CHAMPIONES!!

It’s all about the winning!!

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Crusaders F.C. win their 3rd title in 4 seasons

It may one of the lower budget sports competitions in Europe, but Northern Ireland’s domestic football league – the NIFL Danske Bank Premiership – is as exciting as any.  I have the privilege of doing the matchday video camera for video analysis and YouTube channel highlights, as well as a bit of photography with Crusaders FC – a fan-owned club in north Belfast. 14 years after nearly going out of business, Crues are one of the top clubs in Ireland. On 28th April 2018, after a neck and neck chase to the title, Crusaders  pipped Coleraine FC to become winners of the Irish Premiership by winning away at Ballymena and also gaining lucrative entry to the qualifying stages of the UEFA Champions League.

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Manager Stephen Baxter interviewed live on BBC

Most of the players in the league are part-time professional, training 2 or 3 times per week while holding down full time jobs.  There is a strong sense of community within Irish football in midst of all the rivalries as the league competes with round the clock multi-platform coverage of the English Premier league and the other large European leagues.

These photos are of the post-match celebrations on winning the title – taken while also running around with the camcorder videoing the event..

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The final score – equal on points with Coleraine but on better goal difference going into the game, a win guaranteed the championship.
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Super-sub.  David Cushley (and daughter)  – Cush got the late goal which clinched the title.
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The winning squad with NIFL Confetti Gun Operator on the left
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Howard Beverland – one of the best defenders in the league, and possibly made of steel
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Club captain Colin Coates tells the BBC how it was won

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photo-bombing the BBC
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Sean Ward – can play anywhere.  A previous league winner with Linfield
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Brian “The Beast” Jensen.  He’s Danish.  Previously of Burnley fame, now a League winner.
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Matthew ‘Skimmer’ Snoddy.  A young player with his 3rd league winners medal
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From the backroom – coach Marc Wilson
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The club’s record goalscorer – Jordan Owens
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The glittering prizes for 2018  – The Gibson Cup league trophy (right) and the Co Antrim Shield
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Winner of the club and Northern Ireland player of the year awards – Gavin Whyte, with manager Stephen Baxter.  It’ll not be long before we see Gavin in the English league.

The great thing about football is that as the season ends – on a high or in disappointment – we get to do it all over again after the summer.

Kit:  Canon 6D, tweaked in Color Efex Pro pretending to be Portra 160

The Home of GAA

Croke Park, Dublin

For those born into a particular community in Northern Ireland, one tends to follow a certain ‘conditioning’ in what’s ‘ours’ and what’s ‘theirs’. If the community is the British facing one, then in my experience there’s a lot to miss out on during one’s formative years and beyond.

One large cultural gap in my life experience was that of the world of Gaelic sports – the GAA and its components of football, hurling and camogie. Thankfully that has been rectified and I enjoy going to a gaelic football or hurling game almost as much as going to a (proper) football match.  (‘Soccer’ is not a word I care for…)

A must-see on any visit to Dublin is a guided tour of Croke Park and the GAA museum.  The sport itself is dynamic, athletic and with an admirable amateur ethos at its core –  and a history and culture inextricably linked with the evolution of the Irish state.

I took a visit out of season with a roll of Tri-X loaded in that neglected design icon of the 1980s, the Canon T70.

Croke Park, Dublin
St Joseph’s Avenue, Dublin – arriving at Croke Park
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the other Gaelic sport
Croke Park, Dublin
Welcome to Croke Park

The GAA has a presence throughout Irish society where the sports are at the heart of community.  The role of the clubs can be seen throughout the ground and museum.

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the county clubs

Michael Cusack, the GAA founder – marked by statue and stand.

Croke Park, Dublin
Michael Cusack, founder of the GAA

Hill 16  – once named Hill 60 based on an Irish regiment of the British Army – renamed to reflect the legacy of 1916.   No  large stand at this end – it’s in a residential area after all.

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Hill 16

Croke Park holds over 82,000  It’s an Irish Nou Camp

Croke Park, Dublin
the Davin stand meets the Hogan stand
Croke Park, Dublin
The Iconic County Shirts – colour slide film may have been better

The museum itself is one of the best presented sports museums I’ve visited.

Croke Park, Dublin
Museum entrance
Croke Park, Dublin
GAA Museum
Croke Park, Dublin
from the Hall of Fame to Government.  Former Irish Prime Minister, Jack Lynch

Many stadia and clubs have tours and a museum although perhaps only Nou Camp in Barcelona  compares with Croke Park in having a historical context and cultural significance beyond the sport itself.

Croke Park, Dublin
Replica trophies for the selfies – Hogan stand
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that was Croke Park

O Fortuna. Part 1

Fortuna Dusseldorf
Toni Turek.  Fortuna’s most famous player – and goalkeeper in the 1954 Miracle of Bern West Germany world cup winning team

When travelling it’s always a pleasure to check out a local football club.  On a visit to Düsseldorf, the grandly named Fortuna Düsseldorf were playing the lowly 1. FC Heidenheim 1846.  Or  Düsseldorfer Turn- und Sportverein Fortuna 1895 to give the home side their full unedited title.  (The book Tor! by Uli Hesse explains the background to the glorious naming conventions of German football).

As to the match itself, it was a cracking 2-2 draw ending up with a mass brawl between both teams,  coaches and substitutes –  and a referee who clearly lost control and the general ability to referee a football match.

From a photographic point of view however, armed with a 1970’s Ricoh KR-5 and a few prime lenses, it was going to be some documentary shots to give a flavour of the matchday experience.

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Industrial estate setting

The Espirit Arena is a big multi-function trade fair venue (Messe) and sports arena in an anonymous looking industrial estate.  It does however hold over 54,000 and the Rolling Stones have played here.  For a 2nd tier yoyo club, it’s an impressive home stadium.

And with typical German efficiency, getting to the ground and around the stadium couldn’t be easier.

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Fortuna Station (ESPIRIT Arena / Messe Nord)

The regular train service connects the city centre and the stadium with a loop to get the train heading back out again while the next train comes in.

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End of the line – train heads straight back out again

Unlike many city centre stadia, there’s plenty of space when crowds start to arrive – ticketing and queing is all very efficient.

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Pick your seat
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Then buy the ticket

Of course, being in Germany the onsite food and drink is top quality and decently priced.

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My Club, My Stadium, My Sausage.

The last pre-match task – the Club Shop. For a hat.

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Fortuna Fan Shop

Kit:   The robust and utilitarian Ricoh KR5, 50mm f2 lens and a roll of Kentmere 400

Chiang Rai Utd v Big Bang Chula FC

When you’re travelling around the world, you often experience things that are so different from your normal day to day life  – food, language, culture and customs – while other things are pretty much universal.  Football, with its globally consistent rules and multinational structures, transcends location and culture.
Turn up at a match and you could be anywhere.

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Chiang Rai is the northernmost city in Thailand – a delightful, quirky place about 16 hours by train/bus from Bangkok – and hosts a top division league side – Chiang Rai United.  The Thai T1 league has 18 sides from around the country and all have badges, logos and designations in English as opposed to Thai, with many “Uniteds” and “FC’s”.  The opposition on this hot July evening was the splendidly named Big Bang Chula FC.

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The Singha Stadium is beside the airport about 15 minutes drive from the city centre (taxi is the best way to get there – and make sure you book one for after the match..) and it’s a fine modern stadium.  Outside there are the usual hordes of fans in replica kits and a number of stalls selling them – naturally I bought one.

Food is one big difference from the Irish or English leagues. In the absence of cheesey chips, there’s an array of spicy kebabs from 10 baht (0.20 GBP) each.

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no manky pies or Bovril
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cold drinks are essential in the 30 plus temperatures
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fans

Inside it’s open, largely uncovered and all-seater with the stands tight to the pitch.

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Before kick-off there was the formality of the Thai National Anthem.  This seems to have largely disappeared from European sporting events (excepting internationals) but like the States, where the anthem is sung everywhere from MLB and NFL down to local Friday night speedways, in Thailand they like to do the anthem at most public gatherings.  And as is common, it’s accompanied by a royal video clip.

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be upstanding and screen-facing, for the National Anthem

 

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5000 miles from the UK and there’s always a Man United fan..
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the Chiang Rai United rhythm section

On the pitch, there was a mix of players from Thailand and around the world including a few Brazilians.  A home team ex-pat favourite is Mark Bridge, an Australian and leading goalscorer.  The match itself was exciting affair resulting in a 2-2 draw, the crowd was noisy, the food was good and our taxi turned up on time after the match.  A perfect evening.

Mark Bridge 21
He makes it 1-0
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Mark Bridge, Chiang Rai United
final score
Final score 2 – 2.

Kit:
Canon 5D, 70-300 and 50mm lenses;
iPod (6th gen)

more Thai footie photos on the Flickr https://flic.kr/s/aHsm1qvnR9