Granada B v Extremadura UD, 22nd June 2013, 6.30pm

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It had been over a year since Jen and I had been to Spain, but a break between jobs meant that we were able to nip over just in time to catch the promotion play-offs. We’d initially turned up in Girona, with the intention of watching the Segunda A play-off between the home town and Almeria.

Unfortunately I hadn’t realised that this was the biggest game in Girona’s history and that tickets were as hard to get hold of as when the Boro played in Eindhoven. Worse actually, as the Estadi Municipal de Montilivi only holds eleven thousand people.

I could have made more of an effort than I did I suppose, but I felt as if I would have been depriving someone of a ticket who actually cared about the result. In the end we just did a bit more eating and drinking in the town and I kept one eye on the game whenever a bar had a telly showing it.

There were other options though, and so later in the week we drove down to Andalucia for a first leg play-off between Granada’s reserve team and Extremadura. The overall winners would move up from the fourth tier Tercera to the dizzy heights of Segunda B. Whilst that might not sound like too much of a big deal, there are nineteen (I think) equal leagues at the fourth tier, but only four regional divisions at the third tier. Promotion would take the winners from being in the top five hundred or so clubs in the country, to the top one hundred and twenty. Not quite “We’re the finest team in football“ territory, but a step on the way.

We had stayed in Granada the previous year and very nice it was too. We’d visited the Alhambra and seen all the other touristy stuff. For a bit of variation this time we decided to stay an hour or so away in Baza. For even more variation we stayed in a cave. Apparently in the olden days most people in Baza lived in caves. Not the real olden days, when everyone lived in caves and bashed mammoths with clubs, but as recently as a hundred years ago. I could see the attraction, particularly the coolness when it was far too hot outside. The wi-fi was rubbish though, something to do with the ten foot thick walls, I’m led to believe.

On the day of the game we turned up early at the Estadio Nuevo Los Carmenes. Whilst I didn’t imagine that the tie would sell out, I’m generally a lot happier once I have the tickets in my hand. The ticket office wasn’t open but they were selling them in the club shop for ten euros a time. With the tickets safely in my wallet we spent the rest of the day wandering around Granada visiting some of the tapas bars that had slipped through our net the previous year.

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I’ve no idea how many people normally watch Granada reserves, but the club had appealed for fans to turn up and cheer them on. The game had been switched from the much smaller Estadio Miguel Prieto Garcia ground to try and make a bit of an occasion of it. I’d probably have been happier if the game had taken place at their usual ground, but as I hadn‘t seen a game at ‘big’ Granada’s ground either, it wasn‘t the end of the world.

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Initially, only the main stand was open to the home fans. It was free seating and we had a decent view of the mountains behind the stadium. It filled up as the first half progressed and eventually the stand behind the goal to our right was opened up to take the latecomers.

Extremadura had brought about a hundred and fifty fans with them and they got the stand behind the goal to our left. Twenty or so of them put a bit of effort in with megaphones and drums. Or at least they did for the first four minutes until a glancing header into the corner of the net from Granada’s centre forward dampened their mood a little.

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Granada were in the very Spanish combination of red and white hoops with blue shorts. It’s a look that has never really caught on in England. Or at least I’ve not noticed it if it has. Extremadura were dressed up as Celtic. I should probably have had a look on the internet to see if they were founded by some Glaswegian on his holidays  a hundred years or so ago but it’s easier just to assume that’s what happened.

It’s a shame really that the Glaswegian hadn‘t pitched up in Baza rather than Granada. The shock of the locals living in caves might just have stopped the tales of how rough it was living in tenement slums. For a while at least anyway.

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The visiting players looked that bit older than the home side, probably because they are a proper club rather than just a development team. One of their midfielders stood out for them, partly because of his long hair and headband, but mainly because he seemed to be involved in most of the Extremadura chances. He forced a good save from the home keeper after a quarter of an hour and then played a very clever ball through for one of his team mates to waste a little later. Just before half time he even managed to spark a mass scuffle before feigning innocence when it was time for the cards to be handed out.

There weren‘t as many chances for the away side in the second half though as Granada went for a second goal. I kept an eye on a baldy fella playing for Extremadura who seemed to be seeing how far he could push the ref in a quest for a yellow. Perhaps he had holidays booked that clashed with the second leg and he needed the suspension. After a number of what appeared to be final warnings the ref finally obliged close to the end.

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As the game entered its last few minutes both sides were content to settle for the one-nil scoreline and just sat back to see out the time. It was a first leg result that allowed everyone to go away happy with the prospect of it all to play for a week later. A quick check of the second leg result showed that Extremadura won the return 2-1, but the away goal was enough to see Granada’s second team progress to Segunda 2B.

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Posted in Spanish Football, Tercera (4th tier) | Leave a comment

Bullfighting at Osuna, Sunday February 26th 2012, 5pm

It’s a while since I’ve been to a bullfight, Pamplona in 2009 I think, and with it being so early in the year I didn’t expect to be going to one on this trip. The Spanish bullfighting season runs mainly from April to September, although you do get the odd event taking place outside of these months, usually as part of a local festival.

I’d seen a couple of posters though as we’d been wandering around Granada and Seville, advertising corridas in small towns nearby and I did start to wonder if we could fit one in. When we decided just to see the one football game on the Sunday, it meant that we had sufficient time to go to the corrida in Osuna. It wasn’t something that Jen thought that she would particularly enjoy, but she was curious enough to come along anyway.

We’d travelled through Osuna a few days earlier on the way from Granada to Seville and had stopped for lunch there. We hadn’t noticed a bull ring though. That journey had been pretty impressive as we’d detoured up into the Sierra Nevada mountains. There hadn’t really been time to squeeze a hike into this trip so we’d cheated a bit and drove to within a few hundred metres of the top and had a look around.

Sierra Nevada.

There are plenty of walking trails in the area and it’s somewhere that I’d like to get back to before long. We didn’t see any wolves or lynx, but there were a few black squirrels about.

We weren't really dressed for hiking.

Whilst we’d been staying in Granada, we’d seen most of the sights including the Alhambra. As with the Alcazar in Seville, it was the gardens rather than the palaces that I was impressed with. The views across Granada from the towers were pretty good as well.

Looking down on the city from the Alhambra.

We’d also popped into the bullring whilst in Granada. There wasn’t a corrida taking place but for four euros, I think, we were allowed to have a wander around in the ring by ourselves and take a look behind the scenes. I was surprised at the medical rooms, considering that live-saving surgery may have to take place in them. They looked as if they hadn’t been updated since the 1930’s. I’d like to think that if, for whatever reason, I ever ended up with an 8“ horn stuck up my ring-piece, the medical equipment available would be a little bit more up-to-date.

Just like Holby City.

Of course I couldn’t resist posing for a photograph in the ring.

I know, it's time I grew up.

We got to Osuna mid-afternoon on the Sunday and it didn’t take long to find the Plaza de Toros. It’s relatively small, about a third of the size of the arena that I’d posed in whilst in Granada and with a capacity of just over five thousand. They’ve been holding bullfights there since 1905 but I don’t think that they host more than a couple of corridas a year these days and I’d be surprised if they get the higher quality matadors or bulls.

Osuna Bullring.

We bought free-seating tickets for twenty euros each and then cleared off for some lunch. The first few places that we tried were full and we eventually got a table outside of a restaurant ten minutes walk or so from the bullring. It seemed as if the whole town had decided to eat out for lunch and judging from the way that any newcomers were greeted, that they all knew each other.

That's where we had lunch.

We returned to the bullring with plenty of time to spare before the five o’clock start. Whilst I wasn’t expecting a capacity crowd, I thought it wouldn’t do any harm to get there in sufficient time to select our seats before it started to fill up. We hired cushions from a woman outside for three euros a go, which seemed expensive. Maybe, we had actually bought them.

We selected seats on the back row, the ninth. It was such a small ring that the view would be fine from there. It was more important to make sure that we had seats in the sun as the temperature was starting to drop. By the time the matadors made their entrance, two thirds of the seats were still empty. Perhaps a small-town corrida in February isn’t much of a draw these days.

Almost as many participants as spectators.

And so to the action. In the first fight local matador Ángel Luis Carmona was taking on what I thought was quite a poor bull. It struggled to keep his feet and went down easier than Gareth Bale.

Ángel Luis Carmona.

The crowd, possibly with a sizeable number of Senor Carmona’s friends and family amongst it, got him one ear by refusing to take no for an answer from the president.

The second matador was Alejandro Enríquez. He had the benefit of a better bull, although I thought that it was weakened too much by the picador who was digging around in its neck muscles with his lance like someone intent upon raking out a particularly stubborn bogie from deep in a nostril.

The picador in the second fight.

It occurred to me during this fight, just how much of a boon Lycra must be to ageing bullfighters. Flexible and forgiving, although with not much protection if you happen to be thrown six feet into the air. Enriquez put on a good show and finished with a quick kill. The ear was again awarded grudgingly by the president but was more deserved than in the opening bout.

One handkerchief, one ear.

The next fight featured a Novillero, Javier Ortiz.  A Novillero is someone who hasn’t qualified as a proper bullfighter yet and is restricted to fighting bulls below four years of age. Today was also the first time that he had taken part in a proper corrida with horses. The boy done well, as they say, putting up the best performance of the three fighters to date. His first attempt at the kill failed but he quickly followed up with his second go. The President was given a bit of stick for only awarding him the one ear.

Fight four featured Ángel Luis Carmona taking on the day’s most aggressive bull so far. He looked to me as if he must go through a can of hairspray each fight (Carmona, not the bull), although I suppose that it’s not the sort of job where you can really risk getting your fringe in your eyes.

One of the banderilleros in fight four does his stuff.

The fight was disrupted by a bloke in the crowd standing up and singing. Everyone stopped to listen including the matador and the bull. After the crowd had given the singer a round of applause the action restarted. Maybe the song affected Carmona’s concentration as a few moments later he was knocked to the floor. The bull failed to follow it up though allowing itself to be distracted by the assistants. Schoolboy errors from both participants if you ask me.

The Singer.

Carmona failed to get his sword in cleanly at the first time of asking, but the bull decided it had had enough anyway and just dropped to the floor a moment later denying him a second go. His Number Two finished it off quickly with that little stabber knife that they carry. There were no shouts for an ear from the crowd this time.

A clearly furious Ángel Luis Carmona confronts the bull about his laddered stocking.

Next it was Alejandro Enríquez again, in his natty red and gold suit. The bull was very aggressive against the horse but it was a bad kill, culminating in the assistant having to stab away repeatedly at the back of the bull’s head like a bloke twatting pop-up frogs at a fairground. There was plenty of booing from the crowd followed by silence.

Alejandro Enríquez

We didn’t stay for the sixth and final bull. It was getting cold and there was wine to be drunk back in Seville. It was Jen’s first time at a bullfight and I suspect that it might very well be her last. It’s an event that is so much better if you are watching it in one of the main venues, completely full and with the best bulls and matadors. I view bullfighting in a similar way that I do football though. If there’s a low-level corrida taking place in a small venue, I rather be there than not, but I know that the chances of it being a top-quality spectacle are slim. That’s it for this update. Hopefully it won’t be too long before the next one.

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Sevilla Atletico v Ecija, Sunday February 26th 2012, 11.30am

Sevilla might have been away this weekend, but their reserve side Sevilla Atletico were at home. In Spain, reserve sides can compete within the league structure, barred only from playing in the same division as their first team and also from taking part in the King’s Cup.

I’m not really sure how I feel about this actually. I know that if you are a ‘proper football fan’ then you are supposed to be against it but if the Boro’s reserve team were in the Conference, or whatever it’s called these days, I’d be quite happy watching them. Likewise it wouldn’t bother me if Man City reserves were playing in the Championship. It’s still a game of football or a day out. I know you would get fans of lower league teams kicking off about it, as it might knock them down a division or two, but really, does it matter whether you are playing fourth tier or sixth tier, particularly if it creates more interest in the lower divisions?

Whatever. The plus point on this occasion was that we had another game to go to, Sevilla Atletico v Ecija in the third tier Segunda B division at the Estadio Ciudad Deportiva José Ramón Cisneros Palacios.

There's not much to look at from the car park.

You would think that a name as long as that would mean something to the satnav, but it didn’t. Fortunately Jen knows how to work Google Maps and so we had an idea as to where the ground was in relation to the Real Betis stadium. We took a gamble or two and found ourselves driving past the ground with twenty minutes to spare.

It was an 11.30am kick-off, which was ideal as we had a bullfight to attend later in the day. We paid a euro to park the car and then ten euros each for tickets. Whilst some of the other people there might have paid to park, I didn’t see anyone else paying to get in and assumed that they were all season ticket holders of either Sevilla Atletico or of Sevilla itself. There were a few fans in Atletico shirts, but far more in normal Sevilla tops.

No need to queue overnight.

It seems a bit over the top to me to wear the specific reserve team shirt, although it’s possible that some of the fans there did actually support Atletico rather than Seville. Overall though, it was your standard reserve team fixture crowd of social misfits plus friends and family of the players.

The stadium had a small permanent stand on the far side, with two temporary looking steel structures providing the seating opposite and behind one of the goals. Most people sat where we did and it looked as if the small permanent stand opposite might be reserved for club officials.

The view from our stand across to the older smaller stand.

Sevilla Atletico, in white shirts with a red diagonal stripe with black shorts, were a young team with the players ranging between eighteen and twenty three. A few of them had played the odd game or sat on the bench for the first team. Ecija, in blue shirts and white shorts, were a lot more experienced with a few players in their thirties. The visiting captain, Oscar Rodriguez, looked far older than his thirty-one years, the bald patch in his curly perm suggesting that his formative years were in the seventies.

Sevilla seem to be a few players short.

It was first blood to the grizzled old men when after three minutes a bit of hesitation in the Atletico defence left a gap for Ecija striker Requena. The thirty three year old tapped home from close range to put the visitors a goal up.

One nil to the old blokes.

It was at that point that I spotted the dozen or so away fans as they stood and applauded. Dedication indeed on a Sunday morning. They had a banner too.

No idea what it says.

Despite their poor start, Sevilla looked the better team as they passed the ball around quickly and rarely conceded possession. Their pitch didn’t really help their passing game, it looked to have a few too many uneven areas for something that I presumed was being maintained by the groundstaff of a top division club.

Ten minutes later, Sevilla were level when Ecija keeper Ramon Sanchez saved a Luis Alberto header but then fumbled the ball at the foot of the post before appearing to knock it into his own net. The papers gave the goal to Luis Alberto but I reckon that he had the keeper to thank for it.

A minute later it finally crossed the line.

There were plenty of chances in the remainder of the first half but it was still level at the break. In the second half the home crowd started to get a little frustrated. The ref missed a Sevilla player having his shirt pulled and the bloke behind us was furious. In the space of a minute he must have shouted at the ref a dozen times, repeatedly letting him know that he was a whore and so was his mother. He didn’t let up for the rest of the game, continuing his abuse even after the players had left the pitch and he was on his way out. It wouldn’t have surprised if he was still ranting away in the queue to get out of the car park.

That's him. In the red.

Just before the hour mark Sevilla were down to ten men with the young right back Morales receiving his second yellow. As you might expect, this didn’t have a particularly positive effect on the referees popularity with the home crowd.

Bye bye.

Being a man down didn’t seem to affect Sevilla though and they continued to pass the ball around and get forward. Their two centre halves seemed to have any threat from Ecija covered between them. The captain, Deivid, looked good on the ball when bringing it out from the back and his defensive partner Samu, whilst less comfortable in possession, looked more than capable of kicking the crap out of anyone who might feel inclined to mention this to him.

There was an old fella selling peanuts too.

It did appear as if Ecija were going to hang on for what would have been a well-deserved point, but in injury time Sevilla broke quickly and substitute Menudo stroked the ball home. Whilst most of the home fans celebrated, not even the late winner was sufficient to calm the bloke behind us though.

This lot were happy enough though.

The win moved Sevilla Atletico up to fifth, one place outside of the play-off positions whilst the visitors remained in the relegation area, dropping to eighteenth. We headed off out of town for a late afternoon bullfight at Osuna.

Posted in Liga 2b, Spanish Football | Leave a comment

Real Betis v Getafe, Saturday 25th February 2012, 6pm

After the lunchtime game at Arcos it was back to Seville for the early evening top division game between Real Betis and Getafe. We’d originally arrived in Seville a couple of days earlier and on the rare occasions when we weren’t knocking back rioja and scoffing tapas, Jen and I had had a good wander around the city.

Of the places recommended in the guidebooks the one that I liked best was the Alcazar. It’s an old Moorish fort that was later converted into a palace and has a few gardens inside the walls. Whilst I don’t ever really think a garden is a proper one unless it has a few rows of carrots and a potato patch, this place wasn’t too bad.

Probably a bugger to weed though.

Whilst the Alcazar might have been lacking in vegetables, it did have plenty of orange trees. As did most of the streets in Seville. I’d often wondered why people don’t just pick the oranges from the trees rather than buy them from the shops. In fact I’ve long thought that when I eventually become an alcoholic tramp I’ll move to Spain for the cheap vodka and free ‘fresh from the branch’ orange juice mixer.

Well, now I know why people don’t pick them. They taste crap. Or to be more specific, they are exceptionally bitter. They are probably a variety chosen solely to make the trees on the pavements look good rather than to attract alcoholic tramps from Teesside. The lack of interest in the oranges from locals does mean though that the council workers have to dispose of them before they drop on people’s heads. One morning we got caught up in a tree-shaking exercise near the Cathedral. Half a dozen people from the Parks and Gardens department just work their way along a street, one climbs a ladder and shakes the tree whilst the rest collect the deluge of fruit. That’s yet one more job that the Careers Officer didn’t get around to telling me about.

After they had finished.

At 4.30pm I set off walking to the Estadio Benito Villamarin. We were staying close to the Plaza de Toros and I reckoned that as the stadium wasn’t too far from the river then I would be able to walk it in about an hour without getting lost.

Nothing doing here until later in the year unfortunately.

Jen had decided to give this game a miss on the basis that as we had planned to watch Sevilla Atletico the following morning, two games in two days was sufficient for normal people. The walk initially started out very well as the route followed the river for a mile or so and I was able to watch rowers and canoeists enjoying the warm weather.

I think that this is how Middlehaven was supposed to end up.

After a while though, I came to a dead end. The access back to the road was blocked by padlocked gates and I had to double back for quite a distance. It was only when I got to the main road that I realised I had been wandering about in the Port Area. I got the impression from the sign that perhaps I hadn’t been meant to be there.

It's not the most welcoming of places.

As time was getting on I gave up on my plan to walk to the game and flagged down a taxi. A few minutes later we pulled up outside the stadium. If you can remember the 1982 World Cup, it’s the ground where Brazil beat Scotland 4-1 in the game that Jimmy Hill incurred the wrath of a nation by referring to David Narey’s goal as a ‘toe-poke’.

Fondo.

I’d got out of the taxi at the east stand ‘Fondo’ and couldn’t see a ticket office. I made my way through the crowds and around the back of the south stand. That end seems a bit out of step with the rest of the ground as it’s only half the height or so. I continued along the west stand which is known as ‘Preferentia’ before eventually spotting the ticket office. Unfortunately it was shut. I hadn’t been expecting this game to sell out with Getafe hardly being the biggest draw in world football and so I was taken a bit by surprise.

Preferencia.

As ever though, there were people selling tickets. I was approached by one fella who having established that I just wanted one ticket, directed me to someone else who was after the match-day price of 60 euros for the use of a season card. Whilst that undoubtedly gave him a decent profit, I couldn’t really complain at paying the same price that I would have had the ticket office been open.

A baldy bloke with worse English than my Spanish was instructed to escort me back around to the Fondo stand where I’d arrived in the taxi a few minutes earlier and after an initial argument with a steward who wasn’t keen on letting him accompany me to the turnstiles, I was inside the ground whilst the season card was safely back in his pocket.

Fortunately I’d memorised the row and seat number. Unfortunately there was already someone sat in my lower tier, row twenty seat and without a ticket stub there wasn’t a great deal that I could do about it. I took a seat close by and hoped that nobody would come and claim it.

Betis fans at the back of the stand to my left.

As it turned out, the stadium wasn’t full with around ten thousand of its fifty two thousand seats remaining empty. There were a few near to me, so it wouldn’t have been a problem finding somewhere else to sit if necessary. The fans around me were pretty active, singing and twirling their green and white scarves. The ones behind the goal were even better, standing on their chairs throughout.

Another photo of the Betis fans behind the goal to my left.

The first half was relatively quiet on the pitch, which was just as well really as I spent most of it squinting into the sun. The Brazilian Iriney Santos was captaining Betis and I remembered him being one of the more effective Celta Vigo players from my time in Galicia.

Iriney Santos.

No one else really stood out for me although Jefferson Montero looked to be a threat for the home team whenever he had the ball. At the interval it remained goalless and in the absence of any alcohol in the beer I settled for a three euro bottle of coke.

A Betis corner.

The action picked a few minutes into the second half with Montero crossing for Molina to finish well and put Betis in front. That was the cue for a bit more scarf-twirling from the fans around me.

One - Nil.

The joy didn’t last long though and Getafe equalised less than five minutes later. There were a few grumbles around me that it may have been offside but I can’t see how anyone could have known from where we were.

One - One.

Betis had plenty of possession in the remainder of the half, but Getafe were content to soak it up and then try and hit them on the break. I cleared off a couple of minutes before the end along with quite a few of the home supporters. Fortunately I seemed to be the only one looking for a taxi and I was soon on my way back into the city centre.

Posted in Liga 1 | Leave a comment

Arcos v Pozoblanco, Saturday 25th February 2012, 12 noon

It’s been almost four years since I was at my last match in Spain, the 2008 Cup Final between Valencia and Getafe and it’s over five years since I left Ferrol for Kazakhstan. Where did the years go? I went back to Spain for Pamplona in 2009, but the festival takes place during the football close-season so I didn’t get to see a game. I didn’t get to run with the bulls either but having done it the previous year I was happy just to be there again to soak up the atmosphere of round the clock drunkenness whilst knee deep in empty beer cans discarded by those partying and empty wallets discarded by those pick-pocketing.

I'm on the left in the red, near the doorway.

The closest I’ve been to any Spanish football in that time was to play in a match with Mendieta a couple of years ago. Yes, that Mendieta, formerly of Valencia, Lazio and the Middlesbrough Carling Cup winning team of 2004. I don’t suppose I really needed to specify the year there, it’s not as if we’ve won it more than once.

Not content with starring in a World Cup for Spain and being at one time, the most expensive player in history, it seems that Gaizka couldn’t bear to hang up his boots without having played in a charity game at The Riverside with my son Tom and myself. The three of us were supposed to be on the same side but at the last minute the organisers got worried that there was too much pace on our team and so I got swapped with someone from the opposition to even it up.

Mendi and me.

The pre-match handshakes were the closest I got to him all game although I could probably have hacked him down to prevent him scoring the opening goal. It just seemed the wrong thing to do though and I let him go. People often say that the day that their kids were born was the best day of the life. Well, I disagree. It’s better when they grow up and you can play football at The Riverside with them.

After we'd both been subbed.

Anyway, one of the reasons that I haven‘t seen as much Spanish football lately is that for the last couple of years I’ve been living in Seoul, South Korea. I watch plenty of matches over there but it’s different. Very enjoyable, but different. When my girlfriend Jen and I decided to have a week in Andalusia the first thing I did was check the fixtures to see which matches I could take in.

There wasn’t much information available about the lower league fixtures, but I was able to ascertain that whilst Sevilla and Granada were playing away, I’d be able to go and watch Real Betis. The day before that game I managed to find out the kick-off times for the lower league fixtures and worked out that I’d have sufficient time before the 6pm Real Betis v Getafe game to squeeze in the Tercera Group 10 (4th division) match between Arcos de la Frontera and Pozoblanco.

The Big Match.

Arcos is just over an hour’s drive from Sevilla and a noon kick-off meant that it was easy enough to get there and back in plenty time. My satnav isn’t the best these days, mainly because I haven’t updated it in the last five years and during which time a large road-building programme appears to have taken place. Sevilla, in particular, has a lot of one–way streets that the Tomtom was keen that we drive down nostalgically in the direction that you were last able to in 2007.

Despite the navigation difficulties we got to Arcos with plenty of time to spare before the game. That was just as well as there was stuff to see, specifically a dead body. One of the guide books had mentioned that the San Pedro church had the undecomposed corpse of a saint in a glass cabinet. Well, you can’t miss something like that. I even checked with the woman at the tourist office as to which of their numerous picturesque churches was the one with the dead body on show. I think she was a little disappointed at my ghoulishness, but we only had an hour or so and I didn’t want to waste it on candlesticks and statues.

We briefly paused to take in the view across the valley before entering the church.

The view across the valley.

I’ve seen a few corpses in churches and museums before and quite often the people who work there are a bit arsey about you photographing them. With that in mind I took two cameras; one for me to make a big show about putting into my backpack when told to and another sneakily set to silent and concealed in my pocket.

It turned out that I didn’t need to be quite so James Bondish about the whole thing as we were the only people in the building.

He's in the glass case.

I could have taken as many photos as I liked and probably would have been able to open up the glass case and posed him sat upright with a cigar if we’d had the time.

A close-up. It's what he would have wanted.

So, culture done, it was time for the game. Arcos have a small stadium with just the one stand and a 2,900 capacity. We paid five euros each to get in, but didn’t bother with the raffle tickets on sale by the entrance. The prizes were tracksuits so shiny that they looked likely to burst into flames in the bright sunshine.

Estadio Municipal de Arcos

The pitch was still being watered as the teams took to the field, Arcos in all white and Pozoblanco in dark blue. Despite the visitors being in eleventh position in the league and Arcos two places below them, you could pretty much class this as a relegation battle as they were only four and five points respectively above the drop zone.

One of them couldn't get a babysitter.

Pozoblanco had the best of the opening exchanges, with their left back featuring in a lot of their attacking moves. Arcos got a bit more into the game as the half went on.

The best chance of the half fell to the home side when their right winger played in a ball to the edge of the six yard box and one of their strikers put it wide of the post.

This wasn't the missed chance.

In the second half Arcos took a bit more control and they had a goal disallowed for offside after an hour.

This was the disallowed goal.

Ten minutes from time one of the players clattered into an advertising board and we had a couple of minutes of mayhem with plenty of pushing and posturing. It was close enough to the few fans on the far side for them to have their say too.

Get into 'em.

After that, the game petered out in a flurry of score-settling fouls and time-wasting injury feigning before finishing up goalless.

The view from the back of the main stand. The only stand actually.

The crowd of around six hundred seemed happy enough with the draw despite the point dropping Arcos down one place to fourteenth.

Posted in Spanish Football, Tercera (4th tier) | Leave a comment

Valencia v Getafe, Wed 16th April 2008, 10pm

I much prefer watching cup football to league games. I suppose that supporting a team that is never going to win the league tends to affect you in that way, although for clarity I should really point out that the Boro don’t win too many cups either. And when I talk about liking cup football I mean the games where when you lose that’s it, you are out. Not the first leg games where everything is cagey and teams are happy just to be in contention when the final whistle blows. And I certainly don’t mean those group stage games that some cup competitions have where not only do you not need to win, but sometimes losing doesn’t matter either. Those matches are worse than testimonials featuring soap stars and celebrity chefs.

No, the games that I like are the ones where at the final whistle one set of players slumps to the floor knowing that it’s all over for another year. That despite sticking their clueless centre half up front in desperation for the last few minutes and after having a player sent off near the end for the petulant sort of behaviour that you rarely see outside of nursery school, it’s finished, their chance gone until next season. Another year closer to the end of their career and another dream of a winner’s medal dashed.

And the best of all cup football is the final. I know that quite often it’s a terrible match and that sometimes the less confident of the two teams will try and stifle the game, maybe even play for penalties right from the start. But that’s only because there is so much at stake. Two teams left, one of them collects the trophy, sprays the champagne, does that belly flop dive and parades their children whilst the other team drifts away as quickly as their fans, wishing that they had been knocked out at the first opportunity rather than having got so close and failed.

I first saw the Boro win a cup in 1975. Or rather I didn’t. I was at the first leg of the Anglo Scottish Cup final against those well known Highlanders, Fulham, but despite our 1-0 win we went home at the end with the anti-climax of knowing that there was still a second leg to come. We were stood along the side of the pitch in the Clive Road Terrace and whilst I remember very little about the actual match, the sight of my next door neighbour applying his cigarette lighter to a Fulham banner that hung down from the seats above us sticks vividly in my mind over thirty years on. I took success for granted in those days, Charlton’s Champions were doing well in the First Division after winning the Second Division by a record margin the previous year and to a naïve ten year old the Anglo Scottish Cup seemed like the natural next step en-route to becoming Real Madrid. Not that I’d even heard of Real Madrid in those days. Fulham, which I had assumed was a little bit north of Aberdeen, had just become the most exotic team in my world. And we had beaten them, set fire to their banner and then sent them homeward tae think again.

6'2", eyes of blue, Stewie Boam is after you.

Maybe I wasn’t so naïve in those days after all, Nottingham Forest won the same trophy the following season and I’ve since read that their manager Brian Clough maintained that it was success in that final that encouraged his team to believe in themselves, to see themselves as winners. One year on, they won the Second Division title, although not as convincingly as we did. The following season they won the First Division championship, then the European Cup, then another one, all on the back of that Anglo Scottish Cup victory. We didn’t kick on quite as enthusiastically as Forest did and a few years later found ourselves back in the Second Division with just the invitational Kirrin Cup to our name. The Kirrin cup, for the odd one of you who doesn’t know, was a pre-season four team tournament in Japan from which the Boro returned home with a terracotta trophy similar to the sort of thing that a garden centre might sell you to stand by your back door and grow geraniums in. It is similar in prestige to the old Fairs Cup, although more highly prized by gardeners with an appropriately sized gap on their patio.

We’ve only picked up one more trophy in the years since then and my memories of cup finals tend to be of the losing kind. From the Zenith Data Systems final at Wembley to the UEFA Cup in Eindhoven via two league cup finals and an FA Cup, I’ve seen us fall just short too many times. In fact, I’m struggling to see exactly why I should prefer cups. But like the gambler who has to put another coin in the slot or the fisherman who keeps casting as darkness falls, there is always the chance that next time will be the one. And so with all that in mind, I thought that it would be quite good to watch the Spanish Cup Final.

I’d missed the final of the Kings Cup (as it is known) when I was living in Spain, mainly because it is held midweek and the company that I was working for a few hundred miles away preferred me to go into the office now and then. They were funny like that. Mind you, it did give me time to write these match reports up. This time though I was on holiday and so I could go. I was spending a week by the seaside north of Barcelona and I’d already been to see Espanyol play Osasuna in the league at the Olympic stadium a few days earlier. This one took a bit more planning though. One of the differences between English and Spanish football is that they don’t have a National Stadium. I think that this is a great idea where the national team is concerned, it allows the whole country to get a chance to see them locally, but it doesn’t half mess with your plans if you want to go to the Cup Final but don’t know where it will take place.

The venue for the final had been announced a few weeks before the semi-finals and would take place at Real Madrid’s ground. That was excellent news, it had a 75,000 capacity and with Real Madrid already out of the competition there was a reasonable chance that I might be able to pick up a ticket. I booked flights from Barcelona to Madrid and a hotel ten minutes walk from the Bernabeu stadium.

Barcelona were playing Valencia in the first semi final with Getafe drawn against Racing Santander in the other. I was hoping for a Barcelona v Racing Santander final, Barcelona because I wanted to watch Messi and Racing Santander because they weren’t Getafe. I’ve nothing against Getafe apart from their location. As a Madrid club I thought that, despite very small gates for league matches, they might make getting a ticket that little bit more difficult.

And in the way that these things rarely go to plan, Valencia beat Barcelona and Getafe knocked out Racing Santander. So, that meant definitely no Messi and possibly no tickets.

Once the results of the semis became known, the Spanish authorities decided to make it harder for me by changing the venue for the final to Athletico Madrid’s smaller Vicente Calderon stadium instead. The Valencia fans quickly booked up all the hotels near the ground and all I had to show for my early booking close to the Bernabeu was the prospect of a long walk home after the match. I suppose I should be grateful that they didn’t switch it to half way up a volcano in the Canary Islands.

Tom and I arrived in Madrid just after lunch on match day and took a taxi to our hotel. It was as quiet as you would expect a hotel in the wrong part of town to be. Still, that has its advantages sometimes and we wandered off towards the Santiago Bernabeu to do the stadium tour. I’d seen a few matches there during my time in Spain, including Zidane’s last home game, but thought it might be interesting to have a look behind the scenes too. Tom had done Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium tour when he was a kid and somehow, to the glee of his school friends, he had managed to walk face first into the glass doors of the Willie Maddren centre. I shouldn’t laugh, one of my daughter’s favourite memories is of seeing me try to jump a queue and do exactly the same to a revolving glass door at IKEA. Tom’s Riverside tour highlight, if not that of his mates who were still doubled up at his rapidly bruising facial features, was seeing Juninho’s flip flops in the shower area. It’s getting desperate when the star attraction is a damp pair of size four beach accessories; although Tom did come home and tell me that we had some sort of silver spade or shovel in our trophy room, perhaps won by the groundsman for his exquisitely turfed goalmouths. Real Madrid obviously had a lot to live up to.

The tour was great, plenty of history and old memorabilia including things like Di Stefano’s shirts and medals. We went high up into the stands and then walked around the edge of the pitch. Tom bent down and brushed the grass with the tips of his fingers. “Ah,ah,ah,ah,ah” shouted a security guard, much as a mother seal might if she suspects you are about to club her offspring with a six iron. We apologised and were allowed to continue to the dugouts and sit in those big seats that footballers now have instead of ‘the bench’. I looked for the one specially made for Big Ronnie’s arse, but didn’t see it. Perhaps they removed it when he left to make a bit more room for Raul’s throne. How long before they have settees and beds in there, I wonder.

The trophy room, as you probably guessed, was fantastic, although without the Anglo Scottish Cup and Kirrin plant pot it didn’t seem complete. Sad case that I am, I couldn’t help but notice that in the past six seasons they had won precisely one trophy, the league title in 2006-7, which was exactly the number of cups that we had won in the same period. They did look likely to overtake us by winning the league that season mind and if the vigilant security men could continue to keep us peasants from interfering with the grass then they might just add a silver spade to their recent haul as well.

Perhaps they've won the Americas Cup too.

We went into the tunnel, affecting limps and wincing in the way that substituted players do and onwards in to the Press Room where we sat behind the desk that you see on the telly whenever they want to announce how much they admire a particular player and then tell you that whilst the last thing that they would want to do is unsettle the bloke, they would love to sign him if only his current club were interested in selling.

And then, as all good tours do, we finished off in the club shop were we marvelled at Real Madrid bingo sets, tape measures and Zinidine Zidane action figures that appeared flexible enough to pose dispensing a kick in the chops or a head butt to the chest. It was a great museum and tour, far better than the Dali ones that we had done earlier in the week and as neither of us had walked straight into any glass doors much more enjoyable than Tom’s previous Riverside experience or my trip to IKEA.

With the culture done, it was time for the match, or at least the pre-match meal. We got the tube to Sol and went for something to eat in the Plaza Major, a big square full of restaurants, pigeons and blokes making animals out of balloons. There were quite a few Getafe fans too, blowing horns, banging drums and waving flags. Last time I’d been in this square I’d mixed up my cod with my codillo and ended up with a pig’s elbow for lunch. This time we picked a place where the menu came complete with photos of the dish, removing that element of suspense as the waitress approaches with your plate.

At 6pm we set off for the stadium, after all we only had four hours to go until the 10pm kick-off. I’d had a look at a map and all we had to do was walk along Calle de Toledo for a couple of miles and it would bring us out at the stadium. Not quite Wembley Way, but a bit more interesting. One shop sold nothing but tins of tuna, whilst another specialised in loose hand fried crisps, piled up high against the window. We passed a bar where everyone was drinking cups of chocolate, thick enough to stand a spoon in. All the time the numbers of Getafe and Valencia fans making their way to the stadium were increasing. Few of them were drinking in the way that we tend to do on these occasions. What they were doing though was setting off fireworks. Bangers were the most common, but much louder than the ones that we had when I was a kid. Every now and then I’d fail to notice someone casually lob one in my direction and then I’d leap in the air as it went off a few feet behind me. Sometimes someone would set off a few of them linked together, like Christmas lights from a house in need of a re-wire and a twenty bang epic would blast out like machine gun fire before leaving the street thick with the sight and smell of smoke.

Valencia fans.

When we got to the stadium we walked three quarters of the way around, the Getafe fans congregating mainly at one side, the Valencia fans at the other. There were twenty two thousand fans from each club, with supposedly around ten thousand tickets going to sponsors and neutrals. I didn’t see many neutrals though with almost everybody wearing the blue of Getafe or the orange of Valencia. I didn’t see anyone selling tickets either, which was a bit disappointing, after all I hadn’t travelled all that way just to have my nerves shattered by firecrackers or to press my nose up against the window of the loose crisp shop. Just as we were beginning to think that we might have to watch it on the telly a bloke with long hair and a Lee Van Cleef moustache approached us and after a bit of negotiation we paid seventy five euros each for tickets with a face value of forty five euros. I was quite pleased with that, thirty euros didn’t seem too bad a mark up on what, at forty five euros, I reckoned to be a cheap ticket for a cup final. The only downside was that they looked as if they were in the Getafe end. I was expecting Valencia to win, they were the cup specialists with this being their ninth final of some sort in the last nine years and I’d been hoping to join in the celebrations for a change rather than have to get my white hanky out again. But at least we were in, or we would be after a pre-match beer or two outside a bar around the corner.

Two beers turned into three and then four before we got into the ground with about fifteen minutes to spare. We were just in time to see some skydivers land in the centre circle but mercifully too late to witness the Spanish Eurovision entry do their stuff. Sometimes that final beer really is worth having. We were behind the goal, a few rows from the back of the stand and, as expected, in the mass of blue that made up the Getafe end of the stadium.

The Getafe fans celebrate the game still being goalless.

The game kicked off at seven minutes past ten, probably the latest that I’ve ever seen a game start. If it went to extra time and penalties, it could be nearly one in the morning before one of the teams would lift the cup. A couple of small children in front of us had already fallen asleep, following in the tradition of adult Boro fans who after a whole days drinking in Eindhoven snored their way through the UEFA Cup Final.

Both sets of fans started well, twirling scarves, coats and banners above their heads, whilst trying to out sing each other. On every seat there was a blue Getafe flag for us to wave. I was a little cautious, I remembered Tom nearly having some blokes eye out with a flag as we celebrated promotion against Oxford ten years earlier. In fact his sister almost did the same at the Carling Cup Final. Perhaps I carry the Cyclops gene. Everything was going great in those first couple of minutes, the fans were enthusiastic, the team had started well and hardly anyone had been blinded. Then Mata scored forValencia. It felt like Di Matteo hoofing one over Ben Roberts and his hair band in the FA Cup Final all over again. After ten minutes Alexis doubled the lead for Valencia and we sat down for a while, the cup final seemingly decided before the skydivers had even packed their parachutes away. Valencia sat back after that and Getafe saw a bit more of the ball, creating a few chances which they didn’t take. After about half an hour the first white handkerchiefs appeared, interspersed amongst the twirling scarves and being waved by the more pessimistic of the Getafe fans.

Right on half time Getafe got a penalty, awarded on the linesman’s advice after what looked to me like an outrageous dive. The Valencia players weren’t happy and there was lots of jostling of the diver, the other Getafe players, the officials and even amongst themselves.

No way, ref.

We hadn’t even reached half time and already there had been seven yellow cards handed out. Granero scored from the spot, Tom and I E-I-Oed to the bemusement of the people around us and after looking out of it Getafe were back in the game.

At half time, there was no beer for sale, or at least no alcoholic beer. However its absence hadn’t had much effect on the queues for the toilets. It seemed that for every person that came out another ten were going in. I was expecting them to be like the Tardis when I finally got inside. I just made it back to my seat in time for the second half, whilst the less well endowed blokes who preferred to queue for the privacy of a cubicle were probably still there when the floodlights got switched off a couple of hours later.

Getafe never really looked like equalising and with six minutes remaining Morientes, who had replaced Villa as the lone striker for Valencia with a quarter of an hour to go, headed in the rebound from a free kick to make it 3-1. “They always let you down son” I remarked to Tom in the way that Boro fans are brought up to say at cup finals. He knew the feeling; he had been to them all except the winning one at Cardiff. Bloody Jonah.

Getafe switched from 4-4-2 to 3-4-3 and then after Celistini received a classic cup final red card finished the game with an unorthodox 3-3-3 formation.  Celistini hadn’t been on the pitch for very long when the combination of imminent defeat, the victors showboating, the crowd chanting “Ole” at every successful Valencia pass and the close proximity of an ankle wearing an opposition sock proved too much for him and he lashed out, then ran off down the tunnel.

The Valencia fans were already celebrating with flares and firecrackers and as the clock ticked around to midnight, Getafe’s hopes were fading faster than Cinderella’s chances of a leg over. At the final whistle about half the Getafe fans remained to see the King present his cup to Valencia. They knew the procedure having lost in the previous years final to Seville.

After the final whistle

We hung about for a while, despite the rain, before heading off for our carefully chosen hotel miles away.

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Espanyol v Osasuna, Sunday 13th April 2008, 5pm

After a year spent working in Kazakhstan, a holiday took me back to Spain for my first Spanish game in a while. I was staying at L’Escala in the Costa Brava and conveniently for me Girona were playing at home that weekend in a Spanish third division game just half an hours drive away. Not so conveniently I’d mistakenly believed it to be a 5pm kick-off and when the game started at noon I was still sat outside of a bar rather than behind the goal.

So that meant Plan B, which was L’Escala themselves. I’d driven past their ground the day before and with one small new stand and fencing on the other three sides it looked quite smart for a team in the Catalunya Preferente, which is probably about the equivalent of the Langbaurgh Sunday League. The bad news was that they were playing away and I couldn’t match the name of the team they were playing with any of the places on my map. I hate it when that happens, there could be a game going on two miles up the road but I can’t tell from the fixture list because clubs think it’s clever to give themselves a name that doesn’t appear on a map.  I’d penalise them all five points at the start of each season if they wouldn’t change their name to include their town or at the very least amend it to include a postcode or even a grid reference.  So we would have, for example, North London Arsenal or Raith KY1 1SA Rovers. I appreciate it might not always make for a catchy chant although if you were really stuck you could fall back on the old…

 “Give us a K, Give us a Y, Give us a 1, Give us another 1, Give us an S, Give us an A, What have you got?”

No more driving around Fife looking for signposts pointing to Raith when you should be in Kirkcaldy, that’s what matey.

L' Escala, a nice place for a holiday.

So, if there was nothing doing in the third division and the games in the fifth division were better hidden than the last bottle of cider at a teenage house party, I’d have to have a look at the big games in La Liga. Barcelona was only about an hour and a half’s drive away so that was an option. Mind you, as options go it wasn’t the best as they were playing a few hundred miles further away at Reactivo. Luckily my geographical knowledge of the bigger teams was good enough for me to know that Espanyol played in Barcelona as well, perhaps exempting them from my five point penalty plan. Fortunately Espanyol were at home to Osasuna the following day and so that’s were we would go.

The Espanyol game didn’t kick off until 5pm but I had my parents with me and as they fancied a trip into Barcelona to visit the Picasso museum we set off early in the morning. Actually I suspect my Dad would have been happier coming to the match with my son Tom and I, but that’s married life for you. I think that he was starting to tire of museums, we had been to a couple of Dali ones the day before and like me he hadn’t been too impressed. In two whole galleries I only saw one decent painting, which was of Mrs Dali’s back. Maybe Salvador wasn’t too confident doing faces. If I’m truthful, which I try to be unless I think that I might end up with a good kicking or a Fixed Penalty Notice, most of stuff looked like it should have been stuck on a fridge door rather than a gallery wall. This was a shame really because I got the impression that Mr. Dali was probably quite a good painter when he could be bothered to put the effort in. I reckon that once he got well known he cottoned on to the idea that he could earn a lot more money by knocking out half a dozen wacky images in the same time that it would take him to paint something decent. I suppose I should have cut my losses after the first museum but I’d read that Dali’s tomb was in the second one and I persisted in the hope that in keeping with the rest of the surrealist surroundings he might have decided in death to have his moustache waxed, his body varnished and then to spend eternity with a unicorn’s horn or a Buick exhaust pipe stuck up his arse. But he hadn’t, or at least if he had, it was well hidden behind a brick wall.  

"Our Zoe could do better than that."

The drive through the countryside to Barcelona was interesting, well more interesting than the museums were anyway. Every few hundred yards there would be a woman stood by the side of the road, sometimes in a very short skirt, sometimes in thigh length boots, sometimes both. The women were usually accompanied by a chair and an umbrella. At first I wondered if they were accessories for some sort of kinky inclement weather lion tamer scenario.

This occupied my mind for a good few miles as I considered, probably for the first time, why circuses considered it sensible for lion tamers to go into a cage housing wild animals armed only with a chair and a whip? I’d have preferred a gun myself, although I appreciate that in the event of Simba turning nasty, popping a cap in his jungle king arse might not go down well with the parents of small children on a birthday treat. I suspect, however, that the girls waiting by the side of the road were not kitted out with chairs and umbrellas in anticipation of a Billy Smart fetishist, but more because I imagine that those boots take a terrible toll on the bunions and due to it looking like it was going to rain.

I did think that a couple of dozen prostitutes dotted about in the middle of nowhere on a Sunday morning seemed a bit unusual, but judging by the occasional deserted chair and temporarily abandoned brolly, there must have been some business going on in the bushes beside the road.

My Mam, bless her, was a little bit more naïve than us blokes,

“Are they selling something?” she enquired to initial silence.

“Umbrellas I think, Nanna,” my son replied, trying not to catch my eye.

“They don’t seem to have many left” she pondered as we passed one who looked old enough to have actually posed for Dali.  I doubt she did though, I didn’t remember her from the previous day’s paintings and I’m sure a picture of a girl with just the two eyes would have stood out from the rest.

Later that day we dropped my Mam and Dad off at the Picasso museum and set off for the match. I’d not seen Espanyol before and for me the attraction was not so much them but their ground, the Olympic stadium. It had been built for the 1992 Olympics and then taken over afterwards by Espanyol in a similar scam to the way in which Man City got a nice new ground after the 2002 Commonwealth Games.

There were other parallels with Man City too, Espanyol are the second team in the second city and are overshadowed by glamorous neighbours. I don’t know if their fans take delight in being crap in quite the same way that ‘Citeh’ fans do, but in my ignorance I’ll imagine that they do. It’s easier to make assumptions than to find stuff out. A bit like my assumption that Manchester is England’s second city. I’ve no idea about that either, but it helps with the comparison.

My guidebook recommended that we got a shuttle bus to the ground from the nearest metro station, but as usual we ignored it. It was only an inch or so on the map and coloured in green, so with almost an hour to go to kick off I thought a stroll though a park would be a good idea.

Three quarters of an hour later we agreed that I’ve had better ideas. It was through a park all right, but all uphill and at what seemed like a forty five degree incline. Going up Great Gable with a backpack seemed less of slog than the walk to this ground.

It was steeper than this.

As we got closer to kick off but seemingly no nearer the stadium I sympathised with the runners who a few years previously must have had to run up the hill with the Olympic Torch. I doubt that they would have had any trouble with protesters like the current lot. In fact I’m surprised that they didn’t protest themselves. Perhaps they took the shuttle bus. Even worse must have been the marathon runners. If it wasn’t bad enough running the gauntlet of hookers at the roadside in the early stages of the race, they would have had to finish the race with a two mile climb. Although when the working girls were in the bushes they could always have a quick sit down in an empty chair.

Almost there.

We reached the summit with about ten minutes to spare and got our tickets. Prices ranged between forty and sixty euros, which was almost as steep as the walk to the ground. We paid fifty euros each to sit down the side, opposite the main stand and in the sunshine. I thought that I might as well get a bit of a tan for my money. We got to our seats just as the players were coming out and as there was plenty of space we moved along to the half way line and sat up in the back row to get a better idea of the size of the place. It was enormous, a great big bowl with only a small roof covering a few seats down one side, probably just enough to keep the Olympic Committee dry in 1992.

The line-ups.

There was a minutes silence for someone before kick-off, or more accurately a minute’s worth of the sort of sombre violin music that in years gone by would denote the death of a Soviet dignitary. I hadn’t heard any bad news about Mr Putin or his comrades, so suspected that the worthy cause in this case was probably some other poor soul who had recklessly decided against catching the shuttle bus.

Espanyol’s opponents were Osasuna, famous for coming from the world’s best party town Pamplona (five point deduction however for the misleading name) and for signing Boro midfielder Jamie Pollock. Not many English players seem to successfully make the transition to playing in Spain and Jamie, or Jaime as I’m sure he was known, was no exception. A combative midfield player who excelled in shouting at his team mates and pointing at empty spaces on the pitch, he wasn’t really cut out for the technically superior Spanish league. If I remember rightly he came back within a year and ended up, a little heavier than when he left, at Bolton.

I’ve no idea if he did the Bull Run, but I couldn’t recommend a better place for a young English lad to spend a year partying. I’ve been a couple of times for the San Fermin festival and it’s the wildest, most exuberant few days of excess that I’ve experienced since cub camp. I suspect for someone as proficient at shouting and pointing as Jamie, the experience would have been even better.

More fun than a quiet game of snooker after training.

Espanyol, in blue and white stripes, started well with Coro looking to be a decent player. He went on one run from his own half early on where he went past three of the Osasuna players. It was Osasuna though, in red and black, who took the lead after half an hour despite the scorer Astudillo looking miles offside to me and the rest of the home crowd.

As Espanyol were booed off at half time I looked around the Olympic stadium trying to match my memories of events I’d watched on the telly with the actual surroundings sixteen years later. It was easy enough to picture Linford Christie hammering down the hundred metres track opposite from where we were sat to take his gold. He was one of Tom’s heroes as a small child, known simply as ‘Linford’ in our house and as popular as the Power Rangers and Postman Pat combined.  I remember us going to see him run at Gateshead a couple of years later in the days before it all went wrong and he was revealed to have been a drugs cheat.

Espanyol fans behind the goal.

I recalled Sally Gunnell winning her 400m hurdles final and tried to reconcile the images in my memory with the television footage that I remembered. The stadium looked so much more pristine in my mind. Nowadays the water jump was boarded up, the long jump was fenced off and the track looked really shabby and a lot worse for wear. Although I suspect the same is true of Sally too these days, it was all a long time ago.

I used to work with a girl who had once been brought to Barcelona on a motivational weekend with her office and they had ended up at the Olympic stadium. Apparently they all dressed up in their PE kit and competed against each other pretending to be the likes of Linford and Sally Gunnell. I suspect, however, that the fantasy of being a world class athlete in an Olympic final was spoilt by the sight of some fat knacker from HR wearing a Man Utd shirt with Hawaiian shorts and grey socks. I’d done a similar thing at the Munich Olympic Stadium a couple of years earlier, re-enacting everything from Gerd Muller’s 1974 World Cup winning goal to Mary Peters pentathlon triumph that is, not dressing up as Rooney in Bermudas and work socks  If it had been raining I’d have had a crack at being Mark Spitz as well. Today though, I settled for watching.

The covered stand alongside where the 100m was run.

In the second half Espanyol kept pressing for an equaliser and although the stadium only seemed about a third full, the fans got right behind them with chants of “Espanyol, Espanyol…”

They had an effort headed off the line with about fifteen minutes left and then that was about it.  At the final whistle we booed and waved our hankies with what was left of the crowd. I never boo at the Boro, not even at the bar when it takes ages to get served, but this was different, I took great delight in jeering the losers off the pitch. That’s one of the benefits of not caring who wins.

"Boooooooooooooooooooooooooo"

Next week it’s the Spanish Cup Final, Valencia v Getafe in Madrid, more museums, less hookers and enough firecrackers to celebrate a revolution.

Posted in Liga 1, Spanish Football | Leave a comment