Friday, 30 April 2010

Club Sportif Sfaxien (Tunisia)

Hailing from the coastal city of Sfax - once base to the fabled Barabary pirates of the Mediterranean - CSS have recently been deemed one of the five best club sides currently playing in African. Their history in both their home league and the African Champions League is littered with trophies and awards, and their fans as rabid and excitable as you'll find anywhere. 

Founded in 1928 as Club Tunisien, the originally played in a rather eye- melting kit of red and green stripes. It took them another 34 years to realise that this really wasn't particularly nice, and changed their strip to the glorious black and white stripes in 1962 - the same time they changed their name to their current title. They were promoted to the top flight of Tunisian football in 1947, and there they have stayed, for the most part, ever since.

The club and fans alike are hard task masters, and despite their frequent success on the pitch, the team has got through a startling 30 managers in the last 20 years. Although I've not checked in the last few minutes, so that figure may have risen. Despite this rapid turnover of coaching staff, they've still reeled in seven league titles, four President's Cup wins, three CAF Confederation Cups, and were runners-up in the CAF Champions League in 2006, narowly missing out by a late second leg goal to the prolific Egyptian trophy hunters Al Ahly.

They also have had success in both the North African Cup Winners Cup last year, and the Arab Champions League, which they have won twice.

However, despite their great success on the field of play, they are perhaps even better known for their fans, and were among the first on the continent to employ elements of choreography to their pre-match fun. They finished fourth in Tunisian Ligue Professionnelle 1 last season, some distance behind the champions and all-time local record holders and fierce rivals Espérance Sportive de Tunis, but you can bet that the team widely known as The Juventus of the Arabs won't leave it too long before their next league triumph.

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Botafogo de Futebol e Regatas (Brazil)

Very little is simple in a country as vast and diverse as Brazil, and getting to grips with the history of Botafogo and its projectory through the various layers of its nations football league system is no exception. Pinpointing the club's exact genesis is tricky, but popular legend cites it as being the foundation of a rowing club called the Club de Regatas Botafogo in the summer of 1894. Based in the beach area of Botafogo, which means literally 'he who sets fire', they chose as their colours black and white, and devised the Lone Star emblem that they've kept to this day.

Ten years later in 1904, a local football team called Electro Club was formed by a bunch of school mates during an algebra class. They chose their black and white striped strip because one of their number was an ardent Juventus fan. After one of their grandmother's complained that the name sounded a little silly, they quickly changed their name to Botafogo Football Club. They soon became one of the strongest teams in the city, winning the local championship many times in their first few years.

The football club and the rowing club finally merged in 1942. Despite having the same team colours and hailing from the same part of town, it never dawned on them to pool their resources until a basketball challenge between the two. When one of the football club's members died suddenly after the game, the president of the rowing club (the famous Brazilian poet Augusto Frederico Schmidt) deemed that the two should club together in his memory. From then on in, they shared the same badge and the same general management. I told you nothing was simple in Brazil.

Until as recently as 1971 there was no national league in the country, because of its massive size the difficulty of travelling between the regions. So in that time, Botafogo played in a number of regional, state and invitational leagues and tournaments. Their most impressive record is in the Rio de Janeiro state league, which they have won a massive 19 times - plus another 27 other titles from a variety of regions - including one national league title in 1985.

The club has seen some of the most famous names in Brazilian football history grace its stripes. The names roll off the tongue like a fantasy league of greatness - Bebeto, Carlos Alberto, Jairzinho, Josimar, Nilton Santos. But the greatest of them - and in many eyes the greatest footballer of all time - was a little fella with wonky legs called Garrincha.

Manuel Francisco dos Santos was better known by his nickname - a local phrase meaning Little Bird. he was the first international superstar of Brazilian football, and dazzled the planet in their twin victories in 1958 and 1962. Widely regarded as the greatest dribbler in the history of the game, his success was even more spectacular as he was born with a series of birth defects, including a deformed spine, a right leg that bent inwards, and a left leg that was two inches shorter and curved outwards. That he could walk at all was fantastic. That he could play like and angel was nothing short of amazing.

Sadly he died almost destitute in 1983, a victim to the wicked alcoholism that had blighted his family. But despite all that, thousands of well-wishers turned up to his funeral to pay their respects to Alegria do Povo - the Joy of the People. They still fly flags with his face on at Botafogo. But had he lived in a more televised age he would be an international household name perhaps even greater than Pelé.

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Thursday, 29 April 2010

Rabat Ajax FC (Malta)

Based in the village of Rabat in the centre of Malta's main island, Rabat Ajax FC have become somewhat of a yo-yo club in recent years, dipping in and out of the second and third tiers of Maltese football with some regularity. However, they have a long and fairly complicated history. Founded in 1930 under the name Rabat Rovers, they joined with their local rivals Rabat Rangers and a team called Old City in 1937 to become Rabat Zvanks. A year later, they decided that this was too complicated a name, and changed it to the simpler Rabat FC, before joining with a club already called Rabat Ajax in 1980, finally settling on the name Rabat Ajax FC.

Their golden years were in the mid- 1980s, when they twice won the Maltese Premier League. Around the same time, they had a short but spectacular flirtation with European football - twice in the UEFA Cup and twice in the European Cup. 1983 saw them take a 16-0 UEFA hammering by Inter Bratislava, but they performed much better the following year against fellow stripes FK Partizan, losing by only two goals in each leg. However, their title wins saw them enter the big one, back in the day the Champions Trophy was for champions only. Their European Cup debut in 1985 saw them take two 5-0 batterings to Omonia Nicosia, but their biggest moment of all came in 1986 when they got a plumb first round draw against FC Porto.

In the home leg they only conceded a single goal to the high-flying Portuguese champs, so were full of expectation for the return leg. Unfortunately Porto denied the team whose home ground can only hold 400 the chance of playing at their massive Estádio das Antas, and the game was played at the much smaller Rio Ave stadium instead. Still over-awed by the occasion, Ajax took a brutal 9-0 beating, and it was the last time this plucky side would ever grace a European stage.

Their most noted player was Carmel Busuttil, who saw action away from the Island, at first with Italian amateur side Verbania, before joining the Belgian outfit Racing Genk. Also of note from their roster is a chap called Paddy Sloan, a much travelled Irishman who not only played internationally for both Irish national side, but became the first Irishman ever to play for in Serie A when Milan signed him way back in 1948. he also had spells at Manchester United, Arsenal, Fulham and Udinese, before finding his way to Malta, both playing for and managing Rabat Ajax, and eventually ending his playing days at Bath City.

See, we stripes like to keep it in the family!

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Saba Qom FC (Iran)

Nestling within the city limits of the beautiful holy city of Qom are a team who were indeed born again. Starting life as Mohemat Sazi in the capital Tehran, the team saw little success, and spent most of its days pottering around the lower divisions of the Iranian league system. However, in 2002, the club was bought up by the Saba Battery Company, a commercial wing of the Iranian Ministry of Defense. immediately they had the funds to afford a few decent players, and within two years were promoted to the local top flight, the Iran Pro League.

Indeed, their rise was so meteoric that a cup win in the 2004/06 season saw them in the Asian Champions League - although they swiftly knocked out in the first round. In 2008 though, the Saba company moved them from the capital to the city of Qom, as it was decided that there were too many clubs in Tehran with tiny fanbases. In this case, doing a Milton Keynes worked in their favour, as their gates immediately rose. It was at this time that they thankfully changed their name from Saba Battery to Saba Qom. A much more becoming title, don't you think?

The same season they were notable in being the only team in the IPL who kept the same manager for the whole season! Since their second coming, they've become a solid mid-table team, making their second Champions league appearance - although seeing the same brief exit.

Perhaps their most well-known player was the prolific Ali Daei - the world's all time leading goalscorer in international matches, with 109 goals in 149 matches. This puts him a massive 25 goals ahead of his nearest rival, Hungary's Ferenc Puskás. His massive caps tally also put him at 12th in the most capped internationals list, two behind the grumpy German Lothar Matthäus. After a distinguished career in Iran, he spent the spent the turn of the century years playing in Germany, for the likes of Arminia Bielefeld, Bayern Munich and Hertha Berlin, before returning home and breifly becoming the manager of the Iranian national side.

Saba's currently manager is one Rasoul Korbekandi, who eagle-eyed readers may remember from the Iran squad at the 1978 World Cup in Argentina.Their current squad include Brazillian journeyman Diego José Clementino, Andrzej Bednarz - the first Pole ever to play in the IPL and the free-scoring Fereydoon Fazli.

With the IPL season drawing to a close at the time of writing, Saba are sitting in 7th place in a close league, hoping for a last push for a Champions League place. Let's hope the Batterys have got the power to make it!

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Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Jeunesse Esch (Luxembourg)

Formed as the rather more cumbersome sounding Jeunesse la Frontière d'Esch back in 1907, Jeunesse Esch are the most successful single club in Luxembourgian history with a whopping 27 title wins. Rivals Racing Football Club Union Lëtzebuerg (they don't do snappy club names round their way, it seems) claim they've won more, but as they're the result of the gradual merging of at least nine different clubs, we don't think that really counts. Based in the glorious South Western city of Esch-sur-Alzette - the country's second biggest city with a population of 27,146 - they have also won the Luxembourg Cup twelve times, and the double on an impressive eight occasions.

Their original, slightly lumpy name was in reference to their proximity to their border with France. They kept this name until 1918, when they dropped the Frontière bit. This they retained until the Second World War when the occupying Nazis forced them to rename as Schwarz-Weiß 07 Esch, as well as making them play in the Gauliga Mittelrhein - the highest league in the Prussian Rhine Province - alongside some Belgian clubs, where despite everything they managed to finish as runners-up in the 1943-44 season. They reverted to their pre-war name upon the liberation of Luxembourg, which they have kept ever since.

The club is considered one of their country's big three, alongside F91 Dudelange and FC Etzella Ettelbruck. However, the mid 2000s saw them take an uncharacteristic dip in fortunes, finishing as low as ninth in 2006 - only just missing out on a relegation play-off.

They also have a proud history in European competition. They've taken part in the three main competitions on an impressive 30 occasions, debuting in the old European Cup in 1958. The following year they pulled off a massive shock by beating Polish club ŁKS Łódź 6-2 on aggregate. The next round saw them up against a little team you may have heard of called Real Madrid. Despite being hammered 7-0 at the Bernabéu, they races to a shock two goal lead in the return leg, before a full strength Real side including Puskás and  Di Stéfano banged another five past them.

Then 1963 they pulled off one heck of a comeback, where despite going 4-1 down to Finns FC Haka in the first leg, they managed to nip them in the last minute in the home leg. This saw them up against fellow stripes Partizan Belgrade for a place in the quarter final, confounding all expectations by beating them 2-1 in the first leg, before being sadly hammered 6-2 by the Serbs at the return. Even more notably they held Liverpool to a 1-1 draw in their home leg back in 1973.

For many years they were managed by the English football journeyman George Berry. A player at Charlton, Crystal Palace, Gillingham and Brentford in the 20s and 30s, he won titles in France as a manager with Lille and Nice, before moving to clubs in first Tunisia then Luxembourg.

Current stars include the exciting 22 year old prospect Claudio Lombardelli, Bosnians Ernad Sabotić, Almin Babačić and Meris Ramdedović, and the much capped Luxembourgish international René Peters. Currently they sit at the top of the Luxembourg league with only a couple of games to play. Good luck to the brothers in stripes!

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Friday, 23 April 2010

Heracles Almelo (The Netherlands)

Herecles are a top flight team from Almelo on the Easternmost edge of The Netherlands. They were formed back in 1903, and are named after the heroic figure of Heracles, the demigod son of the Greek god Zeus. They have twice won the Dutch national title, in 1927 and in the war time tournament in 1941. Since that time though they had spent much time in the second tier, reclaiming their rightful place in the Eredivisie in the 2005/6 season, where they finished 13th at their first stab back.

In all they have spent ten seasons in the Eredivisie since its inception as a fully professional league in 1956, including their current five season stretch, which has seen them become a respectable and very watchable mid-table team. Their astroturfed Polman Stadion ground has a cosy capacity of 8,500, which it has come close to filling in most games since their elevation back to the top table of Dutch football.

The club are perhaps most notable for being the first in The Netherlands to employ a black player. South African Steve Mokone was beloved to Heracles fans as The Black Meteor when he arrived in 1958, after a short spell at Coventry City. He was a lively character, who also saw service at Cardiff City, Barcelona, Torino and Valencia, as well as being a regular star in the South African national squad for many years. He sadly also spent a spell in prison for knocking his wife about, and is the subject of a Dutch novel and film called De Zwarte Meteoor.

Other notable former Heracles players include the popular Dutch journeyman Ricky van den Bergh, the promising Japanese international Sōta Hirayama, solid Estonian defender Ragnar Klavan, much capped Canadian Rob Friend and the legendary Rudy Degenaar, a member of the Surinamese exhibition team the Colouful 11 who were all but wiped out in the worst plane crash in Dutch aviation history in 1989 - a plane that famous Dutch names like Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard and Aron Winter were all due to catch.

Of their current squad, Qays Shayesteh is thought to be the only Afghani currently playing in a major European league, and keeper Martin Pieckenhagen was Hamburg's first choice custodian for many years. For team team from such a rural location, they have a refreshingly cosomopolitan feel to them. All hail to the Heraclieden!

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Thursday, 22 April 2010

Seoul United (South Korea)

Possibly the youngest team on our list, Seoul United formed as recently as 2007, by a loose collection of  fans from the capital bemoaning the fact that the K-League had moved all of the city's former top flight football clubs out of the city. The battle began as far back as 2001, but suffered a setback when Sponsors LG moved the Anyang LG Cheetahs club to Seoul, renaming them FC Seoul.

Despite this spanner in the works, the foundation of the new third tier league, K3, in 2007 meant that there was now a chance of a fan-led club being established. To that effect, two local amateur sides, Good Bu and Bu and Youngseo FC were merged and a slot in K3 was found for the newly formed club. Initially they played in the immense 70,000 seat Olympic Stadium, but thankfully they moved to the much more manageable 15,194 Hyochang Stadium early in 2010.

Their first ever match was a 2-2 draw against Changwon Dudae FC on 21 April 2007, but they went on to take the innaugral title with a 3-0 aggregate win over Hwasung Sinwoo Electronics in a two game title play-off. But sadly, because of the commercial vaguaries of the Korean league system they didn't win promotion to the second level, and came a disapointing fifth in 2008, and a distant thirteenth in 2009. There's hope on the horizon though, with the United currently sitting in fourth after the first few games of the new season.

Last season they found themselves with a Seoul derby in K3, as a new team, Seoul FC Martyrs joined the league - although they finished plumb last after winning only two of their 32 games. Quite how long the club will last in a country whose league has such a controlling hand in the location of their clubs, but as long as this cheery, fan-led mob keep kicking a ball in black and white stripes, I'll be keeping an eye on their results.

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Elements Cefn Druids AFC (Wales)

Cefn Druids have a direct lineage from the historic old Welsh team Druids FC, who founded in the 1860s. As such they claim to be the oldest club in Wales, which also makes them the world's oldest club outside of England. The present day Cefn Druids, though, were formed in 1992 after a merger between Cefn Albion and Druids United. Their name since then has depended on who is sponsoring them. Initially they were Flexsys Cefen Druids, then NEWI Cefn Druids (after the initials of the North East Wales Institute of Higher Education), and most recently Elements Cefn Druids.

They are a Welsh Premier League team from the village of Cefn Mawr on the outskirts of Wrexham, and ply their trade at the splendidly named Plaskynaston Lane ground in the village, which can hold 2000 punters at a push, 300 of them seated. But there's is a long and nomadic history.

The original Druids FC, formed in 1869, hailed from the nearby village of Ruabon, but were briefly known as Plasmadoc FC, before adopting the Druidic mantle in 1872. They were the first Welsh Club to enter the English FA Cup, and have won the Welsh Cup on eight occasions. They originally played on a ground in the Wynnstay Estate, but after WWI merged with Rhosymedre FC to become Rhosymedre Druids, moving their ground to Rhosymedre village. This was a good arrangement for a small number of years until, fearing insolvency in 1923, they merged with Acrefair United FC to form Druids United - the club that lasted until 1992.

Back to the nineties, and the newly club took the bold step of applying to join the second tier of Welsh Football - the Cymru Alliance, and in 1999 were promoted to the Welsh Premier League, where they have played ever since. They nearly took the dive back to the Alliance after finishing in the bottom two in 2005, but were reprieved when the winners of the second flight Buckley Town chose not to take up their promotion.

Briefly managed by former Wrexham manager Dixie McNeil, The Ancients achieved a string of respectable league positions, but after he left to concentrate on TV punditry, their fortunes have dived, and at the time of writing sit plumb last in the Welsh top flight. Let hope this historic club survive though and soon bounce back to the top table - whatever name they happen to go under next year!

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Armee Patriotique Rwandaise FC (Rwanda)

Armee Patriotique Rwandaise FC, thankfully otherwise known as APR FC, are based in Kigali, the Rwandan capital, and despite only being formed in June 1993, have quickly become the most successful club in their nation's history, winning the Rwandan Premier League on ten occasions, and the Rwandan Cup four times in their short but eventful 17 year history.

The club was formed during a peace talks in the the civil war in the early 1990s, and was the team of the Rwandan Patriotic Front - a group formed by Tutsi refugees in Uganda. After the genocide in 1994, the RPF liberated the country and its leader Paul Kagame became president, and normal football business could resume. Instantly APR FC sprang to the forefront of the region's football, and there are now few trophies in the region that doesn't have their name on it.

The team play at the 10,000 capacity Amahoro Stadium in the East of the city, a location symbolic for Tutsis as it was one of the few places that they could hide from the genocidal massacre, as the UN had their headquarters in a hotel directly behind the stadium. Anywhere up to 12,000 refugees from the city were living there at any one time, so the site has a special significance for the locals. They are still ostensibly the official club of the RPF, although have a small number of players from other African nations on their books, and are managed by Dutchman Eric te Paske, a fringe player for AZ Alkmaar in the 1990s.

They've also made seven appearances in the CAF Champions League, but have never got further than the third round, back in 2004. They did however make the heights of the semi-finals of the African Cup Winner's Cup in 2003, losing to eventual winners Étoile Sportive du Sahel of Tunisia in the last ever running of the tournament. It does though have a good track record in the CECAFA Club Cup, a tournament for East and Central African teams, winning the tournament in 2004 and 2007.

Notable former players include Jimmy Gatete, known locally as The God of Goals, and believed to the most prolific goalscorer in Rwandan history, Olivier Karekezi, who went on to play for Helsingborgs IF and Östers IF in Sweden, Jimmy Mulisa, who has done the rounds in Belgium, and Ugandan Abubaker Tabula, also currently plying his trade in Sweden.

And if you pay a visit to their website, try tracking down their team song, because it's a right blaster!

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Beşiktaş JK (Turkey)

Beşiktaş JK are considered outside of Turkey to be their nation's third club, in terms of both results and support. But you try telling their fans that. Followers of the Black Eagles are among the most passionate anywhere, holding as they do the world record for the loudest supporters on the planet - weighing in at a whopping 132 decibels.

But here also is a club steeped with as much myth and confused history as the city of Istanbul itself. Formed as a general sports club in the late Ottoman era in 1903, it's not clear when the playing of football actually began - although it is known to have been frowned upon by the secret police at the time. The first official sports club in Turkey, the Bereket Jimnastik Kulübü as it was then known (hence the JK in the club's name), often supplied many national squads in a range of sports in those early days, making it the only club in the country allowed to have the national flag as part of its badge.

In the early days they played in red and white stripes, but their change to the glorious black and white is a cause of much debate. Some say they changed to commiserate of the loss of territory in the Balkan Wars of 1912-13. Others state that the switch commemorates the loss of the whole team in WWI, while another school of thought suggests it has more to do with the school colours of the French-educated first preseident of the club, Mehmet Şamil Bey. But whatever the origin, they've not been afraid to be creative with the strip, on occasions playing in a near white strip with only the faintest of black pin stripes, and this season offering up a bizarre black and white harlequin affair for their European away trips.

Their stadium, the BJK İnönü is a cauldron of sound and beauty, and ranked as the fourth best in the world by The Sunday Times. Nestled in a slope on a leafy bank on the banks of the Bosphoros with the beautiful Dolmabahçe Palace, at its foot, it is the only ground in the world from which you can see two continents - Asia peaking out across the water as it does. To this end it Beşiktaş are a club with supporters from both side of the bridge. While Galatasaray's fans are predominantly from the more afluent Gala neighbourhood on the European side, and Fenerbahçe play on the Asiatic quarter of the city, BJK's punters are a more citywide crew, with many of the Asian fans crossing the water on a flotilla of ferries on match days.

As is the case in many of the clubs in the South Eastern corner of Europe, the fans are divided into many different factions, but the over-arching element among them all over the last 30 years have been the Çarşı - a socially and politically sussed aggregation that ignores many of the cultural barriers that divide much of Turkish football, and the Istanbul game in particular. In fact many fans don't even consider the Çarşı as a fan club - more an ethos in the way the club is followed. So it was a surprise then when a high profile fan declared them disbanded in 2008, when it was decided that they were becoming bigger than the club itself. Despite this, many loyal fans still wear the anarchistic Çarşı loco to games.

So if you ever find yourself in Istanbul and feel brave enough to go to a game, don't go to the apparently more Rolls Royce grounds of Fener or Gala - although you'll undoubtedly have a lot of fun. Instead drag yourself down to the water's edge and immerse yourselves in what is probably one of the five most passionate bunch of fans on the globe.

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Wednesday, 21 April 2010

FK Partizan Belgrade (Serbia)

FK Partizan Belgrade were formed in late 1945, by the Yugoslavian Sports Association and were named after The Partisans - the Communist military in WWII Yugoslavia. It was originally the team of the Yugoslav People's Army, although they became independent of that military connection in the early fifties. They play, of course, in vertical black and white stripes.

They are the winners of 21 domestic titles (including those of Yugoslavia, Serbia and Montenegro and latterly Serbia alone) a total only bested by neighbours Crvena Zvezda (that's Red Star Belgrade to you) with 25 - although they've won the last couple and are seem well on their way to catching them up. Famous former players include Stjepan Bobek, Dragan Mance, Branko Zebec, recent Chelsea stars Slaviša Jokanović and Mateja Kežman and one time Aston Villa misfit Savo Milosovic, as well as those two nippers Manchester United bought and them immediately loaned back to them last season.

They will also go down in History as playing the very first match in Champion's League History (then known as the European Champion's Cup) when they beat Sporting Lisbon 8-5 on aggregate back in 1955. They were also the first East European club to play in a European Cup final, when they lost to 2-1 to Real Madrid, despite taking an early lead.

They are perhaps as well known for their fans though as they are their football. Their hardcore supporters are known as the Grobari - Serbian for grave diggers - a nickname given them by Red Star fans who likened their stripy strip to that of the uniform worn by cemetery hole excavators. To this effect there are many flags brandished at games featuring soily looking men with spades.

So powerful are the Grobari that they even caused the downfall of the club's sports director and general secretary when they boycotted all home games until they stepped down - an action that went on from 2005 till 2007.

The club's rivalry with Red Star is among the most rabid in all football, and their frequent derbys are often firmly fought affairs - both on and off the pitch. It probably doesn't help that the two team's grounds are only a few hundred yards apart. A fact I discovered for myself when I went to see each club play a couple of years back. I'd already seen Partizan overwhelm OFK of Belgrade away at their gorgeoulsy ricketty stadium with its smashing view if the Danube a few days earlier, so felt it was my groundhopper's duty to check out Red Star. The match - also against OFK, a team with seemingly no more than two dozen fans - was so dull that at half time I managed to nip across the way and catch the second half of Partizan's game against Vojvodina, having to cross an enormous wall of police along the way.

Their most local of all local derbys is known internationally as the Eternal Derby, and ranks as one of the greats, alongside The Old Firm, the Rome Derby and any Istanbul city game - but especially Gala v Fener. The game's best ever attendance weighed in at 108,000, although health and safety issues and the threat of hooliganism has helped slash gates in recent years.

That being said, my two trips among the Grobari passed without hitch, and their wholehearted, lusty singing and seemingly endless selection of fully choreographed songs was at turns passionate, moving and funny. Go see them play if ever you're down that way or they're playing somewhere near you, because whatever the football is like, you'll rarely stand among a more exciting and noisy bunch of fans.

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Friday, 16 April 2010

Bath City FC (England)

My minor obsession with the teams who play in black and white began a few years ago when I first stepped onto the terraces of Twerton Park - the historic home of Bath City FC. As an exiled West Ham fan in the West Country I'd turned into somewhat of a ground hopper, touring all the local grounds within easy rail travel distance in the search of some footballing thrills.

Living in Bristol but working in Bath, I'd pass City's ground on the train every day and always thought I'd have to make the trip one day. Indeed, my mate Jimmer at work had been badgering me to come along, saying that if I came once I'd be hooked for life. I chortled under my breath, thinking how quaint it was that someone apparently smart and grown up could get so obsessed by a team languishing in the Southern League.

But then one fateful Saturday in September I bit the bullet and went along - and it was one of the best decisions I've ever made. It was a meat and spuds early season game against the now sadly demised Kings Lynn, who held City to a slightly undeserved draw. But there was something about the ground, the players, but most of all the fans - seemingly sparse as they were - that instantly got under my skin... and as Jimmer warned, I was hooked.

I didn't go to every game straight off, but as the season progressed I became a more frequent visitor, and by the end of the term, as it became more apparent that the stripes were going to make promotion to the exhalted heights of the Blue Square South league - the second tier of Non-League football in England - I was even going to the away games too.

It was a great season to start following them, and the more I went, the more I discovered what in interesting club they were.

They formed way back in 1889 as Bath AFC, having a brief spell as Bath Railway before settling on the name Bath City for keeps a few years later. For much of their history Bath City have been in the upper echeolons of the non-league system, narrowly missing out on election to the Football League proper on a number of occasions - most notably in 1977 when as Southern League champions they missed out on a place in the big 92 by three measly votes to a little outfit called Wigan Athletic.

The stripes have got a grand FA Cup tradition too, having reached the fabled third round on no fewer than six occasions, beating full time opposition the like of Crystal Palace, Millwall, Notts County, Exeter City, Southend, Cardiff City, Hereford, and most recently fellow stripes Grimsby Town along the way.

Past players of note include the legendary Charlie Fleming, a Scottish international who had spells at Sunderland and East Fife, who scored a club record of 216 goals in 300 appearances. Former Blackpool and England ace Stan Mortensen had a spell in Twerton at the end of his career, and Jason Dodd, Tony Book, Paul Bodin and former Lavian international captain Andrejs Štolcers have also graced the hallowed turf.

There was also a young chap called Bobby Zamora, who spent an exciting month on loan to us from neighbours and one-time tennants Bristol Rovers back in the year 2000. His run of six games saw him bag eight goals, and marked him as true star for the future.

City also saw the greatest living Frenchman, Eric Cantona, visit the club in 2009. Sadly he didn't pull his boots on, but came to promote his film Looking For Eric, directed by staunch Stripes fan Ken Loach, who frequently holds premieres, benefits and film nights for the club.

For a little team who never quite made the big time Bath City have a long and proud history, and one of the most loyal, supportive and, to be fair, slightly bonkers fanbases in the country. If you're ever passing through town and there's a game on, make sure you get yourself down to Twerton Park. You might not see the kind of Rolls Royce football you see on the telly, but you'll experience a team with passion and grit, and share the terraces with a right friendly bunch.

Come on you City Boys!

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