Riga is the capital of Latvia and as fortune had it (fortune favours both the brave and the well-organised), we were in the capital of Latvia for the Friday night fixture between Riga FC and Ventspils, current leaders of the Virsliga (Virsli in Hungarian means sausage). The game took place at the Latvian national stadium, the Skontos Stadium, which was historically home of Latvian big boys, FC Skonto, a team which won 14 of the first 15 Latvian league titles. That club has been struggling with financial troubles (and specifically the demands of those pesky people at the Latvian tax authority) since 2013 that had seen them deducted points and denied licences at various times. This season was the season that finally saw FC Skonto demoted as their debts caught up with them despite having finished 2nd in the 2015 season.
Coincidentally, the onset of FC Skonto’s financial troubles saw the creation of Riga FC following the merger of FC Caramba Riga (very big following in the local Mexican expat community) and Dinamo Rīga. Usually, I am not a big fan of these merged entities (AMF and all that), but Riga FC seemed to be making all the right efforts to attract people to football. The ticket was a measly EUR 1 (technically we had standing tickets for behind the goal, but given that was not open, we saved ourselves EUR 2), there was a DJ and concert area in the ground area, big bar area, all sorts of games going on. In fact, it probably ticked most of the boxes to try and get the local Rigaites out to watch a game on a lovely Friday evening. Except it didn’t work. I would suggest that there was about 100 people there including a solitary, but vocal Ventspils fan. There was even people bringing around beers to order (a bit American, but I like beer).
Shock in her eyes as man steals her job 😉
The Skontos Stadium is a bit shabby around the edges. So shabby in fact that one end appears to be a car park. Having been to the national ice hockey arena before, it is clear where this country’s priorities lie. The highlight of this stadium’s less than illustrious history was when a younger, fatter TimmyB scaled a fence with a friend and spent a few drunken minutes playing imaginary football on the pitch some ten years ago. The fun of an empty football pitch wears off very quickly. This arena also plays host to the Latvian Song and Dance Festival which takes place every five years (meaning it is better than the Olympics) and is one of the world’s largest amateur choral events. Riga FC – Ventspils saw limited singing, but there was a drum.
Red carpet. Knew I was coming. Nice touch. Robot dance.
Football quality is something I am terrible at judging although the best bet is to look at the control of the players and the number of misplaced passes. This was not dreadful, but I cannot imagine Ventspils ripping up Europe next year. Ventspils scored early from a corner with some pretty substandard marking. Riga FC equalized from a pretty nice free kick (Kanta esque for those of you who have been with me from the MTK days). That is probably all anyone wants to know or I can remember about the game. Riga FC will be happy with the point.
First ever slideshow. Drama at TimmyB HQ.
It seems like a long time ago since Latvia qualified for Euro 2004. Indeed, it was 12 years ago, but it is hard to see how Latvia football progresses from where it is. It is probably one of those cases where you could advocate for a Baltic league with three or four teams from each of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to try and raise the quality and interest a little. Interestingly, it turns out this was tried from 2006 to 2011 with the last winners being…FC Skonto.
Is a strong Skonto good for Latvian football? Skonto rhymes with SevCo. Just saying.
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