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.

All photos © lays with the owners
Videos from YouTube. Underlying © lays with the owners of the clips.

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.

All photos © lays with the owners
Videos from YouTube. Underlying © lays with the owners of the clips.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Newcastle United (England)

The Toon are possibly one of the most famous and best loved clubs to have ever donned the black and white stripes, and are one of those sides that everyone has a soft spot for... unless they live on the Wear. That they are persistant underachievers makes the near-global love for the club all the more heartening, and their long-suffering fans are among the most loyal and good-humoured that you'll find anywhere. But how much do you really know about Newcastle United?

They were formed in 1892 after the merger of two much older local clubs, Newcastle East End (formed in 1881) and Newcastle West End (formed in 1882). West End were in financial difficulties and approached the more successful East End, their fierce rivals from the Northern League, about a merger. East End were happy to cherry pick the Westerners' best players, while the Eastenders were quite happy to go and play at the much superior St James Park. And so a team were born. The new club toyed with a few names, like Newcastle Rangers and Newcastle City, before deciding that United would be far more apt, considering.

In the early days they kept on playing in East End's red strip until 1894, when after one-too- many kit clashes they changed to the black and white strip that they've made so famous. They joined the Football League soon after, and not long later, just after the turn of the century, they won the title three times - in 1905, 1907 and 1909. The same era saw them appear in five FA Cup finals in seven seasons - although they won just the one of them... setting the scene for the exploits of the next 100 years or so.

But it's the period from the 1950s to the 1960s that is said to be their golden era. They had three FA Cup wins in five years the fifties, but that success briefly fizzled out and they found themselves back in the old Second Division. But 1965 saw them win promotion coming top of the table, and by the late sixties they were regular faces in Europe, winning the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup (a pre-cursor of the Europa League) in 1969.

But life as a Newcastle fan sees you become used to the ebb and flow of success. The 1980s saw them back in Divison Two and looking like they might plunge even further. But the unlikely appointment of the untried Kevin Keegan. The 1990s saw them not only save themselves from third-tier ignominy, but gain promotion and even come perilously close to winning another title. They even had another couple of glorious seasons in Europe.

But pretty soon, as is his way, Keegan walked out, and under a succession of high-profile managers they began another of their gradual declines that led to their eventual, almost unthinkable relegation in 2009. But they bounced straight back, so who knows, they might well be back on another of their upwards climbs, and the next period of glory days could soon be on the horizon.

They still play at West End's old ground St James Park, although it's a bit bigger these days. Now it's a massive 52,387 capacity megalith right on the edge of Newcastle's city centre. So tall is this, the third largest club stadium in England, that from the back of the away stand you can see ships sailing up the Tyne to the open sea.

They've also got one heck of a list of famous alumni. Jackie Milburn, Ivor Allchurch, Joe Harvey, George Robledo, Malcolm MacDonald, Kevin Keegan, Peter Beardsley, Chris Waddle, Paul Gascoigne, David Ginola, Les Ferdinand and latterly Alan Shearer - every one of them near legendary and picked from a list that could have been three times as long.

In total their trophy cabinet has glistened to four league titles, six FA Cup wins, an Inter-City Fairs Cup victory and a host of smaller knock out tournament wins. But more tellingly they've been league runners up twice and losing FA Cup finalists a massive seven times. They're they club the phrase 'nearly men' could have been written for. So could the fanatically loyal Toon Army ever have another few seasons in the sun? History suggests that it's an inevitability.

All photos © lays with the owners
Videos from YouTube. Underlying © lays with the owners of the clips.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Club El Porvenir (Argentina)

El Porvenir are an Argentinian club from the town of Gerli, part of the wider Buenos Aires connurbation. They formed back in 1915, but initially they had nothing to do with football. Instead, a gaggle of immigrant workers wanted to form a Greco-Roman wrestling club, which at the time was as popular a sport as football. Their founding president, Vincent Gioffre wanted to celebrate the area where the club was first formed, Villa Porvenir - at that time a run down shanty town - so decreed that the club should be called Club El Porvenir, or when literally translated, Club of The Future.

They soon became major players in the wrestling game, but when interest in the sport started to wain, the club's elder's decided that in order to keep the club going, they ought to diversify into other sports. So it was that in 1917 they branched out into the sport of football, and have stuck with it ever since. They entered a team into the Argentinian second division the following year. Early on they played at a stadium with the delightful name of Sígueme Si Puedes, translating as Follow Me if You Can. Rather auspiciously they finished their first tournament in last place, gathering just the single point over the whole season.

Back in the first few years they played in the national top tier now and again, but at the time there was a major schism between governing bodies, so some Argentinian football historians claim that they were never officially a top flight side. One thing is for sure though - they haven't played at the highest level of Argentinian football since it went fully professional in 1931. These days they play in the Primera C Metropolitana, the fourth tier of the national game, and play at the Estadio de Enrique Roberts, which holds 15,000 Futurists.  

All photos © lays with the owners
Videos from YouTube. Underlying © lays with the owners of the clips. 

Brunswick Zebras (Australia)

Another of Australia's abundant Zebras, the history of the Brunswick variety runs parallel to that of another club on this list, Whittlesea Zebras. But despite the latter club being born from the former, they are now both distinct and different clubs. Formed in 1948 as Juventus, they were one of many clubs to be made up of Italian migrants to Australia who wanted to keep a bit of the old country alive in their distant new home.

Theres is a pretty dense and winding history, so sit down and start taking notes, as it may be tricky to keep up. Hailing from the Melbourne suburb of Brunswick, they were themselves the product of the merger of a number of smaller clubs, and by the 1950s had become the powerhouse of football in Victoria, winning six state titles in that decade - five of them consecutively. In total they won that title eight times in their history, bagging five Dockerty Cups along the way. In 1980 they amended their name to Brunswick Juventus, and pretty soon joined the ranks of the National Soccer League in 1984. Here they reached play-off finals in their debut season, before winning the whole caboodle in 1985, beating Sidney City over two legs in the Grand Final to become national champions.

Sadly this was the peak of their career, and they began a decline that would see them return to the Victoria League by the end of the decade. In 1993 they briefly returned to the NSL as the Brunswick Pumas - a name change soon followed by another to Melbourne Zebras, before ill-health finally led them to merge with two other clubs to become Bulleen Zerbras in 1996. But when the club merged with Whittlesea Stallions to become the Whittlesea Zebras in 2007, an offshoot group kept the old club going, and in 2008 changed their name one last time to Brunswick Zebras.

They now play in the Victoria Provisional League Three North-West League, and play their home games at the charming Sumner Park. There's is a convoluted and complex history that has seen great highs and sad lows. But that they are still playing and keeping the time line alive is of great credit to everyone involved in the club.

All photos © lays with the owners
Videos from YouTube. Underlying © lays with the owners of the clips.

Colby AFC (Isle of Man)

Colby AFC are a club from the tiny Manx village of Colby, in the South-West of the Isle of Man - an island in the North of the Irish Sea almost equidistant between all four countries of the United Kingdom. Despite Man's location, it is a self-governing British Crown Dependency, and as such isn't considered part of the UK.

No Colby isn't exactly a massive place. With a head count of only 289, they are perhaps the smallest settlement on this list to have a football club. They were formed in 1919, and currently play in the Manx Premier League, after winning the league's Second Division in 2008. They won that title with an incredible record, winning every game bar one, which they drew, and finishing with a goal tally of 153 goals in 26 games.

Despite the smallness of their home village, they've got a pretty decent track record in Manx football.  As well as that great league campaign in 2008, they won the Manx Cup in 1928, The Woods Cup on five occasions and the Paul Henry Gold Cup four times. Nicknamed The Moonlighters, they play at the titchy Glen Road ground in the North of the village - although in a place that small, the compass points have very little relevance.

All photos © lays with the owners
Videos from YouTube. Underlying © lays with the owners of the clips.

Abbotsford Mariners (Canada)

The Mariners are a Canadian club from the city of Abbotsford in British Colombia. Strictly speaking it's part of the wider Vancouver Metropolitan Area, although is a distinct and seperate city. Despite their Canadian nationality, they currently sit in the USL Premier Development League - the fourth tier of the US football league system - where they play in the Northwest Division of the Western Conference, alongside teams like British Colombia and the Washington and Oregon states in the USA.

Despite football being popular as a played sport in this part of the world, there's is not a long history. The club was formed in 2003, as Abbotsford Rangers, changing it in 2007 to represent the parent organisation who owned their franchise. Before their foundation there had been a few clubs in the area battling to get accepted into the PDL, including the quaintly-named Abbotsford 86ers Select, and Abbotsford Athletes in Action. In all their eight seasons they've been constant mid-table warriors, except in 2006, when they were division champions, making it as far as the Conference semi-final play-offs. Sadly they went no further after they were beaten 3-2 by California's Orange County Blue Star, despite being two goals up at one point.

They play their home games at the 1200 capacity Bateman Park stadium, that they share with the Fraser Valley Cascades college team. Despite the size of their ground, and indeed their catchment area, they only average gates of around 150, and these have been declining season-on-season, despite the decent football being played. It must be remembered though that if anything, football is the fourth sport in the area, so hopefully their gates will start rising as the popularity of the game increases locally.

All photos © lays with the owners
Videos from YouTube. Underlying © lays with the owners of the clips.

Fisher FC (England)

Fisher are at the same time one of the newest and one of the most historic of all London's non-league clubs. Fisher FC were only founded in 2009, but they rose from the ashes of a famous name in the capital's football, Fisher Athletic. The new club was founded by members of the Fisher Supporter's Trust when Fisher Athletic were wound up in the High Court after serious financial difficulties. They were immediately accepted into the Kent League, the ninth tier on the pyramid, although they had been used to playing at a much higher level in recent years.

Fisher Athletic were formed back in 1908 by the head of the Dockland School in Bermondsey, to provide sporting facilities for the under-priviledged youth of what was a very run down area at the time. They were named after the Catholic martyr Saint John Fisher, one of many churchmen executed by king Henry VIII after refusing to recognise him as the head of the head of the Church of England. They spent most of their more recent years in the upper echelons of the non-league system, getting as high as the National Conference, the highest level of English non-league football, after winning the Southern League in 1987. They stayed there for four years, but it was perhaps this run in the big time that started their financial decline.

Coming from a city with some of the biggest clubs in the world, and being based only a short hop down the Thames from the well-supported Millwall, they have always struggled to get decent crowds, and their march up the leagues wasn't met with as corresponding swelling of gates. After a very successful season in 2008 that saw them reach the Conference South play-offs, an exodus of players moving to richer clubs followed, and their fortunes took a dive. The following season, massive debts piled up, and players were paid between November and the date of a final winding up order in March. the High Court held it up until the end of the season so that the club could fulfil its fixtures.

The newly reformed club play at Fisher Athletic's recent home, in a ground share at Dulwich Hamlet's Champion Hill Stadium, once one of the biggest grounds in the non-league with attendences of up to 20,00 in its prime. But these days they are limited to a far less windswept 3000. Despite having to start a few levels lower down the pyramid than they are used to, it will be interesting to see if the new club can maintain its momentum and work their way back to the level they clearly feel they deserve. Good luck to them on their travels.

All photos © lays with the owners
Videos from YouTube. Underlying © lays with the owners of the clips.

Northern AFC (New Zealand)

Northern claim to be the oldest continually existing club in New Zealand, having been formed in 1888. In fact, that establishment date also makes them older than any club in Australia too, which would make them the most aged team for many thousand miles in any direction. They are based in the city of Dunedin, situated right near the bottom of South Island, making them the most southerly of all the clubs who play in black and white stripes.

They are currently members of the Football South Premier League, the highest level of football on South Island, and effectively one level below the franchised New Zealand Football Championship, where they play alongside another seven clubs from the city - although their Garden Grounds stadium is based in the North East Valley suburb, a fair way from the centre of town.

And they've got some history behind them too. In 1962, the tobacco company Rothmans sponsored the first national inter-club series, featuring a kind of champion's league affair where the regional champions of the main urban districts played each other to decide the first true national champions. Northern made the final and beat Eastern Suburbs 3-2 in a two-leg final. This made them the very first national champions of New Zealand. They've also got good history in the Chatham Cup, the nation's premier knockout tournament, which they won in both 1959 and 1961 - although they've also been runners up on a massive six occasions. 

All photos © lays with the owners
Videos from YouTube. Underlying © lays with the owners of the clips.

Haro Deportivo (Spain)

Club Haro Deportivo are based in the town of Haro in Northern Spain, smack in the middle of the wine growing region of La Rioja. Indeed, so bonkers for wine are the locals that the annual Haro Wine Festival always ends up in a massive wine fight called the Batalla del Vino where the locals all arm themselves withe massive water pistols and turn each other pink with the booze. So it's perhaps unsurprising to learn that their fans are notoriously and pleasantly bonkers too.

The club formed in 1914, when a group of locals who admired the popular clubs of the Basque Country just to their North decided they wanted in on the fun. For the first few years they played unregulated matches on a pitch in the middle of a field used for grain threshing - and to this day their ground is named after that place - El Mazo, or The Corn. There is another theory as to the ground's name, that its direct translation - The Deck - refers to the shape of one of the stands, but it's not anywhere near as interesting. It wasn't until 1921 that they were accepted into the Spanish FA and started to play in more orgainised leagues.

They currently play in Tercera División - Group 16 - one of the tougher groupings in the Spanish game's fourth level, and their historic El Mazo ground holds a pleasant 4000 happy wine-drinking fans. They have played in the Tercera División almost every year since the 1960s. Their one glory year though came in the 2004/05 season when, after coming fourth the season before, they had just the one year in Segunda División B. Sadly the excitement soon shriveled to disappointment as they finished plumb last. But that one season has given them hope that perhaps one day they can do it again. And I'm sure everyone would drink to that.

All photos © lays with the owners
Videos from YouTube. Underlying © lays with the owners of the clips.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Hanwell Town FC (England)

Hanwell Town may be based in the West London suburb of Perivale, but their hearts are well and truly planted in the North-East. They were formed in the nearby suburb of Hanwell, as their name would suggest, in 1920, by group of exiled Newcastle United fans working in the area. So it was no surprise to anyone when they decided what strip they should play in. And funnily enough their nickname is The Geordies.

They soon joined the London League, which saw football of a pretty high standard back between the wars, but dropped down to a more parksy level after World War Two. That was until 1970 when they started their climb back up the ladder by joining the Middlesex County League. Regular promotions soon saw them battle their way up to the prestigious Spartan League in the early eighties, where they still plough their footballing furrow today.

They moved to their current 3000 capacity Reynolds Road ground in 1981 after over 20 years playing at the Ealing Central Sports Ground. They put their floodlights up in 1989, and to celebrate invited a Spurs side along to give them a good beating. Their all time club hero ios a chap called Phil Player who holds the current club appearance record with over 600 games under his belt - although there is no exact figure, so we guess that's as high as the club abacus could count.

All photos © lays with the owners
Videos from YouTube. Underlying © lays with the owners of the clips.

Colney Heath FC (England)

Colney Heath is one of those nice little Home Counties towns not too far from London, which is pleasant enough, but never harbours too much in the way of excitement. So it was a great surprise when a place so usual that it considers nearby St Albans the big city saw their football team promoted up to the ninth level of English football.

Formed in 1907, Colney Heath FC are yet another team in stripes who are otherwise known as The Magpies. Like many of the English clubs on this list, they did very little for the first 100 odd years of their existance, but it was the turning of the 21st century that saw them finally achieve a little to be proud of.

In 2001 they had their best ever FA Vase run, when they made the second round, and they went and won the final of the Bingham Cox Cup in 2006, when they beat local Hertfordshire rivals Park Street 3-2 after extra time in the final. It was also the decade that saw them reach their highest ever level of league football. Like the town they come from, there's not too much to speak of in their history book, but that they have soldiered on for so long is testament to a proud club with a long history.

All photos © lays with the owners
Videos from YouTube. Underlying © lays with the owners of the clips.

Warlingham FC (England)

Warlingham are a Combined Counties League team based the tiny Surrey village of the same name right on the South-Eastern border with London. They were formed in 1896 and for years were based in the village, but more recently have taken part in ground-sharing agreements with first Merstham FC and latterly Whyteleafe FC as their original ground in the village didn't come up to scratch for the tenth level in the English game. Which was a shame as they are a club who were intrinsically linked to their place of birth.

The village itself is planted bang in the middle of The South Downs, at an elevation of 650 feet above sea level. As such it is one of the few places that snow will settle in the South of England, and a constant annoyance for the club over the years when their home games were cancelled when the rest of the league got to play theirs, leading to constant fixture pile ups at the end of many a season. Thank heavens for then them that it's a bit warmer these days, then.

They gained promotion to the Cherry Red sponsored league after a fabulous win in the Surrey South Eastern Combination, and have every intention of both moving their way up the tables and returning to their spiritual home once they've got their own Warlingham Sports Club facility up to scratch with those pesky league rules.

All photos © lays with the owners
Videos from YouTube. Underlying © lays with the owners of the clips.

Swaffham Town FC (England)

Swaffham Town are one of many Norfolk clubs who play in the famous black and white striped kit. Quite why the strip is so popular up that way is unclear, but still very welcome. At this point in their development they play in the Eastern Counties League - the tenth level of English football - where they have been for most of the last decade - although they first reach this level back in 1990.

Known locally as The Pedlars, they were formed in the tiny Norfolk town of Swaffham in 1892 - a place perhaps most famous for being the location for Steven Fry's Norfolk-based legal drama Kingdom - although they changed the name of the place to Market Shipborough for the series.

Back in 1959 they splashed out and bought the one and a half acre site that they turned into their Shoemakers Lane Ground, for a princely sum of £250, and built their first proper clubhouse on the site in 1967 after getting a loan from a local brewery for the building work. Recent years have seen them improve the facilities greatly, in the hope that they will eventually be able to work their way up the leagues on the pitch. But with many of the clubs at this level, most of the work is done on a volunteer basis by the fans, committee and players themselves. Fan involvement plays such an important part at this level, and it's the foundations that grassroots are built on. Good on 'em all!

All photos © lays with the owners
Videos from YouTube. Underlying © lays with the owners of the clips.

Long Melford FC (England)

You may not have heard of them, but Long Melford are one of the oldest clubs in England, and indeed the world, having been first formed in 1868 in the village of Melford on Suffolk's southern border with Essex. At the time of writing they are about to start their seventh season in the Eastern Counties Football League Division One, the tenth step on the pyramid.

Their biggest successes have come in the Suffolk Senior Cup, having won the knock-out a total of six times right across their history. They started with a pair of quick wins in 1894 and 1895, waited until the fifties, when they held it three times off the bat starting in 1953, and then again more recently in 2003, when they hammered Stanton 5-0 in the final. They also have five Essex & Suffolk Border League titles, and three league cups from the same organisation under their belts.

They play their home matches at one of the best stadiums at this level in the modern and pretty well-appointed Stoneylands ground, where you can enjoy the delights of the local cult eatery, Sam's Snack Bar. Newly decked out for the 2010/11 season, they're noted for their bacon and egg bapss - in fact, they'll put bacon in pretty much anything you ask them too - but they'll also serve you with a rather more classy cappuccino too, and as such have perhaps the best catering in the entire tenth tier.

All photos © lays with the owners
Videos from YouTube. Underlying © lays with the owners of the clips.