Sunday, June 05, 2016

Berliner Pokal Finale: Lichtenberg 47 – BFC Preussen (28-05-2016)



During the regular season amateur teams (i.e. teams below the three professional Bundesligas) play a cup tournament within their state that ends, after the regular season, with the state cup final. I am going to the Berliner Pokal Finale (Berlin Cup Final), which is played at the Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn Sportpark, with a capacity of just under 20,000, the second-largest stadium in the city – after the Olympiastadion, home of Hertha BSC.



The stadium is situated in a larger sports park with various pitches on which a broad variety of football teams play games – men and women, boys and girls. It is easy to reach with the metro (U2). I buy a ticket for €15 – the guy asks me which team I support and when I say I’m neutral, he gives me a black ticket, which is for the BFC Preussen – red are for Lichtenberg 47.



I enter the stadium an hour early and there are already hundreds of fans. All fans around me wear black-and-white BFC Preussen outfits, including many football outfits, as there are at least 4-5 full youth teams in the stands. I stand out like a sore thumb with my red-white Portland Timbers shirt, but no one cares.



The Berlin Cup Final is played between Lichterberg 47, which plays in the Oberliga, and BFC Preussen, which plays one division lower in the Landesliga. Consequently, L47 is the big favorite and has also brought most of the fans. The official number, which seems quite realistic, is 3,874 people – an absolutely impressive number for an amateur game. I guestimate that 60-66% are L47 fans in red.



The fans are predominantly white and male, as well as fairly working class, but there is a serious minority of minorities, most notably of Turkish decent, not surprising in a city with such a huge population of Turkish immigrants and their offspring. Although Lichterberg 47 is from the former East and BFC Preussen from the former West, there are few notable differences between the fans.



The first ten minutes the underdog are a bit better, but L47 gets the best chance. In the 14th minute there is a tackle in the L47 penalty box, but no penalty (good decision). Five minutes later a corner is headed in hard and high by a BFC striker: 0-1. The fans around me go crazy, the other fans are in shock.

  
Surprisingly the game doesn’t change much. BFC remains a bit better and L47 doesn’t pressure too much. The fans are happily basking in the warm sun, although the conditions are perfect on the pitch, where it is not that warm. The pace is relatively slow while the passing is not too accurate. Much of the game is between the two penalty boxes as both teams have a hard time creating chances.
 


In the rest of the first half both teams create a couple of half-chances, including a semi-volley and a shot on the post by BFC and a ricochet L47 shot that is saved by the BFC goalie. Half time score: 0-1

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The first good chance of the second half is again for BFC, but the header goes just wide. This not withstanding, L47 has much more possession, but little precision and urgency. This leads to an oddly calm and uneventful game for much of the second half.



In the last fifteen minutes most of the BFC players are exhausted and can barely stay on their feet. Finally L47 starts to pressure more, but the precession is still lacking. Still, with an exhausted BFC defense, and more and more high balls, it remains very tense until the end, five minutes into extra time.




Against all expectations the underdog from the Landesliga defeated the favorite from the Oberliga. The BFC Preussen fans and players were ecstatic, while the Lichtenberg 47 fans were stunned and the players exhausted. For the first time since 1981 The Prussians are the best amateur team in berlin again!

 
Overall this was an excellent experience, once again confirming that nothing beats football in Germany. Although this was a local amateur game, there were almost 4.000 really fanatic supporters in the stadium who made it feel like a Second Division professional game. And this all with very affordable prices for entrance and food and drink.

KFUM-kameratene – Levanger (22-05-2016)



For business in Oslo I initially have a hard time finding a game in or around the city of a team I haven’t seen on one of my previous trips. In the end, there are two games, but at the same time, so I have to choose one. I choose to see KFUM-kameratene Oslo, which is the local sport branch of the YMCA in Oslo, which plays in the Obos Ligaen (Second Division).
 

I take a tram from downtown, which takes me to the affluent and green outskirts of the city. After a 10 minute walk uphill, I get to the KFUM Arena. When I had done my research into the club, I had been a bit disappointed that they played in an “Arena,” as I associated it with a new, soulless, prefab sports arena. Not so much… I doubt the term “arena” has ever been used so liberally as by KFUM.



After buying a General Admission ticket for 150 NOK (ca. $18) in a small tent, I walk over to a fairly basic pitch with just one stand of bleachers, which seem to have become permanent without the necessary intent. There are some 350 people on this stand, although some 100 arrive during the first half hour of the game. Most people are affluent, white, young males, although there are also some women and a few non-whites. A small group of ca. 50 has banners and a couple drums and, at times, sings.



On the only other stand, a very small bleacher behind one of the goals, some 50 away supporters have come together, also sporting some banners and sometimes singing. Given that Levanger is 575 km to the North of Oslo, roughly a 7.5 hour drive, I assume most of the fans are Levanger transplants in Oslo, the capital of Norway.


The game is played on astroturf, which is not surprising given the harsh climate in Norway. This generally improves the quality of play, as the ball is more predictable and easier to control. And, indeed, the quality of the game is pretty decent, although passing is soft and predictable. KFUM has various black players, who seem foreigners, as the loud and lively goalkeeper shouts his direction in both Norwegian and English.



After an entertaining but fairly harmless first ten minutes, KFUM sets up a slow attack through the center, which end with a soft finish that is just enough to cross the line: 1-0. The home fans are delighted!

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Although Levanger is not much weaker, KFUM gets at 2-0 five minutes later. A free kick is shot hard into the wall, and in the second rebound it is shot in he high corner. A few minutes later Levanger finally gets its first chance, after a corner in the 20th minute, and a minute later a good attack leads to a brave safe by the KFUM goalie.



The best chance is for the hosts, however, after the Levanger goalie blunders terribly in the 43rd minute, but KFUM cannot finish. Just before half time the guests get another chance, but the hard shot goes just wide. 2-0 is the half time score.



After a very uneventful half time break, with absolutely nothing happening on or off the pitch, the game restarts with a vengeance. In face, I miss what produces the chance, but see a KFUM player score from close by: 3-0.



While it is absolutely clear that the game is over, Levanger keeps playing, although without much precession or urgency. The fans remain in good spirits too, despite the fact that it hasn’t stopped drizzling. Overall, it is mild, grey, and wet – a miserable November day in Athens, an average May day in Oslo. In the 74th minute KFUM gets another corner and scores from a header in the rebound: 4-0.



Even with 4-0 down the game continues to be entertaining, with Levanger slowly and cautiously attacking, and KFUM countering whenever they can. From the play it looks like the score is just 1-0. I become fixated on the home goalie, who shoots every kick straight out of the sideline. Amazing! In the 88th minute KFUM adds one last goal, from an effective counter with a hard low finish: 5-0. As the referee is clearly a sadist, he gives four minutes extra time to a game that has been over for 44 minutes and, surprisingly, all people stay in the stadium despite the depressing weather. Nothing happens and so the final score is 5-0.



KFUM was one of my more enjoyable groundhops in a while. A real small team with truly local fans, who enjoy the experience and make it enjoyable for others. The play wasn’t bad, even if slow, and with five goals, who could complain?

Wilmington Hammerheads - Charlotte Independence (10-05-2016)


Ticket

I left my meeting in DC early so I would be able to make this rare event, a Tuesday evening game, on the coast of North Carolina. Battling traffic in DC and Virginia, I arrived in Wilmington, NC, just 15 minutes before kick-off. Starving, I hoped for decent food in the stadium. I was wrong!

 

Legion Stadium is a regularly renovated small stadium from 1938, which has two stands on the long sides, but they are not very deep. It is home to the Wilmington Hammerheads, which was founded in 1996, and plays in the United Soccer League (USL), the Third Division in the US. I pay $13 for a General Admission ticker and enter the stadium.
 


The stadium holds 6,000 people and, in this light, I guesstimate that some 500-750 people are here this night. The official attendance number is 2,776, which is very certainly a huge exaggeration. They are a broad mix of the usual middle class families (moms with little kids) but also some 100 “ultras,” mostly college bros and hipsters, trying to be like the Timbers Army.



The game starts relatively slow. I start to get a bit distracted, which leads me to miss a foul, in the 14th minutes, which gives the Hammerheads a penalty kick.



The player takes the penalty very cool. The goalkeeper goes into the wrong corner: 1-0. Time to celebrate for the “ultras.”



In the 23rd minute the hosts have a good attack, which leads to an odd pass in, which is tipped in from 5 meter, but saved by a defender, and then the rebound is beautifully saved by the goalkeeper. Only in the 30th minute the visitors have their first real chance: after a corner, a soft header bounces and the goalie tips the ball over.



The quality of the game is a bit deceptive. It looks ok, but tactically it’s a mess and there are very few good passes. The players are mostly running and hitting long balls. Halfway the first half the passing and control become terrible. In the 38th minute a good individual effort of the Charlotte striker might have ended with a goal if he would have passed. Three minutes later a corner leads to terrible defense, which is punished: 1-1.



It turns out that there are some ten away supporters, who made the relatively short (roughly 200 miles or 320 km) trip. They celebrate pretty much inside the Hammerheads “ultras’ section. 1-1 is also the half time score.
 
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The second half starts with the same type of play. In the 51th minute a good shot of the hosts from about 20 meters goes just over. In the 76th minute the visitors get an enormous chance, because the goalie hesitates and come out too late, but the striker hesitates too, and gives a difficult pass that is shot soft at the defenders.



The last 15 minutes sees various attacks on both ends, with Charlotte mostly countering, but the final passes are bad. In the 87th minutes two good tackles by a Wilmington defender deep in the Charlotte half lead to a chance for the Hammerheads. A direct counter of Charlotte leads to a shot at goal from about 12 meters, but it is soft and at the goalkeeper.



Despite this soft chances, the pace and quality of the game remain low. In the 90th minute a Hammerheads header goes just wide. That is the last more or less noteworthy thing to happen. Final score: 1-1.



Most USL teams are closer to the Premier Development League (PDL) than to the Major League Soccer (MLS) and the Wilmington Hammerheads are no exception. They have a modest support, but mostly transient fans (i.e. families and college kids). Still, because of the nice setting of Wilmington, and the pleasant surroundings of Legion Stadium, the Hammerheads are worth a visit. Just come well-fed, as the offerings in the stadium are dismal.