'It's a far cry from small boys in the park, jumpers for goalposts. Isn't it? Mmmmm. Marvellous.' Ron Manager
Things are a little tighter among the chasing teams at the top of the Albanian Premiership after this weekend's games. Leaders Elbasan drew with third place Dinamo, second place team Partisan lost to mid-table Besa, while fourth place Tirana beat lowly Shkumbini. As a result Elbasan increased their lead by 1 point to 4 points, but the three Tirana teams now hold the next three positions with only three points separating them.
I watched the Dinamo - Elbasan game from the relative comfort of a VIP box at the Qemal Stafa National Stadium, courtesy of a friend of a friend. Someone told us it was the box that had been used by former Prime Minister, Fatos Nano. I'm not sure if we were supposed to be impressed.
The game began with one minute's silence in memory of Ibrahim Rugova, leader of the Kosovar Albanians who died that morning. It was loosely observed, but none of the fans around us appeared to be too interested in Kosovar politics.
The game itself wasn't bad. Elbasan appeared to have the more skilful players, but the game was even for the first twenty minutes. At that point Elbasan took control and eventually scored the opening goal after thirty minutes. The rest of the first-half was one way traffic, not helped by Dinamo's lack of ideas up front. Their only tactic seemed to be hoofing the ball up to their big number ten, El Hadji Goudjabi.
The Dinamo coach earned his money at half-time. Dinamo came out and dominated the first half, playing the ball into the feet of El Hadji Goudjabi and giving him more support. After a period of sustained pressure Dinamo equalised through their substitute Ablaye Papa Diop - another Senegalese player - after 74 minutes. At that point the game faded away. Elbasan played for the draw and Dinamo seemed to lose focus.
The Qemal Stafa stadium holds 12,500 people but it was far from full. Below us, most of the fans seemed to be Elbasan supporters. On the other side of the stadium was a noisier group of Elbasan supporters separated from the Dinamo supporters by a fence and an empty section of seating. During lulls in the game these two groups of fans chanted and sang at each other. I tried to understand the words but couldn't. This is probably just as well since I imagine they were not very nice.
At one point some Dinamo fans approached the Elbasan fans for a more personal exchange of abuse before being ushered away by the police. Then a small detachment of riot police appeared which seemed to have a calming effect. As the game drew to a close they took up positions alongside the Elbasan fans. There was no serious crowd trouble - this was more a piece of theatre like that described by Tim Parks in his wonderful book A Season with Verona. Generally, the crowd was vociferous but good-humoured.
As well as the Sengalese contingent, Dinamo also have a number of Argentine players. I did see one defender with long hair held back by a headband who launched a couple of two footed tackles from behind on unsuspecting Elbasan players. This is the classic Argentine style - personal and footballing.
Next week it's Dinamo v. Partisan and I'll be there. I might even remember to bring my camera.