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Monday, August 28, 2017

PFB ON TOUR: LUXEMBOURG IN PICTURES

Luxembourg has always been regarded as one of Europe's lesser lights as far as football is concerned; up until the admission of countries such as the Faroe Islands, San Marino, Liechtenstein and Andorra to FIFA and UEFA at the end of the 1980s, the Luxembourg national side was consistently the worst -performing team in World Cup and European Championship qualification. Yet, Luxembourg, represented by the FLF (Fédération Luxembourgeoise du Football, the Luxembourg FA), along with Portugal, are the only two countries which have competed in qualification for every European Championship and World Cup tournament.

An attempt to introduce football into the country was made by a certain Henri Baclesse, a businessman residing in Hollerich, a district of Luxembourg City, in 1889. Baclesse, a member of the CGDEL fencing and gymnastics club, had gone to England on a business trip and returned with a football, which he had brought back for the benefit of the club's younger members. After an initial burst of enthusiasm from the youngsters, interest quickly faded and Baclesse's efforts were in vain. 

Some years later, at the beginning of the 20th century, football was being played in the streets of Luxembourg's second city, Esch-sur-Alzette, thanks at least in part to an English teacher at the city's technology college. Jean Roeder, a native of the tiny village of Roodt, had gone to England to study the language not long after Baclesse's return, and, after spending over a decade in England, came back home with..a football. The college's students, who were starved of physical exercise, took to the game and its popularity soon became evident on Esch's streets. Cercle Sportif Fola Esch - better known as Fola - hold the honour of being the oldest club in the country, having been founded by Roeder in 1906. The name Fola represents the club's football and lawn tennis departments which were founded together on 9 December of that year, although the lawn tennis department, together with the handball and athletics departments which were formed later, became sundered from the football side of the club in later years.

STADE ÉMILE MAYRISCH (Fola Esch)

Fola's golden years were between 1917 and 1930, during which time they won the national title five times and were runners-up on four occasions; they also won the country's FA Cup twice. They moved to their current home, the Stade Émile Mayrisch (pictured above) in 1935, and then the trophies dried up. Apart from winning the Coupe de Luxembourg in 1955, the club endured a miserable period, culminating in a long period of third-level football and fended off a merger with near-neighbours Jeunesse. Fola didn't win another major honour until 2013, when they won their sixth league championship, and followed this up with a seventh title in 2015.

They had quite a successful Europa League run this season, reaching the third round for the first time in their history before being eliminated by Swedish club IFK Östersund. They also opened a small uncovered stand at the far side of the pitch, directly opposite their main stand, ahead of the campaign.

Jeunesse, or, to give the club's official name, Association Sportive La Jeunesse d'Esch, were founded in August 1907 as Jeunesse Frontière d'Esch and are Luxembourg's most successful club. They moved to their current ground, the Stade de la Frontière (or Stadion Op Der Grenz in Luxembourgish), in 1920, which is situated in Hiehl, a suburb of Esch-sur-Alzette to the south of town and just a few hundred metres from the French border - hence the name. 


STADE DE LA FRONTIÈRE (Jeunesse d'Esch)
The stadium (pictured above) has terracing on one side and a 1200-seater stand on the other, and is surrounded by terraced housing on all sides; your traditional nieghbourhood football ground, in other words. The Stade le la Frontière, home to a club which has won twenty-eight league titles and thirteen Coupes de Luxembourg, is surely a must-see for groundhoppers everywhere.

One ground which will shortly no longer be on any groundhopper's hit-list is the Stade Henri Jungers in Differdange. The ground, based in the town's Fousbann district, was home to AS Differdange before the club's merger with Red Boys Differdange in 2003 which created FC03 Differdange. It was used by FC03's youth team until 2012, when the new Stade Municipal opened.
STADE HENRI JUNGERS (AS Differdange)

The site is being redeveloped, and there was very little of the stadium left to see at the end of June, with just the ticket booths and the old stand still intact (see above). That will change, of course; a small park, youth centre, playground and a by-pass are currently being built and the project should be completed by the end of this year.

One ground which is still being used in Differdange is the Stade Thillenberg, the former home of Red Boys, which is situated at the town's western extremity. FC03 Differdange's youth teams currently use the ground - which has achieved something of an iconic status among groundhoppers - as did FC03's first team until the Stade Municipal was completed in 2012.




STADE THILLENBERG (Red Boys Differdange/FC03 Differdange)

The ground dates from around 1921, and it was apparently built by local miners in their spare time. At one time, it was the largest stadium in Luxembourg and hosted a number of international matches up to the outbreak of the Second World War. Fast forward to 2012, and the Differdange town council had originally earmarked the Stade Thillenberg for demolition, with a regional athletics stadium or tennis courts being built on the site. However, they had not reached agreement with the site's owners, Arcelor Mittal, and the matter remains unresolved.

FC03's new ground, the Stade Municipal (officially called the Stade Municipal de la Ville de Differdange), is within easy reach of Differdange's train station and Differdange town centre, but is actually in neighbouring Oberkorn. It replaced the Stade Thillenberg as the club's home base upon its completion in 2012. The ground has a capacity of 2400 spectators, and possesses a stand which can hold 1800.



STADE MUNICIPAL (FC03 Differdange/CS Oberkorn)

There is a small seating area opposite the stand, which borders the club's training pitch. The stadium forms part of the Parc des Sports complex, which, like the Stade Municipal, is council-owned. Apart from FC03, the complex is also used by local boxing, martial arts and handball clubs. Strangely enough, the handball club is none other than Red Boys Differdange, which was founded in 1939 as part of the original Red Boys' athletics section and used to train at the Stade Thillenberg.
 
 STADE JAMINET (Luna Oberkorn)

Also based in Oberkorn, but at the southernmost point of the village, is the Stade Jaminet (above), home of Luna Oberkorn, a club which was founded in 1932 but which has spent most of its existence in the lower regions of Luxembourg's football pyramid. They are taking part in this season's Division 2 (fourth level) along with CS Oberkorn, founded in 1930, who share the Stade Municipal with FC03.



STADE JOS HAUPERT (Progrès Niederkorn)

To the north of Differdange lies the town of Niederkorn, home of Progrès Niederkorn; yes, the same Progrès Niederkorn which knocked Glasgow Rangers out of this season's Europa League before going on to lose to AEL Limassol 3:1 on aggregate, a score which somewhat flattered the Cypriots. Progrès play their football at the Stade Jos Haupert (see above photos), at the northernmost edge of town.

TERRAIN MUNSBACH (FC Munsbach)

A couple of miles to the east of Luxembourg's international airport at Findel lies the tiny village of Munsbach, which lends its name to fourth-level FC Munsbach, who play at the Terrain Munsbach, which is actually found in the even tinier village of Uebersyren, a few metres to the east of the boundary between the two villages (although FC Munsbach's website home page lists the ground as being in Munsbach). FC Munsbach's ground is the proverbial stone's throw away from the local train-station. The club was founded in 1946.



STADE ALBERT KONGS (Blo-Wäiss Itzig)

A few miles to the south of Luxembourg-Ville lies the picturesque village of Itzig, where Blo-Wäiss Itzig play at the Stade Albert Kongs. The club currently plays at the fourth-level of Luxembourgish football, having been relegated from the 1. Division at the end of last season. The club was founded in 1941, following on from Excelsior Itzig, which was originally founded in 1919 but had a stop-start existence until it folded in 1928. 

The ground is named after Albert Kongs, who was FLF president from 1961 until his death in 1968. Kongs was one of the founders of Blo-Wäiss, and always maintained that the club was founded as a cover for local Resistance groups during the Nazi occupation of Luxembourg. The Stade Albert Kongs was built in 1973, and the new clubhouse was contstructed in 2007.



STADE ALPHONSE THEIS (Swift Hesperange)

Blo-Wäiss Itzig's ground is around a mile from that of Swift Hesperange, the Stade Alphonse Theis, which is part of the Centre Sportive Holleschberg on the outskirts of Hesperange. Swift will be spending the coming season in the Promotion d'Honneur (second level); the club have yo-yoed between the top two divisions from time to time, and won the Coupe de Luxembourg in 1990. The Stade Alphonse Theis, named after a former Luxembourgish politician, has a capacity of around 4000, and was opened in 2001. Since it opened, the ground has been the venue for a number of friendly matches involving Luxembourg, the most recent of which took place in March, when they lost 2:0 to Cape Verde.



 TERRAIN COMMUNAL (FC Mondercange)/FLF complex (Mondercange)

The FLF currently has its headquarters a mile or so outside the small town of Mondercange, and local side FC Mondercange's ground is right beside the FLF complex (the bottom photo of the three above), the Centre de Formation National. The Stade Communal has a capacity of 3300, including a small stand which can seat 254. The club has two other pitches, the Stade Communal II, which is next to the parent ground and is used for reserve and under-age matches, and the Terrain Communal (top two photos), situated next to the village's cemetery on the Rue du Limpach, which is FC Mondercange's training ground.


STADE ÉMILE BINTNER (Tricolore Gasperich)



Not far from Luxembourg's train and bus station lies the Stade Émile Bintner, nestled in the middle of the city's Gasperich district and home to fifth-tier Tricolore Gasperich. The club was founded in 1919 as Tricolore Muhlenweg, changed its name in 1925 to FC Blue Star Gasperich, and then settled on Tricolore Gasperich three years later. Two years after the club's foundation, it reached the Division Nationale, the top level of football in Luxembourg, but was relegated at the end of the season. It has never come close to reaching the top flight any time since then, but has spent most of the recent past in the lower divisions, and were relegated to the bottom tier at the end of last season.




STADE JOS NOSBAUM (US Dudelange/F91 Dudelange)

There could harldy be a bigger contrast between the fortunes of Tricolore Gasperich and F91 Dudelange, formed - as the name suggests - in 1991, after a merger of Dudelange's three football clubs, Stade, US and Alliance. F91 have won 13 national titles and 7 Coupes de Luxembourg since its formation on 26 April 1991. The club plays at the Stade Jos Nosbaum, which was previously home to US Differdange, which was founded in 1912 after - surprise, surprise - a merger between Jeunesse de la Frontière 1908 Dudelange and Minerva Deich. The stadium's capacity is a little over 2500.
The Cercle Sportif Alliance Dudelange was founded in 1916, also after a merger, between Étoile Rouge and Étoile Bleue. The club played at the Stade Amadeo Barozzi in the town's old Italian Quarter, in the shadow of the giant ARBED steel works, until its absorption into F91.













STADE ALOYSE MEYER (Stade Dudelange/F91 Dudelange)



The third club involved in the merger was Stade Dudelange, which was founded as Gallia in 1908. It changed its name to Sparta in 1912, and to Cercle des Sports le Stade in May 1913. The club was successful in its own right, winning 10 national titles and 4 Coupes de Luxembourg, with the last league championship coming in 1965. Stade played at the Stade Aloyse Meyer, which was little more than a large field containing two football pitches. Little enough has changed, though there now is a third, artificial, pitch on the premises, together with a large pavilion containing meeting-rooms, changing-rooms, a canteen and gym; the Stade Aloyse Meyer is now used by F91 as their training complex.











Luxembourg's national side plays its home matches at the Stade Josy Barthel, named after the country's only track and field Olympic gold medal winner, who won the 1500 metre gold medal at the Helsinki Olympics in 1952. Construction of the stadium commenced in 1928 and was completed three years later with a capacity of 12000. The stadium was called the Stade Municipal from its opening until 1993, when it was renamed the Stade Josy Barthel. It was razed to the ground and completely rebuilt in 1990. The ground now holds some 8000 people.

However, there may have been an earlier Stade Municipal in Luxembourg-Ville; the authoritative De Letzebuerger Fussball website lists matches taking place at a Stade Municipal in 1924. The current Stade Municipal is also used for athletics and rugby, but its days as a sports venue may well be numbered. In February 2014, plans were announced for a new national stadium for both the FLF and the Luxembourg rugby federation at Kockelscheuer, to the south of Luxembourg-Ville, which is expected to cost some €64.5 million - almost twice the original budget - and have a capacity of 9595. Work has already started on the stadium, which is expected to be completed in late 2018/early 2019. 

The Stade Municipal, meanwhile, will continue to host international football and rugby matches until then; plans were afoot to renovate the stadium, but with the coming of the stadium at Kockelscheuer, the stadium will be demolished to make way for a housing development. Will the building of the new stadium usher in better times for d'Roud Léiwen and for football in Luxembourg in general?

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AUTHOR'S NOTE: The above article is part of a series of articles on football in Luxembourg, which will be rolled out over the next few months. Match reports, interviews and a couple of articles will come together under the  #ProjectLuxey umbrella.

Some of the material comes from personal archives; all photographs are author's own, and are available to use on condition that acknowledgement is made of the source and links to any articles be sent to Pat's Football Blog's Facebook page. (It's always interesting to see what others write, after all!)

Wikipedia and the FLF website were also checked as were the below websites/news stories from Luxemburger Wort:

http://www.profootball.lu/Navigation+2/La+Voix+des+Presidents/Erny+Muller-print-1.html

http://www.fussball-lux.lu/
https://www.wort.lu/de/lokales/nationales-fussballstadion-eine-rechteckige-arena-fuer-luxemburg-55a8e0320c88b46a8ce5ccc1
https://www.wort.lu/de/lokales/nationales-fussballstadion-klarheit-gibt-es-am-freitagmorgen-52fd0788e4b058012e99d88a
https://www.wort.lu/de/lokales/teures-fussballstadion-58-statt-30-bis-35-millionen-euro-55c4bfd90c88b46a8ce5e007

Numerous other websites were also checked in order to verify information.

Information was also obtained from the following books:

"Gooaaallll! 100 Joer Football zu Diddeleng" (Lucien Blau & Jules Ury);

"100 Joer Fussball Déifferdeng" (Official publication FC03 Differdange); and
"100 Joer Fussball zu Lëtzebuerg - CS Fola 1906-2006" (Official publication Fola Esch)

Thursday, July 13, 2017

PFB ON TOUR: FOLA ESCH 2:1 MILSAMI ORHEI

Hope was in the air ahead of Fola Esch's Europa League first round, first leg clash against Moldovan side Milsami Orhei on a glorious evening at the Stade Émile Mayrisch, Esch-sur-Alzette on 29 June. Fola had finished third in last season's BGL Ligue, as had Milsami in Moldova's Divizia Nazionala. It was a step into the unknown for the Luxembourg side as they knew virtually nothing about Milsami and had to rely on the internet for most of their information for their opponents.



That was rendered irrelevant as both teams stepped on to the pitch to the opening bars of the AC/DC classic "Hells Bells" before a crowd of just under a thousand spectators, a respectable number of whom were seated in Fola's new open stand on the eastern flank of the pitch.





The bells were ringing loud and proud after just four minutes when, after a cagey opening from both teams, Fola, playing in blue, took the lead. Samir Hadji went on a run up the left, passed the ball to Enis Saiti who ran on and crossed from the goal-line into Jakob Dallevedove who was standing unmarked at the edge of the penalty-area. The cross was perfect; Dallevedove positioned himself, swivelled and fired a fine volley past the despairing dive of goalkeeper Radu Mitu to give the home side a dream start.

Fola should have doubled their lead four minutes later when Saiti delivered another perfect cross to Hadji, who had lost his marker and was standing on the six-yard line. Instead of blasting both the ball and Mitu into the back of the net, however, Hadji elected to weakly volley the ball downward and straight at the goalkeeper. Milsani almost made Fola pay in the 10th minute when Vladimir Rassulov waltzed past a couple of defenders on the left before firing a low shot just past the right-hand post of Thomas Hym.

Ryan Klapp then shot over the crossbar from distance for the hosts before Tom Laterza embarked on a run from midfield and tried an ambitious shot on goal, which was deflected away for a corner, which was dealt with by the Milsami defence. The ball was then worked up the pitch by Constantin Bogdan and Rassulov, who passed to Sergiu Platica; Platica's shot from six yards out was saved by Hym's legs. The danger wasn't over, though; the resulting corner was headed on at the near post and Eugeniu Celeadnic only just failed to make contact with the ball at the far post, having left a Fola defender in his wake, and the ball trundled behind for a goal-kick.



Hym sent a Route 1 goal-kick downfield over the Milsami midfield for Ryan Klapp to chase; two bounces later, Klapp got to the ball before a pair of defenders and half-volleyed a chip from 25 yards over Mitu. It would have been a lovely goal, but Klapp saw his shot thud off the top of the crossbar and behind for a goal-kick, much to the relief of the man in white in the Milsami goal, who had gone wandering outside his own penalty-area.

Fola had dominated the first twenty minutes but had only the one goal to show for it; they kept up the pressure when Tom Laterza delivered a good cross in the 21st minute which was deflected behind by Bogdan. The first corner-kick was put behind for a second, which Peter Chrappan got his head to eight yards out only for Mitu to save well, low down at his right-hand post. 

Hadji got possession of the ball in the 23rd minute and delivered a fine pass inside to Dallevedove, who ran on fired in a stinging shot which was saved by Mitu at his near post and went behind for a corner. The corner was sent in towards Saiti, who badly miscued his attempt, leaving everyone else flat-footed and the ball was cleared.



Fola badly needed to score again, and soon, but there was a period of pressure from their opponents, during which Platica's free-kick was blocked by the Fola defensive wall, and Dino Graur's free-kick from 25 yards out was low, hard and went just the wrong side of Hym's right-hand post. The pressure lasted until half-time, apart from a couple of situations involving Saiti and Hadji who were looking dangerous for the home side when the situation allowed.

The half ended precisely on 45 minutes with Fola a goal up, but it could - and should - have been more. Milsami were coming more and more into the game, but Fola began the second half well. A Saiti free-kick a few minutes in led to mayhem in the Milsami box, but no-one could quite get the required touch on the ball to send it over a packed goal-line. Laterza sent in a cross which Mitu fumbled badly, but none of the Fola forwards were close enough to make him pay.



Milsami forward Eugeniu Celeadnic wasted a great chance to level the scores on 55 minutes. He was left unmarked on the right-hand side of the penalty-area when a free-kick was floated in from the left, but he could only direct his header down and wide. They attacked again on the hour when a low cross was flung in from the right which Hym in the Fola goal could only parry. the ball came out to Maxim Antoniuc - who had passed the ball out to his colleague on the wing during the build-up and who had drifted unnoticed into the box - some 15 yards out whose diving header looped over everybody, except a home defender who cleared the ball ninja-style off the goal-line. Hym parried another low cross with attackers in attendance moments later, but the ball fell advantageously or him and he was able to retrieve it unimpeded. Fola's goal was suddenly leading a charmed life.

Down the other end, Klapp was proving industrious and fed the ball in to Dallevedove, who turned and shot from just outside the box but his effort went wide of Mitu's left-hand post. The ball went straight back upfield and Graur fashioned himself a chance after gaps in the Fola defence left him unmarked at the right-hand edge of the area, but his shot was well saved by Hym.



Things went just a little stale for the next ten minutes or so, but with a quarter of an hour to go, Dallevedove turned provider after going on a run down the left, passing in to Hadji whose strong shot was saved at the second attempt. Milsani had another little purple patch, but on one occasion, two of their front four got in each other's way in a promising position inside the penalty-area, lost the ball and fouled Chrappan.

With ten minutes to go and slightly against the run of play, Fola doubled their lead. A ball into the box from the left touchline was worked on to Hadji via the merest of touches from Dallevedove, and Hadji turned and shot from ten yards out, sending the ball under Mitu and into the corner of the net. It felt as though a heavy weight had been lifted from the Fola team; they had deserved a second goal, but they should have scored it at least an hour earlier.




And, the weight was back on Fola shoulders less than a minute after their goal when Milsami took advantage of a severe lack of concentration in the home defence. Maxim Antoniuc played the ball forward to Vladimir Rassulov, who was tackled by a Fola defender. Unfortunately, the ball was played off a second Fola player, ricocheted into the path of Sergiu Platica at the left-hand angle of the penalty-area, and he swung at it with the outside of his right foot. Cue wild celebrations on the Milsami bench as the ball skimmed along the ground and into the net just inside the far post, with goalkeeper Hym left bewildered.



Milsami continued to press, but, despite all their pressure, they couldn't find a way through an increasingly nervy Fola defence. It was Fola who almost scored in the second of three minutes of injury-time when Hadji got his head to a free-kick, delivered from inside his team's own half, in front of Mitu with the 'keeper's defence ball-watching; his header looped over the goalie and was heading in to an empty net only for a defender to slide in and clear the ball a couple of feet before the goal-line.



Fola had won the first leg, then, but by a smaller margin than what it could have been, having failed to take the chances presented to them in the first half-hour or so and having failed to create more. Milsami could look back with some satisfaction on the match, having weathered the Fola storm after conceding an early goal and eventually scoring a late one of their own. After the match, both Fola manager Jeff Strasser and vice-president Gilbert Goergen expressed satisfaction that the team had won the home leg and were hopeful that this would eventually see them through to the next round, but they were under no illusions about the task awaiting their players in Moldova in the second leg.



FOLA ESCH: 1 Thomas HYM, 8 Veldin MUHAREMOVIC, 10 Jakob DALLEVEDOVE, 11 Corentin KOCUR (20 Michel BECHTOLD), 15 Samir HADJI, 22 Enis SAITI (27 Stefano BENSI), 23 Tom LATERZA, 24 Mehdi KIRCH, 26 Ryan KLAPP (3 Alexander CVETKOVIC), 28 Julien KLEIN, 44 Peter CHRAPPAN

SUBSTITUTES (unused): 33 Emanuel CABRAL, 9 Christophe MARTIN-SUAREZ, 14 Cédric SACRAS, 21 Roman PIERRARD

MILSAMI ORHEI: I Radu MITU, 2 Artur CRACIUN, 6 Constantin BOGDAN, 9 Maxim ANTONIUC, 15 Vladimir RASSULOV (19 Andrei RUSNAC), 16 Alexandru ANTONIUC, 17 Andrea COJOCARI, 18 Alexandru DULGHIER (4 Vasile JARDAN), 22 Dinu GRAUR, 24 Eugeniu CELEADNIC (11 Dan CIOBANU), 28 Sergiu PLATICA

SUBSTITUES (unused): 21 Cristian APOSTOLACHI, 10 Gheorghe ANDRONIC, 20 Alexandru BELEVSCHI

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FOOTNOTE: Milsani and Fola played their return leg at Orhei's District Sport Complex a week after they met at the Stade Émile Mayrisch. Alexandru Antoniuc gave Milsami the lead from a free-kick after 37 minutes, but Jakob Dallevedove restored parity on the night - and put Fola in front on aggregate - when he scored in the 59th minute. The home side ended the match with ten men when Dinu Graur was sent off for a second bookable offence with four minutes left. Fola qualified for the second round 3:2 on aggregate; they would be meeting Azeri side Inter Baku, with the first leg in Azerbaijan on 12 July.

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AUTHOR'S NOTE: The above article is part of a series of articles on football in Luxembourg, which will be rolled out over the next few months. Match reports, interviews and a couple of articles will come together under the  #ProjectLuxey umbrella.

Many thanks to one and all at Fola Esch for their kindness, patience and hospitality, and for providing the official line-ups. Any and all errors in the above article are of course, the author's own (as are all of the photographs used). A fuller article on Fola will come in good time.