Population: 3.7 million
Official Language: Lithuania
Borders: Latvia (North), Belarus (East), Poland (South/West), Russia (South/West)
GNP per Capita: $2,260 (82th in world)
Main Airport: Vilnius International – Vilnius
Lying on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea, Lithuania still shares a broder with Russia in terms of Kaliningrad to the south west, although it wasn’t until 1993 that the Soviets actually withdrew all of its troops. Tourism is becoming more important to the small country.
The A Lyga is the top division of professional football in Lithuania. It is organized by NFKA (Lithuanian: Nacionalinė futbolo klubų asociacija). There are 10 teams in the competition. The new season kicks off in April of every year because of the harsh climate there are no games in winter. The last 10 Championships have been won by:-
1998 : Žalgiris Vilnius
1999 : FBK Kaunas
2000 : FBK Kaunas
2001 : FBK Kaunas
2002 : FBK Kaunas
2003 : FBK Kaunas
2004 : FBK Kaunas
2005: Ekranas Panevėžys
2006: FBK Kaunas
2007: FBK Kaunas
For more details on football in Lithuania go to About a Ball.
The Lithuanian top football division was shaken to its core after FBK Kaunas and Atlantas withdrew their participation on 20 March 2009. Both teams cited serious differences with the Lithuanian Football Federation over the way the league has been led in the past as a reason. This was the second blow to the league within two weeks after Žalgiris were denied a license for this season because of excessive financial problems on 6 March 2009. As a consequence, the chairman of the National Football Clubs’ Association (NFKA), Gintaras Ugianskis, resigned from his post. Further, the organization of the league was put into the hands of the LFF.
The 2009 A Lyga consists of eight teams chosen from all teams of both A Lyga and 1 Lyga. Teams with a higher 2008 season rank had a preference to enter. Clubs being interested in a participation could submit their application until 26 March 2009.
On 27 March 2009, the LFF announced the three replacement teams. Banga Gargždai, LKKA ir Teledema Kaunas and Kruoja Pakruojis were appointed to the league. Further, the LFF classified FBK Kaunas and Atlantas to play in the third-tier II Lyga because of “unethical conduct and other irregularities” while Žalgiris were granted a license for the second-level 1 Lyga.
The new league starting in April 2010 will contain the following teams:-
Banga from Gargždai who play at the 800 capacity Gargždai stadium. Finished in 6th place last season
Kruoja from Pakruojis and they play at the 1,000 capacity Pakruojis city stadium. Despite finishing bottom last season they have retained their top flight status.
LKKA ir Teledema from Kaunas. They play in the 1,000 capacity Kaunas LŽŪU stadium. Last season they sturggled and finished 2nd from bottom.
Tauras from Tauragė. They play at the Vytauto Stadium which has a capacity for 1,600.
FK Ekranas from Panevezys – Lithuanian Champions in 1985, 1993, 2005 and 2008. They play at the 9,900 Capacity Aukstaitija Stadium (Pictured left)
FK Sūduva from Marijampole – Last season’s league runners up – play at the Suduva Stadium which holds 4,000.
FK Šiauliai from Siauliai – 2004 Champions. Play at the tiny Savivaldybe 2,400 capacity stadium.
FK Vetra Vilnius are from Vilnius. They play at the 6,000 seater Vetra Stadium.
For a more graphical view of football in Lithuania, click here to access Footiemap.com’s excellent website and their page on football in the country.
KAUNAS – THE S DARIUS ir S GIRENAS STADIUM – CAPACITY: 8,739 ALL SEATER
About the Steponas Darius ir Stasys Girenas
With possibly the longest stadium name in world football, the national stadium in Lithuania can at least be classed to be number one in some aspect. Unfortunately, that is where the records stop. The stadium is the second largest in the country behind the Zalgiris in the capital Vilnius but has recently undergone a major redevelopment programme which has brought it up to the required standard to host UEFA and FIFA matches.
The stadium is named after two of Lithuania’s post war heroes. Both men were pilots who served in the US Army during the First World War, and then in 1933 they attempted to fly non-stop from New York City to Kaunas – a total distance of 7,186km. Unfortunately the plane crashed in bad weather near the German/Polish border just 650km short of their destination.
Today the stadium is not the most comfortable to watch football in. It is a two and a half side open affair, and looks to visitors that it hasn’t quite been finished. One whole side of the stadium has been left uncompleted apart from a huge electronic scoreboard which is used for the athletics meetings held in the ground. Therefore views are not too good and the atmosphere is somewhat lost due to the open air seats.
Who plays there?
The stadium is primarily home to FBK Kaunas, Lithuania’s most successful club side. Since the redevelopment work was completed in late 2003 the stadium has also been home to the national team. Despite their poor performances on an international stage they have pulled in some big crowds to the ground such as 8,000 versus France in March 2007 7,000 versus Italy in June 2007.
It will be a different story in September when the visitors are the Faroe Islands I would imagine. However, anyone who has been to a domestic game in Lithuania would know the feeling of one man and his dog watching football as the country is one of the most poorly supported leagues in Europe. In fact the top league in Lithuania has an average attendance comparable with our Conference North or South leagues at less than 650 people.
Despite being the most successful club side, FBK Kaunas still only attract crowds of just 800 on a regular basis. Games against rivals FK Zalgiris Vilnius are the biggest in the season but even then you will only ever see crowds of 2,000.
Since the inception of the Lithuanian league in 1999, FBK have won the title every single year apart from 2005. They have also won the domestic double in 2002, 2004 and 2005 as well as adding the Lithuanian Super Cup in 2002 and 2004. All this has been achieved against the backdrop of instability off the pitch including a renaming of the club from Banga in 1993. A few years ago the club entered into a sponsorship deal with ŪKIO Bankas, one of Lithuania’s biggest banks. Part of the deal saw bank shareholder Vladimir Romanov arrive onto the board at the club. In 2005 Romanov took over at Heart of Midlothian, and since has regularly taken players on loan from Kaunas (11 players were loaned from Kaunas to Hearts in 2006/07 alone) – taking advantage of the different football season dates.
The club have not really had much to shout about in European competition, although they have played a few top clubs. In 2003 they made it to the 2nd Qualifying round before they lost 5-0 on aggregate to Celtic, and two years later they lost 5-1 to Liverpool. In this seasons Champions League draw they have to overcome Zeta of Montenegro to get the chance to play Glasgow Rangers in round two.
How to get there
The stadium is relatively central and can be easily accessed by foot from the city centre. Simply follow the Laisves Aleja main road eastwards and then walk through either Parodos Gatve or Vytauto Parkas to reach the stadium.
For a more graphical view of football in Lithuania, go to Footiemap.com to access their excellent website and their page on football in the country
Getting a ticket
With club attendances in the Lithuanian league struggling to get over the 1,000 mark you will not need to book your ticket ahead unless you plan on seeing a European tie against one of the big teams should Kaunas progress. Tickets are very cheap start from just 5lita for a place behind the goal.
For international matches, as long as the visitors are not one of the big teams in the world, tickets can be reserved by emailing the Lithuanian FA on firstname.lastname@example.org. Arrangements for the bigger matches are posted on their website – http://www.futbolas.lt.
Kaunas has a number of trolleybus and bus routes that transverse the city. These will allow visitors to reach most of the outlying parts of the city if you need to travel. A single ticket on any form of transport costs 1 lita.
Nearest Airport – Kaunas Airport (KUN)
Telephone: +370 37 750 195
Kaunas International Airport is located in the small town of Kamelava some 9 miles northeast of the city centre. It is the second biggest airport in the country, behind Vilnius which is about an hour to the east. Ryanair are the main airline that utilise the airport, flying here daily from London Stansted and Liverpool. Bus number 29 runs to the central station and costs 1lita hourly.