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
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.
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.
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.
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.