Wednesday, 9 July 2014

The other St-Étienne and the real cod army

 I love the holiday snaps pages of the esteemed Groundtastic. “Sun, sea, sand? Where are the stadiums?”, asks the sub-headline of the feature. Previously it ran: “Why go to the beach when there are stadiums to be seen?” Why, indeed? There then follows photographic studies of such footballing outposts as the Cape Verde Islands (in the current edition) and, most memorably, a group of men packing into a two-tiered tiny rickety hut beside a dust bowl in Ethiopia looking more like they’re seeking to set an obscure world record than watch a football match. This is what we want.

I don’t prioritise stadium visits on holiday but I’m certainly not averse to a little diversion while on my travels especially if I’m travelling solo by bike which is often the way. While cycling in Provence in May you can only begin to imagine when my excitement when I found myself unwittingly on ‘Av Du Stade’ in the village of St-Étienne.

It led to the idyllic, Stade Municipal Joseph Veran, home of Football Club Saint-Étienne-du-Grès. A pumping station appeared to be part of the ground which also included a changing block and was surrounded by a rail and plane trees. The club competes in the Rhone-Durance Deuxieme Division pool D which I believe is the 14th level of French football.

The following month I pedalled down the Lofoten Islands in the Norwegian Arctic Circle and was even more surprised to come across two more football grounds. The first of them is in old fishing village of Henningsvær. It was completed only last year and has a pristine 3G playing surface. On top of the rocks surrounding the pitch are numerous racks for drying cod – or ‘stockfish’ as it’s known in this form (see lead pic and below). Heads and bodies are dried separately making for a slightly macabre sight to say nothing of the pong that practically pervades Lofoten.

Further down the archipelago I scrambled up the 448m Reinebringen peak for the spectacular view (below), probably the finest I’ve ever seen – and not just because of the football pitch that I spotted in Reine. A closer inspection was in order. Again the pitch is surrounding by stockfish racks. Built in 2008, it also boasts a substantial clubhouse with the club badge and ‘REINE IL 1939’ adorning one end of it.

Spectator accommodation is provided by two small wooden shelters and benches like those ordinarily used by subs et al, their backboards mimicking rorbu, the traditional fishermen’s cabins synonymous with the region. Throughout Lofoten the
mountains are extraordinary.

Just when I was about to declare the most spectacular mountain backdrop in European football I spotted this pic – taken at the first ever UEFA competition qualifying tie to take place in Gibraltar between Lincoln Red Imps and HB Tórshavn of the Faroe Islands. Possibly worth going on holiday to ‘The Rock’ for this alone. Whoops: nearly became a nerd again …
I finish with a pic of a quirky announcer’s box at an obscure non-league ground near Gothenburg. Paint a couple of eyes on the front window and I expect it would come alive. Blogger Peter Miles likes his grounds on holiday too.

Holiday reading: Here are a couple of Guardian articles left over from last season that I like because they reflect my point of view. One is about the manufactured rah-rah of places like Wembley and the other is about how the top Premier League clubs buy success rather than develop young players.

PS I wish that Blogger displayed pics to a larger size. To see them in their full glory click on any pic or alternatively click here for the full album.