old mining town hosting Europa League encounters on consecutive nights. CS Fola Esch are actually the older of the two teams having been founded in 1906, a year before Jeunesse. If their rivals were the team to beat through the 30’ to the 80’s, Fola’s moments in the sun were in the post WW1 period until 1930, when they passed the baton across town having won five of the clubs seven titles in that period. It took eighty two years before the Championship was Fola’s again in 2012/13, followed up with another two years later. They came up short as runners up last term, but they finished higher than Jeunesse again, retaining local bragging rights. The kindly Scottish connection gave Fola a first ever European win, 1-0 versus Aberdeen in 2016/17, but they lost 3-1 at Pittodrie. Like Progres Neiderkorn, that win kick started Fola, and they didn’t just progress through one round the following season, but two! Milsami Orhei from Moldova were beaten 3-2 on aggregate, and then Inter Baku 4-2, before coming unstuck for the third time against Swedish opposition, on this occasion Ostersund, 1-3. Last season they toughed out two 0-0 draws with Prishtina from Kosovo, progressing 5-4 on penalties only to get whacked 9-1 on aggregate by Belgian neighbours Genk. Fola are back in Europe for the 8th season in a row, and I am sure they were feeling confident as they trotted out at Stade Emilie Mayrisch (capacity 4,900, less for European games) against Georgian side Chikhura Sachkhere, who were also playing in their sixth consecutive European campaign, having started with an away goal progression against Vaduz as recently as 2013/14. That said, Georgia’s league is a summer league and Chikhura were 21 games into the season when they arrived in Esch, so match fitness was on their side, although I suspect they’ll be resigned to missing out on Europe next season as they are hovering nearer the relegation play off slot. Chikhura’s European record has impressive wins over Bursaspor and Beitar Jerusalem, while only Maribor and Thun have beaten them by more than a goal, 2-0 in both cases. The winner of this tie would be playing Aberdeen, a potential re-match for Fola should they get through, it promised to be a tight occasion! The stadium is in the trees high above Esch, and the kean observer will spot one floodlight peeking out above the trees as the train comes round the bend into the station. It is about one mile from the railway station, two thirds of which is a serious uphill trek. Unlike Jeunesse, this is a ground in a very well to do area of the town, and there are no amenities anywhere nearby. The Fola fan base lacks the community togetherness and camaraderie that the Jeunesse fans exhibit, perhaps as they are more obviously the monied club of the duo. There social media and online presence leaves a lot to be desired too, and even on a big European night, not to have any club souvenirs available for the visiting fans amongst the 1,100 crowd was disappointing, as well as being the poorest attendance of the trio of games, albeit only by a few hundred. Even the beakers of beer seem a little on the frugal side here! Despite having been at Jeunesse cheering the opposition, you can probably tell I warmed to them more! A little rain greeted the kick off, and with uncovered seats, thankfully what stewards were visible weren’t insisting on everyone sitting per the ludicrous UEFA edict! A variety of shed roof overhangs and trees acted as temporary umbrellas. Kick off was 95 minutes later than the game at Jeunesse as this was Thursday, Europa League day, but the air was also significantly cooler anyway, making for a faster pace to the game right from the off. Chikhura immediately looked more organised and sharp, but Fola weren’t for sitting back either, which helped make this one an entertaining spectacle. A first half penalty put Fola in front, but on the hour mark a Chikhura free kick crashed off the bar and from the resultant rebound Sardalishvili was first to react and equalise. Fola pressed forward bringing a couple of good saves from the Georgian keeper, but the visitors were always lively on the break. With the clock ticking down, they broke into the Fola box, and over exuberance to prevent a shot saw the Fola defender tangle with the Chikhura forward and down he went, allowing the Azeri ref pointed to the spot once more. It was nicely taken, sparking great scenes of delight amongst the little pockets of Georgian fans. Given Chikhura’s excellent European record, despite never having played at their home stadium, Aberdeen look to have the longer trek to the wonderful country of Georgia in the next round. Fola didn’t offer me enough, like Jeunesse, to make me think either can progress and keep the Luxembourg star flying high in the next round, but F91 and Progres should make it. This game brought the curtain down on my little Grand Duchy tour. I failed to see any of the local teams win, or indeed glimpse any signs that the Luxembourg game is on the cusp of moving up a notch, but it is a wonderful wee country, and while they enjoy their football, it does not rule lives here, and I like that. The pace of living is relaxed out with the capital, and that is reflected in its football too. None of the towns I stayed in or visited, aside from Luxembourg City are anything more than functional and tidy, they have no big draw attractions, but that doesn’t mean they lack character. Luxembourg has its own array of football folklore already, and a re-match between Progres and Rangers might just add to its pantheon! View the full article