Monday 29 October 2018

Five Football Teams Who's Names Begin With 'Bishop'

Bishops Lydeard FC
Based in the town of the same name near Taunton, Somerset, Bishops Lydeard currently play in the Western League Division One (step 6) having spent much of their existence in the Taunton & District League and more recently the Somerset County League.

Bishop Sutton AFC
Also playing in Western League Division One are Bishop Sutton. Based in the village of Bishop Sutton, Somerset, they won the Western League Premier Division in 2012/13 before getting relegated two seasons later.

Bishop's Cleeve FC
Playing the Hellenic League Premier Division (step 5) the team are based in Bishop's Cleeve, near Cheltenham. Having been promoted to the Southern League Division One in 2006 they were relegated back to the Hellenic League last season.

Bishop's Stortford FC
Formed in 1874 the club were FA Amateur Cup winners in 1974 and FA Trophy winners in 1981, and have thirteen times reached the first round of the FA Cup, whilst in 1983 they lost to then Second Division Middlesbrough in a third round replay. They currently play in the Bostik League Premier Division (step 3).

Bishop Auckland
Formed in 1886 and historically one of the bigger names in non league football, Bishop Auckland won the FA Amateur Cup a record ten times and in 1954/55 reached the fourth round of the FA Cup. They currently playing in the EBAC Northern League (step 5). 

A version of this will be printed in Bishop Auckland's matchday programme for the Brooks Mileson Memorial League Cup match with Easington Colliery 31 October 2018

Friday 26 October 2018

Remembering The Royal League

"If we don't find a way forward and negotiate a new TV deal it doesn't look good for the Royal League" Those were the words of then Brøndby chairman Per Bjerregaard after his club won the third and final instalment of Scandinavia's short lived regional Champions League style club tournament.

Described by some as a 'failed experiment' the Royal League ran for 3 seasons starting in 2004/05 with four teams each from Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Split into three groups, the first tournament saw the two best teams from each group progress to a second group phase before those two group winners met in the tournament final. For the second and third seasons the second group phase was replaced by a knockout format with the two best third placed sides also joining the first and second placed teams for this.

'Norwegians in charge' reported World Soccer magazine after the first group stage of the inaugural tournament but it was in fact Denmark's FC Copenhagen who went on to win the final that first year beating IFK Göteborg of Sweden on penalties after a 1-1 draw at Gothenburg's Ullevi Stadium. This first edition of the tournament was unfortunately plagued by poor attendances, and although the tournament's highest match attendance was a more than respectable 21,763 for a Copenhagen derby between FC Copenhagen and Brøndby, only 272  turned up to watch Brann v OB, and OB v Halmstads fared even worse with only 86 people present. These were far below domestic league crowds.

Attendances did not fair any better for the second edition of the competition with a low of 63 for one game. That second tournament was again won by FC Copenhagen who beat Lillestrøm of Norway in the final 1-0, and although played at Copenhagen's Parken Stadion home it attracted far below the clubs home league average for that year. All further proof that the competition was struggling to gain interest from fans in the region. Attendance wise there was only limited improvement for the Brøndby won third season, but it was financial issues and problems securing a new TV deal that proved the competitions downfall.

In the end Bjerregaard's prediction of a potential bleak future sadly became a reality for the Royal League. Problems securing a TV deal saw what would have been the fourth edition of tournament delayed and eventually cancelled. Several teams were unwilling participate until a TV was secured and when it became apparent one would not be agreed then the whole competition was scrapped. After just three seasons the Royal League was no more. 

Following the Royal League's downfall plans for a new tournament to be known as the Royal Cup which would also include sides from Finland and Iceland never got of the ground and the short lived experiment of a regional competition for league clubs from Scandinavia died a sad death.

Saturday 20 October 2018

Six Clubs Playing In Leagues Outside Their Country of Residence

Berwick Rangers
Based in the town of Berwick on the Scottish borders, despite playing Scottish League Two the town they hail from is actually on the English side of the border. The club have been affiliated with the Scottish Football Association since 1905 and members of the Scottish Football League since 1951

Berwick are not the only borders club to have played their football on the wrong side of line with Scottish clubs Annan Athletic and Gretna having both previously played non league football in England.

Derry City
Formed in 1928 and hailing from the Northern Irish city of Londonderry, also referred to as simply Derry by Irish Republicans, Derry City have played their football over border in the Republic of Ireland since 1985.

For several years forced to play their home games 30 miles away when the Irish FA deemed the home ground unsafe for fixtures, Derry struggled and in 1972 resigned from the league. With the club hailing from a mostly Catholic city and the IFA mostly ran by protestants the club felt they had been unfairly treated to due to sectarian discrimination.

For the following 13 years the club existed playing Sunday league junior football before successfully applying to join the Irish leagues where they have remained ever since, and these days play top flight football in what is currently known as the SSE Airticity League Premier Division.

FC Vaduz
The tiny landlocked European country of Liechtenstein only has seven football clubs and therefore does not have its own league, with the country's clubs all playing in the Swiss league system. The biggest of these clubs is FC Vaduz who in recent years have tended to play their football in either Switzerland's top flight Super League or it's second tier Challenge League.

The country does however have its own cup competition and the winners of this gain entry to the UEFA Europa League.

Merthyr Town
Based in the welsh town of Merthyr Tydfil, the club has always played it's football in the English league system. Currently a non league club they actually played in the Football League between 1920 and 1930. 

Merthyr are not the only Welsh club to play their football in England, Cardiff City, Swansea City, Newport County, and Wrexham all currently play in the English leagues. Cardiff currently play top flight football in the Premier League whilst Swansea were relegated from that division last season.

AS Monaco
The principality of Monaco does not have it's own national team and it's sole club side currently play accross the border in the top flight of French football. Formed in 1919 the club have spent their whole existence playing in the French leagues.

The club has had many successes over the years including 8 Top flight Ligue Une titles and 5 Coupe de France final victories, as well as having been runners up in both UEFA Cup Winners Cup and Champions League finals.

Vancouver Whitecaps
Based in Canada, the original Whitecaps side played in the now defunct NASL league whilst the current side has played in USA's Major League Soccer (MLS) since 2009 along with fellow Canadian sides Toronto FC and Montreal Impact.

Canadian and American sports teams playing in the same league is fairly common. Various Canadian teams play along side their American counterparts in the NHL ice hockey league, whilst the NBA basketball league and Major League  Baseball both include a small number of Canadian sides.

Playing together does not however extend to American football where Canadian sides shun the NFL to play a slight variation to the game in their own CFL league. You could draw comparisons with this and the sport of rugby where in England we play two variations of that game.

Friday 19 October 2018

The Leagues That Religion Split In Two.

The term non league football isn't really used outside England, even in Scotland they use the term 'junior football'. But although other countries may not use this specific term, most of the top footballing nations in Europe have some form of lower league amateur and semi professional soccer similar to what we would call non league. In Germany they have 'Regionalliga' football, whilst in France they have the 'Championnat de France Amateur'. None of them however have quite as unique an existence as the religious leagues in the Netherlands, and I call them 'religious' because the leagues have literally been split right down the middle by religious beliefs.

Last year a weekend in the Netherlands saw me take in not only three top flight Eredivisie matches, but also a fifth tier Hoofdklasse match. A late October Saturday afternoon saw me in the beautiful town of Zwolle where along with 200 or so locals I was watching a local Dutch 'non league' side called Voetbalvereniging Berkum, or VV Berkum for short. Berkum play in Group B of the Zaterdag  (Saturday) section of the Dutch fifth tier, you guessed it playing matches on a Saturday. The Saturday section consists of two regional divisions, Group A and Group B, I guess a bit like the National North and South we have over here. However unlike the National League the Dutch fifth tier also has a Zondag (Sunday) section where two more leagues exist covering exactly the same regions.

Sportpark De Vegtlust - Home of VV Berkum

But why this duplication you ask? Remember earlier when I referred to the country's 'religious' leagues, well religion is exactly why some teams in the Netherlands play their matches on a Saturday in a Saturday league whilst others play in separate leagues at exactly the same level on a Sunday.
As with Britain, The Netherlands was traditionally split into two religious groups Protestant and Catholic. Religion had divided the country for centuries and indeed after the Eighty Years' War (1568–1648) religion saw what was then considered the Netherlands split into two separate kingdoms, with the southern majority Catholic part mostly consisting of what is now modern day Belgium (although some of it is part of the present day Netherlands).

St. Jacobuskerk church, Eenschede, Netherlands
Whilst Belgium had always been majority Catholic, the Netherlands always had more Protestants, albeit with a large minority of Catholics, and the divides between these two groups was once upon a time very visible in everyday Dutch life. As a Catholic you grew up attending a Catholic school, and in adulthood joined a Catholic trade union when you took up employment, whilst after work you would go home and read a Catholic newspaper and listen to a Catholic radio station. Protestants also had their own schools, trade unions, and media outlets, meaning many aspects of daily life were effectively divided into to Protestant and Catholic, and with football this was no different. If you were a Protestant you joined a Protestant football team playing in a Protestant football league, likewise if you were Catholic you played for Catholic teams in Catholic leagues.

Yes the two groups played in different football leagues, but why the Saturday/Sunday split? Well it's quite simple really, due to religious beliefs Protestants refused to play football on Sunday so therefore played their matches on a Saturday, whilst being the poorer of the two groups Catholics usually had to work on a Saturday therefore leaving Sunday the only day they had free in which to play football.

Basilica of Our Lady church, Zwolle, Netherlands
In modern day Netherlands the Protestant/Catholic divide surely plays a massively smaller part in Dutch society than in once did. In fact with mass immigration into Europe and the multi cultural societies it has brought with it, religions such as Islam probably have for many Dutch citizens far more influence in their daily lives than the two traditional religions ever would. However despite the massively declining  influence of these two religions their legacy still exists in the world of football with all amateur and semi professional leagues up to and including the fourth tier Derde Divisie still split into two sections, Saturday and Sunday. This even though most of the teams taking part are probably not influenced by religion in the slightest!