Madonna, war zones, ghost towns & Hull
AZERI PREMYER LIQASÃÂ° RESULTS: Sat 13 Feb Olimpik BakÃÂ± 2-0 Standard BakÃÂ±, Karvan Evlakh 0-1 NeftÃÂ§i BakÃÂ±, FK BakÃÂ± 2-0 QÃÂ¤bÃÂ¤lÃÂ¤, Turan 1-0 MuÃÂan Salyan, Khazar Lankaran 0-0 QarabaÃÂ Agdam, ÃÂ°nter BakÃÂ± 2-1 Simurq
Salam eleykim from the Land of Fire.
Before a disgruntled minority begin choking on their tea, that wasnÃ¢ÂÂt an attempt at writing in Ã¢ÂÂnorthern.Ã¢ÂÂ
Despite the hostile-sounding sobriquet, the blog isn't back in its old stomping ground of Kingston-upon-Hull on a Friday night.
This week the NMTB bandwagon has arrived in Azerbaijan.
But, much like a walk through Ã¢ÂÂUll city centre of an evening, the blog needs a bullet-proof vest and tin hat to venture outside.
ItÃ¢ÂÂs come to the periphery of a frozen conflict zone to meet the Premyer LiqasÃÂ±Ã¢ÂÂs refugees and everybodyÃ¢ÂÂs second favourite team, QarabaÃÂ Agdam, who have returned home, well, nearly, 17 years after fleeing an Armenian invasion.
Probably still be safer than Hull...
First off, unless your Caucasus history is up to scratch, youÃ¢ÂÂve probably never heard of the Stallions or Nagorno-Karabakh, so NMTB will take off its tin hat momentarily and replace it with its history one to whisk you back to the 1980s; to a decade of Margaret Thatcher, the Chernobyl Disaster and massive shoulder-pads.
It was also a time when the fissures in the Soviet UnionÃ¢ÂÂs constitution came to the fore.
QarabaÃÂ were founded in, funnily enough, Agdam, a city trumped only by New Orleans for its poor location.
Once a bustling metropolis of 100,000, Agdam was situated adjacent to the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, a region presented to the AzSSR in 1921 at the expense of its hapless neighbours Armenia by those pleasant chappies in the Kremlin.
It wasnÃ¢ÂÂt quite the compensation Baku coveted for the Red Army overrunning their entire country a year earlier, and the gift was almost certain to become a future source of discontent.
Historically the Caucuses had always been a rough-and-ready outpost of the Russian empire, so when communism went tits-up in the 80s everything went f***ing mental.
Thirty-thousand people died and 800,000 fled when marauding Armenian troops hopped over the border in 1988, eventually conquering Nagorno-Karabakh and its environs during the six-year conflict.
Defensive formation: Nagorno-Karabakh soldiers and tanks
Agdam unwittingly found itself in the buffer zone Armenia created to protect its spoils of war, and razed the city to the ground.
Today itÃ¢ÂÂs an eerie ghost town of dilapidated buildings with a post-apocalyptic skyline. Not like Hull, then. (See pics here)
Some twerps enjoy visiting these kind of places, just to say they have.
ItÃ¢ÂÂs somewhere a bit different, a bit dangerous, which is fine if doing frig-all bar dodging bullets and kidnappings is your thing.
QarabaÃÂ fled to the Azeri capital Baku in 1993, poignantly winning the Premyer LiqasÃÂ± in their new home, but success was fleeting and in many ways the clubÃ¢ÂÂs fortunes mirrored that of their fellow refugees.
Financial problems beset the Stallions and almost forced them into liquidation, until 2004 when they were purchased by a Ã¢ÂÂfood holding companyÃ¢ÂÂ by the name of Azersun, whatever they do.
Azersun b(r)ought success, or maybe the canteen stocked Lucozade because QarabaÃÂ were transformed into a half decent side again, even though they were playing in front of crowds that rarely troubled the 500 mark, with the lionÃ¢ÂÂs share being refugees bussed in from western Azerbaijan.
The Tofik Bachramov stadium in Baku
But QarabaÃÂ never forgot their roots, even in Baku and tirelessly worked, as they do today, to improve the life of those displaced by the conflict.
ThereÃ¢ÂÂs still people in limbo now - the government has been slow to resettle them Ã¢ÂÂ to do so would be almost an admission the region is ArmeniaÃ¢ÂÂs.
Today Nagorno-Karabakh is de facto independent and de jure Azeri, although its ambiguous status suits neither them nor Armenia, and a breakthrough has yet to be found, even with Russian-mediated talks.
The issue dictated that the two were kept apart in the Euro 2012 draw and has even permeated into the Eurovision Song Contest. Crikey, the gloves really are off.
Azeri television obscured the number of the Armenian entry in last yearÃ¢ÂÂs competition, not that that prevented a hardy few from casting their vote for Inga and Anush Arshakyans.
It cost them far more than the price of a text, mind.
The 32 Azeris that registered their enjoyment of the duoÃ¢ÂÂs performance of Jan Jan had their details passed to the Ministry of National Security by their mobile phone operators, and were branded Ã¢ÂÂpotential security threats.Ã¢ÂÂ
Poor old Rovshan Nasirli, a 25-year-old chap from Baku, was detained and forced to pen an essay explaining his Ã¢ÂÂunpatrioticÃ¢ÂÂ choice before being released.
Also last year, QarabaÃÂ took the momentous decision to re-locate.
Even today soldiers occupy the trenches and QarabaÃÂÃ¢ÂÂs fellow Premyer LiqasÃÂ± chums werenÃ¢ÂÂt exactly beaming at the prospect of playing of playing 15 miles from the frontline, but the PFL and AFFA were surprisingly compliant on the matter, perhaps because the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh is still such a contentious one in Azerbaijan.
The club picked the town of Guzanli, pretty much the closest Ã¢ÂÂsafeÃ¢ÂÂ settlement to Agdam, as their new home and buoyed by crowds of a few thousand (well what did you expect? The Guzanli StadiumÃ¢ÂÂs hardly Old Trafford), QarabaÃÂ have turned the ground into something of a fortress.
TheyÃ¢ÂÂve swept all before them this season at home, bar a couple of draws, including a dour 0-0 with QÃÂ¤bÃÂ¤lÃÂ¤, who may or may not share an affinity with the absurd wristband-wearing Madonna-championed homonymic religion.
They might, though. Maybe the Queen of Pop is looking to adopt in the region; there are plenty of refugees in need of a home in western Azerbaijan...
"This wristband gives backstage access in heaven"
QarabaÃÂ currently sit second in the table, three points behind Inter BakÃÂ±, although being a finicky sort of blog, NMTB would cite a lack of goals as the clubÃ¢ÂÂs downfall in its title challenge this season.
OK, QarabaÃÂ scored three last Wednesday, but theyÃ¢ÂÂve been at a premium for the Stallions, who've averaged just one a game and have nicked every match theyÃ¢ÂÂve won by a single goal.
But then, it never hurt Arsenal for several decades BW (Before Wenger), and if they're keeping them out at the other end and second in the table, Qarabag's manager Qurban Qurbanov can hardly complain.
And their cause wonÃ¢ÂÂt be aided by Steve McClaren getting Vagif Javadov.
Nope, thatÃ¢ÂÂs not some nasty STD the pseudo-Dutchman picked up when his FC Twente side played QarabaÃÂ in a Europa League tie last year thatÃ¢ÂÂs resulted in a costly lawsuit with the Azeris.
Javadov was QarabaÃÂÃ¢ÂÂs star striker and is the current Player of the Year in Azerbaijan whom McClaren bought in the recent transfer window.
The 20-year-old is a bit special and, much like a nasty STD, itÃ¢ÂÂs probably not the last youÃ¢ÂÂve heard of him.
QarabaÃÂÃ¢ÂÂs fans continue to look to the team as a symbol of hope and inspiration, and it would be an apposite reward for them and the club if it was Aslan Kerimov lifting the Premyer LiqasÃÂ± trophy in May.
For more information on Nagorno-Karabakh, NMTB recommends Simon ReeveÃ¢ÂÂs documentary from the BBCÃ¢ÂÂs Holidays in the Danger Zone: Places That DonÃ¢ÂÂt Exist series.