Yuzovka – the ‘Welsh’ city in Ukraine

Sculptureof miners in the Regional Museum in Donetsk
Sculptureof miners in the Regional Museum in Donetsk
Slagheap City, it has to be said, hides its charms well.

Nearly a million people now live in Donetsk, which was set up by Welshman John Hughes after he came out here in 1869. In effect he sparked an industrial revolution in this part of eastern Ukraine.

The legacy of his efforts is staggering to behold when you travel out to the huge metallurgical plant in the south of the city.

Continue reading Yuzovka – the ‘Welsh’ city in Ukraine

Hampden Spark – Scotland 1 Wales 2


 Staring up into the sky at Hampden was to be mesmerised by nature.

Dancing, darting, dazzling snow swirled in the floodlights like a billion fireflies.

It cavorted up, down and sideways before descending slowly and settling gently, apologetically, on your clothes or face. No cheek-chafing sting from this ‘blizzard’ – the flake caressed your skin, it felt like your mum dabbing dirt from your face with a wet hanky.

You’d think these would have been the worst conditions to watch a game in and, had we lost, maybe you’d be right.

But the snow, the difficulties it caused and the sheer thrill of Hampden meant it was like no other Welsh win I’ve witnessed on the road.

Hampden Park. For me, the most glorious mecca of football in Britain. Yes, even better than Kenilworth Road. Always wanted to go. The lore of the famous roar. Di Stefano. Real Madrid. 7-3. Jimmy Johnstone. Haggis and ‘chupps’ £3.80 in the chippie next to the ground.
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Weather-wise, the closest rival to this match was the Bulgarian blizzard in 1995 when the Sofia pitch was cleared, 65,000 crammed in, teenagers were mainlining heroin in the bar next to the ground – here it was Irn Bru that was being ingested – and Ryan Giggs was pelted with an avalanche of snowballs every time he took a corner, sparking police charges into the locals to disperse the culprits. We lost 3-1.

Standing in our end, we shifted constantly, like a horde of penguins nursing their eggs, to keep warm.

The game was nearly thrown away in the first 25 minutes and nervy Scots did everything bar score an own goal to make it easy for us. Rarely have Wales looked classy. But that was the appropriate word.

Then of course Hanley’s opener looked like it would turn Scotland round and the obvious gulf in class appeared to be temporary by half-time.
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We took refuge from the fast-melt flakes on the concourse above the seats.

Half-time ‘entertainment’ was provided as a leading Keep Cardiff Blue campaigner was accosted by a Redbirds supporter.

Repeatedly pushing the victim (a friend of mine) he kept up a goading cascade of vicious bile, trying to provoke a fight. “You anti-Cardiff English cunt,” he snarled, wholly inaccurately, in his face from two inches, before my pal headed back for his seat. No punches thrown but a rare sour note.

Cardiff idiots have occasionally targeted other Welsh club’s fans at Wales games. This took the biscuit.

It didn’t get any better. Bale was off, though he hadn’t been brilliant. The Tartan terrors next to us roared their delight.

And unlikely heroes sprang from the sleet to join the roll call of honour. Our own heroes of Hampden.

Gunter and Robson-Kanu can’t be classed in the same galaxy as Di Stefano but both had marvellous games – Gunter back to his best of three/four years ago with a sporrantastic surge and cross to win the game-changing penalty.

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RK got the winner in style after Jonny Williams (isn’t ‘Joniesta’ the worst nickname ever in Welsh football?) and Andy King (presumably known as ‘Kingy’, which wouldn’t be far off Williams’s ranking).

All over and time time to reflect. Glasgow, one of the great football cities of the world. The sport enhances the city and the sectarian rivalry poisons it.

Great players adorn its history.

I can remember Gordon Strachan in his pomp – a one-man riot of small-man chippiness. He was in the same squad as David Speedie, whose visible agitation made him stand out every time he played. Only gabbling Gascoigne ever matched him for watchability. It was like there were more molecules, including ones that have yet to be discovered, inside Speedie fighting each other to get out and express themselves.

Souness, well let’s go there briefly – no one in the world has matched his ogre-like presence since Roy Keane retired. A man who would happily look the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in the eye before setting about them with extravagant, moustachioed glee.
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And now the Scots are rock bottom. They must be, because they’ve been badly beaten by us – Wales, for God’s sake – four times in the last ten years. You have to laugh.

This week the Kelvingrove ARt Gallery opens a six-month exhibition “More than a Game – How Scotland shaped world football.’ Shame it didn’t start a week earlier as I’d love to have seen it.
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It’s almost a recognition that there’s not much else to offer. You have to cry.

Strachan afterwards did a good line in gallows humour. To paraphrase one of the papers I read: “I slept three hours. I didn’t say anything to Snodgrass. He couldn’t have felt worse than he already looked. I should have invited him into my room – we could have just sat there for hours, saying nothing.”

At the end I feared some locals might be a bit miffed after the game. They looked a bit cranky.

But they trooped out dejectedly. Not angrily so, as though they had expected to be dejected and came well prepared for a bitter setback. It was a bit like us after a lot of Wales games. No one bitched or sought excuses. All, like Strachan and Snodgrass, saying nothing. As silent and benign as the snow.

Fortunately there was to be no Glasgow Kiss, just Glasgow bliss.

Phil Olyott, founder of the Wales away fans' team and now living in New Zealand , at the pre-match game. We lost 7-1
Phil Olyott, founder of the Wales away fans’ team and now living in New Zealand , at the pre-match game. We lost 7-1

Wales out of Eurofan2012

The teams taking part
The teams taking part

WALES supporters bowed out in the last 16 stage of the Eurofans2012 tournament today.

Despite putting on a good showing after a very heavy night out, the team were beaten 3-1 by a useful Moldovan outfit who almost certainly got to bed a lot earlier than the Welsh side.

So for the fifth year in the row, the Welsh side left at an early stage but probably this was the best performance over the five years – both matches lost could have been won had chances been taken.

The Ukrainian-based competition in Lviv reaches its climax tomorrow with a final at 12.30pm before presentations in the city’s fan zone in the evening, and then the final of Euro 2012 in Kyiv.


Wales at Eurofan2012


About 30 Wales supporters are taking part in their fifth Eurofans tournament in Lviv.

After today’s matches, the squad visited a school in central Lviv to hand out football memorabilia, balls and clothes to youngsters. They also got a rendition of Mae Hen Wlad fy Nhadau.

Earlier in the day, the team played matches against Czech Republic fans and supporters of Slovakia in two 50-minute games.

Against the Czechs, the side lost 4-1, but came back strongly to defeat a poor Slovakia side 7-0, to earn a place in the last 16 of the tournament.


Italy v England

photo (7)Really, this was like watching West Brom in an international tournament – lots of earnest, honest endeavour from both sides, incompetence in front of goal and a deathlessly dull 120 minutes. England copped a load of flak for their endeavours but it wasn’t as if Italy were breathtakingly adventurous – they couldn’t manage a goal despite monopolising the match.

The template for a 0-0 was set early on. After 21 minutes, all neutrals began the Mexican wave, which England fans admirably ignored. But you couldn’t blame the rest of us for taking part.

Stevenage fan Jon at the match
Stevenage fan Jon at the match

Locals cranked up ‘Oooh-cry-ina’ chants early, one guy even tried to get a ‘Rossiya’ (Russia) chant going but had no takers. Later on, the ‘Ooh-cry-ina’ morphed into ‘Italia’, as the hosts decided to back Italy because they were still miffed that England had edged them out of the championships.

In fact it was a shame Ukraine missed out on this match as it would have been immeasurably  improved – they’d have been a more fluid attacking threat and, of course, everybody in the stadium would have gone absolutely bazonkas as per the crazed Swedish hordes who lit up the stadium in the 3-2 defeat nine days earlier. Instead, most people were moderately interested.

So we had a strangely subdued motley crew at the match – surprisingly quite a few Poles – many of whom were Ukrainians taking the first swig from international football’s champagne tournament.

England fans, again admirably, stoked up the heat with a strong second-half showing of support which felt at the time as though it could carry the team through. But there was to be no joy for Jon, Kiev resident and Stevenage Borough fan. Liked his comment: “It’s been interesting to be able to look the police in the eye in the course of the tournament.”

But, not being in the habit of watching England very often as Wales play at the same time, the parallels with Lisbon 2004 were uncanny – only that was a far better side.

Back then Sven, it seemed to me, played two back fours (I was up in the stand) and used a siege defence. Lo and behold, reading before the tournament, Sven copied a lot from Roy Hodgson’s Swedish success in the 70s.

The folk dancing earlier in the day in Podil was far more entertaining
The folk dancing earlier in the day in Podil was far more entertaining

So now England have Sven’s guru in the hot seat and the style is the same. Against decent sides, at any rate. Two back fours, clean sheet, bore the fans to death.

Though a friend Oxana called it ‘lingeringly suspenseful’, texted: “I watched in perfect comfort in McDonalds, not amidst crowds in the fanzone. And though it did seem interminable I was having a kind of private reverie, so I was not bored.”

So commiserations to England fans on another penalty fiasco. Painful, obviously. But if you want real anguish, pop over to Wales in September for the next qualifying campaign. That’ll be REAL pain.