Club Culture

New Beginnings For Notts County

In football, even clubs with a long history are not immune to tumultuous patches. Of course, Bury and Bolton are two of the first clubs thatspring to mind with their most recent travails. But there is one club who has had its fair share for a few lifetimes, the oldest professional football club in the UK, Notts County FC.

In July of 2009, Munto Finance, a Middle Eastern backed consortium purchased the club, with supposed links with the Qatari royal family, Sven-Göran Eriksson was even installed as the director of football, with Sol Campbell and Kasper Schmeichel joining the playing staff. In October of that year, the owners had passed the notoriously strict ‘fit and proper’ persons test, but a mere month later, the league reopened investigations. A new owner was in place by December, so much for false dawns. Come February of 2010, after two winding up petitions were served another new owner was in place, this time, Ray Trew.

Fast forward to 2017, a raft of managers and relegations in between, Alan Hardy became the new owner of Notts County and installed Kevin Nolan as player-manager in January 2017. Less than 18 months later, Nolan is sacked and Harry Kewell is appointed in August of 2018, who then leaves in November 2018. A few days later, current boss Neil Ardley is appointed. Still with me?

On the 27th January 2019, Hardy “accidentally” posted a picture of his genitals on twitter, and as Nottingham is the UK’s only city with a Hooters, this is appropriate as the owner made a tit of himself. It’s a Trouble Town as Jake Bugg, musician and lifelong Notts fan would say. A mere few hours after and this illustrious club was back on the market, starting to resemble a commodity that can be traded as easily as one of their players.

It is at this point in their history that Notts County’s luck started to turn. Despite unpaid tax bills and more winding up orders, in July 2019, Alexander and Christoffer Reedtz completed a takeover for an undisclosed sum. The Danish brothers also own Football Radar, a data analysis company, which they are planning on using some of the resources within the club. This truly was the last roll of the dice before extinction. Notts County Talk, the fan channel of the club who told KAISER “The owners seem incredible so far and have managed to sort almost every issue and regained stability in the club” and that’s all any fan can truly hope for. What does your club do during pre-season? Maybe sign a few players, some warm weather friendlies, tweak tactics perhaps? Not if you are Notts County.

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The pressure Neil Ardley faced to piece together a squad for the upcoming National League season with whatever was leftover from their relegation squad and the last few weeks of the transfer window, and the small matter of getting sponsorship for their kit. Fans in the early few weeks just had a rectangular placeholder for where a company logo should be. So perhaps you can forgive them for the slow start as they adapted to their new life outside of the football league. Their first month was what you could kindly describe as a mixed bag, with one win and three draws from eight. Awaydays to unfamiliar territories such as Ebbsfleet, Eastleigh and Sutton United was perhaps not what fans hoped for, but it seemingly didn’t dampen their loyalty, as 437 made the journey to Sutton near Croydon. They are still adjusting to this level as I overheard one fan in the stadium bar saying “the toilets at Sutton were awful…but the chips were nice!”. The joys of the lower leagues.

I had the privilege to attend a match in mid September during the last days of summer and on first impressions, Nottingham is a wonderful city full of independent coffee shops and bars with a straightforward tram network. If you are planning on attending a game, I can highly recommend a particular watering hole (in every sense of the word) The Canalhouse, with an actual canal inside, with boat and a bridge to get to the bar, that stocks a gargantuan range of craft beers. Meadow Lane is a mere ten minute walk from Nottingham Central station, and walk a further 270 metres and you reach the City Ground, home of Nottingham Forest, and also the closest distance between two stadiums in England, and Trent Bridge cricket ground is a few minutes further down.

Meadow Lane just drips of history, a truly glorious stadium that has been home to County since 1910, and from my seat high up in the Derek Pavis stand, I am presented with views above the opposite side of the rolling, tree covered Nottinghamshire hills. Today’s opponents are yet another club with a trouble history (spotting a pattern?), FC Halifax Town, a phoenix club who replaced AFC Halifax who entered administration in 2008, an eerie reminder of what could have been for the hosts.

Before the match, the mood amongst fans seemed mixed, and Notts County Talk, supported this up by telling us “it’s a big reality check for the club”, “It’s an opportunity to get to some new grounds and play new teams”. And play new teams they are, with this particular meeting was the first meeting between the two since 1973. Despite the poor results the manager still has most of the fans onside with the fans showing faith in the ethos and philosophy of the club with Notts County talk telling us they are “100% behind both owner and manager. It will take time.” That last line would prove to be prophetic of the match ahead. For a match at this level, attendance was 5118, large and no doubt swelled by the ‘Bring a Friend’ initiative, similar to the £3 ticket price for the next home game, all designed to create a fervent atmosphere.

That’s exactly the result, although the 646 Halifax fans in attendance initially did that with passionate drumming pre-match, but as the match approached kick-off, Notts decided to join in the party with their own capo, generating a Germanic trance like sensory overload that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Bundesliga.

Notts County started with a 4-4-2 formation and despite this no longer being in vogue they raced out of the blocks, dominating the first 15 minutes, leaving Halifax to play hopeful counter attacks. 30 seconds in and Kyle Wooton performs a Cruyff turn, and shot towards the corner which is well saved. Incidentally, Danny Rose’s brother, Mitch was playing for the home team and also started bright.

County’s Wes Thomas was a ball of energy on the wing, turning the opposition defender inside then out and firing off a great shot from 25 yards that is well saved. Having seen a good first half from NCFC, what can be expected of them this season? Notts County Talk think “The hopes are still high for the playoffs but it could all change in the space of a few games”. One can only imagine the frustration that Ardley felt after coming out of the dressing room for the second half, because 2 minutes after the restart, Captain Doyle was given a straight red card for a horrific, studs up challenge. That’s the team talk out of the window.

With Notts County down to 10 men, perhaps even the playoffs is too high to aim? Normally, perhaps that would be the case, but somehow they seemed galvanised and actually played better with a man down. On 56 minutes, a wondrous defence splitting pass from O’Brien found Thomas whose shot was parried into the waiting path of Kyle Wooton, who finished. The crowd sang “We’ve only got 10 men”, factually correct but one of those is Wooton, who had been fabulous all day. He had a touch of Thierry Henry about him, also wearing 14, with deceptive upper body strength and a wicked turn of pace, and judging on this game, has a very bright future ahead of him. A few minutes later, Wooton came out with the party tricks, splitting two defenders with a back heel, which sadly Thomas could only blaze over the bar. FC Halifax Town offered nothing in return other than a few failed counter attacks, and as the final whistle was blown, the home fans, who have been through so much, let out a visceral roar of relief and pride.

Notts County were the better side, and with their passionate and loyal support, the oldest club can have a bright future, even outside of the football league.

Bury FC – 24 Hours From Extinction

Fans arrive for the Carabao Cup, First Round match at Gigg Lane, Bury.

It is a sad state of affairs when you are having to write about a club that is on the verge of extinction after 134 years, but here we are with Bury FC on the brink of going out of business.

It has been a real rollercoaster ride for Bury fans over the past 15-20 years which has seen them go from almost being relegated from the Football League to achieving back-to-back promotions to the old Division One in the late 1990s. Over the last decade, it could be argued that Bury have been the Primark version of Premier League yo-yo club West Brom and have been the perennial yo-yo club in the lower leagues (which we say in the most affectionate terms) . 

The question must be asked of how the club have gone from getting promoted to League One as recently as last season, in part due to the heroic effort of Ryan Lowe and his staff, to being on the brink of going out of business and being expelled from the Football League?

Off the pitch, their issues have lingered and surfaced in waves over the last 15-20 years. Bury have often found themselves appealing for funds to survive; In fact back in 2002 things got so desperate they were appealing for funds by holding buckets outside the stadium, and only came out of administration thanks to the late Neville Neville (father to Gary and Phil).

In more recent history, local property developer Stewart Day took over as chairman in 2013 to much publicity after a winding-up petition had been issued. Day immediately proclaimed himself as the clubs saviour and dare we say it, seemed to quite enjoy courting the attention of the media – Day’s actions included inviting press to the Carrington training facility (loaned from Manchester City), having grandiose plans for a new stadium and committing Championship Level salaries on strikers that included Leon Clarke, James Vaughan and Jermaine Beckford.

Because of the aforementioned history, it seemed that while fans were happy about the new investment there did seem to be scepticism about where the money was coming from, and whether the investment itself was sustainable. Given that Day was mortgaging the ground with loans at astronomical interest rates (which was probably only a couple of steps removed from being Wonga), it seemed that the fans fears were not without foundation. It was felt in some quarters that there was cloak of secrecy over the club which culminated in former directors and club ambassadors being frozen out, and shareholders’ AGMs cancelled.

After the disastrous 2017/18 season, when an expensive squad assembled by Lee Clark predominantly (with managerial stints from Chris Lucketti and Ryan Lowe) finished bottom, Day went quiet and allowed club legend Ryan Lowe to take charge, having initially been caretaker, and it is safe to say Lowe performed a minor miracle during his time at the club. 

Then, out of the blue, it emerged that Day had sold the club in December 2018 for £1 to the “very successful businessman” Steve Dale, who had a reputation as being an asset-stripper and who had made a full recovery from leukemia.

Despite the off-field uncertainty, the team rallied around and delivered results on the pitch and were dead certs for promotion until it then transpired that neither players nor staff were being paid and were relying on food banks to eat, which lets face it is quite frankly shameful. Dale claimed that the financial mess that he inherited by Stuart Day was far worse than he’d envisaged, and during this process began to alienate himself from fans. 

At the end of the season Bury secured promotion but to many at the club it was sweet bitter (as opposed to bitter sweet) or the elation before the storm (as opposed to calm before the storm – you get it) as many fans knew that the long-term stability of the club was bleak.

As soon as the season finished the exodus begun with club legend Ryan Lowe and several players from his promotion winning squad moving on to Plymouth Argyle, with other players either leaving of their own accord or released by the club which left the club with just six contracted players. Staff were handed notices, with Steve Dale claiming that they were “extorting” the club in asking for their unpaid wages. It is difficult to possibly comment without knowing the full facts but when several loyal employees are all delivering the same message, it becomes difficult to believe that they were extorting the club.

It has seemed that the more that the fans became desperate to get rid of Dale, the angrier and more defensive he became – confronting them and once referred to himself as a “grizzly bear”, which lets face it is a good laugh if it wasn’t for the desperate nature of the situation. Given the seriousness of the situation though, self-references like this simply cement his status as somebody that if he asked to see you next week, you would purposely tell him to “see you next Tuesday”.

In the meantime, Stuart Day had fled the country just as his company was placed into administration, owing creditors over £23 million. Dale had managed to get a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) approved, meaning non-footballing creditors now only need to be paid 25p in the pound and led to him proclaiming to be saving “the old girl”, which is either attributable to a lack of social awareness or pure arrogance depending on your view of the man. The result was a 12-point deduction which has meant almost certain relegation for Bury before they even started the season.

Little-known Paul Wilkinson was plucked from Southern League side Truro City and appointed as manager knowing his salary expectations are less than what typical League One managers would command, and the club used a number of trialists for their last-minute friendlies.

To throw a further spanner in the works the EFL announced that Dale hadn’t shown proof of funds for the season, which has led to Bury’s first four fixtures being suspended, and leaving League One itself bordering on an absolute farce. The club have been served a notice that they will be removed from the Football League after 134 years unless this is satisfied by August 23, which at the time of writing is tomorrow.

Fans across the country have taken a mixed view towards the English Football League (EFL) for taking such a tough approach to the club after approving Steve Dale’s takeover, with some fans feeling it is quite right to clamp down on clubs that clearly flaunt the goodwill of their contractors and service providers and paying 1/4 of what is owed is pitiful for the businesses they owe money to which range from Local Councils to small businesses. Other fans take a more lenient approach and question quite how thorough the ‘fit and proper person’ test is.

To aggravate the toxic situation that has arisen between the owners and the staff and fan base, the club then issued an extraordinary statement (written by dissenting staff that hadn’t been paid for months) that an offer to buy the club had been made which has no doubt inflamed the situation further, and urged Dale to accept the club from going out of business. Despite Bury North MP James Frith informing Steve Dale of numerous offers to purchase the club all summer, Dale has came out to berate his skeleton staff and deny any such offers existed. 

Although he has now accepted he has to sell, Steve Dale shows no willingness to do so, and seems to be playing hard ball with prospective purchasers because he is looking for ‘compensation’ for all the stress caused by the “idiot fans” as part of a deal.

While the full facts of this situation are unknown and there is no doubt Stuart Day left the club in a dismal situation, the EFL are partly culpable in this situation in not engaging in the appropriate and thorough ‘Fit and Proper Persons Tests’ and Steve Dale has adopted some form of victim mentality.

If I was Steve Dale I would sit back and reflect on the entire situation. Did he have sufficient funds to buy the club? Questionable. Did he inherit a worse situation than he originally anticipated? Perhaps, but could have been mitigated by the appropriate due diligence when purchasing the club. Has he managed the relationship between the club, the staff and the fans? We will say no. When loyal staff have worked at the club for years and fans are all against you, sometimes there is a common denominator and we’re afraid the buck stops with Steve Dale on this one.

It is quite sad and quite extraordinary in this day and age how a club, a community and everything it stands for has been torn apart could dissolve into nothing as a result of the serious mismanagement of a few select individuals. Of course, KAISER Football support any owner that can make money for both themselves and the club through promotions, improved TV and sponsorship deals, good cup runs and clever transfers generated by a good scouting network but owners of clubs have to realise that they should be custodians of the club. Football clubs are like any other business and owners that spend money that they or the club cannot afford are on a fast track to ruin. Equally they should not be asset strippers and they should not be milking the club for everything it is worth. Bury have been unfortunate in that it appears that they have had the two, and in quick succession.

The next 24 hours are the biggest in Bury’s history. We look forward to writing an article about their recovery.

Diaries of a Groundhopper

After a long, barren and parched summer, I needed a fix. Football is back! It’s August in Europe and most typical football destinations are prohibitively expensive and blighted by over-tourism. Never mind, because Michael O’Learys fine folks at Ryanair have a penchant for the unfrequented and lesser visited locations. Where else but Poznan and Eindhoven? I have been released from my pre-season prison.

The first stop is Poland, and after an eye wateringly early departure, I land at the tiny airstrip masquerading as a commercial airport. In the west of the country, Poznan is the 5th largest city and one of the oldest, and on my cultural exploration of history, art and architecture, also cheap vodka. A beautiful renaissance style old town is a delight to walk around in the midday sun, heightened by a short stop at Pijalnia wódki i Piwa, where a beer, vodka and sandwich can be procured for less than 20 zloty, or approx £4. If you want to groundhop on a budget, this is the place.

The city holds a strange juxtaposition, as it’s clearly a very old, storied, slightly decrepit town, but brand new trams and a thriving independent boutique scene. Time to head to my reasonably priced but opulent hotel for a quick rest (read, beer) and get ready for the match. As I leave the hotel, I spot a coach out front and note that it happens to be for tonight’s opposition team, Slask Wroclaw. I talk to two men in branded tracksuits who turn out to be coaches, I tell them I am coming to the match, they ask with no small hint of incredulance “Are you crazy?”. Quite. I offer them luck as I head for the match (which I would later regret), and think briefly about asking them for a lift. One thing I did notice as I was walking away, was a small boy of no more than 10 skipping away from the hotel with a huge grin clutching a homemade A3 poster with signatures of the Wroclaw players, the innocence and audacity of youth raised a smile.

The INEA Stadion is a 42,000 capacity, relatively newly built and sanitized modern arena built for Euro 2012, has a curved canvas roof which does a great job of keeping atmosphere in, and the now seemingly compulsory, LED exterior.

The atmosphere is exactly what struck me at first, a large group of Ultras congregated behind one goal to my right and did not stop with flags, banners, tifo and chanting. Honestly, never quite heard a racket like this. The away fans, despite the vast distances of awaydays in Poland, turned up in good numbers, leading an intimidating corteo around the stadium.

It’s kick off time, top plays third, and the only player I recognise is Football Manager 19 wunderkid Robert Gumny who has been linked with Celtic. Another thing that hit me was the intense smell of turf, that sounds strange as it should be a given at a football match but it isn’t, and it transported me back to the halcyon days of sunday league and Puma Kings. If you are after a match report, you have come to the wrong place, as I spent a lot of the time staring at the rampant home fans who continued to dazzle, and despite being 3-1 down at half time, on 70 mins, let of flares and smoke bombs of biblical proportions to create a thick, red smog that engulfed the stadium. 3-1 is how the game finished (told you I shouldn’t have offered the Slask coaches luck), a truly memorable atmosphere from fans who never booed their team and a new stadium with character, it’s off to the local Irish bar to recover!

Another early morning and it’s back to Poznan airport for a short hop back across Europe to Eindhoven. The Eredivisie is a groundhopping dream, or so I thought. The fixtures are announced at the start of the season for the entire year both the date and kick of time, and rarely change. The conditional rarely is doing a lot of work here, as a few days before travelling, my plans were thrown into disarray.

I had a ticket purchased for PSV Eindhoven (a ten minute walk from my hotel), but FC Basel very selfishly beat them in a Champions League qualifier, which meant PSV dropped into the Europa League and Thursday night matches, and therefore their fixture was moved to Sunday at 17:45, some four hours after I was due to take off for home. Never fear in the Netherlands is a maxim worth remembering, as it’s a very small and flat country, with an excellent Intercity rail network and a quick look at the fixtures informed me Willem II were playing on Saturday night, a mere 35km or 20 minute train ride away from Eindhoven. Never doubt the Eredivisie and the fixture gods!

A quick email to the ticket office and my place is reserved in Vak E. Tilburg, the quaint student city, happened to be hosting Flag Week, culminating in Flag Day on the Saturday (I know, exciting times!) where everyone hangs Willem II paraphernalia all over the town. I am told this emanates from Bristol City, who do the same thing before their first home game of the season, and the two clubs have a friendship. These friendships, or gemellagi are a very strange thing, for example, Juventus and Notts County, Ado Den Haag and Legia Warsaw, and Ajax and Millwall and Vicenza. Nonetheless, this useless knowledge would come in handy for me.

The 14,500 capacity Koning Willem II is a tidy little stadium with a curved roof and a wonderful brick facade that wouldn’t look out of place on a terraced house on the commuter belt. I make my way to the stand to try to find my seat and struggle to, so ask a steward who tells me to just sit anywhere. I find a plot and within seconds a large gentleman asks me to move, I of course apologise profusely and we strike up a conversation. He asks where I am from and points to the terrace behind the goal. He says in the most monotone and matter of fact way “they make the atmosphere, we make the fights”.

I then tell him, without a second’s hesitation, I support Bristol City. It’s the smartest move I make all weekend as he high fives me, nearly knocks me over and introduces me to the rest of his friends, each bigger than the last, and tells me he is going to buy me a beer! I felt like a combination of Danny Dyer and Louis Theroux at this point, but I couldn’t be safer. Right next to Vak E (home of the hooligans) is the away mob for Vitesse Arnhem and my eyes are drawn to a rather large, bald man sporting a Stone Island jumper whose best days were no doubt behind him, but you still wouldn’t want to meet him in a dark Vak. It’s a fractious atmosphere and Vitesse take a 1-0 lead. Cue beer throwing, and lots of banging on the perspex that separates the two groups of ultras. The aforementioned large gentleman tried in vain to scale the fence to comedic effect.

As the game petered out, there were dueling Allez Allez Allez chants (Liverpool have a lot to answer for here) and not much else. A late second from Vitesse meant game over and I had an Intercity to catch back to Eindhoven. Side note, well done to the diligent Dutch police who questioned me at length when I left for taking so many pictures, they said they thought I was a terrorist. I showed them my Diaries of a Groundhopper Instagram as proof I was just a really cool Groundhopper, a quick check of my passport, handshakes all around and I’m away. A memorable trip with some spectacular atmosphere, intimidating fans, average football and almost a night in a Dutch prison. Where next!?

Zamora FC: Venezuela’s Footballing Halfway House

In the west of Venezuela, 500 kilometres from the capital, Caracas, Barinas’ Zamora FC have become the Liga FUTVE’s biggest exporter of players overseas[1]. El Blanquinegro, presided over by Adelis Chávez, brother of the former president of the country, Hugo Chávez, have sold 17 players to clubs around the world since Jhon Murillo’s 2012 departure to Benfica.

It is an impressive list, as well. Of the 15 players (two have left on two separate occasions), 12 of them have represented Venezuela at senior or U20 level, and a further one, Gabriel Torres, has 83 caps for Panama and was in their World Cup 2018 squad, starting in their 2-1 defeat to Tunisia.

Venezuela are yet to qualify for a World Cup finals, so the same cannot be said for the several former Zamora players who have represented the senior side, but four played a prominent role in La Vinotinto’s recent Copa América 2019 campaign, which saw them reach the quarterfinals in Brazil and go 278 minutes before conceding, including clean sheets against both the eventual finalists, Peru and the hosts.

Of their 23-man squad, just two play football in their homeland – defensive midfielder Arquímedes Figuera of Deportivo la Guaira, who had only returned from a spell in Peru in January, and Zamora’s 22-year old goalkeeper Joel Graterol. With such an illustrious record developing on the transfer front, the young ‘keeper may be the next big thing to come out of Barinas.

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“He can still become more,” Zamora fan Leopoldo Taylor believes. He has been following the club, which was founded 17 years ago, since 2008 and goes to games regularly.

“I love the way he carries himself. I really like the effort he puts into every game, the way he goes for the ball; I think he can be Venezuela’s second-choice ‘keeper after Wuilker Faríñez.”

“He needs to play outside of Venezuela. He has done everything asked of him at Zamora, and as a fan I could not ask for more either. I think Brazil or Argentina is well-suited to him.”

Joining Graterol in Brazil were former Zamora players Yeferson Soteldo (Santos, Brazil), Yordan Osorio (Porto, Portugal), Ronald Hernández (Stabæk, Norway), and Jhon Murillo (Tondela, Portgual).

Although a late call-up to the squad, following visa issues preventing him from joining La Vinotinto at their pre-tournament training base in the US, Soteldo was picked out as one of the country’s best performers at the Copa, despite being limited to just 95 of the 360 minutes they had at the competition.

“His work was great,” Marie Ferro, a football talk show host for Meridiano TV and Difusión Latina, told me. “He created a lot of opportunities, opening spaces, dragging markers, and unbalancing the other team, and he also helped the defence when they needed him.”

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A substitute in all four games, the diminutive trickster made an impact every time he was introduced, including setting up Josef Martínez for his goal against Bolivia. Also assisting that game was Hernández, who drove down the flank from right-back before crossing to the far post for Darwin Machís to head in.

Osorio was part of Venezuela’s most resolute performance of the Copa, partnering Mikel Villanueva at centre-back, and managing to hold firm in a game that saw Brazil take 19 shots, hit the target just once, have more than one goal ruled out by VAR, and also see a goal chalked off due to a foul in the build-up. He then missed the final two games through a knee injury, leaving many fans wondering what if? after his excellent man-of-the-match display.

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Murillo was trusted to start in three of La Vinotinto’s games, only dropping to the bench for the final group game against Bolivia in which he was introduced in the second half. His hard running and willingness to track back made him an invaluable asset to head coach Rafael Dudamel and kept more creative players, such as Soteldo, on the bench.

Since Venezuela’s quarterfinal exit, Zamora have continued to trade on the international market, with Erick Gallardo and Christian Makoun leaving for Toronto FC and Inter Miami respectively, and Antonio Romero joining Royale Union Saint Gilloise of Belgium on loan, with an option to buy.

While Toronto fans have every right to get excited about Gallardo, scorer of the goal that won Zamora the 2018 Apertura, Makoun is the player being touted as the future defensive lynchpin of the international team; an eventual heir to La Vinotinto captain Tomás Rincón, even if not in the exact mould. In January, for example, he wore the armband at the U20 South American Championships, 18 months on from being part of the squad that got to the U20 World Cup Final, losing 1-0 to England.

Joining David Beckham’s MLS franchise, which will start competing in 2020, Makoun not only has experience of playing in Europe already, having spent last season on loan at Juventus’ U23s, he also has access to a European passport courtesy of his Belgian-based Cameroonian father – a stumbling block for many South American players with the continent in mind.

However, Zamora’s ability to do business this way isn’t comparable to, say, Southampton F.C.’s development of youth players who are then sold at high profits, such as Luke Shaw, Gareth Bale, and Adam Lallana. In Venezuela, academies haven’t existed in the same manner as they do in Europe and those that do are fledgling and rudimentary. Instead, players tend to join professional clubs at 15 or 16 years of age.

This route was – roughly – the case for 10 of the 15 players in question, with the exceptions being Gabriel Torres, Juan Manuel Falcón (who had been playing professionally for six years before he joined Zamora and then French side Metz two years later), Anthony Blondell, Danny Pérez, and Romero. Those five had all played professionally elsewhere before joining Zamora.

This is why, rather than being similar to Barcelona’s La Masia or Ajax’s De Toekomst, Zamora is a footballing halfway house; a finishing school where some of La Vinotinto’s brightest stars have passed through on their way to Europe, the MLS, and the bigger leagues of South America.

By Jordan Florit (@TheFalseLibero), author of upcoming book “Red Wine and Arepas: How Football is Becoming Venezuela’s Religion.”

You can preorder his book through Kickstarter. Link Below:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/redwineandarepas/red-wine-and-arepas-book-on-venezuelan-football-and-society



[1] https://twitter.com/SoccerDataVEN/status/1158747942297231362

It is worth noting that Anthony Blondell was playing for Monagas SC when he was sold to Vancouver Whitecaps, being co-owned by Zamora FC.

Orlando City vs Atlanta United – US Open Cup 2019

The passion for soccer in the American South is red hot, almost more so than the weather, and it was nowhere more apparent than at the U.S. Open Cup semifinal at the Exploria Stadium in Orlando on 07 August 2019.

Orlando City and Atlanta United was the semifinal draw made in heaven, as Orlando have yet to beat their southern neighbors and both sets of supporters claim their club as “soccer kings of the south”. Nowhere else will you see more unwavering support and passion from a group of supporters in the south than during each respective club’s fixtures. Orlando City has had many groups around, like the Iron Lion Firm and the Ruckus, to support the club from its inception in 2011, and never do they falter. Atlanta United, on the other hand, has had massive attendances to every one of their matches and the fever for the game is rife across the North Georgian City. 

The match lived up to its month long hype, with a fairly open game for the entire 90 minutes, and Atlanta coming away with a 0-2 win. Orlando seemed ambitious, coming out firing on all cylinders as Dom Dwyer delightfully chipped one over Brad Guzan after some delicious build up play in the first ten minutes, but it was deemed marginally offside, and they couldn’t seem to finish their moves in the attacking third from then on.

This didn’t change the wall’s support though, as they kept chanting, jumping and singing all night, even as Atlanta took advantage with goals from Eric Remidi in the first half and Bournemouth loanee Emerson Hyndman in the second half. Orlando City had a magical run to get to their first open cup semifinal in club history, and it’s a crying shame their unbelievable support on the night wasn’t rewarded. But Atlanta’s machine didn’t falter, and the 200 or so away supporters in the upper corner of the stand were rewarded for their long journey and traveled home happy. 

American soccer and the desire for it is alive and well, and the open cup exemplifies this spirit year after year. The final is on the 27th of this month, but we’re already looking forward to next year’s magic.

Author – Dom Conrad of Eleven+You. Eleven+You are a collection of US Soccer enthusiasts and look at the best in fan culture and football jerseys. Go check them out on Instagram @elevenplusyou

November 16th, 2005. The Night Australia Became a Football Nation.

One night in November. One bloody magical night in November where nerves were really, really tested, hoodoos were broken and the legend Johnny Warren looking down was finally able to say ‘ I told you so’. Oh what a night! 

The date was November 16th, to be exact, and the setting was Telstra Stadium, Sydney. The opponents were Uruguay and the occasion was a sudden death World Cup playoff if you don’t mind. The winner would head on over to the Cup in Deutchland whilst the loser would have four long, drawn out years to think about what might have been. The stakes really didn’t get much higher. 

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For those poor, long suffering fans of the Australian football team, or the Socceroos as they were known down under, this was something we were all to used to. We hadn’t qualified for the biggest dance in intenational football in over 31 years and had seen Scotland, Argentina, Iran and Uruguay break our hearts at this stage before. With the WC fairytale master Guus Hiddink at the helm and arguably our finest squad assembled featuring Viduka, Kewell, Cahill, Schwarzer, Emerton and a certain J. Aloisi, there was a silent air of positivity milking around the country – but any team that featured the magician Recoba was one not to be taken lightly. 

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Now learning from failures of bygone years we’d managed to ensure the second leg was played at home, and coming off a narrow 1-0 first leg loss there was an absolute sea of gold ready and willing to spur the boys on to overturn that deficit and get the team where we needed to be; The World Cup. 

The scene was set for 90 minutes and then some that would deadset see it all. It was tight. It was tense. But after 27 minutes we were level on aggregate, thanks to the bald Messi Mark Bresciano who bulged the old onion bag after an inspired mis-kick from Kewell. The next 83 minutes would see chances for both teams go begging to win the match with Uruguay missing a sitter that would’ve ended it. “Jeez, maybe it really could be our night” we thought. But before we dreamt too big or got too far ahead of ourselves the whistle was blowing for the end of extra time. We were entering the lottery that was pens, where anything could happen. Penalties are an absolute dog of a way to end a game we reckon, but that’s how it goes and that’s how we’d have to try and win. Bring on the drama. 

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Kewell stepped up first. Goal. Rodriguez from Uruguay next. Miss. You bloody ripper. Lucas Neill and his pretty boy good looks next. Goal. Get in son. Bloke by the name of Varela steps up next and slots it. Well played. That see’s Tony Vidmar stride on down. That got me very, very nervous. Two defenders taking pens so early. Not sold on this, but what do I know as Tony puts it away. 3-1 Australia. Almost there. 

Estoyanoff is the next Uruguayan to march to the spot, and fair play to him with the pressure on he makes no mistake. 3-2 Australia. Next up is the man, the myth, the legend: The Duke of Oz aka Mark Viduka. It was meant to be – until he bloody missed it. He bloody missed it. Dukes you muppet. How could you? We were almost there. Got to stay positive now as we were still in a good spot. Zalayeta steps up, and Mark Schwarzer that absolute weapon, pulls out his version of the hand of god and SAVES it. He’s gone and saved it. What a man. We are one kick away, again.

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Almost there as it falls to John Aloisi to seal the deal. Almost can’t watch now. Tension is through the roof. The stadium goes silent as Aloisi steps up and smashes it in. It’s gone in. It’s gone bloody in!

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The commentators are losing it. We are through. After 31 long years Australia is back in the cup. Aloisi’s got his shirt off and is running around the stadium as everyone loses it. What a time to be a football fan. We didn’t win the cup but by sheer virtue of been there the underdog of the Australian sporting landscape had finally made everyone take notice of how beautiful our game could be.

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November 16th, 2005. This was the night Australia became a football nation. It was one of those nights when you’ll never forget where you were. It’s a date that will forever be etched in both Australian football and sporting folklore as it changed the game for the better and woke the slumbering giant. Australian football was on the map thanks to the Socceroos triumph, and all over the papers and TV where it rightly belonged. The media recognition was well overdue and wonderfully timed as the newly formed Australian league had launched just months before. A sweet connection from the left peg of Aloisi that bulged the net gave the newly formed A-League one hell of a marketing boost that could not be bought. Amongst all this jubilation somewhere up above, smiling, was Socceroos legend Johnny Warren thinking ‘’Jeez, I told you so. About time.” 


The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of Parma

It is great to see that Parma appear to be stabilising themselves back in the top division of Italian Football with their 14th place finish in the 2018/19 season. It is also easy to forget just how far they had fallen in such a short space of time and just how much they have achieved to have a seat again at the top table.  

Looking at European football at large, the demise of Parma was on a scale rarely seen before (with the closest comparable being Glasgow Rangers. In the ten years from 1992 to 2002, Parma won eight trophies including three Coppa Italia’s (1991–92, 1998–99, 2001–02), one Italian Super Cup (1999), two UEFA Cups (1994-95, 1998-99), one European Cup Winners Cup (1992-93) and one European Super Cup (1993). Such was the success of Parma during the 90s and early 2000s, it made them one of the most prominent and respected clubs throughout the glory years of Italian football (and arguably club football).

The football aficionado would rejoice at some of the names that played for Parma in the 1990s. It really is like a who’s who of talent – Buffon, Thuram, Cannavaro, Zola, Crespo, Veron , Stoichkov, Asprilla. Parma really did find the perfect blend between established international stars and local talent.

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The glory days began to curtail in 2003, when their main financial backer and shareholder Parmalat (which adorned their iconic shirts of the 90s) went bankrupt. While the clubs financial difficulties were multiplying, the club bizarrely stayed in Serie A, alternating between European qualification and mid-table mediocrity. Their difficulties caught up with them in 2008 when they were finally relegated to the Serie B. Some thought that the club would find it difficult to recover. However, the team only remained there for one season, finishing the season in 2nd position and booking a ticket back to Serie A.

Their financial issues finally caught up though, with Parma FC made bankrupt in March 2015 with total debts of c€220m including unpaid wages to players and staff of c€60m and were docked points in the months preceding. Things became so desperate for the club that games had been postponed because they could not even pay the match stewards.

To the leagues credit, Parma were allowed to finish the season in Serie A but with of course, relegation to Serie B a formality. Serie B then denied the club a place in the league as the club could not find a new buyer or pay their aforementioned debts meaning the club were folded for the second time in a decade. They would have to start the 2015-16 season, as Parma Calcio 1913, in Serie D.

The club were on the verge of going out of existence, but as has been proven when clubs are in their dying embers, the last thing to leave the club is the supporters. Parma fans supported their club financially when it was at its lowest point, with a crowdfunding scheme resulting in the fans owning 25% of the club. A consortium of local entrepreneurs, called the Nuovo Inizio (which translates as new beginnings), bought the remaining 75% of the shares and with it took over the new club, which was renamed Parma Calcio 1913. In doing so they brought in prominent figures from Parma’s glory days in the 90s such as Luigi Apolloni and Nevio Scala to help boost morale and connect the club with their past.

The fans were remarkably loyal, buying more season tickets in Serie D than they had in the club’s final season in Serie A. Their support on the terraces was reciprocated on the field with Parma Calcio 1913 winning promotion to Serie C in style, going unbeaten all season in the process and amassing the highest points total ever recorded in the league.

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Parma’s next promotion, in 2016/17 to Serie B, was a little less straight forward. Parma finished second, which gave them a spot in the last-16 stage of the gruelling play-offs, beating Piacenza, Lucchese and Pordenone and Alessandria in the playoffs to secure promotion to Serie B.

Following the back-to-back promotions Chinese businessman Jiang Lizhang went on to purchase a 60% stake in the club to become majority owner and new president. Lizhang ensured the club did not repeat the mistakes of the past and kept it a fan-friendly club. As a result of the investment, Nuovo Inizio reduced their stake to 30% with the supporters retaining 10%. Parma then appointed their iconic former talisman Hernan Crespo as vice president with the club firmly set on a third straight promotion.

Again, promotion in the 2017/18 season to Serie A was full of twists and turns. Going into the final day of the regular season, Frosinone were in prime position to finish second and with it, earn automatic promotion to Serie A. Parma needed to win at Spezia and hope Frosinone would drop points at home to Foggia. With just over an hour gone Parma were 2-0 up and Foggia were beating Frosinone 1-0. The club had one foot in Serie A. But this script would offer at least one more twist.

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In the space of five minutes, Frosinone scored twice to take the lead against Foggia and leapfrog Parma in the table. With the clock ticking down, it seemed as if Parma would have to settle for another tilt at the play-offs. But then, with just one minute of the season remaining, Foggia substitute Roberto Floriano scored an equaliser at Frosinone. They had left it late, but Parma had done it!

Their leader, their captain, Alessandro Lucarelli  had been the cornerstone of the clubs renaissance. He had remained loyal to the club throughout their journey and offered to stand by the club. True to his word, he stood by the club when they fell to Serie D, the only player to do so.

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Lucarelli was 40 years old when the club secured promotion to Serie A and personified the strength, determination and team work that the team showed on their journey from Serie D. He is also a man who kept a promise: That he would take the club back to Serie A.

At the end of his final game he was understandably overcome with emotion. “It can’t be true, it’s not possible, I can’t believe it,” he said, his voice cracking. “We have done something incredible in these past three years. Something out of this world. No one could have imagined a finale like this. I’m dying. It’s more than a dream. This promotion is a great prize for our fans who together with us never gave up. I am proud to be their captain. Now I can even retire.”

True to his word again, Lucarelli hung up his boots immediately after promotion to Serie A with the club retiring the Number 6 shirt in his honour, a fitting way to end his career. Here at KAISER Football we hope that Parma emulate their success of the 1990s but, whatever happens from here, the story of his incredible club’s renaissance and Alessandro Lucarelli’s instrumental part of it will be told for many years to come.

Enfield Town FC – For the Fans

In a world where teams are being dragged further away from their community and top-level football clubs are now ever increasingly owned by billionaires, one North London side is doing things differently. Step forward Enfield Town FC.

The UK’s very first wholly owned fan club are now striding towards its second decade in existence, lighting the way for others to follow the model. Formed in June of 2001 it was, according to Ken Brazier (Director at Enfield Town FC), “a result of many disenchanted supporters of the former Enfield FC wanting to be sure that the leading club in the borough would have a bright, thriving future”.

Perhaps surprisingly, during these nigh on twenty years of groundbreaking existence, theirs hasn’t been a tale of a directionless club floating aimlessly in non league backwaters. Honours include Essex Senior League champions (2003, 2005), Ryman League division one runners up and most recently The Velocity (Bostik League cup) trophy. They currently compete at the Step 7 of the English football pyramid, the Isthmian League.

Ken mentions “Our three-year business plan is based on the assumption of promotion to Conference South (Step 6) during the planning period under the current club (i.e. Trust) structure”. The club has a defined mission which is “to develop football facilities for ETFC” and the vision of being “an inclusive club for all and a football and social centre for the community”. Lofty targets, but they do not seem out of reach. Inclusivity is already being achieved by having a women’s team, as well as a disability team and various age groups. Who said football isn’t for everyone?

Ownership and disenchantment isn’t just a UK centric issue, it seems to affecting growing numbers of fans globally. One only has to take a cursory glance on Instagram to see that the hashtag #AgainstModernFootball currently has 175K posts, which highlights the growing sense of disillusionment.

Germany has a well publicised 50+1 Regel which the Deutscher Fußball-Bund passed down in 1998, allowing clubs to convert to a public or private limited company, but always ensuring the members own at least 50% plus one share, allowing a majority voting share. Of course, where you find a Deutschmark, you will find a deviation, or in this case, several. Where an organisation or person has continuously funded substantial amounts for a period of 20 years or more, the rule can be circumvented. This has occurred most notably with pharmaceutical giant Bayer (Bayer Leverkusen), Volkswagen (VFL Wolfsburg) and SAP (1899 Hoffenheim).

Most controversially has been Red Bull, and their interests in RB Leipzig. One can become a voting member at this institution, but Die Rotten Bullen can reject any application without a reason, and most of their members are actually employees of the energy drink corporation. These teams all have various levels of dislike levied at them by the rest of the Bundesliga, and couldn’t be further from the model of fan and community ownership.

Back to Enfield and “The Jewel in the crown” as Ken puts it, is the wonderful Grade II listed Queen Elizabeth Stadium. The Stadium looks resplendent with its Art Deco pavilion that wouldn’t look out of place in a Wes Anderson production, and where I have had the pleasure of visiting, for the 2019 edition of the Brian Lomax Cup pitting Enfield Town against FC United of Manchester. Ten articles couldn’t do Brian justice and I won’t even try, but he was the forefather of the fan movement we see today, believing that clubs belong to the supporters, as well as founding supporters trusts, sadly passing in 2015. This cup is played annually between two supporter owned clubs celebrating both the model, and Brian’s impact on the sport. The trophy was first contested between, fittingly, Enfield Town and AFC Wimbledon, and it is engraved with Jock Stein’s famous quote “Football without fans is nothing”. Enfield Town offered a hand to AFC Wimbledon, and a few other clubs starting on this path, Ken says they are proud to be “a go to club for advice on fan ownership”.

To the match, and despite the Friday evening kick off, FCUM fans were down in numbers and their contingent was in good voice, joined by two supporters of another fan owned club in YB SK Beveren all the way from Belgium. There wasn’t much to cheer about for the away fans, as after 8 minutes, ETFC were 2 up, scored by Josh Davison and then a real poachers finish from the industrial number 9, Billy Bricknell. Bricknell would add his second, and the Enfield Town third of the night as a free kick on the edge of the D is smartly saved by the goalkeeper but only into the centre forwards pass for an easy finish. FCUM could not handle the constant overlapping on the left and Sam Banticks trickery was a constant threat, and he would rightfully be awarded the man of the match award.

The Enfield Ultras were creating the atmosphere with their continental style drumming and capo from the first whistle to the last, and whilst it didn’t have the numbers and rhythm, they certainly wouldn’t look out of place on a Curva Sud . FCUM hit back rapidly for what turned out to be a mere consolation, but it sent the travelling Mancunians into frenzy. The Enfield Ultras responded with a typically pithy chant of “we forgot that you were here”, it seems the Enfield defence did also.

Come the second half and a raft of substitutions killed the game as a contest but Enfield Town’s number 17, the tall, languid and elegant Muahmmadu Faal got some minutes, and when he had the ball, it seemed nobody could take it from him, a non league Dimitar Berbatov. The game petered out and remained as it did at half time, 3-1 to the home team. As Ken says “ the club is continuing to grow in a sustainable way to maximise its potential”, is this a sign of more success to come?

So a trophy lifted by Enfield Town that less represents on field proficiency and tactical dexterity, but more a trinket that embodies fan culture, accessibility, ownership and belonging.

If you are looking for an alternative to corporate giants where you are merely a consumer, maybe pop down to the QEII, and if you like what you see and yearn for that community spirit, to feel part of something again, perhaps you can even become an owner. This is how football should be.