Celta Vigo ‘B’ v Racing Ferrol – 4pm, Saturday 13th January 2007

Just one more time. Like Nigel Mansell trying to squeeze his fat arse into a Formula One car after a few years in the pie shop or Rocky Balboa returning for another somewhat unlikely World Title attempt. Or was that five more times? One last Spanish football match. It wasn’t supposed to be like this, the Deportivo game with Real Madrid was meant to be the last one of these reports, finishing rather aptly with all that symmetry stuff and with what looked to be the last games for Ronaldo and Beckham. But no, as with most of my plans it didn’t quite work out as expected and a week later I was back in Spain for yet another ‘last match’. This one wasn’t quite as glamorous though and in an anti-climax to rival Morrissey doing ‘Don’t make fun of Daddy’s voice’ as an encore when you are hoping for ‘There is a light that never goes out’, I found myself at the Division 2B game between Celta Vigo ‘B’ and Racing Ferrol.

The reason for my quick return to Spain was simply that I had brought too many things out with me from England over the past year. After an hour of trying to squash most of them into a suitcase that already weighed thirty kilos despite half my clothes still being in the wardrobe, I had to admit defeat and book a return flight to Spain for a couple of days later.

Yet, even after resolving the packing issue, disaster still wasn’t far away. I drove to Santiago airport early in the morning for the flight to Barcelona, but when I got there at 9.20am for my 10.30am flight I noticed that the Spanair check-in desk was deserted. I stood quietly in front of it for a few minutes, pretty much in the same way that I once stood patiently at the padlocked gates of Frederick Nattrass Infants School on a cold January morning because my Mam had mistakenly sent me back to school a day early after the Christmas holidays.

Five minutes or so went by and I thought that I’d better check that the flight was actually at 10.30am and not later. I bet you think you know where this is going don’t you? You think that the flight was scheduled for 9.30am and I’d got there too late. Twenty odd years ago I turned up for my ‘A’ Level General Studies exam half an hour before the start time as advised, but after an unfortunate mix up with my calendar, one day too late. Still, it’s a good way of weeding out those less able candidates whose General Knowledge doesn’t extend as far as knowing the days of the week.

But if that’s what you thought happened this time then you’re wrong. I wasn’t late. My diary confirmed that my flight was indeed at 10.30am that morning to Barcelona and with Spanair. Every detail was correct with the exception of one quite important one, the departing airport. I was flying from Coruna and not Santiago. Now I try not to swear too much in these match reports, as it’s quite possible that at some point my parents might read them although I doubt that they would send me to bed nowadays, mainly because;

a)         I’m forty two

b)         I don’t live with them

c)         My old bedroom is used as a junk store these days and it would take too long to clear away all the suitcases, footbaths, slow cookers and the other used once and then abandoned gadgets that now cover what was once my bed.

I still don’t think that it’s right to swear in front of them though, or in something that they might read. However, in circumstances like this, there is only one response that’s appropriate. Fuck, Fuck, Fuck, Fuck, Fuckety Fucking Fuck. Sorry Mam. Wrong fucking airport. And apologies to you too Dad. The correct airport was 60km away and I had just over half an hour to get there before check in closed at ten o’clock. I hammered it up the motorway at speeds of up to 170km an hour and whilst I don’t actually know how fast that it in miles per hour, it certainly seemed to cover the ground. That’s very nearly three kilometres every minute. I got to Coruna airport bang on ten o’clock and ran into the terminal, with sparks flying from my suitcase wheels.

Spanair are a great airline and they let me onto the plane in a situation where other airlines might not have done. We then, typically, waited on the runway for forty minutes as take-off was delayed for an unspecified problem. But, whatever, I didn’t care, I was on the plane. Three days later I was back in Spain again, with my kids in tow, as much for their baggage allowances as their engaging personalities.

Saturday afternoon and with the packing half done, we set off for Vigo. It’s a journey that I’ve done a lot of times before over the previous fourteen months, mainly on the way to and from Porto but also on a few occasions to watch Celta. We saw  Ferrol’s stadium on the left of the motorway and the all-weather pitches where Tom and I had played for my works team. We passed Coruna where I’d taken both Soph and Tom in recent weeks to watch Deportivo and then drove by Santiago’s stadium on the right where Tom and I had watched a Division Five punch up just a few weeks previously. One hundred kilometres further South we went through Pontevedra where I’d stood behind the goal the previous summer and hurled bog rolls as they lost in the play-offs to Sevilla ‘B’. We drove over the river where I’d seen the bong eyed fish and to the left I pointed out the bull ring where I’d partied with Pablo and his friends in August. All good memories.

We reached Vigo and I continued in tour guide mode by showing them Celta Vigo’s stadium and the hotel that I had stayed in on previous visits. Just about the only thing that I couldn’t point out to them was the ground that the Celta Vigo‘B’ team played at. That was unfortunate, because El Barriero was exactly the one place that we did need to see. I drove around for about forty minutes in my usual aimless way before Soph, in a voice that suggested that her head may be about to explode, pointed out for the tenth time or so that it might just be an idea to stop and ask someone.

“Well, I suppose we could,” I grudgingly replied, as if she had suggested that we trap our heads in the electric windows. But eventually I did. Stop and ask someone that is, not liven up the journey by decapitating ourselves. I’m not bad at directions, or rather I’m not bad at asking directions in Spanish. It was on the CD that I used to play in the car.

“Donde esta el estadio de futbal para Celta ‘B’?”

And then when they reply I’m ok with the Spanish words for the right, the left and straight on. I can even, after they have rattled on for five minutes and given me detailed instructions ask them “Is it far?” which must drive them mad when they have just told me exactly where it is. This time though, there was none of that as I asked someone in a bar just next to Celta’s proper ground. “Park up and get a taxi” was the advice. So we did and ten minutes and seven euros later we arrived at the ground

Campo Municipal de Barreirro

The Barriero had been quite difficult to spot as we approached from the road. If it hadn’t been for the fans disappearing from the street through a doorway in a wall, I wouldn’t have seen it. We got out and looked for the ticket office, which turned out to be nothing more than a hole in the wall about the size of a packet of butter. I crouched down to look through the hole and half expecting to be poked in the eye with a stick, asked for some tickets. If the bloke inside had decided to give me my change in coins rather than notes, then my fist would have been stuck inside the wall like a monkey trying to steal custard creams from a biscuit jar. I’m sure some of you won’t know what I’m talking about there, I’m only half sure myself.

Anyway, we got our tickets, twelve euros and six euros, not bad, although I’ve watched their first team for less, and went inside. Nobody else appeared to be paying, they were all showing their Celta Vigo season tickets which entitled them to free entry to the ‘B’ team.

There were about two thousand people inside by the time the game kicked off, most of them in the main stand that ran the length of one side of the pitch. We stood on the other side, on a grassy bank with about sixty or so other people. There were a few people behind the goal to our right, but to our left there was a wood behind the goal. We could only stand near one half of the pitch, as when you got to the halfway line some houses backed on to the ground, leaving just enough space for the linesman to run up and down. If anyone wanted to take a long throw, they would have to start their run up in someone’s kitchen, dodge past the patio furniture and then reappear at full speed through a gap in the fence.

Celta fans near us.

Ferrol had brought about one hundred fans with them, together with large banners and a band. They made a lot more noise than they usually do at home although this was probably helped by them going a goal up after five minutes. There was a scoreboard on the roof of the bar and I watched a man get his ladder out and climb up to replace the zero with a one.

Celta fans behind the goal.

Both sides played good football, certainly better than the surroundings had led me to expect. Ferrol were pushing for promotion and playing with confidence, Celta were a young team with some of their players no doubt intended for the first team in the future. The only disappointing aspect of the first half was the text that I got telling us that Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink had put Charlton one up against the Boro. I wonder how many people had backed him to score the first goal against his former club? Easy money.

A rare photograph with footballers in it.

Halftime and we got a pass out and wandered along to a bar up the road for a drink. It was one of the benefits of standing on our side of the ground. We got back in just as the teams were kicking off and the second half was spent receiving texts of Boro goals in our three-one comeback. Ferrol and Celta didn’t score any more and Ferrol took the points.

We got a taxi back to the car and drove back to Ferrol for a final night out and a last minute check of the details of the departure time and airport.

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

Deportivo La Coruna v Real Madrid – 7pm, Sunday 7th January 2007

This report should really have been about Ferrol’s match with Athletico Madrid B from the previous day. In the sort of ‘life repeating itself’ way that seems to happen more and more to me these days, a year ago to the weekend I had also listened, via the internet, to the Boro playing against lower level opposition in the 3rd round of the FA Cup.  And then, as now, I had set off for the Ferrol match in a bit of a huff after we had conceded a late equaliser. Last year it had been Nuneaton, this year it was Hull. Or at least it would have been if it hadn’t been raining this year, causing me to decide to forget about Ferrol and just go to the pub instead.

The match last year on the same day as the Nuneaton game was the first time that I’d seen Ferrol play. In quite neat sort of way, if I’d gone to see Ferrol play after listening to the Boro v Hull match it would probably have been for the last time as I’d decided to leave Spain the following week. I like the symmetry when things work out that way. Or not, if it rains and the pub beckons instead.

And whilst this weekend in January is best known for the FA Cup Third Round in England, in Spain it is the Three Kings Celebration. My Spanish friends tell me that Three Kings is bigger than Christmas for them, although they make a pretty good job of celebrating Christmas too. I think Christmas is growing in importance for them in a society that likes to find any excuse it can for a party.

I’d been driving home from work on the Friday night that I suppose we would call Three Kings Eve and in the way that I often seem to do with funeral processions, I turned onto the main road and found myself in the middle of the parade. I had the Lion King in front of my car and some pirates following closely behind on the somewhat unorthodox galleon of a flat back lorry. The streets were lined with people and the characters on the floats in the procession were all throwing sweets to them. Everyone in the parade except me in my Opel Corsa that is. The kids were staring at me, in the hope that I might have been some pantomime style character that they didn’t recognise. Muddy Car Man, perhaps. Some of them even waved, to which I responded in traditional royal style. If I’d had any sweets in the car I’d have thrown them out, but all I had was a packet of paracetemol, and tempting as it was, I thought I’d better not.

The kids and adults were scrabbling for the confectionary as if it was an Oxfam style famine delivery, even retrieving sweets from puddles. They couldn’t have eaten many of them though as when I went out for something to eat with my mates later that evening, all the restaurants that we normally have no trouble getting a table in were absolutely packed. As we squeezed around a tiny table in the corner of one place I resolved that if I ever get stuck in a Three Kings Parade again, I’ll throw sandwiches to them all and try and ruin their appetites a bit.

So the game that was to mark the end of my time in Spain was actually Deportivo v Real Madrid on the Sunday evening. It wasn’t just my last game but quite possibly the final one for Beckham and Ronaldo too by the looks of things. Things change, sometimes quickly, sometimes for the better, sometimes not. When I arrived here in November 2005 life was good for Beckham, he was England captain with the World Cup less than a season away and was a regular starter for Real Madrid. The threat to his England place had vanished when Shaun Wright Phillips had moved from Man City to Chelsea reserves and at Real Madrid it was still a time when to be a Galactico was regarded as a good thing. He was popular with the manager, the fans and the press.

Fourteen months on and with new managers at both club and country who were keen to distance themselves from their predecessors, things had changed dramatically for Beckham and a few days after being made the scapegoat, along with Ronaldo, for the outcome of this game he announced that he was leaving for Los Angeles.

I arrived at the game with some friends, there were about twenty of us all sat together and we had arranged to meet the rest of them at a bar near the ground. After the usual parking fiasco that the visit of Madrid or Barcelona creates, we got there with about an hour to spare. The streets were heavily policed with the type of coppers that were dressed for a riot. If I wanted to know the time, I certainly wouldn’t be asking any of those policemen.

Where were they all against Bilbao last month?

It’s interesting to contrast the policing tactics at football matches in Spain with those in England. I was at the Blackburn v Boro game over Christmas and I saw a young lad, maybe 17 or 18 years old try to take a bottle of beer back to his seat at half time. Illegal as I’m sure that he knew. I was a bit surprised though to see two police officers move straight in as soon as he crossed the line on the floor that set the boundary for drinking, and without warning, turn him to face the wall, handcuff him and lead him out. My suspicion is that a trip to the Police Station, a court appearance and a banning order were on the cards. After all, why bother handcuffing someone who isn’t resisting arrest if you are just going to warn him? It all seemed way over the top to me, but perhaps they have targets to achieve.

Contrast that with the scene outside the Deportivo stadium about three quarters of an hour before kick-off. A bloke who I took to be about thirty years old attracted the attention of the Spanish Police by running past them. He was dressed in your stereotypical hoolie outfit of  multi-lacehole boots, tight jeans and the sort of green satin bomber jackets that if worn with a shaven head like his, tends to give the impression that your politics are of the far-right variety.

Probably deserves a kicking I hear you say, for his dress sense or his politics, and you may have a point. I think though that he got his good hiding for running rather than crimes against fashion and since when was jogging a crime? Maybe I’m mistaken and perhaps the Police were worried about wear and tear on his knee ligaments or perhaps they were actually motivating him to run a bit faster in a way that would be interesting to see in the final stages of a marathon.

Whatever their motives, they took the opportunity to whack him as hard as they could with heavy wooden batons, about four feet long. There wasn’t any intention to detain him or even talk to him. They just wanted to give him as hard a whack as they could as he ran past, perhaps to show him who was boss, perhaps because its good fun to do or even perhaps just because they could. I suppose he was lucky that they didn’t draw their guns and shoot him.

As at the Blackburn game, no-one intervened or even seemed interested, and yet I couldn’t help but think that in both cases, a pointed finger and a raised eyebrow would have had the desired effect with a lot less fuss. 

After a couple of pre-match beers we made our way into the ground to our seats in the front row of the upper tier. Beckham was on the bench with Ronaldo, but Gago, the new wonder kid from South America was making his debut in central midfield forMadrid. No-one I was with really cared who was playing for Deportivo and they were in such poor form that even a struggling Madrid side shouldn’t really have had too much trouble with them. However, in producing the sort of performance that should make managers and fans question why they don’t do it more often, Deportivo were by far the better team. An injury to Guti in the first few minutes meant that Beckham came on to play almost the entire game. Unfortunately nobody seemed to have told him and Raul who would take the central role and which one of them would play on the right. I’m all for flexibility, in a total football sort of way, but not if it means two players stood next to each other, with a big gap left elsewhere. And of course, where Raul is involved, it’s never his fault.

Real on the attack.

Deportivo finished up two-nil winners with goals from Capdevila and Christian, with Arizmendi having a particularly good game. The new boys for Madrid, Gago and Marcelo didn’t provide much of a spark and Ronaldo came on just in time to miss a good chance that would probably have prolonged his Madrid career had he taken it.

The game ended with a late appearance from Valeron who after a long time out through injury, got the sort of heartfelt standing ovation that he rarely got for his performances before his injury. But then again, Deportivo have been so bad lately that every week he didn’t play, his reputation was being gradually enhanced. If the bad run had gone on for another month of so, his reception would have been the sort of welcome that the Three Kings themselves could have expected had they stopped throwing sweets and had taken their tracksuits off.

At the final whistle the Madrid team scurried off as quickly as they could. Apart from Beckham that is, who as usual made a point of walking towards the Real fans to applaud them, possibly for the last time. Most of them had already left, but those who remained seemed to appreciate the gesture. We went back to the bar for a couple more beers and to keep out of the way of the police with the big sticks.

For me it looks like that’s the last game for a while. I’ll be back in Spain for the Running of the Bulls in July, but the season will be over by then. I’ve had a good year or so out here, I’ve seen about forty games, a bit of boxing and a few bullfights, but sometimes like with Beckham and Ronaldo, it’s time to make those changes. So, the next one of these should come not from Hollywood where Beckham is bound for, but from Kazakhstan. With a bit of luck I still should see some football; the tuna fishing will be replaced by ice fishing and the bullfights by that odd version of polo that the Kazakhs play with a goat carcass. I can make a fool of myself in a new language, eat a few horses and depending upon the time of year suffer from either sunstroke or frostbite, probably both at the same time. I can’t wait.

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Deportivo La Coruna v Athletic Bilbao – 8pm, Saturday 16th December 2006

My final game of 2006 was back in Liga One with Athletic Bilbao’s visit to Deportivo. As is becoming common these days, I had a bit of company as my son Tom was visiting again. There’s a fair chance that I’ll be changing jobs soon and he’d flown over to help bring some of my stuff back to the UK. He had picked a good weekend for it really because as well as the Deportivo match he also got to go to my works Christmas Party with me on the Friday night and then paintballing on the Saturday afternoon

I don’t think he was too impressed with the Christmas Party. The dress code was ‘smart casual’ which just about ruled out all of his own clothes and whilst I reckoned that the white shirt and dark blue ‘v’ necked jumper combined with his shaven head made him look quite Vialli-ish, he was convinced that I’d dressed him up in as close to school uniform as I could find in one of those touches of parental badness that I seem to specialise in.

Young Vialli wasn’t too impressed with the food either, which was mainly seafood and included plenty of things like those big prawns with the skinny 4” claws. You know the ones I mean, somewhere between a prawn and a lobster. The claws are far too thin to bother cracking open for the meat, so why have them. I thought that evolution would have meant that prawns would come with big fat claws these days, like lobsters, but apparently not. In fact, if they were truly evolved then they would have replaced that inedible hard shell with a nice tasty bacon wrap. It will undoubtedly happen, and whilst maybe not in my lifetime, it’s something that future generations should enjoy. Lucky gits, global warming and crustaceans with natural bacon shells.  They will read about us having to peel our prawns and wear our jumpers in April and marvel at how we coped with the hardship.

I’ve always tried to introduce Tom and his sister to as wide a variety of foods as possible, except salad obviously, but he is still quite conservative in his preferences. Mind you, I’ve given him food poisoning so many times that he is probably right to be wary. If the waiter had offered him chicken nuggets then he would have been a lot happier and even half a bottle of ketchup on the prawns didn’t seen to do the trick. To make things worse they were serving wine rather than beer with the food. His eyes had lit up when I told him that the drink was free and unlimited. Quite why he seemed so happy, I’m not sure. When he is with me the drink is always free and the quantity is limited only by his ability to cross the road to the next pub without being run over. So that’s generally about two pints, then.

He hasn’t yet acquired the taste for wine, although his friends seem to have, judging by the speed that my bottles get drunk when they are around. And yet, despite his preference for beer, he drank enough wine that evening for me to decide to get him home by midnight before he ruined any remaining slim chance of me leaving the job on good terms. I remember one ‘Works do’ a few years ago when after more wine than was perhaps appropriate my ex-wife made a point of telling the MD that his speech was boring and then, despite having no interest in either gambling or football, started taking bets that Cameroon would beat England the next day.  She couldn’t have been any more popular with my colleagues if she had danced naked on the table. Well maybe a little.

Not all of those glasses were ours.

Next day was paintball and we drove out into the countryside with half a dozen mates for a few hours of dressing up as soldiers and trying to shoot each other in the arse from as close a range as possible. As I’ve got one of the bigger arses, my team tended to be a man down quite early on each time. Once we found out that it was possible to ‘tweak’ the guns to give them a bit of extra power, it got a lot more serious. The initial mad charges that ended in a blaze of glory and a flurry of yellow paint tended to be a bit less frequent, whilst the screams of “ayyaaagh, yer bazza” became a bit more common. From the Teesside duo that is, although the German, Polish and Portuguese versions were remarkable similar when on the receiving end of a paintball fired from six feet away by someone shaking with laughter. It just shows that there is little difference between the nationalities at all. It’s not so much a case of ‘if you prick us, do we not bleed?’, these days, but more like ‘if you blast us from close range, do we not squeal like a girl’. A girl who knows a lot of swear words that is. The Germans won, of course, but I suspect that you already knew that.

As a veteran of two trips to play paintball, I’ve concluded that the scenarios could be a bit more imaginative. Both times have involved camouflaged clothes and woodland warfare. What about a game of cowboys and Indians or something for a change. The Indians could use those arrows with the rubber suckers on the end and then dipped in emulsion, or they could be those Indians that, in a bit of a setback for the cowboys, had somehow managed to acquire rifles. I doubt that they just walked into the Dodge City Rifle Shop and bought them. Maybe they got them out of a catalogue, thirty eight weeks at three beads a week. Anyway, if the bow and arrow thing is too complicated you could have good cowboys against bad cowboys, perhaps in a setting where you walk into a saloon bar with a couple of pistols in holsters rather than a machine gun. They could make the paint red for added realism when you feel the need to accuse someone of cheating at poker.

Or how about giving us black trench coats instead of army gear and setting one game in a school. Local kids could get Saturday jobs as the pupils, perhaps earning tips for realistically slumping across their desks after being peppered with paintballs, whilst the schools could use the fees to buy books or computers. Everyone wins really, except perhaps the caretaker who has to clean up the paint, although even he would probably welcome the change from covering vomit with sawdust.

We could have had a bit of sport with some of the wild boars that apparently roamed the forest beyond the wire mesh fence that marked the paintball boundary. That would have been good harmless fun, hunting without the blood, just the odd bruise and luminous yellow splat of paint on the pig. I’m sure no one could object to that. Perhaps it’s one for the fox hunters to consider. Leave the dogs at home and chase the foxes with paintball guns. You could still dress up and get the thrill of the chase and as long as you use emulsion rather than gloss, nobody suffers. I bet the foxes would queue up for a game, it’s not as they have anything else to be doing on a weekend since the ban.

After the paintball, we drove into Coruna and checked into a hotel. I fancied a couple of beers pre-match, rather than having to wait until after we had driven back to Ferrol when the game had finished and so staying over, despite the stadium only being forty minutes drive away from my flat, made sense. There were a couple of coachloads of Bilbao fans milling around outside of our hotel, almost all of them dressed in the usual red and green Basque colours.

The Basques seem to like travelling en-masse. Although perhaps I shouldn’t use the French words, they will have some of their own language to describe it. No doubt full of ‘x’s and ‘z’s and throat clearing sounds, I should think. I’ve had some great times with the Basques in Bayonne and Biarritz, although the memory of being stuck behind about thirty of them at the car hire desk at Stansted before a rugby match will probably stay with me longest.

Tom and I went for a beer and something to eat. Not as easy as you would imagine, as most places seemed to be shut and those bars that were open didn’t have much food available apart from the odd small plate of tapas. I never seem to have much food in the fridge at home and after the prawns the previous night and the limited menu on the Saturday evening I think Tom was starting to wonder where his next meal was coming from.

The weather was typically Galician.

We watched some of the Premiership football on the telly and then went into the ground. We paid thirty Euros for seats down the side, upper tier, about level with the edge of the penalty box. Under twenty year olds could go behind the goal for ten euros, but as I hadn’t fed him, I thought that I’d let him sit with me in the posh seats as a treat.

Deportivo hadn’t won in seven matches, so a game against fourth from bottom Athletic Bilbao was probably just what they needed and they were odds on to win. There had been speculation in the Spanish newspapers that Bilbao were planning on signing Mendieta in January, his good performance in the Basques v Catalan ‘international’ being seen as perhaps signalling his return to form.

Deportivo were poor though and Martinez scored for Bilbao after twenty minutes, which had the Bilbao fans bouncing up and down with their Basque language songs and brought taunts of “Sing in Spanish” from the home crowd. They seemed as if they would rather sing in English than Spanish and they responded with what sounded like “Bilbao are wonderful”, which was possibly stretching the truth a bit.

Bilbao fans.

The game wasn’t too good though, very ‘stop-start’ with petty fouls, diving and feigning of injury. There weren’t many people there to see it either, Deportivo’s poor form, Bilbao not being much of an attraction and it being only a week before Christmas meant that even with a few hundred from Bilbao, there were still only twelve thousand in the ground. Bilbao got their second goal in second half injury time to finish up two-nil winners and give Deportivo their eight consecutive game without a win.

We wandered back into town, where it was still unusually quiet for a Saturday night. Maybe everyone was at their works parties, scoffing big prawns with skinny claws. Next for me and Deportivo was the visit of Real Madrid just after the New Year. I bet the part-timers turn out for that one. It might even encourage some of the bars to put some food on.

Posted in Liga 1, Spanish Football | Leave a comment

Sporting Sada v Chantada – 4pm, Sunday 10th December 2006

Last weekend I took in my first Spanish game for a month. I’d nipped back to England on each of the previous three weekends for the home games against Liverpool and Man Utd and the England rugby match against South Africa, so had missed a few opportunities.  I had intended to go to Lugo on the Saturday evening for their division 2B game but in the end decided to listen to the Boro on the internet. A pity really, because Lugo is an interesting place, with a Roman wall that you can walk along encircling the ‘old town’, whereas listening to Bernie Slaven whinging on about the Boro’s 1-1 draw with Wigan wasn’t quite so enthralling.

That left me looking for a game to go to on the Sunday. Celta Vigo were at home to Villareal, but I couldn’t be arsed. I went to the same fixture last year and just knew that the stadium would be half empty with not much of an atmosphere. Ferrol were at home as well, but even though they are playing quite well at the moment I’ve been there a few times now and my interest over here now tends to be in going to the new places.

The game that I decided upon in the end was Sporting Sada against Chantada in the Preferente autonomica (North). I’d watched Chantada brawl with SD Compostela in a 5-2 defeat about a month ago and enjoyed it. There’s nothing that improves a game quite as much as a decent punch up, apart perhaps from female streakers running on the pitch or players rugby tackling stray dogs. Or maybe players rugby tackling female streakers. Or female streakers rugby tackling stray dogs. You get the idea, most of the combinations work. And as a bonus, since the Preferente autonomica (North) is in effect the fifth tier with its teams ranked outside of the top five hundred in the country, I also though that it was unlikely to be sold out.

The Big Match

Sada is about forty kilometres away from Ferrol and as I was keen to have a look around the town beforehand I set out at 2pm for a 4pm kick off. It’s on the other side of an inlet for the sea and as usual I got lost. My theory of just following the coast didn’t work on this occasion as I lost sight of the water, and so coming out of Betanzos I had to stop and check the map. I noticed an old biddy scowling at me from an upstairs window of a nearby house, obviously suspicious of the stranger with the dirty car who had stopped in the middle of nowhere. She had a big inflatable Father Christmas on a ladder decoration on the front of her house. I reckon that it was more likely that he was using the ladder to escape from her than for delivering presents. I wouldn’t have blamed her husband if he had followed Santa down the ladder as well. Perhaps she was worried that I was the getaway driver.

I drove further on towards Sada, passing even more old people along the way. One of the favourite pastimes in the countryside over here seems to be sitting by the side of the road watching cars drive past. It’s as if motorised transport is still a novelty to some of them. The old men tend to wear berets or peaked caps and the old women usually have big black dresses, accessorised with this season’s must-have item, a broom.

And yet, whilst the locals could spare the time to sweep up leaves or make a mental note of every stranger passing through, they didn’t seem to have the time to pick the oranges from the trees. Well into December, there was still plenty of fruit to be seen. I wondered if it was intended to be decorative rather than for eating as it’s hard to imagine that they would harvest them as late in the year as this. Of course, it’s possible that all the coffin dodgers scrutinising every passing car were actually watching out for the arrival of the Man from Del Monte. If only I had brought my Panama hat I could have given them a thumbs up.

I got to Sada an hour or so before kick off. It is a seaside town that would probably be quite busy in the summer. As it was December though it was pretty deserted and I went for a walk along the seafront. Or should that be a stroll? I tend to think that if you have a dog then it is a walk, but if you have an ice-cream then it is a stroll. I had neither, so it was maybe more of a wander.

Sada beach

Although there were no people there were plenty of seagulls, swooping and squawking in that way that seagulls do. The seagulls reminded me of the year that I spent in Peterhead, a town that seemed to consist solely of seagulls and smack heads. I went to see Peterhead play a few times and would reckon that their level of Scottish Third Division was probably a bit better than the standard of the Division Five Sada and Chantada players. The weather is nicer here though and neither the seagulls nor the smack heads covet your chips.

Campo de Futbol As Marinas

I paid my six euros and went into the ground. It was very similar to a lot of the stadiums below the top three divisions. There was one small stand, a clubhouse and then just advertising boards around three sides of the ground. The usual seven foot high fence stopped anyone without a biscuit tin to stand on from watching for free. There were still about twenty minutes to go before kick off and I watched the players and officials warming up. The referee and linesmen were lapping the pitch and for one of the assistants this looked as if it might just finish him off before the game had even started. I didn’t have much hope of him being able to keep up with play.

I took a seat in the stand as the teams lined up. Sada were in an all white strip whilst Chantada wore the same red shirts with blue shorts that I’d seen them play in against Santiago last month. I looked around and reckoned that excluding substitutes there were about 110 people watching. It speaks volumes for the crowd size when you feel the need to clarify whether or not the players are included in the attendance figure. 

As I had suspected, the young linesman had peaked too soon and his two lap warm up routine had taken it out of him. He would take the opportunity to have a rest whenever the ball was down the other end of the pitch, but because he tended to stand with his hands on his thighs, looking at the floor, he wasn’t always as quick off the mark when the ball was hit long as he should have been. He made up for it though by always standing up straight when putting his flag up. It was as if standing to attention would distract from the fact that he was ten yards away from where he should have been, a bit like a kid who sits quietly with his arms folded on School Report writing day in the hope that his teacher will forget about him burning down the Sports Hall and play down the incident with the goat and the Catherine wheel.

I'm sat behind them.

The referee looked like one of those skinny full backs that used to play rugby union for England in the days when you could tell the difference between the backs and the forwards without having to examine the amount of damage to their ears. You know the type, he would have spent the morning doing heart transplants, before taking off his white coat and turning up at Twickenham twenty minutes before kick off.  He then would put on a white shirt, kick half a dozen penalties and then a few hours later find himself back at hospital as a consequence of drinking a pint of aftershave in the post-match celebrations.

Sada had a bloke with a Jesus hairdo and beard playing for them in midfield, although he looked to be a good couple of stones overweight. Perhaps the ability to do that trick with the loaves and fishes was taking its toll on his waistline.  I knew he would be good though, you don’t get to keep your place when you are that size if you don’t have a fair bit of ability. I was right and he was involved in everything from playing all the clever little balls into gaps, to taking all the free-kicks and even when things were a bit quiet, throwing the money lenders out of the temple.

Fat Jesus

Fat Jesus also, like the rest of the players, had to hop over the advertising boards and retrieve the ball whenever it went out. There weren’t any ball boys and the spectators who weren’t sat in the stand all tended to congregate by the dugout, perhaps hoping for a game. The advertising boards were a strange mix of local businesses and global multi nationals.  The Siboney Café, Sada, sat alongside an advert for Coca Cola. I wondered why Coca Cola would be bothered to put a board up at a game like this. Perhaps they don’t and the clubs put them up to try and make the place look like a proper football ground. You know, in the way that you can buy the little accessories for Subbuteo or for toy train sets. Maybe there is a rule that lists a Coca Cola advertising board as being necessary for a match to take place, you know, like a ref, corner flags and an old bloke with a radio nailed to the side of his head.

The first half was fairly tight and it took a penalty just before half time for Sada to open the scoring. I wandered around to the other side of the pitch, got a coffee and had a look at the Sada trophy cabinet. They looked to have won more stuff than the Boro, although I suspect that some of it might have been for record orange juice yields or for Best Turned Out Seagull 1978.

In the second half the substitutes started making their appearances; some of them only looked about fourteen years old. At the last game at this level I was sure that both teams used four substitutes. Well today Chantada went one better and used all five outfield subs that they had brought with them. They must have a policy that if you turn up then you will get a game.

Two of the Sada subs.

Mind you, they could have played all five from the beginning as well as the eleven players that started and it wouldn’t have affected the result. Fat Jesus ran the show for Sada and the goals just kept coming. Two nil after fifty minutes and a second penalty after sixty five minutes made it three. There weren’t any floodlights and with the light fading and the younger players being called in for their tea by their Mams, Sada pushed for a fourth goal in the dusk.

By this time I had moved to behind the goal and was risking life and limb as the shots rained in. I was in perfect position as the final goal went in and even retrieved a couple of wayward shots to save Fat Jesus from having to climb over the advertising boards. If my Spanish had been better I might have suggested another of those forty day fasts to him. Hopefully I’ll get my reward in the next life. The skinny ref blew for full time as the last of the light faded and the players walked off only to be met with a bloke on the door of the dressing room who insisted that they removed their muddy boots and washed them under a tap before he would allow them in.

I doubt the keeper could even see it in the dusk.

I drove my even dirtier seagull splattered car past the old biddies who were still sat by the side of the road and back to Ferrol. It is a little odd watching a game that doesn’t even get the result published in the papers, but sad sack that I am I had a look on the internet the next day. Chantada have their own website, complete with photos. In fact complete with photos of me sat in the stand before kick off. And in the sad sack stakes, it is hard to tell what is worse, being there, looking it up or then writing it down.

Next will probably be Deportivo v Athletico Bilbao. Deportivo are on a seven match run without a win and Bilbao are looking likely to get relegated. The pre-Christmas crowd should be the lowest of the season and it is forecast to rain. Still, my son is coming out for the weekend, so I can enjoy his suffering. I’ve ‘borrowed’ one or two photos from the Chantada site, but the one of the goal is all my own work. If you are impressed then I’m available for weddings, portraits and reader’s wives style bookings.

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S.D Compostela v Chantada – 5pm, Sunday 12th November 2006

After all the glamour of the previous week and the journeys to Barcelona and Real Madrid for the Champions League matches, it was back to normal last Sunday and a trip to Santiago for a lower division match. And as lower divisions go, we are talking snake’s belly territory here.

I’m reasonably familiar now with the Primera Division, headed by Barcelona and Real Madrid. The Segunda Division, which currently features newly relegated teams like Alaves and Cadiz, still has a bit of glamour by association. Then we get the four regional Segunda B leagues where you get the occasional team like Marbella or Ferrol that you might have heard have of, in a ‘didn’t we once go there on holiday?’ or an ‘Aren’t they building a new gas plant?’ sort of way, together with quite a few B and C teams from the bigger clubs. Some of these teams still get a reasonable amount of press coverage, particularly in the daily sports papers.

Once you get below the Segunda B divisions though, to the seventeen supposedly equal leagues known as the Tercera, you are into part time, classic one man and his dog territory. These divisions accommodate the teams ranked between 123rd and 463rd in the country. The fixtures appear in the sporting press on a Saturday morning and the results and team line ups on a Monday, but that’s about it. There doesn’t seem to ever be any team or transfer news and nobody ever seems to support them. The best that you can hope for, information wise, is a poster in the bakery window advertising the next game. I’ve been to a few of these matches at places like Betanzos, Negreira and Lalin and it’s usually a case of a small wall around a ground that has one stand, about 300 fans and a raffle featuring home made wine and a bunch of radishes. You’ll probably see a poster returning the favour and advertising the bakery.

What happens below the third division is even more of a mystery. On the understandable basis perhaps that reporting on the top four to five hundred teams in the country is enough, nothing lower is even mentioned in the sports papers. I was sure that there was something more though, because the teams that are relegated from the Third Division have to go somewhere. Although maybe they just have to play five a side with their mates and go to B&Q on a Sunday.

In my local paper, I found the fixture list for all the weekend games and apparently the next step down from the 3rd Division is something called Preferente autonomica. I recognised one of the teams, Viveiro, who were playing in the 3rd Division last season and must have been relegated. The team that caught my eye though, was SD Compostela. I’ve heard a bit about them and they used to be a big team. They finished 10th in the Primera just ten years ago and were still in the top division as recently as 1998 and in the Segunda in 2003. Since then things have gone badly wrong, they were relegated to the third tier and then had financial difficulties. They were kicked out of the league and ended up in the local leagues where the linesmen look as if they have just been pulled from the crowd and the players, well, they look like they have just been pulled from the crowd too. But only after the ref has taken anyone capable of waving a flag.

There was mention in the paper of an even lower league, the grander sounding Primera autonomatica/G-1. I doubt that they even have nets in that one but having recognised one of the teams as being close by, I’ll have a walk along there soon too. I suppose I should take my boots if I do just in case they are short of players or linos. It would seem a bit selfish to turn up and just watch while they play nine v nine with no offside.

SD Compostela’s decline is made more apparent by their stadium. It was built in 1993 and holds 14,000, maybe it was part of the problem. I’ve seen it from the road many times, which is what sparked my initial curiosity into who played there, and I even bought a postcard of it in Santiago one time when I was staying there. The postcard looked old, a bit like the ones that you can still buy of The Green in Norton that have an assortment of Hillman Imps, Vauxhall Vivas and men wearing brown felt hats in the background. It seems strange though that a team that hosted Barcelona and Real Madrid a few years ago can find itself playing in a league that doesn’t even get its results in the small print of the sporting papers.

And yet, that could have been us. I remember sitting in The Centenary pub in 1986 when the news report on the telly stated that the Boro had lost its fight against liquidation and would be thrown out of the league. We had been dreading the news all summer. As it happened, the report was wrong, but we didn’t know that at the time. The conversation turned to what on Earth we would do on a Saturday now that we didn’t have a football team anymore. And whilst we toyed with the idea of going horseracing a bit more or spending more time in the pub, we knew that there would still be a Boro team. Even if the FA made us start in the Sunday League, it just meant a different set of grounds to go to, albeit with a bit less covered terracing and a bit more dogshite on the pitch. In fact, Sunday League wouldn’t be too bad, we convinced ourselves in that way that you do after a few more consoling pints, because we could go horseracing on a Saturday as well. As long as they kept the name, the history and the red shirts, we knew that we would be there and it was no doubt the same with a lot of the fans of Santiago.

Santiago is a great city, I’ve had a look around the Cathedral and Museums with my parents when they visited and been to a few bars and clubs with some friends from work. We smoked apple tobacco from a hookah pipe in a Lebanese restaurant last time I was there. That was with my mates from work as my Mam rarely smokes a hookah pipe these days.

Teambuilding with a colleague.

Santiago has also got an old fashioned town centre where the stone buildings are hundreds of years old, and in the evening it gets really busy with lots of little bars hidden just off small squares.

You wouldn't want to have to reverse a lorry down that street.

I didn’t see any of this on Sunday though, because the stadium is on the outskirts of the city and we were just going to the match. Yes, we, again. It seems like ages since I’ve been to one of these games by myself. My daughter Soph was out here for half term, then my mate Paul and I did the six games in seven days trip. This time though it was my son Tom and his friend Michael who were with me. They had just flown in for a week to drink all my alcohol and burn holes in my settee.

We drove the 45 minutes down the motorway to Santiago and as the stadium is visible from the turn-off, there was no chance that we would get lost. The only worry that I had was that I might have got my Santiagos mixed up. There are at least three different teams from Santiago in the Preferente autonomica, SD Compostela, Santiago Compostela and Ciudad de Santiago (which translates as Santiago Town). Whilst SD didn’t play the big teams anymore, they at least had plenty of derby games.

Estadio Municipal San Lazaro

One of the rarely mentioned benefits of going bust is that the parking is much easier and we pulled into a space just thirty yards from the entrance fifteen minutes before kick off. There were about another forty cars or so there. Tickets were six euros and you could sit where you liked. The tickets had ‘S.A.D en liquidation’ printed on them, so maybe they are not out of financial trouble yet. We had a bit of a mix up at the turnstiles where we confused the bloke taking the tickets by squeezing in-between the two turnstiles rather than going through the turny bit. You could see that he thought that we were here by mistake, perhaps having got lost on the way to the Cathedral or having just left the Lebanese restaurant with the hookah pipe.

We climbed the steps and took our seats down the side and with about ten minutes to kick off there were probably around one hundred people already in there. The stadium was massive inside, incorporating an athletics track complete with water jump as well as the football pitch. I seemed to remember that one of the options for the Boro twenty years ago was to play the games at Clairville athletics stadium, perhaps this is what it would have been like.

The teams ran out, SD in blue and white halved shirts, Chantada in the red shirts with blue shorts combination that the lower league teams over here seem to love. By the time the game kicked off, there must have been about three hundred fans in the ground, including a singing section to our left who had a few banners and a small kid with a big drum to our right. It’s not often you see a singing section at these small games, so I assumed that they must be the hardcore left over from happier times.

The virtually empty modern stadium combined with less than athletic players on the pitch made it look like on of those charity games where you pay to play at your clubs ground. It wasn’t helped by the one size fits all strips that the players were wearing. They didn’t have names on the backs, just numbers one to eleven and you obviously just wore the shirt with your position’s number on the back regardless of the size of the shirt. The not so tricky five foot five tall and eight stone winger had a shirt that covered his shorts and with sleeves that were longer than his arms. The not so commanding six foot four and sixteen stone centre halves looked as if their strips had been sprayed on.  It was as if the kid from ‘Kes’ had wandered into a Gay Pride parade.

Fifteen minutes in and SD Compostela scored. It was looking easy for them at this point and their fans cheered them on with a bizarre chant of “Compost”, clap, clap, clap, “Compost”, clap, clap, clap. If I owned a Garden Centre I’d sponsor them. They were playing a pretty adventurous 3-4-3 system and seemed likely to score a second goal when Chantada managed to equalise after the SD keeper fumbled a free kick.

One all.

After forty minutes Chantada took the lead and this led to Tarantinoesque violence for the last few minutes before half time. The ref, as often seems to be the way over here, was even shorter than Billy Casper on the wing and had long given up any pretence at control. His preferred method of getting through the game seemed to be a combination of looking the other way and grinning indulgently as players launched kung fu kicks at each other.

There was a great battle between one of the SD centre halves and the Chantela centre forward that at one point after an elbow to the chops and retaliatory stamp on the chest, finished with the SD player lying flat out on the floor but still trying to punch the shins of the opponent standing over him. The bloodbath wasn’t helped by the absence of physios either and whenever a player went down, he was attended to by one of his own substitutes who had to make the difficult triage decision of whether to pour water on the injury, rub it with a towel or just kiss it better.

At half time we went downstairs for a coffee, there didn’t seem to be any bars open, but most people seemed to be just going outside. I’d seen a sign for a café, so we followed the crowd, squeezing through the centre of the turnstiles again, as if to make the bloke think that that is how it’s done at the big clubs these days. We got outside and followed some people who seemed to know where they were going. They knew exactly where they were going as it happened, which was straight to their cars to eat their sandwiches. Luckily we realised before we got in the back seat with them. I’ve done this sort of thing before, generally when stuck in a traffic jam and when someone seems to decisively turn off down a back alley in what looks like a short cut that only the locals know. And generally it is, the only drawback being that it is a shortcut to their house and it usually ends up with me following them down a cul-de-sac and onto their drive.

This is where you go for half-time refreshments.

My next worry was getting back in. We hadn’t got a ‘pass out’ or anything so we were at the mercy of the bloke whose turnstile we kept abusing. We needn’t have worried. He wasn’t even there as we sheepishly wandered back in without a sandwich or a drink, trying to look as if we always went for a thirty second stroll around the car park at half time.

After our exercise we decided to move along a bit and stand at the back of the stand, leaning on the wall. The goals were a bit more frequent in this half. It was similar to when I play five a side, where it’s easy enough to maintain the shape of the team early on, but as people get tired and bored, the tight start is replaced by basketball style scoring toward the end. Mind you, they shouldn’t have been tired as each team used four substitutes. I don’t know if FIFA rules apply this low down or whether the ref just didn’t care, maybe everyone who turned up had been promised a game. And anyway, what’s the worst that could happen to them? When you have been kicked this far down the pyramid the only place left to go is the league without nets where odd looking foreigners turn up to watch with their boots in a carrier bag.

View from the back row.

The highlight of the second half was when one of the Compostela players with a too tight kit fouled one of the opposition and then had the ball blammed at him from about two yards away. He ‘snapped’ as they say in any crime report involving someone with a bit of a temper and pushed the blammer over. There was a big free-for-all that even the grinniest of referees couldn’t ignore. I love inventing new words, you know. The blammee was booked but had to be held back from attacking the ref by about three of his team mates. Perhaps he was under the quite understandable impression that the ref thought it was funny. Whilst the ref was booking a couple of people who seemed to have done nothing more than have been nearby, the stroppy blammee was substituted and went and sat in the dugout where he could show everyone the ball mark on his leg and get what was left of the water poured on it. The ref then came over, showed him the red card and then made the substitute, who had already gone onto the pitch come back off again. Someone else then had to be brought off to allow the substitute back on.

The game finished a few minutes later with a flurry of head high tackles and a final score of 5-2 to SD Compostela. We nipped between the turnstiles for a final time and two minutes after the final whistle were already on the motorway back to Ferrol.

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Racing Ferrol v Playas Pajara – 5pm, Sunday 5th November 2006

The last game of the six matches in seven days brought things back down to earth a bit with a Division 2B game at Ferrol. I’ve been to see Ferrol a few times and if my mate Paul hadn’t been staying would probably have gone somewhere else. I saw them earlier in the season against Deportivo in the Galician Cup and there was a pretty good atmosphere, so we thought that we might as well give it a go. The best thing about going to watch Ferrol though is that it is only twenty minutes walk from my apartment, so we could have a Sunday lunch of octopus, cod fishcakes and a couple of pints before walking to the ground.

The view from my apartment.

Despite Galicia being the rainy bit of Spain, the weather has been great lately and at 20 degrees C, we didn’t even need coats as we walked through the old town and up to Ferrol’s modern stadium on the outskirts of town. Ferrol just seem to make the prices up as they go along, there doesn’t seem to be any consistency and I’ve paid between 5 and 30 euros to sit in the same part of the ground. Tonight it was fifteen euros for a seat down the side in the sun. If you want to sit in the gloomy stand opposite then that is twenty euros. I’m happy to sit in the sun, particularly in November.

Ferrol’s stadium holds about 12,000, but the biggest crowd that I’ve ever seen in there was about 6,000 and most of those were Sporting Gijon fans on a Three Kings holiday outing. Three Kings Day on the sixth of January is a big deal over here, bigger than Christmas Day and it’s the day when presents are exchanged. Last year Sporting Gijon were in Ferrol the day afterwards and as it was probably as near to a derby as Sporting got that season, they brought the most away fans that I have seen at a game anywhere over here.

Today though, the opposition were from the Canary Islands and if they had brought any fans with them, then we couldn’t see them. That, together with Ferrol now playing in Division 2B, meant that the crowd was probably only between three and four thousand.

Ferrol's stadium

We went in and just picked a couple of seats, and even though we were surrounded by empty space, we had managed to sit in someone’s place. It was bound to happen after the previous night at Deportivo where we had arrived bang on kick off only to find our seats taken. We were a bit more accommodating than the Deportivo part-timers though and just moved ten yards further along.

The teams came out, Ferrol in all green shirts and white shorts, Playas Pajara in probably the worst strip that I’ve seen whilst I’ve been over here. No that’s not right, what I should have said is that it was probably the worst strip that I’ve ever seen anywhere. It was blue and yellow with the curved markings in the shirts continuing on to the shorts. They looked like kids club holiday reps. I won’t say any more, just look at the photos.

Ferrol went a goal up early on, not that you could tell from the broken scoreboard, and looked well in control until they managed to get a man sent off conceding a penalty from which Pajara made it one each.

They won't sell many of those shirts.

The half time entertainment was as good as the football, you had a choice of watching the ball boys take shots at each other in one of the goals, or of seeing the substitutes trying to warm up whilst dodging the random jets of water from the underground pitch sprinklers. One or two of them got soaked by the initial bursts from a sprinkler no more than a couple of feet away. The best ones though, which would have been worth missing the half time coffee for, were when a player was looking in the wrong direction and you could see the sweeping arc of water approaching him from just out of sight. Some of them would react as if they had been hacked from behind when soaked, others were too cool and tried to pretend that nothing had happened. I was hoping that the sprinklers would start up again during the game, it shouldn’t really affect the players who are used to playing in the rain, but it would just add that little bit more value for us spectators.

The fun and games with the sprinklers had taken my attention away from the ball boys banging in shots at each other in the goal mouth.  They reminded me of when I was a kid and how once a year we got the chance to kick a ball into a goal with nets in. Ninety nine percent of my football at that age was played with the classic ‘jumpers for goalposts’. Sometimes, on a cold day when nobody would take their jumper off, we would use a bit of paper or occasionally, for big games, we might even use a stick. The only drawback with a stick though was that even if a dog didn’t run off with it, the game would be constantly interrupted by some adult warning us that “we would have our eye out on it” and passing on some terrible tale involving his mate Cyclops who had done himself a bit of a mischief on a stick whilst tipping a diving header around the post. When I first heard about Gordon Banks losing an eye I couldn’t believe that he had done it in a car crash. If he had suffered the injury in training, impaling his head on a stick whilst clutching a Bobby Charlton thunderbolt to his chest, then fair enough, I could have fully understood that. As a goalie, he knew the risks. But in a car crash? Such a tragic waste.

 The only time that we ever had real goalposts was in PE lessons at school or in a proper match for the school team. The fact that we had to carry the posts to the pitch and assemble them ourselves making it quite an occasion each time. In fact I think more of the PE lesson was spent assembling and removing the goalposts than in trying to score into them. We seemed to somehow squeeze five minutes of actual football into the middle of the session before it was time to risk a fractured skull lifting and dropping the cast iron posts. It is worth noting that the school produced a lot more scaffolders and steel erectors than it did professional footballers.

As a nine or ten year old I went to visit Ayresome Park with the cubs, not to see a game, but to just walk around the edge of the pitch on a day when there wasn’t a match on. It was non-stop excitement in those days. We paced out the goal and discovered that it was the same size as the ones at school. No wonder I let so many in, playing in a full size goal when only four foot six. Pacing out the goal was as much as we were able to do though as in a tragically poor bit of planning nobody had thought to bring a ball, or maybe nobody had a ball. The only lad that I knew with a proper casey in those days went to Boys Brigade instead, so he wasn’t there. ‘Be Prepared’ indeed.

None of those people are me. They did remember a ball though.

It was probably just as well that the nets weren’t up as the frustration of not having a ball to kick into them would have been too much to bear. There was every chance that someone would have tried to earn his Decapitation Badge by severing someone’s head, just to have the opportunity to hear that swish of something hitting the back of the net.

The only time that we ever got to score in nets at that age was once a year when the big kids cup final was played on our school field. I’m guessing that they will have been about fifteen years old, but have no recollection of the actual matches. The only thing of any importance was that they had nets. Just before half time we would all stop trying to impress the old bloke in the raincoat who had told us he was a scout for Queens Park Rangers and gather behind one of the goals. The moment the whistle went there would be a surge of small kids running into the penalty area and firing balls into the net. The six yard box was like a piranha feeding frenzy as we all whacked balls in as quickly as we could before someone chased us off. No-one would ever go in goal, what would be the point in that? There’s no glory in not hearing the ball hit the back of the net. So we would just imagine keepers, along with defenders and crowds. The commentators we could recreate ourselves. I remember just after the 1974 World Cup, one lad couldn’t kick a ball without shouting “Breitneeeerrrrr” at the same time. I suspect that he still does it these days if he nods off in front of the telly and his foot twitches.

Paul Breitner and Kevin Keegan exchange grooming tips.

Watching the ball boys doing the same at Ferrol brought it all back to me.  It’s funny how some things do that. I smelt some petrol that other day and it had exactly the same smell as the petrol that we used to put in a motorbike as kids. It’s a slightly different smell to the petrol that I put in the car these days and it took me back thirty years in an instant, the sounds, the people, even the clothes I used to wear.

Anyway, enough of that, I don’t want to be seen to be encouraging petrol inhalation, even for nostalgia purposes. The second half at Ferrol saw an exhibition of nasty tackles with the ref doing his best to book every player on the pitch, including one for a foul where the recipient of the kick managed to roll over at least seven times in agony. It probably took him longer to recover from the motion sickness than the original tackle. Whilst all this was going on Ferrol scored twice more to win 3-1 and in the traditional ending to these reports, where I tell you what I had for my tea, we sloped off for something to eat.

This time it was curry, quite an odd one as it happens, as in a culinary shocker it had no meat or vegetables in it. In fact it was as if someone had just opened a jar of curry sauce, heated it and served it up. Perhaps after lovingly adding a dash of tap water to thin it out. Well, I can do that at home, I don’t expect it in a restaurant. And so that was it , the end of the six games in seven days European Tour. From the highs of the Champions League to the lows of being served watered down curry soup for your tea.

The expression says it all.

The next game sees a new low on the football front too with a Division Five game. Just to put that into perspective, when I say Division Five, I mean fifth tier and there are about five hundred teams playing in the top four tiers. So that’ll be about as good as the curry soup.

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

Deportivo La Coruna v Barcelona – 10pm, Saturday 4th November 2006

Five days into the week long football trip and we had seen games at Man City, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Celta Vigo. That left Deportivo La Coruna and Ferrol still to come. Friday, though, was the day without a game. So what to do? My mate Paul and I drove north from Vigo towards Ferrol, stopping at Santiago airport to collect his lost baggage which had apparently been there all of the time. Whilst he was pleased to get his clothes back I could tell that he was quietly disappointed that he wouldn’t have an excuse to smarten himself up in one of my coats anymore.

We took the opportunity to detour around the west side of Galicia, I tend not to get over to that part much, usually heading south and missing everything on the other side of the motorway. There was quite a big lake marked on the map so we went to have a look at that. I don’t know why really. It was only a lake, the chances of there being a Loch Ness style monster or international powerboat racing seemed pretty remote. We didn’t even have a sword that we could throw in to see if a hand would reach out and catch it. But as there was likely to be nothing on telly and we could do with a few minutes off the beer, we went and had a look anyway.

To get there we had to drive along roads that were little more than dirt tracks, which is great for rally style driving. Unfortunately I don’t have rally driver style skills and as Paul gets twitchy whenever I get behind a wheel anyway, I thought I’d better take it easy. We got there at around lunchtime and despite expecting to find nothing more than a big puddle of water, there was a building there and what looked like a fishing permit office. The old bloke inside didn’t speak any English and despite my best efforts didn’t appear to understand any Spanish either. He could speak it all right, albeit at top speed and without any of the words appearing even vaguely familiar to me. So, having spent a few days showing off my limited Spanish linguistic ability I was reduced to miming.

I gestured that we would both like to go fishing, despite wearing wholly inappropriate clothing and that we would also like to hire or borrow all the gear including bait. Try that one next time you play charades if you dare. Oh, and finish off by miming that you don’t have a fishing licence but are prepared to buy one if necessary, preferably just a day permit rather than one for a full year. I defy Lionel Blair or Una Stubbs to get away with that.

After about five minutes of this, he finally appeared to cotton on, grinned, nodded his head and then led us, not to the lake, but to a table, where he pulled out the chairs for us to sit down and then spread out a tablecloth. It wasn’t quite what we had planned, but whatever; if we couldn’t go fishing we might as well have some lunch. There wasn’t a menu and he just babbled away in what I was beginning to think might just be Galician rather than Spanish. Following his lead, we just grinned, nodded and babbled as well. There was an old woman and a young girl sat at another table that looked as if they might be his wife and daughter and a few moments later he sent the old woman into the kitchen where she started cooking. For a fleeting moment it did occur to me that we might have just wandered into someone’s house and disrupted their lunch with a misinterpreted and badly mimed demand for trout.

Ten minutes later and two plates of steak and chips arrived. Very nice it was too. If we had just wandered into someone’s house perhaps they should consider doing this for a living. When we had finished our steak we risked getting second helpings by trying again with the fishing mine.  This time though it worked. Twenty minutes later we were at the water’s edge with a couple of rods with silver metal lures and feeling quite pleased with ourselves.

Just like Billy Beck.

 We fished for about three hours and if I say that between us we caught two big brown trout then I would be telling no lies. My contribution to the catch, however, was limited to breaking one of the rods in half and then losing both the shiny metal fake fish in the lake. One of the lures got stuck in the weeds and the other was launched into orbit as I got a bit carried away with trying to cast as far as I could. It’s doubtful that we would have caught many more fish with the one surviving lureless rod, unless we were able to spear something with it, and so we called it a day. Still, it was my miming skills that got us there, so I didn’t feel too bad.

Paul poses with our fish.

We drove back to Ferrol stopping only to look at and take a photograph of a dead fox by the side of the road. I don’t know why I feel compelled to do this really. I took a photo of what I thought was a dead wolf in Poland on the way to Ostrava once. Its collar planted seeds of doubt in my mind as to its authenticity, though. On a similar note I photographed the skeleton of a small to medium-sized dog at a road junction in Majorca in the summer, or rather my daughter had to as I was on the wrong side of the car. It’s educational for them, I think. Well the smell of it certainly was. I like looking at stuffed animals in museums too, although they tend not to be too common these days unless it’s done in a crafty ‘How naughty were the Victorians to create wedding scenes with field mice in morning suits?’ sort of way. I like looking at all the fish in supermarkets too; I could stand there for ages waiting for a crab to twitch one of its legs. On the plus side, it’s cheaper than going to the zoo and you don’t have to take a kid with you to prevent people thinking that you are a weirdo.

This is the dog we spotted in Majorca.

Anyway, that was the match free day. We had the trout for lunch the next day, watched a bit of football on the telly and set off for Coruna at about 8pm. The kick off wasn’t until 10pm, which is pretty late even by Spanish standards. With even a little bit of time wasting by Deportivo it was going to be midnight before we got out of the ground. I’ve watched Deportivo play a few times now and have got quite good at knowing where to park. That’s a real bloke thing isn’t it, knowing the best places to leave your car. As it happens I’m about as good at locating parking places as I am at fishing and as you might have suspected my usual secret location was full by the time that we got there. Full that is with the cars belonging to the part-timers who appear whenever Real Madrid or Barcelona are in town.

Where were they all against Real Sociedad? Or what about that pre-season tournament with the eight foot tall trophy? Did they feel the need to fill the entire town with double parked cars for those games? One of the noticeable aspects of most Galician towns is the way that lots of the people live in flats with limited parking. This makes it really difficult to find somewhere to temporarily leave your car on match day as the streets are usually nose to tail with parked vehicles.

By half past nine we still hadn’t found anywhere and were getting further and further away from the ground. By twenty five to ten when we must have been over a mile away we finally found somewhere. A brisk walk to the ground followed and we were in with a couple of minutes to spare. Mind you, the Spanish didn’t seem to care, dozens of them were still outside the ground yapping away as we dashed through the turnstiles and looked for our seats. It is normally quite difficult at Deportivo as they irritatingly don’t put seat numbers on all of the seats. And those that are marked don’t run consecutively, they go in twos instead, just to confuse the unwary part-timers that find a numbered seat and try to calculate their own by counting. It is quite possible to have an odd numbered ticket for a row that only has seats with even numbers on. Normally that wouldn’t matter as the place is half empty, but when the proper teams are in town the place tends to sell out.

We were on the front row of the upper tier, a great place to be unless its raining or you are arriving a minute before kick-off against Barcelona. Our seats were taken, probably by the gits who had parked in my normal place as well, and we just sat where we could.

I hope you all get your cars towed away.

The pitch was its usual terrible condition. Were I any more cynical than I actually am I would have suspected that Deportivo had deliberately ploughed it up to try to take away some of Barcelona’s skill advantage. It had been like that since the beginning of the season though, a consequence, I think, of the long hot summer. Shooby doo wop, shooby doo wop. Sorry, went into Weller mode there.

Barcelona were still without Eto’o and were also missing their Captain, Puyol, whose father had just died and Gudjohnsen, who had injured himself against Chelsea. They still had a few half decent players though, in Ronaldinho, Deco and Messi. The absence of Puyol meant that Thuram got a game at centre half. Thuram might very well have more caps and medals than anyone else on the pitch, but he played as if he had them all stuffed about his person. He was way off the pace all night and after a booking for whacking someone with his walking stick had to be substituted before he got sent off. Ronaldinho was another who could easily have been sent off for a vicious over the top tackle. Fortunately he seemed to have an agreement with the referee that as long as he smiled enough, he would be allowed to ref the game as well.

As far as Deportivo are concerned they had no-one worth mentioning really, their Curtis Flemingesque right back, Manuel Pablo had finally been dropped, Coloccini started in midfield again and was subbed at half time and perennial Liverpool and Man Utd target Duscher seems to have fallen out with the manager and didn’t feature at all. There’s a new wonder kid, Adrian (I think there must be an Adrian factory somewhere in South America), but compared with Ronaldinho and Deco he didn’t look quite so wonderful when he came on in the second half. When he was warming up I was hoping that the crowd would shout his name in a Rocky Balboa style voice. But they didn’t. Miserable gits.

There were quite a lot of Barcelona fans in the official away fan bit, all of whom I suspect probably drove there alone in their cars and then treble parked. There were also quite a lot of Barcelona fans dotted around the rest of the crowd as well. It’s a bit like Scotland in a way over here, apart from the weather that is. And the drunks. And the deep fried mars bars covered in watered down brown sauce. And the anti-English chips on their shoulders. In fact it’s nothing at all like Scotland, apart from the way that in all of the towns you get a large proportion of the people supporting the Big Two clubs rather than their home town team. For a moment it felt like being at a Boro v Liverpool game in the 1970’s, albeit without the piss taking in the playground the next day.

I didn't take many action shots, this is about as good as it gets.

Barcelona took the lead when Ronaldinho awarded himself and then scored from a penalty. In the second half Deportivo got one too and Rodriguez managed to equalise after Valdes had saved from Estoyanoff. The game finished up 1-1 and we left the ground close to midnight. It was quite an odd feeling leaving a match that late and it felt as if was much earlier. Handy though, as the Ferrol bars were just starting to liven up as we got back to town at about one in the morning. I’d seen a menu earlier that featured turnip top omelette, which seemed an innovative use of the bit of the turnip that we normally throw away. Having said that, I generally throw all the turnip away. It’s odd though how with some things you eat the root and discard the top and with other plants you throw the roots away and eat the above ground bit. I wonder who decided originally and whether it was the same everywhere? Maybe in one village people ate cabbage leaves and ten miles down the road they tore the leaves off and ate the roots instead. It all tastes equally bad to me. Just a thought.

An irrelevant thought as it happens as the restaurants were all shut and we ended up with tapas. Pretty crap tapas as well, crisps and those almost inedible things that they give you on planes these days instead of risking someone’s head swelling up after scoffing the peanuts.

I think I’ve said enough now. I don’t want you to think that it’s not brilliant all the time here. Next up is Ferrol at home to some other poxy third division team. Three thousand fans in a big new ground, so at least we should be able to park ok.

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