Sunday, 7 December 2014

TLFG: 8-14 December 2014

Two games, two countries, two days - it's been quite a weekend for me.

I had a big birthday a month ago and I'd promised to gorge myself on football during some time off. For one reason or another it never happened. 

Luckily I had some more holiday to take this week. My initial idea was to head down to south Wales to see QPR's game at Swansea City but I thought better of it and with my other half wanting to go away I had another look at the week's European fixtures.

On Monday afternoon I put the wheels in motion to go and see Fiorentina v Juventus in one of Italy's big games on Friday night.

Tickets were still available so I booked the flights and hotel only to find that online booking of match tickets wasn't open to the likes of me. Gutted! Not to be thwarted I emailed the club who, credit to them, swiftly replied in English with a booking form which I simply had to fill in and send back with a scan of my passport. I duly did this and had an e-ticket shortly after. Joy!

Florence is a great place to visit - compact and with lots to see, do, eat and drink. In December there's virtually no-one around so you can stroll straight in to top attractions like the Uffizi Gallery rather than queue almost endlessly as you have to do at peak times.

With all the traditional cultural stuff done, I left my wife and daughter in a restaurant overshadowed by the Palazzo Vecchio and headed off to the Stadio Artemio Franchi. 

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Fiorentina's ultras create some pre-match atmosphere on the Fiesole Curve

Given the rivalry between the two teams, being alone and unsure of where I was going I was a little nervous. With a strong police and carabinieri presence throughout the city all day and a helicopter circling overhead, I was a bit anxious to say the least. 

I had also planned to leave really early to make sure I got there with plenty of time to get through the two security checkpoints and make sure of my seat as I'd heard talk of it being a bit of a free-for-all inside. However, this didn't happen and I only had about an hour to get there.

Apparently the buses weren't running so everyone would have to walk to the ground -  about 25 minutes east of the historical centre. I was told the route would be easy to find as thousands of others would be heading the same way. Somehow I managed to get almost all the way there virtually alone! 

The atmosphere outside the stadium about 25 minutes before kick-off was subdued and everything seemed pretty orderly. I made it through the security checks with the minimum of fuss and made my way to the top of the Maratona Centrale where my seat was located at the foot of the tower for which the stadium is renowned.

It was at this point that the fun began as the rumoured seat free-for-all was in full effect! With all seats seemingly filled, many fans were just perched against the railing at the back of the stand. Disappointing but not a disaster, I'll stand and get on with it I thought. Then I discovered that if I did this I'd only be able to see one end of the pitch. Now I would've put up with this if my ticket hadn't cost an eye-watering 90 euros! If anyone ever tells you the Premier League is pricey then tell them Serie A pushes it pretty close. My ticket wasn't even close to being the most expensive either.

So with all this in mind I ran back down to ground level with the thought of climbing up the gangway from the front. This only succeeded in getting me another place to stand but with a great view of everything. Sadly and unsurprisingly I was soon moved on by a steward. Instead I tried going up another gangway and finding my proper seat. 

I found the row, near the back, and then made my way awkwardly along it treading on a few toes before coming out at the other end in exactly the same place as I'd started! With the teams now coming out I decided to just create myself a seat at the end of the row as others had also done and sat on the wet concrete step with a plastic carrier bag underneath my posterior in case it rained again. Once sat down I realised I had a full view of the pitch - phew.

The game itself was typically tight and ended in a 0-0 draw. The Fiorentina fans and their ultras on the Fiesole Curve put on a good show and Juve fielded a few modern day football legends like Buffon and Pirlo to name but two, oh and it rained fairly solidly on what is a largely uncovered stadium. Was it worth 90 euros? For a football fanatic like me definitely and I'd strongly recommend anyone else to give it a go, just get there early and be prepared for bad weather.

Game two took place 17 hours later back in London where QPR took on Burnley in a big relegation six-pointer at the bottom of the Premier League. 

QPR's Charlie Austin goes in search of an opening goal at a chilly Loftus Road
It wasn't the thriller that the Leicester game had been the week before but Rangers ground out another priceless victory, this time by a margin of 2-0. Former Burnley striker Charlie Austin caught the eye again with a goal, an assist and a rather silly red card for two bookable offences for which there were few complaints.

The main reason I wanted to get to this game was to take part in the half-time pitch presentation marking the achievements of all those who took part in the charity walk to West Ham a couple of months ago. We raised over £17,000 in the end so the QPR Tiger Cubs will hopefully enjoy another good year.

Well that was quite a lot of waffle from me, much of it about my non-London activities. Hope I didn't bore you too much and enjoy your week of football watching.  

GET INVOLVED
If you're going to see a game, whether you're a local or a visitor, please let me know what you've been up to. If you're interested in reviewing a ground within the London area for this blog then get in touch. You might also want to have a go at writing a 'Top Ten' one week. I also very much welcome photos of your football travels.

Got any questions about visiting London? Don't hesitate to ask - be they football or more general travel/touristy queries.

You can contact TLFG through the comments section below or via FacebookTwitter or even by good old email.


LATEST TICKET NEWS
Please follow this link or click on the tab at the top of the page for all the information you need about how to get a ticket, what's currently available to non-members at London's biggest clubs and any other special offers or promotions which might be running.


THE WEEK AHEAD
There are 80 matches in the London area over the next seven days so there's plenty to choose from whatever your budget.

However, please make sure you check with clubs before you travel just in case a game has been called off or venue has been changed. Also, please let me know if anything is wrong or missing.

Details on all of this week's games can be found in the following match map. If you've never used it before, please note that when there is more than one match at a specific ground you'll only be able to see individual match pins if you zoom right in. If you don't, the pins obscure each other and you might miss them. To avoid this, you can also scroll down the list of games on the left side of the map page to make sure you get all the information.

Also if you're unfamiliar with the English league structure I indicate the level at which an individual league sits in the national 'pyramid' with the Premier League at the top (Level 1) and various minor leagues at the bottom (Level 10). Typically a top level game will see crowds of anywhere between 20,000-60,000. These figures will gradually decline as you go down the leagues until you get to Levels 8-10 where attendances of 150 or less are most common.

It should also be noted that the top four levels are for fully professional teams. Level 5 has a mixture of professional and semi-professional teams, while Levels 6-10 will see most players paid but it will vary from no more than travel expenses at the bottom, right up to several hundred pounds a week at the top (e.g. clubs in the Conference South).

MATCH MAP
Yellow pin - Monday fixtures
Green pin - Tuesday fixtures
Turquoise pin - Wednesday fixtures
Purple pin - Thursday fixtures
Blue pin - Saturday fixtures
Red pin - Sunday fixtures



Next up is this week's TLFG match recommendations where I list a few games which I think could be worth a watch. If I miss one that you think should get a mention then add your own in the comments section below. 

TLFG TOP 10

1. Chelsea v Sporting Lisbon - the Blues suffered their first defeat of the season on Saturday at Newcastle and will be glad to have the chance to bounce back almost immediately with this midweek European game. They have, however, already won Group G so might not select a full-strength team against second placed Sporting who really need something to make sure of progressing themselves. The Portuguese side are currently fourth in their league and won 3-1 at Boavista on Friday so should be capable of pushing for a point. (Champions League, Wednesday 10 December, 745pm. Ticket info)

2. Arsenal v Newcastle United - the pick of the domestic matches this week is this intriguing game at the Emirates between two sides with identical records this season. Only goal difference sees the Gunners ahead of the Magpies in sixth as they both push for a top-four spot. The hosts did well to beat Southampton in their last home game but came unstuck at Stoke on Saturday and could well be susceptible to a Newcastle side who have won six of their last eight including that impressive win against Chelsea on Saturday. (Premier League, Saturday 13 December, 530pm. Ticket info)

3. Brentford v Blackburn Rovers - these two had been climbing the table ominously over the last few weeks but then both suffered defeats on Saturday. Despite this they are still both in the top seven of what is a very tight division. This is another big occasion for the Bees who, don't forget, haven't played at this level for over 20 years and they'll want to do well against former Premier League winners Blackburn. The last time they managed to beat Rovers was in 1988 when they edged a seven-goal thriller by 4-3, it would be nice if they repeat that. (Championship, Saturday 13 December, 3pm. Ticket info)

4. Dagenham & Redbridge v Tranmere Rovers - we've got a relegation six-pointer in League Two to look forward to on Saturday. The Daggers made a pretty poor start to the season and looked to have hit rock bottom when they exited the FA Cup at the hands of non-league Southport. However, since then they've won their next two league fixtures to begin the climb away from the bottom two. Rovers start the game in the relegation zone but the green shoots of recovery have started to sprout for the Merseyside club too who are unbeaten in two. The clubs have only met twice before and Dagenham have yet to win. (League Two, Saturday 13 December, 3pm. Ticket info)

5. Dartford v Solihull Moors - the Darts proudly flew the non-league flag in the FA Cup second round on Sunday but they were comprehensively seen off by former Premier League side Bradford City as they failed to achieve a cupset. This weekend they're back in knockout action in the first round proper of the FA Trophy as they begin the journey down a perhaps more realistic road to Wembley. However, on this occasion the Conference Premier strugglers could become the victims of a cupset themselves as they host Solihull who are one of the top teams in the division below. The Moors have only lost one league game since August so should be a real threat. (FA Trophy first round, Saturday 13 December, 3pm. Ticket info)

6. Wealdstone v Hayes & Yeading United - in another tie we have this tasty looking west London derby. Both sides have enjoyed better days with the Stones formerly Conference and Trophy double winners back in the '80s while H&Y were a Conference Premier side themselves until the end of the 2011/12 season. The two now find themselves in the lower half of the Conference South only a point apart. The hosts are enjoying their best run of results so far this season with four wins from their last five. Hayes can't say the same with Phil Babb's men badly needing a win to raise morale. When the two last met on Non-League Day back in September, Hayes won 2-1. (FA Trophy first round, Saturday 13 December, 3pm. Ticket info)

7. Bromley v Leiston - the other tie in the Greater London area sees two promotion-chasing sides do battle at the Fortress Stadium. The Ravens will start as favourites as they currently sit second in the Conference South. Looking to trip them up will be Isthmian League upstarts Leiston who are well on course for a play-off spot after a good start to their season. The Suffolk club have made great strides in recent seasons and are at the highest level they've ever been. With only one defeat in 10, they'll arrive at Hayes Lane with little fear and nothing to lose. (FA Trophy first round, Saturday 13 December, 3pm. Ticket info)

8. Enfield Town v Hendon - in the Isthmian League Cup we've got another derby between two north London clubs who are in great form. Enfield had a slow start but have now lost only two of their last 14 fixtures as they've progressed in cup competitions and climbed to eighth in the table just five points from the play-off places. The Greens, on the other hand, have continued to confound. Without a ground of their own and with a meagre budget, they're still in with an outside shot of the title. Things didn't go well on Saturday though as they were humbled 4-1 by Bognor to bring their 13-match unbeaten run to an end. (Isthmian League Cup second round, Tuesday 9 December, 745pm. Ticket info)

9. Erith & Belvedere v Beckenham Town - two of the leading lights in the Southern Counties East League go head-to-head at Park View Road on Saturday. E&B enjoyed promotion from this division two years ago but failed to establish themselves in the Isthmian League and came straight back down. Their response has been to get really stuck in and win like it's going out of fashion. With only one defeat from 16 they top the table but still haven't shaken off Phoenix Sports who look like pushing them all the way. Beckenham are a top five side themselves and will need to be treated with respect after almost forcing a draw in the reverse fixture earlier in the season. (Southern Counties East League, Saturday 13 December, 3pm. Ticket info)

10. Sun Sports v Harefield United - up near Watford, Sun Sports are one of three teams sharing the lead of the Spartan South Midlands League. On Saturday they lost the crucial match against title rivals Berkhamsted which would've been quite a blow given they've played more games than the sides immediately around them. On Tuesday they welcome Harefield United who make the short journey from Preston Park looking to inflict further pain. In their last meeting at the beginning of November, Sun Sports won 3-1 to make progress in the FA Vase. (Spartan South Midlands League Premier Division, Tuesday 9 December, 745pm. Club info)


If you have any questions or want advice about watching football in London, you can contact TLFG using the comments section below or via FacebookTwitter or email.

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