When people think of sport in Neath - a historic Welsh Roman fortress town situated not ten miles from Swansea - they would be inclined to think of the rugby team, steeped in history with its plethora of international stars such as Jonathan Davies, Paul Thorburn and Scott Gibbs.
Albania has, for all of its footballing history, been a minnow, never qualifying for the finals of a major tournament once, or really ever coming close for that matter. Their largest margin of victory was a 5-0 result against Asian also-rans Vietnam in a friendly in 2003.
As the Portuguese Primeira Liga drew to a close at the weekend, all eyes were understandably on Benfica and Porto as they battled it out for the League Championship and, for the latter, the enviable record of enduring the season without defeat.
The withdrawal symptoms from the lack of A-League football have already started to kick and we still have another four and a half months of the offseason to go.
The British Asian community’s reputation as a production line for professional footballers is roughly as well established as England’s reputation for producing elite footballers who fare well when plying their trade beyond these shores. In other words, there’s not a great tradition of either.
Irrespective of region, culture or history, it’s one of football’s constants. The meeting of two teams sharing a common catchment area can act as the ultimate source of pride or shame. Those 90 minutes alone have the power to overshadow an otherwise positive season, or redeem one otherwise nondescript.
February 2008: the Brighton Bandits go to Nottingham for a Gay Football Supporters’ Network (GFSN) national league match against the Nottingham Ballbois. It’s a long trip – 150 miles each way.
While South Americans have dominated Spanish soccer for decades, much rarer is the successful player from the Northern half of the hemisphere. For every successful Mexican like Hugo Sanchez and Rafa Marquez, a disappointing Omar Bravo returns home with his tail firmly tucked between his legs.
Earlier this year, fans not just of Juventus, but of Italian football in general took a moment to remember the sad passing of the inimitable Gianni Agnelli. January represented the tenth anniversary of that fateful day, and Juventini everywhere recalled their greatest memories of perhaps the most charismatic President a club could ever dream of having.
There is one thing that Dayton offers the soccer community that very few -- if any -- other city can.
When the British Army launched its great Somme offensive in the summer of 1916, few people could have envisaged the devastation battle would bring. The opening day alone saw British casualties of almost 60,000 and by the time the slaughter had ground to a bloody halt in the November mud, Britain and her dominions had lost a staggering 400,000 men.
Besides ‘Nessum Dorma’ and Gazza’s tears, the 1990 World Cup is probably best remembered as the tournament so dull and so cynical that it drove FIFA to introduce the back-pass rule. But like any modern World Cup, the finals of the 1990 edition were merely the tip of the iceberg, with its 52 matches and 24 participants dwarfed by the schedule of fixtures contested by 114 countries across the globe over 19 months during the qualifying competitions.
In the Premiership, Belgian footballers are all the rage at the top clubs, with players like Eden Hazard showing they can mix it with the cream of European football. But in Belgium itself, a team who didn’t exist in its present form until the Premiership was 10 years old, and a different Hazard altogether are making the headlines.
In its heyday it stood majestically as the home of Torino. It housed ‘Il Grande Torino’, arguably the greatest side calcio has ever witnessed. It presented a wall of noise in an intimate atmosphere. It was where Torino claimed six of their seven Scudetti.
Bristol City, Bristol Rovers, Yeovil Town and Plymouth Argyle may not be household names like their compatriots from London or Manchester but compared to the “lesser” clubs across the counties of Somerset, Devon and Gloucester, the aforementioned quartet rule the roost in the west country.
In Somerset, it's the two Bristol sides that dominate the fanbase within the local communities. City remain the larger of the two teams and the exploits of the region’s Conference South representative, Bath City, are cruelly overlooked.
Formed in 1889 as Bath AFC, the Romans were denied entry into the Football League back in 1978 and, as a result, have spent their 124-year history in non-league football, during which time they have changed their name to Bath Railway in 1902 before eventually settling for Bath City.
Plying their trade in a city which is largely dominated by Bath Rugby – the fact that football is overruled by rugby in the local pubs when the Aviva Premiership side play reinforces this – doesn't aid their cause, not to mention Team Bath FC, who ground-shared with City from 2004 until their resignation from the Conference South in 2009.
Such is the financial insecurity surrounding the club that it was reported in January that chairwoman Manda Rigby was open to the prospect of selling Twerton Park in a bid to save the club from folding. Last year, fans were offered the chance to rename the stadium for as little as £50, with the winner being selected at random.
While the change would only have lasted one season it was an impressive way to raise funds for the club, with Rigby herself entering the draw only to keep her choice of name a secret. Fortunately, with the club encouraging traditionalists to enter, the name remained Twerton Park, a far cry from 2008 when then chairman Geoff Todd had held talks with Bath Rugby over a possible ground-share at the 12,000-seater Recreation Ground close to the weir.
It is a rather distressing turn of events for the west country club, which, regardless of its lowly position on the footballing ladder, is a club with a noteworthy history, securing the Somerset Premier Cup on no less than 21 occasions, twice being runners-up in the Anglo-Italian Cup - a competition that has boasted the likes of Newcastle United, AS Roma, Blackpool and Napoli during its peak in the 1970s - and winning the Southern League, Level 7 on the footballing ladder, three times.
The list of players to have played their football at Twerton Park is more illustrious than some may imagine. The most notable in the modern day is current Queens Park Rangers striker Bobby Zamora. Beginning his senior career with Bristol Rovers after stints with east London youth side Senrab FC - famed for bringing through John Terry, Ledley King and Paul Koncheskey in the past - before being released by West Ham United after failing to land a professional deal, Zamora signed with the Pirates in 1999.
Having failed to really crack the first team Zamora was sent on a one-month loan to Bath in early 2000, where it became apparent that he possessed a knack for finding the back of the net on a regular basis. He scored an astonishing 11 goals in eight games during the latter half of the Romans’ Southern League campaign.
A move to Brighton & Hove Albion was secured and the rest, as they say, is history. Yet, it can be argued that it was with Bath City that Zamora rose to prominence after failing to net for Bristol Rovers during his short time at the Memorial Stadium.
It wasn't just Zamora that enjoyed stints at the west country side, with Jason Dodd beginning his career at Twerton Park. The now 42-year-old was born in Bath and it was with his local club that he caught the eye of Southampton.
After coming through the ranks he went on to make 11 first team appearances and scored once before he signed for Saints in 1989. He spent 16 years at Southampton – including a loan spell with Plymouth Argyle in 2004 – and made close to 400 appearances at the Dell and St Mary's.
Alan Skirton, another Bath local, also began his career with the club prior to his switch to Arsenal in 1960, appearing over 300 times combined for the two clubs. Former Blackburn Rovers manager Steve Kean spent time at Twerton Park between 1991 and 1992.
Their exploits are eclipsed by a player who, sadly, passed away in 1997. Charlie Fleming, or 'Cannonball Charlie', was a key figure for Bath City between 1958 and 1965, turning out 300 times for the club and finding the back of the net in 216 as City won the Southern League and Somerset Premier Cup during his seven years in the west country after three years with Sunderland.
While three of these players played in Premier League, not to mention Skirton's six years with Arsenal, it's the achievements of Fleming that are the most impressive.
Prolific in the 18-yard box and ending his career with 395 goals in 580 appearances – an average of 1.46 goals per game – ‘Cannonball’ went into management at the helm of Bath and then Trowbridge Town. It's criminal that 'Cannonball' only won one senior cap with Scotland, in 1953. He scored twice.
To see Bath City in their current predicament is a cruel turn of events for a club that has a vast and lengthy history in a location that is dominated by rugby and has much larger teams just 12 miles down the A4.
Bath are in the middle of the Conference South, ten points behind a playoff place, and the possibility of selling Twerton Park looms over the horizon as a result of “50 years of debt accumulating,” according to Rigby. It could turn out to be a sour ending to 124 years of existence, cruelly unjust for a team that has boasted a host of star players in the past.
This article is by Ben McAleer. You can follow him on Twitter.
Photograph by Nick Sarebi, via Flickr.
Most fans spend the close season scouring the papers and internet chat rooms for rumours of new signings and leaked photos of garish new away kits but for a group of American supporters the months before the kick-off of the 18th season of Major League Soccer held something much grander in store.
It is not often that a Northern Irish league game is one of the hottest tickets in town. On Saturday 13th April however, Cliftonville’s clash with Linfield at their ground Solitude was a sell-out, with supporters scrambling to grab home tickets for the encounter as soon as they entered the ticket office.
The elastico, or flip flap, is the property of Roberto Rivelino: that’s how the old story goes.
“And Fairclough is onside, this now could be interesting, FAIRCLOUGH, Super Sub strikes again.”