Friday, 26 July 2019

Scotland Part 1: UEFA Women's U19 European Championship

On realising the finals of the UEFA Women's U19 European Championship were going to be held in Scotland this year, as a follower of women's football with a fondness for Scotland, I couldn't not attend. The stadiums and schedule were soon announced and as I hadn't been to any of the four previously (Firhill, St Mirren Park, McDiarmid Park, Forthbank Stadium), my coach and accommodation were hastily booked.

I decided to go to the first week of games out of the two week tournament, as it logistically worked out the best way to see matches at three different stadiums by the means of public transport. This was along with getting to see the host nation Scotland play and an England game, too. The games I chose to watch were the group stages, but that didn't really matter to me, as I was sure they would be played just as competitively as the knockout stages. I decided to base myself in Glasgow for the trip, as it seemed the most convenient area to stop, due to where the games were being held. I also love the city!

As this was my first experience of an international tournament like this, I didn't quite know what to expect in terms of it's set up and match day experience. I knew it wouldn't be as glamorous as something like a World Cup or senior European Cups, though I was hoping for there to be some kind of 'buzz' and excitement surrounding it.

My first game was a 4pm Group A tie between Norway and Netherlands at Firhill, home of Partick Thistle, just north of Glasgow city centre. I'm not especially a fan of all seater stadiums as you can't walk around them and admire the stands from all angles. Perhaps I've been spoilt by all the non-league or junior grounds I go to where you can go wherever you want (within reason). Despite my displeasure for not being able wander about, Firhill was extremely aesthetically pleasing.

Firhill exterior
It was a three sided stadium- the fourth side had scaffolding where terracing used to be. The stand which they opened for this game was the larger and more contemporary Jackie Husband Stand. This was opposite and in contrast to the older Colin Weir Stand, which was very pleasant to look at. The stadium displayed lots of it's original features, including it's facade in it's original condition boasting the 1927 year it was built, along with a giant mural on the side (not from 1927, to clarify)! Unfortunately cars were parked alongside it, so I couldn't take an especially good photo, but here's what I did manage:

The facade of Firhill
I'm not going to divulge too much about the game, though the result was almost sealed in the first five minutes, as Netherlands scored two goals in quick succession. Despite Norway making a few breakaway chances and some good passing play between them, they didn't manage to score and a couple of keeping mistakes meant they ended up conceding a further three goals, losing five goals to nil.

As it was a group stage game, I was unsure how many spectators might be there, though a turnout of 145 people was announced. There were a healthy gathering of supporters from both competing countries, dressed in their respective colours and despite Norway losing by quite a goal difference, it didn't seem to dampen their flag-waving, cowbell ringing (yes, one spectator really had one) spirits.

Mini flags advertising the tournament and blow up clappers were issued free on entrance for those who wanted them (I politely declined), though unfortunately could not get hold of the printed tournament programme at this game (only issued online), which was a disappointment. Also, because I paid on the gate, I was not issued with a ticket stub, either. This was a shame, as a ticket is always a nice souvenir, especially from a tournament like this.

As stated earlier, I wanted to fit in as many games from this tournament as I could, should public transport allow, so as soon as the ref blew the whistle to signify the 90+3 mins were up, I quickly made my way to the nearest bus stop in order to catch the bus into the centre of Glasgow. This would allow me to grab something to eat and then catch the train across to Paisley for the Scotland vs France tie. I probably could have walked the section where I needed to take the bus, but I really didn't want to miss the train and I definitely needed to eat between games (rarely good veggie options at football matches), so I decided against risking it and took the bus!

Arriving at Paisley St James, just across the road from St Mirren Park, there was quite a bit more of a buzz surrounding this game. Scottish fans were gathered outside, and on entering, it was a great atmosphere: face paints, flags, blow up hands, plenty blue Scotland shirts and a really family friendly feel to it. I'd like to think there was a boosted attendance at this game (1,285) because it was just off the back of the WWC and even though Scotland didn't get out of the group, I'm quite sure it did something to raise the profile of the women's game in the country. There were plenty of girls football teams/ clubs in attendance, too.

Adding to the atmosphere there was plenty of pre-match entertainment, including female freestylers, the singer Be Charlottle performing her song 'Dreamers' which is the official track of the competition and also the Scottish National Anthem played out on bagpipes prior to kick off.

The game was fantastic to watch. Both teams battled hard throughout, clearly desperate to finish the competition higher than their senior counterparts in the WWC. France had the edge and scored first, though Scotland came back with an equaliser after a tussle in the box. Scotland nearly scored again close to final whistle, though the striker's shot went a little too wide. This was their last chance of a win, because France scored in the first minute of stoppage time, with Scotland failing to reply.

The stadium was a bit too much of a new build for my liking: a quite standard four sided all seater, with open corners. It looked very smart and nice enough, though didn't exactly ooze character. Despite this, I didn't come to this game for the stadium like I usually do when I visit new places, but this time for the game and that definitely didn't disappoint. Both teams had some stand out players and I'm sure these really will be some of the stars of the future.

The third and final match I attended from this tournament was to travel a little further afield across to Stirling. Despite it being a 26 mile journey, it was only £8 on the train- that's with a 26-30 railcard, mind. I got to Stirling around 1:30pm, two and a half hours prior to the 4pm kick off. This was because I've never been to Stirling before and wanted to have a proper look around. My first stop was of course the castle. I didn't intend on buying a ticket to actually go in, because of the expense and the fact I didn't think I would have time. To be brutally honest, I'm not even interested in looking around castles from the inside either, albeit often impressive exteriors.

Another motive and perhaps my main motive of going up to castle was to see if I could get any aerial views of Forthbank Stadium! I had my zoom lens with me, so it would have made for a perfect picture opportunity. Unfortunately, the stadium was too far around to see from my chosen vantage point and could only see the rugby ground. Perhaps if I'd paid entry, I might have got views from all angles. Next time, eh?!

The view from the castle
After that, I made my way down back through Stirling. A very nice town, with lots of interesting buildings, little cafes, restaurants and bars. It was very touristy, too, with the locals monetising on the fact, with bagpiping buskers in full national dress.

I decided to walk from the town to the stadium, as of course that was the cheapest way of getting there. It also allowed me to take in the sights of the industrial road leading out of town- just how I like it! The stadium is situated about a mile from the centre, amongst an industrial estate. It is nearby a retail park, too, with all the usual chain shops and pubs.

I got to the stadium with plenty of time to spare, allowing me to take some exterior shots and get a good seat near the halfway line.

There was bit more of a muted atmosphere here than the previous two, though a fair few England supporters were present, with flags aplenty! Spain, the current holders of this competition had the upper hand over England for most of the game and took chances wherever possible. England failed to score, resulting in a 1-0 loss and subsequently knocked out of the competition.

I managed to get my hands on one of the rare printed versions of the tournament programme at this game- at last(!), though still no ticket stub for payers on the gate. Something I feel could definitely be looked at for future versions of this competition. If they were handing out non-recyclable plastic gimmicks for supporters, then surely a ticket stub made out of paper shouldn't have been that much of an ask. Anyway, what do I know...

Before the rain came
The ground was definitely worth the trip: two large seated stands taking up each of the long sides and a smaller standing terrace at each of the ends behind the goals. Like the rest of the stadiums used in the competition, you could not walk around the stadium here, so was unable to get any specific shots of the stands. The views were fantastic, though the hills were quickly no longer visible when the rain came for the second half (and the rest of the day). The rain by no means put a dampener on my trip, even if I did get soaked on my walk back to the train station!

Overall, I feel that as a follower of women's football, to attend a tournament like this was a great experience, even if it was not as 'glam' as the World Cup. It was good to see the standard of younger women's sides and see what the future may hold for the squads, along with highlighting several issues which would need addressing as they move up to senior teams.

I also think the tournament came at the right time, just two weeks after the Women's World Cup. With interest in women's football at a current high, it was good for this kind of tournament to keep up some of the momentum. I am already planning my next Scottish trip at the end of August when Scotland Women's National team take on Cyprus in the Euro qualifiers at Easter Road...

Monday, 15 July 2019


Since seeing The Stanks appear on social media, I had kept an eye on the Berwick Charities Cup fixtures since, looking for the opportune moment to visit. July the 6th presented that occasion and so set off on our 3.5 hour car journey out East and North to the wonderful town that is Berwick-upon-Tweed.

We arrived with a little time to spare before heading to our first game of the day at Shielfield Park. As I'm sure most of you are aware, it is not only the football ground for Berwick Rangers, but also the speedway track for Berwick Bandits, who actually had a race on that evening. For me, if we were just going to the one ground this day, then Shielfield Park would have been more than enough: it had a large seated stand on one of the long sides and a smaller covered terrace opposite. The place was yellow and black, with a gravel track separating the stands from the pitch. Despite being a fair way away from the action, it didn't feel especially like you needed or wanted to get closer. This is opposed to some grounds which have athletics tracks around them and you feel so distant from the game, it's not always that enjoyable. The place was rundown and oozed character- just how I like it! The seats were mismatched, too, in terms of colour and style.

The main stand
Ben outside the ground- his 200th!
Despite Berwick's recent relegation, they did win the match over Billingham Synthonia by three goals to nil, with the last goal being a fantastic bicycle kick!

The covered terrace

We had 1.5 hours to spare in between games, so used the time to swiftly check-in to our Airbnb and then walk back into town to have a bit of a look around, before heading to the infamous Stanks! The town was very picturesque with some lovely little streets and historical features, such as the castle, lighthouse and viaduct.

The viaduct (Royal Border Bridge)
Now, set within the Elizabethan ramparts was The Stanks, a ground used since the early 1900s and also depicted in a painting by Lowry, as are many of the notable places in Berwick. The only time you can watch a match here is part of the aforementioned Berwick Charities Cup. This cup runs throughout summer and has been running for over eighty years, raising money for local charities, as the name would suggest.

We started watching the game between Eyemouth Ams and Kelso Ams from our first vantage point which was quite high up. This allowed us to not only take in the game, but also the views of the sea, golf course and quite a lot else! After a short while, we decided to move lower and closer to the action along one of the walls, where a fair few others were congregating. This enabled us to see more interesting detail of the ground.

First vantage point

We stood up there for the remainder of the half and moved down to ground level for the second half. It was a little warmer down there, too! This allowed us to take in even more different views and it was definitely well worth seeing it from all angles.

I think my only disappointment this trip brought was the fact that I visited both these grounds so early on in the season (new grounds four and five) that I fear it's all downhill from here!

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Böckmans Bowling, Bromölla

As some may be aware, I'm currently making my way around the UK and beyond visiting different bowling alleys, in the hope that I will be able to one day say that I have visited all the bowling alleys in the UK.

Why? Short answer: I enjoy arbitrary challenges.

Long answer: it all started in November 2016 where whilst on an off season holiday to Southend, me and my partner visited the bowling alley there (unfortunately now closed), which was the same chain (now mostly collapsed) as the one I used to work for. At that moment, I thought 'wouldn't it be cool to visit them all'? At first this meant all in the chain, but then decided that that wasn't enough, so set the challenge of just visiting them all! These are centres open to the public, because there are some in RAF bases and C£nt£r Parc$, though those are not publicly accessible. I would love to bowl in them at some stage though, should the opportunity arise.

Receipt from MFA Bowl Southend, Nov. 2016

My rules are that for it to 'count' and be awarded a line on my spreadsheet with a score out of ten, is that I must have had to play at least one game there. I like to play three though, as bowling is really quite moreish and one is never enough. If you play, you probably already know that! I think I have photos from all of them so far and keep the receipts, too.

On holiday to Sweden mid June this year, a trip to a football match took us East of the country to Bromölla, a small town with a population of just 7.5k a bit further to the right (if you look at a map) from Kristianstad. Not only does it boast the world’s largest mosaic fountain 'Scanisaurus', but also and perhaps more importantly(?) an eight lane bowling alley, situated beneath Böckmans Cafe.

On the steps down from the cafe, I could tell it was going to be something quite special, because of the bowling themed art on the walls:

As with any new bowling centre visited, you never quite know what you're going to get when you arrive. I don't like to do a lot of research before visiting one, because a) I like it to be a surprise and b) I'm going to visit it regardless at some point, so it doesn't really matter what it's like! I often do a quick search on the web or socials beforehand to check that it is actually a 'proper' centre, as opposed to an arcade style one with half size balls etc. (I don't count those), but other than confirming this, then I wait and see...

As you come down the steps and enter the bowl, the lanes are to the left and on the right are coat hooks and a changing bench. The music was mostly Bon Jovi and other 80s rock, which made a nice change than the usual chart music. Straight ahead was the reception/ bar rolled into one and a little past that there were some arcade or gambling machines. Not the noisy chaotic type, but more understated ones, such as bandits and the like. The place was deserted besides the receptionist and a what looked like a league bowler (due to his shirt) occupying one of the machines.

Despite a slight language barrier, we were able to communicate that we would like a lane for one hour. This cost us 150kr, approximately thirteen British pounds. Excellent value for money, especially with the fact that we managed to fit in four games in the hour. Alcohol and cold soft drinks were served downstairs, though I don't drink, so we got coffees from the cafe upstairs and were permitted to take them into the bowl. These were also refillable!

The lane was in great condition, though the Brunswick equipment provided us with a few lane faults (dodgy eight pin). The faults were quickly amended by the receptionist and it didn't ruin our time there, despite slightly interrupting our flow.

This is the type of bowling alley which really reminds me why I love visiting different centres and doing what I'm doing. It's so refreshing to go to independent ones like this and makes a change from the identikit chain bowls. 

Score sheet print out.
Unfortunately my name was written as 'Fiona' instead of Flora, which wasn't able to be changed.

Thursday, 4 July 2019

16mm Film July 2019

It's been quite a while (2015) since I've worked on 16mm film. I have incorporated it into projects since, as I've lots of footage left over from unused loops, though not actually created anything using the medium itself for around four years. A bit of background for those unfamiliar with the technique, is that I use blank film leader and manipulate it in multiple ways, such as painting, inking or scratching, to create various effects. It is called camera-less animation. The films by Stan Brakhage are excellent examples of this technique. He is considered a very important and influential figure in experimental film and rightly so.

Whilst working on a short animation and was using some of my old 16mm pieces as backgrounds, I thought that it was definitely time to create some new material/ footage. After trawling through eBay and realising I couldn't find any clear leader on there for a reasonable price, a quick Google search lead me to Hollywood Film Supplies. Despite the long wait the website stated for it to be shipped from the USA, I decided to go about purchasing it anyway, as the product was perfect for what I wanted. It actually took a lot quicker than anticipated to arrive, so definitely would buy from them again.

For the effect I wanted in this piece, I decided that using Indian inks would be the best medium. From the previous 16mm films I have made, Indian inks demonstrate the perfect qualities for this type of animation/ filmmaking. I initially started using acrylic paint, though quickly decided against it, because it wasn't as opaque as the former and would have resulted in the colours turning out quite dull.

I wanted to achieve a marble type look, with lots of colour and texture. I feel I managed to create the colour and the texture I wanted, though I feel the final outcome is a little too 'bitty' and more sporadic than I would have hoped. There's more white/ blank space than I wanted. I did actually buy two reels, so on the next one I think I might apply the ink more directly, perhaps by the means of a brush, rather than the random splatter/ pipet method I used this time. Nevertheless, it did have places I felt suitable for use as the backgrounds in my latest animation:

Screen grab from and my latest film 'Nothing New', written and co-directed by Alan Livesey

Below are two photographs I took of the work in progress, at various stages of adding the inks. You can see that the ink is quite spotty:

Here is a clip of the raw 16mm film:

Being as I only used about ten seconds (if that) as part of my animation, I'm going to use the full 16mm piece for another project. It was quite a lot of work to create and I feel the 16mm is much more worthy than being used for just a ten second clip as a background in another project. Watch this space!