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.
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.