La Beuna Vida

After a totally depressing week watching the daggers lose again who can blame Brian Parish and Dagenham Dan for wanting another change of scenery.  So as a treat we sent them off to Madrid to take in a weekend of La Liga action.

Booked several months ago, I am torn as to whether this is a good time to be going or not. At least we will know how we get on before our first game of the weekend starts. It is a tough choice; jet off for a couple of games in the sunshine, or watch your team (possibly) struggle in a game they simply have to win. There is a part of me wishing I was staying in the UK.

Before we get any further, one quick thing; did you know that, on an Android phone, when you try to type in Madrid, it offers the word “masturbated” as well? Honest, its true.

As with most of the airlines that don’t allocate seats prior to boarding, the crowd starts to build up early for the scramble to the departure gate. I had to stop myself doing a pit walk, a la Martin Brundle, because once the gate number appeared, it was like the start of a grand prix. As we approached the first corner, I was certain that we would have at least one coming together. After all, that’s why most watch formula one, isn’t it?

The flight out is also made more eventful by the presence of about forty Spanish school-kids, which means that, as one fellow traveller remarks just as we are about to board the plane, this could be a painful flight. Luckily, it isn’t too bad, and despite leaving Gatwick late (because the fuel truck hadn’t shown up in Madrid on an earlier flight), we land in Madrid just after the scheduled time, and about forty five minutes after landing, we are safely ensconced in our hotel. Let the football begin!

Saturday 17th March, Getafe v Real Sociedad, Coliseum Alfonso Perez

The plan for the Saturday was to get to each stadium for two reasons; firstly, so that we knew where we were going later on in the day, and also to pick up tickets for each game. Our first trip was down to the south of the city, to the suburb of Getafe, before travelling back to Vallecano. With a 6pm then 10pm kick offs, we wouldn’t have much time to get from the first to the second games, so we had to see how long it would take. Following the metro route, it was clear as we were sitting on the train that this would take some time. However, another glance at the metro map bought a possibly quicker solution. So, having found the stadium and collected our tickets (€40 each to sit behind the goal), we tried out the alternative route.

Luckily for us, the dry run worked really well, and so, instead of spending most of the time between games on the Madrid metro, our new route would get us to game two in half the time.

Around two hours or so before kick off, we are on our way back out to Getafe. As we leave the El Casar station, the ten minute walk back up to the Coliseum gives no clue at all that there is a top flight game happening up the road, and in the late afternoon sunshine we are two of only half a dozen people that we see heading in the direction of the stadium. As we approach one of the side roads leading up to the stadium however, we see a dozen people dart out in front of traffic, as though heading away from trouble. Although our local knowledge is limited to what discovered in the morning, we decided to change our walking route and take the first available road to the stadium.

Inside, it’s just a large, open bowl, with just the main stand under any kind of cover. The game will start with the ground around half full, and while it’s all seated, a lot of people chose to stand in the walkways that separate the lower and upper tiers of seats.

There is polite applause, rather than a full on roar of noise as the teams enter the field of play, although there is quite a bit of noise from the sizeable contingent that have made the trip from Sociedad. The game starts, and there is a yellow card before the first chance of the game is created, but while Getafe are the home team, it is Sociedad who seem to be the more threatening when attacking. There are a couple of near misses for the visitors, and when they are not creating their own chances, Getafe seem intent on helping them out. One such incident happens just after the half hour, but Sociedad are unable to turn this gift into a goal. The visitors are the better side throughout the half, but have nothing to show for their efforts.

From our seats at the other end of the ground though, the best chance falls to Miku from Getafe; he manages to shoot over from (what looked like) six yards, when it appeared to be easier to score. There is a murmur of disbelief from the crowd, who seemingly can’t quite take in what they have just seen.

There is an image of Spanish football at the moment, that it is all neat passing and the kind of tippy-tappy play that has served Barcelona and Spain so well over the last few years. It’s not quite being replicated here, as quite a few of the passes have been misplaced, and it has been a quick, but error strewn half.

The home crowd start to get restless at the start of the second half, but it is this time that Getafe have a couple of chances. However, when you do get the opportunity to score, you don’t really want them falling to your centre back, and this is what happens here. The first time Alexis has a chance, the ball actually knocks him backwards, the second is a volley which is just over the top. The second half is definitely better in that there is more attacking play, but neither keeper has still had a difficult save to make.

With the feeling that this is definitely going to be a 0-0, we get a goal. Getafe attack down the left hand side, and a cross is swung over by Barrada; the Sociedad goalkeeper flaps at the ball, and makes some contact with it, but only diverts it onto the back of his own defender, who doesn’t appear to know too much about it as the ball hits his back and goes in. Martinez is the unlucky scorer, and the home fans celebrate a goal that their overall performance may not have quite deserved.

Sociedad now try to get something from a game that they should have won, but it is Getafe who come closest to another score, although Guiza’s shot is cleared off the line. Getafe hang on, and when the final whistle is blown, Getafe have won 1-0.

At the final whistle, we move swiftly to the exits, for the walk back to El Casar station, and the journey to our second fixture of the evening.

Saturday 17th March, Rayo Vallecano v Real Betis Balompie, Campo de Futbol de Vallecas

On arrival at El Casar, we discover that our train back into town is delayed. We are not too worried by this, as we reckon that we have enough time to still make the journey without missing the kick off. As the minutes tick by, the nerves start to jangle a bit, but before we can get too nervous, our train comes into view, and one change later, we are back on the metro, and on the way to Portazgo. Luckily for us, the exit from the station brings out right next to the stadium.

As we arrive, the gates aren’t even open, but there are quite a few people milling around, and across the road, the local bars have got standing room only, and that is on the pavements outside. There is plenty of singing going on, which as we would soon discover, is what would happen all night.

Like Getafe, we have gone to the ground earlier in the day to pick up a couple of tickets, and as we finally enter the ground, we discover that our seats seem to be in amongst the visiting Betis fans. Just as we think we will need to support the away team for the evening, there are a few red and white scarves that enter the block, and take their seats. At this moment, I am unsure what to think.

As it turns out, we need not have worried. The vocal Betis fans (led by an early twenties bloke with grey and yellow toy megaphone) are no match for the much more vociferous home fans, situated behind the goal to our right. To our left are blocks of flats; between them and the pitch is a giant advertising board that is sort of reminiscent of the Arsenal north bank mural of twenty years ago. The land behind the goal was sold of a few years ago, and now it means that Vallecano have only three sides to their stadium, although there were more than a few of the residents who stick their heads out of the windows to watch the game.

While the first half doesn’t have too many chances for goals, the atmosphere has been excellent, and is probably the best we have experienced in Spain so far. Given that the attendance is announced as just over nine thousand, the noise levels have been good, particularly from those behind the goal. This is even more of an accomplishment given that their stand is the only uncovered section of the ground, and although the noise would normally disappear upwards into nothingness, tonight it just seems to hang around. The mock fights amongst themselves (as well as their random bouncing and other routines) give cause to more than a few puzzled looks amongst Dagenham Dan and myself, as well as a few others, clearly unused to what is happening.

Vallecano prove to be the better of the teams in the second half, with three unanswered goals. The first is scored just after the break, by Armenteros, who is played in behind the Betis defence. We get a glimpse of Roque Santa Cruz just before the second goal, which is this time scored by Diego Costa, who just gets to the ball before the keeper, to flick into an unguarded net.

Costa is replaced with seven minutes to go by Tamudo, who is allowed to score the third in stoppage time. We have already left our seats, but not lost sight of the pitch, and so see the substitute confidently slot the final goal past the visiting goalkeeper. It has been a good evening as we rush back down the stairs towards the metro. It’s almost midnight as we leave the stadium, and it has been a long day. The Burger King near our hotel beckons, and we will have another early start tomorrow for game three of the trip.

Sunday 18th March, CD Colonia Moscardo v CF Fuenlabrada, Estadio Ramon Valeron

For the second full day of the trip, we don’t make the same mistake as Saturday, and instead leave the shorts at the hotel. When the sun is out, it’s quite nice, but once the clouds come over, the temperature takes a tumble. Besides, after a full day in tow yesterday, I maintained that we were the only two in shorts in the city. Not wishing to stand out again, we’ve done the sensible thing, and tried to look less like an Englishman abroad.

Our final game is in the fourth tier of the Spanish football pyramid. It’s another ground that can be easily reached on the metro, and it’s also not that far to walk, which has made this one the obvious choice for us.

The great thing about these grounds is the chance to spot something completely random. At Masnou in January, we spotted a giant barbeque that looked like it hadn’t been used since Guy Fawkes was trying to blow up Westminster. Today though the barbeque is working, and busy as well (Dan spent most of the interval queuing / jostling for a pork baguette, which he reckoned was one of the best he has had for some time); the random thing this time though was a Mercedes car, parked in the ground, covered in bird droppings. Just sitting there it was. Why it was there, I have no idea.

The first half is poor. So bad in fact that we spotted that three of the home players were wearing different styles of shirt. One had the club badge on the left of the shirt, one had theirs in the middle of the jersey, and one had no badge at all. It really was that poor, that we were reduced to this.

The second is better. There is a goal for Fuenlabrada six minutes into the half from Huete, although it owes more to good fortune than good play, as a shot by Pachon hits the post before hitting his team mate and going in. Ten minutes before the end, Pachon gets his reward for a good display with a cracking strike from 25 yards to all but seal the points for the visitors. Although San Segundo gets one back for the home team, Fuenlabrada hang on, and will be top of the table by the end of the day.

Now all we have to do is decide what to do for the rest of the day. Neither of us are prepared to pay over the odds for a Real Madrid ticket to their game against Malaga, so we head out to the Atletico ground instead, just to have a wonder around. Instead, we end up doing the stadium tour, and get to go pitchside, as well as exasperating our young tour guide as our group gets split quite often. Atletico are planning a new stadium and it should be ready for 2015, and so they will be leaving the Vincente Calderon in a few years time. Armed with this knowledge, we are now starting to plan the next trip, but this time, to see Atletico, in their present home, before the move to their new 72,000 capacity stadium. So that will be two trips to Madrid in the next few years then…

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