Archive for the ‘Euro jaunts’ Category

St. Pauli     0     FC Ingolstadt    0                     Millerntor Stadium,  Hamburg.   22nd  March  2014

An enjoyable  weekend staying in St. Pauli with mates, but unfortunately we’d chosen the weekend when St. Pauli’s recently very  dull football was at its very dullest, and as a result so was the atmosphere in the ground…. (but still way better than any English crowd when their team are serving up a dull goalless draw).

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And at least standing on the terraces behind the goal here only costs about 12 Euros, plus a few quid for the decent quality Astra beer, which it’s so great to be able to drink as you watch the match. This leaves a  bit of  cash for some  post-match merchandise, which  is also still decent enough quality.  Our dog Pauli needs s a new lead  [EDIT – here he is in fact, looking very pleased with it at a later date]:
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After the game we had interesting discussions over a beer in the new Fanraume with Nick Davidson, author of this new book about the club:
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In the book, Nick writes that:
“Supporting St. Pauli isn’t about results, league positions or even the football. “  It’s a good job too, I think,  after a game like that one we saw  today against Inglostadt!

“It’s about friends, community, standing-up for what is right, and making sure you have a good time doing it. When I visit I stand on the Südkurve and it feels like home. Over the past six years, I’ve seen some great games, visited some amazing grounds, but most of all, I’ve met some incredible people. I owe those people a lot. They renewed my faith in football, in the power of football supporters to make a difference.”

Spot on, Nick! So I’m ashamed to say that, after just a couple more beers, I ignored the delights of a night in St. Pauli and had to have an early night, curled up with a good book.

(I was way too knackered to read it of course, but it certainly does look like a good book!)

We were in Freiburg last weekend as guests of the Kampfende Herzen antifascist football club. In their tournament we got to play for both an International XI and for our old friends Lunatics FC from Belgium:

Then a tour of Freiburg, including the local stadium, on Monday:

Great to make it to this event at long last. Friends have been coming for years and it was every bit as good as they said. Many, many thanks to Patrick & Sabrina for hosting us and guiding us around the area.

“There was one of the gang who had (insert whatever you like),
And because of that he thought he was better than you .”

Now I’m not one of those abitrary arbiters of fashion who dogmatically declare that “no grown man should ever be seen in public in a replica football top unless they are, actually, playing football”.   I’ve been known to wear such an item while doing other sport, too.  But I do think that anyone over the age of (let’s say) thirty needs a very good excuse, and I do think that your synthetic shirts can make you look like a bit of a synthetic supporter, especially if the sponsor is a huge faraway corporate entity and you’ve spent forty quid to become a shiny walking advertisement for some American financial institution or some Middle Eastern airline.

Standards Corrupted - a peacock and his replica away shirt

One good excuse, of course, is that your shirt can be a prompt to start conversations with like-minded individuals (or, indeed, abuse from unlike-minded ones). For example I may bump into fellow FC St. Pauli sympathisers, when I wear one of their famous brown and white tops at a gig or down the pub, and St. Pauli sympathisers will invariably be people worth talking to. Likewise,  if I wear my Dukla Prague away shirt, I may get talking to some of the most tasteful human beings alive.  No, I don’t mean Czech football fans, lovely though most of them surely are, but about the devotees of the world’s greatest alternative rock ‘n’ roll outfit, the “four lads who shook the Wirral”, Half Man Half Biscuit. One of HMHB’s best-known early tunes is the Scaletrix-and-Subbuteo-themed classic “All I want for Xmas is a Dukla Prague Away Kit”,  so of course it became natural that the “Toffs” vintage football shirt company would see a market and that the nostalgic punters would, from the mid-nineties onwards, lap them up at about £35 a  pop, plus P&P.

Claire's standard-issue Dukla Prague Away Shirt

I’m certainly not implying in any way that the owners of such DPAKs, who include my own dear beloved herself, are sheep. Nor am I saying that you won’t find some outstanding HMHB band t-shirt designs on their merchandising stall at gigs, or even here on that there interweb. It’s only around 5% of the audience at the gigs who wear a DPAK, and anyway various alternatives are available for the rebels amongst them – particularly as, from time to time,

Home kit for your birthday, darling?

vintage Dukla Prague home shirts will pop up on the internet masquerading as away shirts. Some HMHB gig-goers wear these burgundy and gold (rather than gold and burgundy), tops unknowingly,  but woe betide any clever clogs who might bump into them during the gig and might drunkenly deride them for their apparent ignorance. It may in fact turn out that some Biscuiteers are wearing the home shirts ironically, and some as a statement of independence in their dress sense, thank you very much. You might even earn yourself an embittered smack, if it turns out that he (or she) asked for a DPAK just like yours for Xmas, but someone had, in all innocence, given him (or her) this DPHK instead.

Another familiar face at HMHB gigs is always seen sporting  his vintage “Toffs” Honved

Teenage Armchair Wear?

top, in celebration of that other early Biscuits  classic , “I was a Teenage Armchair Honved Fan”. This familiar face in the moshpit has, naturally, become known to his peers as ‘The Galloping Major” (that’s probably Ferenc Puskas to you).

It was also natural that, the first time that I had the chance to follow Liverpool FC to the Czech Republic, back in October 2000 when we were drawn to play Slovan Liberec in the UEFA Cup, I should feel compelled to seek out an actual, contemporary Dukla Prague Away Kit. Not just a Dukla Prague shirt, but the whole kit, and in fact I found it relatively easily that time.  The manager of the Sparta Prague shop in the historic tourist area  near the Charles Bridge had become so accustomed to half-pissed English tourists coming in and asking, half-jokingly, for a Dukla Prague Away Kit, that he had actually started to stock such items. For the equivalent of about twelve pounds I acquired the full DPAK that I have now worn at HMHB gigs for over a decade: shorts, socks and all.  I’ve only ever encountered  one other Biscuitista with the same shirt at a gig, and he told me that he too purchased it, about ten years ago, from the exact same shop in Prague.

The Sparta Prague shop, near the historic Charles Bridge

When I returned to Prague a few years later, by the way, in about 2005, the same shop was only stocking a retro cotton t-shirt in the home colours – the previous English-speaking manager had now departed, and the reasons why crazy English tourists would ask, and even the facts of exactly what they might ask for, were now lost in a haze of Czech whispers.

"Are you sure it's not this one you want?" If I had a Czech Koruna for every time I was offered one of these ...

At that time there wasn’t even a football club called FK Dukla Prague any more, as the ailing club had been “saved” (ahem) by a businessman (oh dear), who had merged them with his own club, FK Marila Pribram, and had moved them about 30 miles outside Prague. A two-hour tram and bus journey took me all the way there, but there was no club shop at the stadium, and nowhere in the rather bleak town of Pribram was selling any sort of home or away kit that day (incidentally, it shows how much I have in common with my lovely partner Claire that she had made the same pilgrimage from Prague to Pribram, for exactly the same reasons,  at around that time too, before I even knew her!)

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That obscure object of my desire ... still.

So, fast forward six more years to 2011, and at long last Liverpool have been drawn in Prague  again, this time to play Sparta over two legs in the Europa League. FK Dukla Prague, meanwhile,  have been reformed as a new club, have returned to their historic home stadium and have marched back up through the leagues. Looks like they’ll get promotion back to the top division this year. And the big news from the fashion point of view is that, like Liverpool themselves, Dukla now play in a splendid Adidas-designed outfit. You see, my old Czech DPAK is getting a bit threadbare after a decade of moshpits, a decade of beer and a decade of late-night post-gig curries. I must admit I’ve even played football in it from time to time, so I definitely need a relacement, but online I’ve only been able to find last year’s Dukla kit. Yes, they have the three stripes. but the home version of that one is an unattractive all-burgundy and the away version an even worse all-white, both a far cry from the classic retro away colours. This season, by contrast, photos from their home matches show them sporting the classic gold of the away kit, with red trim and the three stripes and all – I want that one.

So off I trek northwards on the tram, and up the hill to the Juliska stadium. It’s a pity it’s still the winter break, which goes on till early March, so no chance of seeing any match action. I clamber in over a fence on the wooded hillside behind the main stand, and have a good nosey around. Here are some pictures.

The Juliska Stadium still doubles as the army’s national athletics stadium. Athletes are hurdling round the track and on the pitch itself, the Czech Republic’s next generation of Fatima Whitbreads are practising their javelin throwing -that’s one way of keeping intruders like me off the pitch I suppose. But this Czech army sports complex includes neighbouring artificial pitches too,  so when I say there was no

What he got for Xmas was a Dukla Prague training top

actual football action, well I did manage to spy on a training session and a youth team practice match. One of the youngsters speaks English. “Where can I buy stuff like that?” I point and ask him about his kit when the training session finishes. He doesn’t know. There’s no club shop here. The club gives them their gear, he says, and skips off before the strange bloke with the camera can ask any more daft questions.

As I leave, I pass a bemused security guard, probably wondering how I got in. Unsurprisingly, he doesn’t speak English, so I use a bit of sign language and he scribbles down an address, which takes me on  another two-hour jouney the next day – two more trams and a bus, taking me to the  door of a warehouse at the foot of the hills on the south-eastern outskirts of the city. Just when I’m starting to worry that maybe the security guard was in league with a ruthless mafia gang of human traffickers, that this is their lair and that my kidneys will soon be en route as spare parts for some ailing eastern oligarch, the door opens and it turns out that it’s the headquarters of the firm that does Dukla’s online shop for them.

I feel like I’m going round in circles – huge two-hour-long circles, as I’ve already tried and failed to get the current Dukla shirt from this same company via the internet. They’re not really even a shop, and they so rarely get an actual bodily visitor that they have to switch on the cash register when I arrive. They do  show me plenty more reproduction retro memorabilia, but I’ve already seen it all on the internet of course. As they’ve gone to the trouble of switching things on for me, I feel like I have to buy some badges and a scarf. In terms of Dukla shirts, their wares are ironically just the same sort of vintage cotton home and away shirts sold by our Toffs in the UK.  But do they sell the current shiny synthetic Adidas replica first team shirt ? “No, ” I’m told emphatically. “Nobody wants this; they have so few supporters compared to Sparta, or Slavia, or Bohemians Prague.”

The majority time of our time on away Euro trips tends, of course, to be spent absorbing the local culture, i.e. in the local bars. But this time it felt like most of my valuable drinking time was wasted on public transport – good job it’s cheap over there, but then so is the beer that I’m not getting to drink anything like enough of ! The previous evening, one of the Bohemians Prague Ultras has given me the addresses of two more sports shops that might be able to help, so there are yet more tram journeys, north and east again, and I feel like I’m getting to know Prague really well.  But everywhere I go, I find only that same retro cotton t-shirt in the home colours.

How many times do I have to mime that no, I'm after the actual kit? Like the ones they wear on the pitch....

So again I didn’t get what I came to Prague for, but at least Kenny Dalglish’s depleted Liverpool team did. It may have been Kenny’s first match back in Europe for 26 years, but he seemed to come looking for a boring goalless draw, and that’s exactly what he got. Did I mention, by the way, that I came on this trip to Prague without a match ticket, and never had any serious intention of going to this match at a minimum rip-off ticket price of SIXTY QUID ?!!  Sixty f*cking quid – and that was the same for the poor old home fans as well, coming out of their winter break hibernation to watch a stultifying crap nil-nil for SIXTY QUID OR MORE!!  The return leg in Liverpool cost about twenty quid, and I remember that the Liberec match over here in 2000 cost us about a tenner. So I sensibly watched this match with other ticketless Reds in a lively city centre bar, and I duly got my whole trip paid for too, when my bet on the predictable 0-0 scoreline came in. Perhaps I’ll leave it to Half Man Half Biscuit’s own lyrics to sum things up better than I ever could: “The results of my life are a string of nil-nils”, as they sang in their great 2005 song “Depressed Beyond Tablets.”

A big “Děkuji” (thank you) too by the way to Martin, the old mate from the Bohemians 1905 Ultras who put me up in his flat and so made this trip such a cheap one – the only way I could have afforded it, in fact.

POSTSCRIPT – Autumn 2011.  When Dukla did indeed get their promotion back to the big time, they sorted out their online shop with another company, one that did actually decide it might be a good idea to stock some of the current first team shirts. So of course I made immediate enquiries by e-mail. They wanted the equivalent of forty quid plus another seventeen pounds for P&P!! So I would have liked to be the first person wearing one of these little beauties at a HMHB gig, but I guess that honour may now have to go to somebody rather richer…err.

Written in summer 2010, about a tournament in 2009, to explain why I didn’t go back to the same event again this year.

Part 1. The flag-making habit

Bill Shankly once compared LFC’s assembled red throng, with their red flags and their banners, to the “show of red strength” at a Chinese communist rally. Over the years I reckon I’ve spent more time sticking and sewing words and symbols on to red flags and banners than most of Chairman Mao’s most devoted followers ever did.  But as somebody once said, “if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain’t gonna make it with anyone, anyhow.” So for me it’s a flag for every occasion, like this one for a supporters’ match in Madrid which took place at a time when the campaign against Hicks And Gillett was really starting to kick in.

And you know by now that my Sunday league team, Republica IFC, also plays in red, so that’s meant plenty more occasions for red banners like this one:

Of course, some of the best ideas can’t be done with iron-on letters and have to be made professionally. As long as someone at the printers owes you a favour that is ! Like this one I had made before the Athens final in 2007, showing a scene from the Parthenon marbles, but with the heads of Gerrard and Gattuso photoshopped on. Unfortunately it proved so popular in Syntagma Square on the day of the match that somebody stole it. Kind of like the Elgin marbles theft in reverse, really.

But it was a whole decade ago now when, inspired by the silhouettes of Che Guevara you see in leftist Ultra crowds all over Europe, me and my mate Alan decided to have the iconic image of Shankly made into our famous flag. These days you’ll see several big images of Shankly on flags on the Kop or at Euro away matches, but when we had this made (this time it was Alan, a graphic designer, who was owed a favour by the printing company),  it was not only the first Shankly flag, but was, as far as I know  the first  such “silhouette flag” of any major club legend anywhere. Now you’ll see silhouettes of club legends on all kinds of clubs’ banners all over the place.

Our flag has appeared on stage at the Liverpool Empire in “The Shankly Show”, and at the first mass meeting of the protest group “The Spirit of Shankly”, before they had their own version of the Shankly logo (pictured on the Kop, right). Our flag appears three times on the LFC club video that celebrates its first season of life, the treble-winning season of 2000-2001. It’s there once in Cardiff for the FA Cup final victory over Arsenal (where I’m told Alan Green mentioned it admiringly in his radio commentary too), once at Anfield for the UEFA semi-final victory over Barca, when it leaps up above our heads as Gary Mac’s penalty hits the net, and once at that dramatic final in Dortmund.

This massive banner is made of heavy duty weather-resistant, fire-proofed material and it was a hugely weighty thing to lug around, and after all the cheap airlines started to charge for hold luggage,  I never bothered taking a big bag on Euro trips any more. Big Shankly has not been overseas since 2005 when I made a lighter “hand luggage” version for the final in Istanbul. Here he is on a second visit to Istanbul in 2007:  The slogan “these are the days”, is intended as a deliberate contradiction of the song “those were the days”.  And here’s the low-calorie “Shankly-Lite” in Bordeaux in 2006, where it became the focus for our meet-up with the “Devils Bordeaux” ultra group. As I mentioned, the original flag was fire-proofed.  But this is the story of how “Shankly-Lite”, a focus for friendly meetings between myself and Turkish fans, or groups of French and English fans in the photos above,  came to be burnt alive by a not-so-friendly fascist ultra group in Ukraine.

Part 2:  Eurofans 2009

I’ve written plenty, elsewhere on this blog, about the well-established annual tournaments my various teams have been to around Europe over the years like the Mondiali Antirazzisti (Anti-Racist world cup) in Italy, the Alerta! Network’s AntiRa tournament in Hamburg, or the Worldnet event in Leeds for supporters’ teams.

But when some of my friends from the “This is Anfield” website accepted an invitation over the internet to attend a new event in Lviv, Ukraine called “Eurofans 2009”, they were always taking a step into the unknown. This tournament for supporters’ teams was devised to promote this city and the wider region (Karpaty, i.e. Carpathia in English) in the lead-up to Euro 2012, for which Lviv is a host city. The “This is Anfield” crew couldn’t raise a full squad, and so they asked if anyone from my (now defunct) Liverpool supporters’ XI would like to make up the numbers. After finding out that some of my old friends from the Inter supporters’ team would also be attending, along with another particularly hard-drinking rabble from Atletico de Madrid, with whom I was bound to have a few friends in common, well I couldn’t resist signing up as the Liverpool lads’ veteran centre-back.

Then, just four weeks before flying out there, I attended a talk at another tournament about the increasing fascist violence around football in Ukraine and Russia. Those who actively oppose racism in the stadiums are increasingly likely to be attacked as they go about their daily lives, and many have been murdered. Fascist symbols are openly displayed and racist slogans regularly chanted at many big matches. So, when it came to making a new flag the trip as I always do, the choice of slogan was easy. I learned a bit of Russian 20 years ago so I was able to copy the slogan “Solidarity with Anti-Fascist Football supporters in Eastern Europe” (for which the Russian and the Ukrainian is the same) from a sticker I’d been given, and cut it out in my usual iron-on fabric. 

The organizer, Slavik, e-mailed us that we’d been drawn in a group with a Croatian team, a Ukrainian show business XI and a team representing supporters of Bohemians 1905 Prague. The latter are well-known in Eastern Europe for their staunch anti-fascist stance. One year I even ended up playing for the Bohemians fans’ team at the St. Pauli AntiRa tournament in Germany (when most of their players got too drunk to stand up). To whet our appetite Slavik also sent us a picture before we left the UK of the stadium where we’d be playing, once the home ground of one of the city of Lviv’s top teams. It seemed to me that this big, empty ground had seen better days and would badly need some banners.

So in typical style I took three of the buggers !

Nice one Saint Cyril, nice one son. The red antifascist banner in Lviv.

This was the first amateur tournament I’ve been to which insisted on 90-minute group games, of which we had to play three in two days.  That alone would have been an incredible and unprecedented feat for most of us, but we had to do it and consume about 30 pints of great beer over the 3 evenings as well. We beat the Czechs, were unlucky to lose to the Croatians against the run of play and got knocked out by the “Ukrainian showbiz XI”, of whom some seemed to be ringers from the ex-professional football ranks! Certainly didn’t look like some old Rod Stewart XI anyway. My Inter mates were knocked out in the semi by supporters of the big local team, Karpaty Lviv.

But for me all the real drama happened off the pitch. As I left the stadium on the second evening I was jumped by a gang of 20 young fascists and knocked to the ground. Luckily my bag was their real target and I just got a couple of kicks. Not my camera, not my wallet, they just wanted the bag containing my flags. It emerged from hints over the following 24 hours that some of the tournament volunteers, including one who had befriended our group, were fascist sympathizers and they had probably set me up at the only moment I was alone with them. This was while they were supposedly helping me find a taxi to go to meet my Italian mates from Inter, who were playing their group games at another ground. I should have been suspicious from the moment I saw that one of the volunteers was wearing a Lazio t-shirt featuring Di Canio doing a fascist salute in the Stadio Olimpico, and when this nutter only wanted to ask me questions about  hooligan groups. Never trust a fella in Ukraine whose first question is about Millwall.

The youngsters, it transpired, then passed the banners they had robbed off me on, up the chain, to the real big-time fascist ultra leaders, who the next afternoon turned up at the stadium with 100 followers to support the local team in the final v. Glasgow Rangers supporters. Of the Lviv public, really only a few dozen kids and  students who wanted to practise their English had shown interest in the tournament up to this point, so it was obvious these fascists had come not for the football but to make a political point and to try to provoke a fight. They draped their Nazi-style flags on the pitch side fence, with a local Ukrainian symbol in place of the swastika, and next to these I was shocked to see my own banner, with its anti-fascist slogan …. hanging upside down. Apparently that’s a sign of humiliating your enemies over there – you hang their flags upside down. There were no police or security at this tournament at all, so the Fash were just free to march in and do whatever they wanted. I took advantage of a moment when a local bigwig was making a show of pally negotiation with the thugs, for our benefit (along the lines of “look lads, we don’t want any trouble in front of our guests” while they laughed in his face) to walk up behind him quickly tear my flag back down off the fence. Looking back now, I was lucky to void a proper kicking.

So the irony is that I do still today have my anti-fascist banner, intact despite its upside-down trauma – indeed I took it to the anti-racist world cup in Bologna, later last summer – but my Shankly flag and the other one, well they’d disappeared totally. My friend from “Football Supporters Europe” later told me that a video had circulated on the internet of my beloved Mr. Shankly being doused in lighter fuel and torched !  Those  bastards probably think the picture was of some great Liverpool socialist leader or something. Oh wait a minute – it was! But anyway, I can’t let them win so I’ll just have to make another low-calorie Shankly Lite for my low-budget hand luggage.

Meanwhile the fascists had sent young ‘spotters’ over towards our group in another part the stands, probably to find out if any of us split off as I’d done the day before. One of them drew his finger across his throat when I sussed him. The word went round the other antifascists present, like Schalke and the Bohemians, that we’d have to stick together if we were to avoid getting picked off, inside or outside the stadium. At this point the organisers were still trying to tell us that “these people aren’t racists. They are just nationalists who associate the term anti-fascist with the old communist regime.” Almost on cue as if to disprove this, the thugs they were talking about then marched around to the far side of the pitch to tear down a banner placed there by the “Football Against Racism in Europe” rep at the tournament. We had no hesitation in joining forces to put it back up again – Czechs, Germans, Croatians and Brits all united, and getting  a big cheer as we did so.  But when we went back to the main stand, the fascists in turn marched back and tore it down again, and in the confusion they also stole a banner that read “Schalke Against Racism” and proceeded to “sieg-heil” its shocked German owners. Not racists, huh ? The tournament organisers blushed and went off to prepare the final presentation ceremony.

The supposed “Glasgow Rangers supporters XI” (Huh ! Glasgow Ringers XI more like – more proper footballers than even the Ukrainian Showbiz XI), beat the hosts 3-0 in the final, and the fascist Ultras in the stands melted away almost immediately. We wondered if they were lurking outside planning to attack any of us who gave them a chance. The organisers seemed eager to get the presentation ceremony over with, and in their speeches it was as if the disgraceful events of a few minutes earlier hadn’t happened. “Aren’t you going to say anything to disassociate your organization from what’s just happened ?” I asked Slavik who’d invited us, while his boss was making the penultimate speech. He just looked away, half-ashamedly, like a man with a guilty secret. Luckily the representative from Schalke then grabbed the microphone for an impromptu denunciation of the fascists, and an implicit criticism of the organisers; when it was my turn, my own criticism of them was more explicit.

I’m aware of course that these people have to live in a deeply nationalist place, where the aspirations of generations were crushed by Russian communism and scarred by the fact that millions more Ukrainians were killed by Stalin than by Hitler. Indeed, the partisans who helped fight off Hitler were some of the first to be destroyed by Stalin even before the war had drawn to a close. The previous evening, as our group entered one of the most atmospheric bars in town, there had been a ritualistic question from a bouncer. To enter this underground den, full of resistance and WW2 memorabilia (see photo, right) we had to give the right answer to his question “There aren’t any Russians here are there ?” then we had to down a shot of the local brandy and toast “Glory to Ukraine!” before being allowed in.

I’m also aware that in the ex-Soviet union the term “antifascism” can be falsely associated, by those who choose to do so, with the old regime, communism and anti-nationalism. It’s an easy smear by those who feel threatened by the worldwide trend towards more tolerant, more cosmopolitan societies.

But the organisers of this event tried their hardest, during and after this (otherwise extremely enjoyable) weekend to pull the wool over our eyes. “Not racists” my arse.  In the kind of climate I have outlined, surely an event of this type must stand for an anti-racism and pro-diversity message at the very least, make sure its participants are all on message with that, and make sure violations are not tolerated ?

3. Eurofans 2010 and Euro 2012

In the months following the 2009 tournament I heard that there were attempts by the Football Against Racism in Europe organization to negotiate with the “Eurofans” organisers and make sure that in future their event would have a more convincing anti-racism stance.  F.A.R.E.’s main man in Eastern Europe had told me when we met in Ukraine that his organisation faces very similar problems at home in Poland, and that if they chose to, they too could cower in fear of reprisals from their own local fascist thugs, like the organizers of this event did. Eventually he told me that F.A.R.E. would not be supporting “Eurofans 2010” because the organizers had chosen to do some sort of behind the scenes deal with the fascists to keep them away this year, rather than try to shame them or to tackle their attitudes in any way. Which was good enough, or should I say bad enough, for me to decide not to go.

So, it’s one year on and there was again a Liverpool supporters’ team at Eurofans 2010 last week, but I couldn’t have  felt comfortable going back. I was just glad to hear that the lads all got back safely again. Of course they had a great time drinking beer and singing songs again like we all did last year, because apart from the Fash of course, the local people were delightful, and Lviv itself is delightful. Architecturally, it seems like a fine old central European town, but culturally very East European.This is the European city in fact, which has changed hands between more different European powers than any other city I can think of.  But its recent history means that it’s also one of the least cosmopolitan (i.e. the whitest) cities in Europe, and is it ready to host Euro 2012 ? I don’t know, I hope it goes well but I’m really fearful of who the local racist thugs will try to pick off and what their shenanigans could kick off. It’s all about chain reactions. And I don’t think  a “let’s-all-drink-beer-together-while -papering-over-the-cracks” job like this Eurofans tournament is the way to show whether Lviv is ready. I suppose that’s what you get though when a tournament’s primary backers are the local tourist board.

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Postscript, November 2010. Every October, Football Against Racism in Europe week sees hundreds of events at grounds in about 40 countries. You’ll notice in these photos that the only Ukrainian fan group which made an anti-racist stand this October, the fans of FC Arsenal Kiev,  had to disguise their faces in photographs where all they doing is holding “No to Racism” scarves, because of the very real likelihood of lethal fascist reprisals.

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By the way, a friend of mine noticed a “google ad” for a banner-making company had appeared at the bottom of this page. Sneaky old b*stards ! Please ignore it. I’ve never paid anyone to make a banner yet.

Another summer, and  another fantastically enjoyable European tournament last weekend for my Leeds Sunday league club, Republica Internationale FC, this time joining our international network of Anti-Fascist football friends in southern Germany. Many thanks to the joint organising clubs, ICE Neckarstrasse of Stuttgart and ASV Filderstadt for putting this brilliant event on at the village of Gachingen in the Swabian Hills, 60km SE of Stuttgart. They laid on decent weather for us too on the Saturday, and at least the atrocious Sunday weather means we needn’t be ashamed of whatever the British climate throws up for our guests at our own event next year !!

The tournament title was “Albtraum”, a play on words with the local hills, the Alb, and sort sort of nearly means “Nightmare” in German, but the only real nightmare, apart from that sodden Sunday, was the taxi fare for those of us who needed  to get to the fairly remote village of Gachingen on public transport from the airport late at night – but  I suppose that would be the same anywhere !

It wasn’t easy to find the Republica tents, either, when I did finally arrive at 1.30 am on Friday night/Saturday morning, with nobody sober enough to direct me even in vaguely the right direction, but after that it was a decent nights sleep before waking up again to a fine breakfast, great football on top quality pitches,  great music, great company… and bloody awful dancing.

As soon as I arrived someone told me that we’d been drawn in the “Group of Death” and that we had to play Bristol’s legendary  Easton Cowboys FC at 10 am the next morning … So you can imagine that emerging from the tent at 9.45am I was relieved to find out this wasn’t the case at all. It was the women who had to play the Easton Cowgirls at 10 am, and our men didn’t have to play the Cowboys or Polish aces Leknica, as I’d been told by some piss-face or other. In fact we had till 1.30pm to get sobered up for our first game. Very civilised.

I think about 15 Republica members travelled, including a few non-players, so there was not enough for a full men’s team or a full women’s side. As ever this meant we could hone our diplomatic skills in recruiting excess players from other teams’ squads, and special thanks must go to our old friends Wayne & Jack from the Cowboys, Paul & friends from FC Vova and Patrick, Sabrina & Sasha from Kampfende Herzen of Freiburg.

Lottie and Daisy did brilliantly stepping in for most of the women’s matches too. Republica Women eventually lost to the winners, the much improved Die Letze Helden from Hannover, in the semi-finals.

Republica Mixed 11-a-side actually BEAT the eventual winners of the “men’s” tourny, Bad Muskau, in their first group match, and only lost one game out of six all weekend, but still managed to finish as low as 14th out of 16 through the vagaries of various penalty shoot-outs. Apart from beating the winners with a goal by Paul F, highlights included Davy L’s memorable half-volleyed goal from the edge of the box in our 4-1 win over a very decent World XI side. The 7-8 sudden death penalty shoot out defeat to our Yorkshire rivals from Bradford’s 1 in 12 FC (after 9 penalties each) will also linger long in the memory, even though it was 13th & 14th places at stake rather than 1st and 2nd when they out-pennoed us in Belgium exactly 10 years ago !!

Some of us also enjoyed playing for other sides too. I played for 4 different teams, including FC Vova and Kampfende Herze (Freiburg) but I think Blue “beat” me in playing for even more teams than that ?? Jack of the Cowboys certainly did, and maybe our Mark did too ! Massive respect is also due to our Stuart for reffing so many games !!

Thanks too to everyone back at the tents who had all the catering equipment & was really generous with everything from tea and coffee to salad and hot dogs !! Practical socialism in action from Republica as ever !! You know who you are …so I WILL name you – especially Ricky, Becky, Katy and Mark….you all did BRILLIANT work on those supermarket trips… I owe you all a beer or three !

At this tourny, though, I think loads of members of other clubs must have thought I was even more… ahem…. “eccentric” than usual, ‘cos I was seen on the Sunday going round counting everything that moved & measuring everything that didn’t, meanwhile taking copious notes. The thing is,  we’ve been going to these  big international tournaments for ten years now and we’ve finally got round to hosting it ourselves in 2010. I’ve become so obsessed about next year’s event that I just wanted to make sue we know all the necessary facts…I was in the Scouts you know – “Be Prepared” and all that!
So, if you must know, I counted  almost 600 people, around 500 of them staying on site in 290 tents plus 35 vans on the campsite. There were also 35 cars on the campsite, plus another 150 vehicles parked elsewhere. The main marquee measured 37½ yards by 16, and the stage was 11 yards by 5½. There were an impressive (and perhaps excessive !?) 22 yards of food and drink serving counters !! Over 3000 Litres of beer were drunk (yes, that’s the 6,000 pints I told you about, Lepton FC, are you listening ?? You could have sold 6,000 pints if you’d wanted to host our event next year!!), 800 main meals were sold…I could tell you how many boxes of t-shirts they had, what sizes were most popular, and what everything cost, from a hoodie to a hotdog. All of this will hopefully help us in preparing to host a very similar group of football clubs in Yorkshire next year. But I’ll spare you all the details for the moment.

Every year the “Anti-Racist World Cup” in northern Italy brings together more than two hundred football teams from around Europe and the whole world, to share their experiences of fighting racism and other forms of discrimination. We’ve been lucky enough to travel to this annual event seven times, and were winners of the Anti-Racist World Cup itself with  a mixed squad in 2006.  The picture shows some of our Republica I.F.C. squad from Leeds with the “KICK SEXISM CUP” that we won at this summer’s event (2009).

This was a really unexpected honour, but as the organisers said on their website “The Coppa Kick Sexism has been assigned to the Leeds-based team Republica Internationale, who are affiliated to the “White Ribbon” campaign and who helped organise workshops here at the Mondiali antirazzisti on gender issues. They also organised our female football tournament at Casalecchio, and, most of all, to have showed with their presence that, as a mixed team, sexism is not only an issue regarding women, but something that must be faced together, men and women.” What an honour ! Something for us all to be really proud of, and an inspiration to keep up the good work…

The tournament is organised by Progetto Ultrà, an orgnisation supported by the regional council of Emilia-Romagna, which aims to defend the traditional values of popular fan culture and to eliminate intolerant and xenophobic behaviour from inside and outside football stadiums through social projects aimed at fans.

They are also backed by Istoreco,  the Institute for the History of the Resistance and Contemporary Society, based in Reggio Emilia, which has for the last 35 years undertaken historical research into fascism, the Second World War, Antifascism and the Resistance. The work of the institute has now been extended to include youth antiracism initiatives (hence their very important work supporting anti-fascist Ultra groups) and international exchanges.

As you can see from this 10-minute video about the 2008 tournament, there is a great time to be had every July at this five-day event for all football teams or supporters’ groups who are committed to fighting discrimination. Of all the videos on their site, this is the one which give sthe best overall idea of the atmosphere of this amazing event (and Claire is on film at around 8 mins, 15 seconds).  http://www.mondialiantirazzisti.org/mondiali/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=153&Itemid=154&lang=en

Amay, Belgium, May 29-31, 2009

Until now the  anti-fascist supporters’ network centred on FC St. Pauli has always held its annual tournament in Hamburg. Now called the Alerta! network tournament, this year’s event was the first to be held outside Hamburg, and was hosted on the last weekend of May by that stalwart  Belgian anti-fascist group, the “Ultras Inferno” of Standard Liège FC. They had very kindly timed it to start on my birthday, and it was a great place to celebrate !

We have met this really friendly, totally sound group of ultras before at the St Pauli tournaments, and they even invited Republica to a tournament at their place 2 or 3 summers ago, which we were unfortunately unable to attend because there was just so much else going on that year…

At Republica we have always dreamed of finding the ideal tournament venue somewhere in the Yorkshire countryside. A local version of the Berendrecht woods in Northern Belgium, perhaps, where Lunatics FC have now hosted us at four tournaments. All we need is a  small football club, far enough away from local residents to be able to camp and party into the early hours without anyone complaining.

When we arrived at the venue in this very different, French-speaking part of Belgium, we saw right away that the football facilities were ideal – the town football club in the small market town of Amay, 30 km from the host city of Liège. There were four full-size football fields, on the best two of which, four 6-a-side pitches were laid out with a modern grandstand in between. On two sides beyond, there was a beautiful nature reserve full of wild flowers and even wilder waterfowl, leading down to a lake and the valley of the Meuse, one of Belgium’s major rivers. But on the other two sides we were surprised that it was so close to the houses of the town centre, which stood just 100 metres away across the train tracks. For the Friday & Saturday nights music was programmed in a marquee till 2 a.m. The first night the music was mostly rap & hip-hop style, the second night mostly ska and punk, culminating in a 2-hour set by the famous Los Fastidios from Spain who we’ve enjoyed at previous Mondiali tournaments in Italy.

Not only did none of the nearby local residents complain, not only did we not see a hint of a police officer all weekend, but even when we invaded a local’s 50th birthday party in the town square after the tournament had ended on the Sunday evening, we were still welcomed with open arms ! Cathy B, Anna and friends ended up doing karaoke versions of  “One Step Beyond”and “Tainted Love” on a small stage outside the bar in the town square… and still nobody complained! It must be something in the water. Or perhaps something to do with the nearby nuclear power station ? No, seriously, the townsfolk were wonderfully welcoming and about 100 of us drank & danced outside their bar till after midnight on that Sunday night!

Football-wise, it was a laid back 6-a-side tournament, with 6 groups of 5 teams each on the Saturday, the usual knock-outs on the Sunday, and not too many teams taking it excessively seriously. The St. Pauli women’s team were perhaps disappointed that there was no women’s tournament (nobody had told them), and they were drawn in quite a tough group of all-male teams. We were luckier in our group, being drawn with another mixed German team (the famous Rhinish Resistance group from Fortuna Dusseldorf). Only 3 of us had travelled from Leeds, but our Israeli friend Eyal, who we first met at the St Pauli tournament 4 years ago, had arrange to join us, giving us some young legs in midfield – he was fresh from showing his skills at a futsal tournament in Holland and it showed ! We recruited various St Pauli women to form a strong squad with a great spirit, proudly wearing the new limited edition Republica AntiFa team strip as designed & manufactured by Blue Screens Inc. of Holbeck.

In our group on Saturday we beat Bordeaux 1-0, drew 1-1 with the Dutch team Breda Rats (Blue scoring after a quick free-kick), beat Dusseldorf 1-0 (Blue again) and were eventually a bit unlucky to lose 1-0 to the highly competitive reigning tournament champions, St. Pauli Skinheads – They had one shot on target while their keeper had to make some good saves!

So we finished second in the group, and in the top half of the knock-out on the Sunday we drew 0-0 with Bergamo Antifa from Italy. In the penalty shoot out Blue did all she could to put us in the quarter finals, saving 2 penalties and scoring 1 … but no other Rebublicans could hit the target. My own shot came back off the bar so hard that it came to rest on the penalty spot at the other end of the pitch. We then lost 2-1 to Athletic Bilbao (Eyal scoring a goal he had deserved all weekend), beat Bayern Munich (Schikeria) 3-1, and it’s not often you can say that is it (Blue 2, I think) ? Finally we lost 1-0 to another French team, Horda Metz, to finish a very creditable 14th in the tournament out of about 30 teams.

In the final the “Green Brigade” from Celtic (who’d beaten an excellent Sampdoria side in the semis) lost to the home side, Ultras Inferno, a very atmospheric match during which around 100 ultras in the stands let off smoke bombs and the inevitable red flares, while they chanted non-stop for the home side.

It is interesting, as we’re always assessing our own capabilities for hosting our own major tournament before too long, to compare the aspects of the tournament that were well organised with those that were a bit more laid back.

The Venue. Excellent for camping, no complaints about shower or toilet facilities. Plenty of portaloos to complement the changing room toilets.

Bar. An excellent open-air bar plus another one in the bands marquee. Great if you wanted beer, and let’s face it, most people did. The local brew, (Jupiler, 5.2%) flowed endlessly at 1.5 Euros a half pint, as did the Kriek cherry beer, and the wonderful Belgian bottled beers like Duvel, etc. were good value at 2 Euros a bottle. However, they didn’t supply any bottled water at the tournament. Luckily the supermarket was 10 minute stroll.

Food. Was basic. Coffee and rolls for breakfast on Sat & Sun. Nothing for brekky on Monday. From Friday afternoon to Sunday evening there was a barbecue with hot-dogs, shish kebabs and rudimentary salads. Basic pasta (meat or veggie options) was served on Saturday & Sunday lunchtimes. With the right venue, we could easily do a lot better (as we did at Hipperholme). Again, lucky the town facilities were close at hand, and your Republica representatives felt we had to sample both pizza and Chinese take-aways from the town during the weekend, as well as a few goodies from the atmospheric street market on the Saturday morning. All in the name of preparing as full a report as possible, you understand.

Football. Very well organised after an initial delay setting up the  goals. Good rules (= no Ds. Have I ever told you how much I hate Ds in 5 or 6-a-side? Don’t get me started). Some brilliant trophies at the end, each team bringing along their own unique troph, and the organisers again deciding which team best deserved each one. There were special awards for the Hapoel Tel Aviv and Omonia Nicosia ultras groups as “best freaks” and “best smokers” respectively.

Politics. Compared to the St. Pauli tournament, where there are always a lot of meetings updating us on fans’ issues across Europe, the situation for refugees in various countries, etc, there was relatively little here. Apart from the informal “AGM” of the Alerta! network itself, there was just one really good talk about the worsening situation for anti-fascist supporters groups in Eastern Europe, in Ukraine, Belarus, and above all in Russia where there have been a lot of attacks and murders of anti-fascists. We heard how anti-fascist Ultra groups are often persecuted, both at the stadium and in their daily lives in those countries, and watched the start of quite a depressing underground film made by Russian anti-fascists. (This was really interesting for me personally because I’m going to Ukraine in June with a Liverpool supporters’ team, and if nothing else it means I’ll make sure we convey our solidarity with local anti-fascists while we are there ).

Music. A generally impressive selection of bands on the Friday & Saturday, with a good PA in the marquee. The only band to receive much more than their expenses were the “big name” of the antiFa footy scene, Los Fastidios, who were paid by a 3 Euros per head charge and some of the beer proceeds too.

Travel. The wonderfully high “Standard” of Liege hospitality hit us as soon as we started planning our trip – they offered to meet us at the airport and drove us 50k to and from the tournament, and the same for every other team that flew in to Charleroi or Brussels !! At the airport on the way back our driver Robbie even offered to change my unused tournament beer tokens back to Euros !! Maybe it was ‘cos he was grateful that we’d saved him an unnecessary wait at the airport on the first day, by helpfully pointing out that the Celtic supporters team was coming on a flight from Glasgow not Dublin ! The hosts wouldn’t even let us pay for this shuttle bus service, which meant that overall, with a £45 flight all-in, I think it was the cheapest travel of any overseas football trip I’ve ever been on, and despite the current unfavourable Euro rate maybe the cheapest ever trip overall !!

Green-ness. Not much in the way of separation for recycling … but maybe they separate the rubbish after collection in Belgium ? Oh and despite us flying, many participants did arrive by train … at the train station literally 200 metres away !

The weather. Almost ideal for camping around the footy pitches where there was very little shade, sunny but definitely not the real “inferno” of heat that we usually face at the Mondiali in Italy ! Unfortunately our arrival also coincided with a high wind swirling through the grassy meadows of the Meuse valley, and so possibly the worst pollen count some of us had ever experienced !!

Souvenirs. One of the best tournaments ever for stickers, pennants, etc ! Good tournament T-shirts, too. My only regret is that I didn’t buy the network’s “Refugees Welcome” T-shirt; recent events make me determined to wear that slogan this summer – perhaps I can get one at the Mondiali in Italy?

Overall this was a brilliant tournament, one of the best ever, and we certainly left on a high, inspired for the ongoing anti-fascist work that Republica will doubtless be continuing in the face of the BNP’s sinister gains. No pasarán !

There was a fair amount of disappointment, especially from our St. Pauli friends and from the hosts, that not more Republica members could attend, but hopefully there’ll be more of us when the tournament returns to Hamburg next year. It is planned to alternate from now on, one year in Hamburg, then one year outside Hamburg. Come on Yellow Brigades (the Cadiz Ultras), you know you want to host it in 2011 !! (No that’s not a rumour, at the moment it’s just wishful thinking on my part, dreaming of footy in Andalucia).

Postscript: inspired by this event, we started looking as soon as we got back for a suitable site to host our own big international tournament next year. The very next weekend we thought we’d found a decent venue at Lepton, near Huddersfield, but when they finally said “no”, several weeks later, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. By the end of August we’d found the ideal venue at Rufforth near York.  YAWC 2010, here we come !