Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Risca United (Wales)

Risca United are a true valleys side, hailing from a South Walean mining town between Cwmbran and Caerphilly. Formed in 1946 out of the ashes of a number of under-achieving local sides, they initially played in the Monmouthshire Senior League, before moving on to the Welsh league proper in the fifties, where they stayed until the mid-sixties when they hit a spot of financial bother.

The club were saved at the last minute when they merged with another local side, Fernlea, with who they already shared a ground. After a few years just ticking over and barely surviving back in the Senior League, the 1970s saw them hit a spell of golden form. In just a few short years they won an impressive total of 13 trophies, including an astounding three consecutive cup and league doubles. In 1990 they rejoined the Welsh League, reaching the top flight by the middle of the decade.

These days though they've found their way back to the third division - the fourth level of the Welsh game. Since then they have merged one more time, this time with local junior side Gelli United in order to ensure that they had a strong youth wing. They play at the cosy little Ty-Isaf Park, and are known to their friends as The Cuckoos -although whether this has anything to do with their knack of absorbing other teams while keeping their own identity intact is never mentioned.

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Randaberg Idrettslag (Norway)

Randaberg IL are a Norweigian second division team (which, slightly confusingly is the third tier of their national league system) from Randaberg, a town of about 10,000 people just to the North of Stavanger in the very south west of the country. They were formed back in 1925 as Fotballklubben Ørn (or The Eagles FC), a fine name that they kept until 1933, when they joined the Norwegian FA, and changed it to Randaberg Fotballklubb, which they thought would make them be taken a little more seriously.

Their first great mark in the national football psyche came in the early 1960s when the great Reidar Goa was their first player to gain an international cap, a little while before he was transferred to the region's biggest club, Viking Stavanger. Their biggest moment of the sixties came around the same time when they were drawn to play the then star-studded Sandefjord in the third round of the cup. It is said half the population of Randaberg made the trip to Oslo to see their plucky battlers edged out 3-1 - but only after an epic battle.

But this little team attracted national attention once more in 2007, when an interesting character called Fred Ingebrigtsen came in and splashed the money around, claiming he would help them work their way up the league ladder as soon as possible. He hired former FK Haugesund boss Kjell-Inge Bråtveit to lead the charge and had soon lured former top flight players the like of Sindre Erstad, Øyvind Svenning, Jørgen Tengesdal and Bjarte Lunde Aarsheim into the fray. But as is the case with many sugar daddy clubs, the success hasn't quite happened for them yet. But it'll certainly be worth keeping an eye on them just in case it does! Remember, you heard it here first! (Unless you're Norwegian, of course!)

Stop Press! I've just got a note from Per Thime, Randaberg's sports director, who tells me that his boys have just won the  league with two games remaining, which means that they'll play in the second tier of Norwegian for the first time in their history. As he puts it: "That means we are in the list of the 30 best teams in Norway. And we like that!"

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Beith Juniors (Scotland)

Beith Juniors, from the small town of Beith, some twenty miles to the west of Glasgow, were formed in 1938, out of the ashes of the former Scottish League club, Beith, who played in the short-lived original Scottish Third Division. The original club won the Scottish Qualifying Cup in 1928, and the Ayrshire Senior Cup three times.

They currently play their matches in the rather finely- named corner of the Scottish Junior game SJFA Stagecoach Superleague Premier League, which is the highest division of the West Region of the Scottish Junior FA - approximately the eighth tier of the Scottish game. They go under the dual nicknames of The Mighty and The Cabes, and play their games at the 1800 capacity Bellsdale Park.

Over the years they've won an array of local trophies, including the Ayrshire League, the West of Scotland Premier Division, the West of Scotland Cup and rather regal sounding Jackie Scarlett Cup. Indeed, so good have they been in the knockout trophies that they were dubbed the Cup Team of the Nineties in the area, with seven trophy wins and a whole lot more lengthy cup runs.

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Arbroath Victoria FC (Scotland)

Better known as The Vics, Arbroath Victoria are one of the oldest clubs in the Scottish game, having formed in the misty old days of 1882. They played their first ever match against the rather splendidly named Sunrise on the town common that same year, a game they won by a healthy 3-0. Their biggest win came eight years later when they narrowly edged their local rivals Burnside Athletic by a score of 15-0. 1890 was clearly a good year for them, as they went on to win the coveted Forfar and District Junior League later in the same run.

They play in the Scottish Junior Football East Region North Division, which is approximately the ninth tier of Scottish football - although it's tricky to accurately state as theirs is not pyramidical system with direct promotions between the leagues. Their home games are battled out at the 4000 capacity Ogilvy Park, and their biggest rivals are the very local Arbroath SC from the same league. However, every year The Vics take part in a challenge match against The Scottish Third Division side Arbroath FC called the Urquhart Cup. But despite the distance in leagies between the two sides, The Vics quite frequently win it, and are in fact the current holders.

All though their history they've won a wealth of fabulously titled local trophies, including the likes of The Forfar Businessmen's Trophy, The Brechin Rosebowl, The Forfar Junior Consolation Cup, and best of the lot, The Cream of the Barley Cup. But perhaps the biggest day in their history though came in 1982 when to celebrate their hundred years of being they lured a talented young Irish lad called George Best in to play a stint for them in their centenary match. Not surprisingly he played a blinder, scoring two goals on the way to a 4-3 win over Arbroath FC. Sadly though he couldn't be convinced to play on for the rest of the season.

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Nymark Idrettslag (Norway)

Nymark IL are a fourth division Norwegian side from the beautiful city of Bergen, on the country's west coast. They were formed in 1921, in the borough of Årstad, in the south of the city. As is often the way in Norway, they are part of a wider sports association, which also has very popular cycling and athletics wings.

They play at a multi sports facility in the shadow of the stadium of their more illustrious city rivals SK Brann, known locally as the the Nymarksbanene fields. Casting an even more impressive shadow over the ground is Ulriken, the highest of the seven mountains that surround Bergen, and an impressive backdrop to any match.

They were originally part of the Arbeidernes Idrettsforbund, or Worker's Federation of Sports, the first explicit worker's sports society in the country, and linked to the Communist Red Sport International. The Federation was formed after 15 wrestlers were banned by the Norwegian Wrestling Federation for taking part in what they deemed to be a politicised sports meeting. This helped spawn a worker's federation of sports that soon spread across the country, and despite a brave national boycott of sports by its members during the Nazi occupation, fizzled out when it merged with the Norwegian Confederation of Sport in 1946.

These days Nymark are still closely connected to the people of Årstad, but in a slightly less politicised way. Although get them riled up and they'll still let you know what's what!

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Eastwood Town (England)

Eastwood Town come from the small Nottinghamshire town of the same name, just to the north west of Nottingham itself. They haver a long history of playing in black and white, although appear to be only recent converts to the stripes themselves, so we'll have to keep an eye on the progress of their kit over the coming seasons. They were formed in 1953, although there was a team of the same name knocking about in the early 1920s who only lasted for a couple of seasons, and who have no connection to the current club.

Like many fellow stripes, Eastwood hail from a former coal- mining town, and is perhaps most famous as being the birthplace of the writer DH Lawrence, with many of its houses and hostelries cropping up frequently in his stories. It's also one fo the few places where the rare dialect East Midlands English is still spoken. So don't be surprised if you have only half an idea of what anyone is saying to you if ever you pay a visit up that way.

The Badgers, as the club like to be known, have recently worked their way up from the Northern Premier League currently play in the Conference North, the sixth tier of English football, and the first to be regionalised. They play at the 2500 capacity Coronation Park, just off the main Nottingham Road. Famous old boys include Arsenal and Forest star Tony Woodcock, who was born in the town, the much travelled Alan Buckley and former Bradford and Middlesbrough defender Richard Liburd. Their traditional rivals haver always been the nearby Ilkestone Town, although as The Robins have recently been wound up, they may have to go further afield for their derbies.

However, perhaps their biggest moment came in the 2008/09 FA Cup, where they reached the third round, taking the scalps of Wrexham and Wycome Wanderers along the way, before being deprived of a major payday when they were drawn to Kettering, who rather impolitely beat them 2-1 in a tense match.

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Associação Desportiva Senador Guiomard (Brazil)

Associação Desportiva Senador Guiomard are a team with a name that you wouldn't want to sew onto a banner. Fortunately, all but the most passionate (or insane) refer to them by the thankfully less tongue-bending acronym ADESG. They hail from the municipality of Senador Guiomard in the Brazilian state of Acre, in the far west of the country in the upper reaches of the Amazon, and close to the border with Bolivia.

They are a relatively young team, having first kicked a ball in anger as recently as 1982. However despite their youth they have won the state league - the Campeonato Acriano - the once, having taken both stages convincingly in 2006. Remember, Brazil is a country where the season is split into two distinct halfs, with the overall annual winner being the team with the best average record of the two, so to take both in one year is quite an achievement.

They play in the 2000 capacity Estádio Naborzão, and go by the nickname of Quinari's Lions - although I've yet to discover excatly who, or indeed what, Quniari is. They also play in variation of the classic black and white stripes in that their kit is predominantly white, with a thick black pin stripe. But it still counts, and they're more than welcome into the family of black and white stripes!

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Amapá Clube (Brazil)

Amapá Clube are a team from the remote Amazonian region of the same name at the very North of Brazil. So remote are they that the rest of Brazil use the place as a marker for being a long way off - much as we do for The Outer Hebrides of Timbuktu. They come from the state capital, the mining city of Macapá, a city so out of the way that there are no road links to the rest of Brazil, so to get there you either have to fly or take a boat. 

The football team, usually known more simply as Amapá , was formed in 1944, and play in their local state league, the Campeonato Amapaense, which they have won on a respectable ten occasions, making them the second most successful team in that league ever, after their city rivals Esporte Clube Macapá who have notched up a massive 17 titles. However Amapá last won their league back in 1990, and Macapá's last victory came a year later, and it is the young upstarts of Ypiranga, also from Macapá who are currently the leading lights of Amapaense football.

However, there is one thing that makes Amapá Clube especially unique. Their pitch, the 5000 capacity Estádio Milton Corrêa straddles the equator, with the halfway line of the ground running exactly down the line of zero latitude. This means if you win the toss you can choose to defend a whole hemisphere rather than the usual mundane half. This curious geographical positioning also means that you get to see some quite outrageous shooting, with goal attempts from the attacking side's own half a regularity, as the players attempt to make a name for themselves as having kicked the ball in one hemisphere and hit the net in the next. Understandably the ground is more commonly known by its nickname Zerão - the big zero!

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Ammanford AFC (Wales)

Ammanford AFC are the result of a merger between two much older clubs from the village back in 1992. Ammanford Town were established in 1945 when a chap called Vic Grove donated a chicken as a prize for a raffle, the proceeds of which went on to help form the club. However, in the early days they were known as Betws, taking on the mantle but not directly succeeding the earlier local club the Ammandford Corinthians.

After a few years playing in a collection of small local leagues, they started to outgrow their bowl and in 1949 were elected to the Welsh League - helped in part by the goodwill afforded to their illustrious Corinthian cousins. By the sixties, however, there were a number of Welsh clubs playing under the Betws banner, and so the Welsh FA asked them if they could change their name, which they did to the aformentioned Ammanford Town. They would change it once more, when things began to get financially tough in the 1980s, and by 1992, they merged with Ammanford Athletic to form the AFC that they are still known as today.

These days they play in the Welsh League Division Two, the third level of Welsh Football. They call the Manor Ground Home, which Betws bought with considerable foresight back in the early days of their foundation. Perhaps their most famous son is the former Everton, Wrexham and Wales international keeper Dai Davies, widely accepted to be one of the best Welsh keepers of all time, who played for the club when he was just 15. He was discovered by the former Liverpool and Swansea wing-half Roy Saunders, who managed them during the club's most successful days in the mid-60s.

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Monday, 6 September 2010

Tonan Maebashu (Japan)

Tonan Maebashi SC are a much loved club from the Gunma Prefecture of Japan's main island of Honshu, who play in the second division of the Kanto League - the fifth tier of their national game, and part of the nine Japanese regional Leagues. They come from Gunma's largest city, Maebashi, which is the furthest of all the country's Prefecture capitals from the sea.

They were founded in 1982 as Tonan SC Gunma, and joined the Gunma Prefecture League soon after. They were successful pretty quickly, and soon worked their way through the local divisions, and by the turn of the century they found themselves in the rather complicated All Japan Regional Promotion League Series, where all the Regional League winners, the top four runners up, plus a scattering of other cup winners, university teams and FA defined wild cards all take part in a tournament to establish who gets promoted to the National League. This, however, isn't always the team who wins the tournament, and the number of promotees can years from year to year between on and four clubs. As yet, Tonan haven't been successful at this stage, although their time will surely come!

They changed their name to Tonan Maebashi in 2008, as their original home town of Ogo was absorbed, along with a few other nearby towns and villages, into Maebashu a couple of years before - so they thought they'd better change their name accordingly. At least that's what I think happened - Japanese is notoriously difficult to translate via the internet, so if I have got all this magnificently wrong and you know anything more about the club than I do, then please do put me right!

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AFC Llwydcoed (Wales)

Llwydcoed were formed in 1931, under the name Llwydcoed Welfare AFC. As is common with stripes around the British Isles, they come from a close knit mining community, and have been the hub of events in village life since their foundation. The village itself is on the ourskirts of Aberdare in the Rhondda area of South Wales - an area at the very centre of Welsh mining until the pit closures of the 1980s decimated local industry.

They started their footballing journey in the Aberdare Valley League, winning it twice in the fifties. They eventually moved on to the South Wales Amateur League, where they played until 1991, when they became founder members of the South Wales Senior League. These days they play in Division 2 of the Welsh Football League - the third tier in the Welsh National system.

They play their home games at the tiny Welfare Ground in their home village, but in becoming more successful than their founding fathers could ever have imagined, have grown out of their bowl, and need to look at expanding their facilities. This is always a pivotal moment in the life of a small club if they meet any measure of success, so we wish them well, and hope that the decisions that they make in the next couple of seasons do them good in what looks like being an exciting future.

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Ardrossan Winton Rovers (Scotland)

The Winton, as they're known locally, come from the Ayrshire harbour town of Ardrossan. They were formed in 1902, and moved to their spiritual home, the 3000 capacity Winton Park, in 1923, after they bought the land from Lord Eglinton for £160. The ground's main stand was built in 1923, although is currently not in use as despite looking glorious, it's currently deemed unsafe to house paying customers.

Indeed, over the years much of the ground had fallen into disrepair, until a new supporter- led committee was formed in 2001 with the express intention of improving the facilities, after the previous owners decided that they were no longer able to continue running the club. They finally managed to raise the funds to buy out the deeds to the ground in 2005.

They play in the Scottish Junior League Western Region, the fifth tier of Scottish football, and have not been without some success. Perhaps their most notable achievement is having reached the semi-finals of the Scottish Cup on three occasions. And they weren't all in their early days, as they've spread these successes between 1912, 1934 and 1970. In total they've won over local titles and cup competitions, making them one of the most successful Junior teams in Scotland. Their most recent successes came in the last few years when they won the Airshire Cup three years in a row in 2007-2008.

Stripe spotters be warned though, because although they have played the bulk of their history in black and white stripes, they very occasionally turn those lines horizontal and change them to hoops. But we can forgive a club with such a long and proud history the odd eccentricity now and again.

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Agremiação Sportiva Arapiraquense (Brazil)

Agremiação Sportiva Arapiraquense, thankfully better known by the three letter acronym ASA, are a Brazilian fooball club from the city of Arapiraca, in Alagoas state in Brazil- known as the City of Tobacco after the principal crop in this North Eastern region. They play in the Campeonato Brasileiro Série B - the second tier of the national system - after they were promoted from Série C in 2009.

But they weren't the original football outfit in the city. They were formed in 1952 after the city's previous team, Ferroviário de Arapiraca, went under, and the city's top brass felt they needed something to keep the area in the national consciousness, and initially too the name Associação Sportiva Arapiraquense They took part in the Campeonato Alagoano - the state league of Alagoas - the following year, making the play off final. For some reason lost to history, their co-finalists refused to play them, so they were crowned champions at their first attempt, a title that they have now won six times in total.

They changed to their current, equally lengthy appelation in 1977, the Agremiação of their new name meaning College. Two years later they made it to Série A, and were nicknamed The Fantasma das Alagoas after their successful campaign. Ever since then they have used the obscure Disney character Phantom Blot as their mascot, renaming him Mancha Negra to local tastes.

They play their home games at the 10,000 capacity Municipal Coaracy da Mata Fonseca ground, and their fans prefer to go by the more formal nickname of Asa Gigante, which can mean both Giant ASA, and Giant Wing - although to be absolutely honest, I think I prefer the ghosts!

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Valestrand Hjellvik FK (Norway)

Valestrand Hjellvik are a Norwegian club from the village of Valestrandsfossen on Eye Oster - which translates roughly as Cheese Island - just North of Bergen. They were formed in 1992, when two local clubs merged. Of their constituent parts, Valestrand IF formed in 1978, and Hjellvik IL formed in 1959. Fortunately the newly merged club didn't have to spend too long thinking about a new name.

Their happy co- operation can also be seen in the club's crest, which contains the blue of Valestrand and the green of Hjellvik. Thankfully though they drew the line at chosing to play in green and blue stripes, electing instead to play in the much more elegant black and white. They play their football in the segment of the regionalised Norwegian fourth division known as the Hordaland SoccerCircle.

They play their home games at the 1000 capacity Furu Bakken Stadion, which, as is becoming a theme for this lot, translates rather cutely as Pine Hill. Since their foundation they've slowly climbed up from the sxith tier of local football, and have finished as high as third in both 2003 and 2005. And like many of the smaller Norwegian clubs, they have strong links to the community, offering a range of team from pre-school to seniors in both the men and women's game. 

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Zebra FC (England)

If there's any club on this list who epitomise the corinthian spirit that seems to pervade the black and white colour scheme beloved by pretty much all of the teams who play in black and white stripes, it's Zebra FC. This tiny team from the Maid's Causeway area of Cambridge are a member of a tiny league well down the echelons of the Cambridgeshire FA system, but they've been doing the colours proud since at least 1993 - although no one is quite sure when they actually got going.

Originally formed as the kicky ball team for the Zebra pub smack in the middle of the city of Cambridge, the choice of colours was immediately obvious. After a while they changed their allegance to The Clarendon pub just down the road, but these days they have more of an affinity for another local establishment, The Free Press. But despite this, the colours - and the name - remain.

They call the Downing College Sports Ground their home, and they play most of their games in Division One of the rather sweetly named Cambridge and District Friendly League. The league's name originates from the days when it was formalised from a collection of teams playing friendlies against one another. Also it epitomises the League's efforts to be there more about fun and participation rather than winning at all costs.

At present their are awaiting anxiously to see if they've qualified for the C and DF League Champions Shield. This is a unique competition where the two clubs voted Most Friendly by their peers in the league are chosen to compete in the final. In theory the two bottom clubs could be voted to the final, and the organisation's champions could be the least successful in terms of results, but most popular in terms of their behaviour - both on and off the pitch. And doesn't that sound like just about the coolest competition on the planet! lets hope the Zebras do us pround and make the final!

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Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Figueirense Futebol Clube (Brazil)

Figueirense come from the Southern Brazilian city of Florianópolis - capital of the island state of Santa Catarina. It's is one of the beachiest regions in Brazil, with 42 in the city alone. No wonder that with some of the few West-facing series of beaches in the country that it's become one of the most populat surfing destinations on the South American continent. The team formed in 1921 as Figueirense Foot-ball Club, although they thankfully Braziled it up a few years later.

Their first big flush of success was in the 1930s, when they won five state titles (this was long before the days when there was a national football league), winning it again in 1941. This was when their early run of wins ended, though, and it was another 31 years before they won their next title. But things soon picked up again in the seventies and eighties, and in total they've won their state title a total of 15 times. The best that they've done since the game has gone national is a couple of runner's-up slots, in the Campeonato Brasileiro Série B in 2001, and the Copa do Brasil in 2007.

They've since returned to Série B, the second tier of Brazilian football, where they have spent most of their career, playing in the 19,908 capacity Orlando Scarpelli stadium. As you may have guessed by their name, they are rather a fig-based club. Comeing from the neighbourhood of, Figueirense, which means Of The Fig Tree, they have a fig tree on their club crest, their nickname is The Fig Tree, and their club mascot is even an anthropomorphised fig tree called Figueirinha, who is, to be absolutely honest, slightly frightening.

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Juventus FC (Italy)

Juventus are one of a very small few clubs who can lay claim to being the biggest club in the world. The third most successful club in European history (after AC Milan and Real Madrid), they're also the most supported club in Europe with an estimated 170 million fans around the world, and it is reckoned that one in three Italian football fans follow the Juve.

They were formed in 1897 as Sport Club Juventus by Massimo D'Azeglio Lyceum school in Turin. They joined the Italian Football league in 1900, and it only took them five years until they won their first of many Scudettos. Since then they have spent their entire history in the top flight - bar the 2006/07 season when they were relegated as punishment for being part of the Italian Match Fixing Scandal.

But they didn't always play in the black and white stripes. For the first six years of their existence they played in rather snazzy pink shirts with a natty black tie - although they claim it was because the wrong ones got delivered before their first match... yeah, we've tried that one too. They changed them to the more familiar stripes in 1903 when their old ones started to fade, so sent to England for a shipment of Notts County shirts.

They've led a nomadic life and have had a number of home grounds over the years. For the first couple of years they played at the Parco del Valentino and Parco Cittadella, before settling on Piazza d'Armi Stadium for a few years, unitl 1908 (aside from a couple of seasons where they nipped over to the Corso Re Umberto. After that they lived at the Corso Sebastopoli Camp until 1922 and then spent the next eleven years at Corso Marsiglia Camp. It wasn't until 1933 that they settled on a more regular home, the Stadio Benito Mussolini - although they changed the name Stadio Comunale Vittorio Pozzo after the war for some reason. And there they stayed until 1990, when they moved into the Stadio delle Alpi, built for the 1990 World Cup - although in 2006 they moved back to Mussolini's old gaff, now renamed again to the Stadio Olimpico di Torino for a few seasons while they do up the Alpi.

In total they've won 27 league titles (also coming second another 20 times), nine Coppa Italias, Four Italian Supercups, and the Serie B title after their year in disgrace. On top of that they were the first club to win the European, UEFA and Cup Winners Cup, as well as the Intertoto Cup and the UEFA Super Cup, and when they won the Intercontinental Cup they became the first club side in the world to have won every available international competition. No wonder on of their many nicknames is Italy's Girlfriend.

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