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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