Messi back to prove a point

Faced with another weekend of rain and cancellations, the Daggers Diary team headed to the Costa del Messi to do a scouting report on Manchester City’s next opponents.

In November 2012, Dagenham Dan, Neil and I were on our way back from a trip to Borussia Moenchengladbach, when the subject of Dan’s impending marriage to Aimee came up. Having wondered aloud about whether we would be able to continue our trips abroad for football, we had an idea as we made our way back to the hotel.

1655894_10153812848150223_1876244631_nFast forward to the wedding last July, and Neil is making his best man speech at the aforementioned wedding. About half way through, Neil produces a copy of the contract written up in the back of the car from that Germany trip, which allows Dan to continue his trips abroad with certain conditions. One of these is that Aimee will continue to come along with us on a Barcelona trip at least once a season, but will have unfettered access to Dan’s credit card for the duration of the weekend. So, in front of all of the assembled guests, Aimee signed the contract, and so it is with this in mind, that we find ourselves here in Barcelona for the weekend.

It has been an interesting few weeks for Barca. There has been the announcement of the stadium redevelopment, in favour over a move to a new stadium; we’ve had the resignation of club president Sandro Rosell, over the Neymar transfer from last summer, as well as a home defeat by Valencia, and Dani Alves criticising fans for staying away from the home leg of the cup semi final against Real Sociedad, which to be fair did start at 10pm on a Wednesday night. Given that the game was also on local television, it’s probably why many stayed away, although an attendance of nearly forty thousand still wasn’t that bad.

Throughout the week leading up to this trip, the weather dominated the news programmes. Whether it be the flooding in Somerset, or the Thames lapping up against the western suburbs of London, it was the seemingly endless wind and rain that dominated the bulletins. Continue reading

Plymouth away or double Barca? Tough choice

Plymouth Argyle away on the cold and wet English Channel or Barcelona v Granada on the sunny Med?  Difficult choice for the Daggers Diary team.

Today, the Daggers travel to Plymouth, hoping to maintain an impressive start to the season that has seen us in the dizzy heights of a play off spot. Given my pre-season pessimism, I would have said that would have been an insane thought had anyone bought up the possibility back in August.

Dagenham Dan and I though are not heading west. Instead, we are flying out from the Eddie Stobart Aerodrome (a.k.a. Southend Airport) for our first trip of the season to Barcelona.

Up until a couple of months ago, kick off times were not confirmed until around ten days before the game, meaning that booking flights was a nightmare. We could never be sure of when the game you were going to was going to start, meaning that we might be able to book an early flight for the Saturday, but would invariably end up coming back on the Monday. On our early trips to Spain, we would fly in and out of Girona, coming back on the first flight home on the Monday morning. This would mean getting to the bus station for 3am, for an hour’s journey to the airport. There were a couple of occasions where the game had finished around 11pm, so after just a couple of hours sleep, we were on our way home, bleary eyed and very tired. The sight of a conga of people waiting to board the plane back to Stansted in an otherwise deserted departure building is not one I wish to see for some time.

As these trips become more frequent though, the planning has got better. Now, we go for the home game preceding a Champions League fixture. In one of his less busy times, Dan went through the fixtures for the last few years and discovered that Barcelona almost always played on a Saturday before playing in Europe. That kind of detail has helped us out several times, and certainly it has done with this weekend, as we depart early Saturday, and return on Sunday evening. The schedule has us out of the country for about thirty six hours, which is plenty of time for three games. Continue reading

Ocho Santos…

imagesDay one of the new season and the Dagger Diary team are in full swing, although a few hundred miles away from Fleetwood Town.

When the Football League fixtures were announced in mid-June, the Daggers were given a nice opening day jaunt to the Lancashire coast, to play Fleetwood Town. Despite the fact that it would almost certainly be warmer than our previous visit in March, I was unsure about whether or not I would attend. In years gone by, I would have considered it sacrilege to have missed the opening game of the season, no matter where it was. Now, I have changed that a bit, and I really wasn’t that fussed if I attended or not.

As time passed, I started (albeit, at an almost glacial pace) to come round to the idea of going. After all, it would be the first game of the season, and although friendly games are ok, they don’t really match the intensity of the league games.

Then, I changed my mind again, and decided to go elsewhere instead. Barcelona announced that their Gamper Trophy game would be on August 2nd, against Santos, presumably as part of the deal that took Neymar to the Camp Nou. If I could get the appropriate flight back, perhaps both games would be a possibility?

Well, no it wouldn’t. After looking through, I thought that I would be unable to get to Fleetwood from whichever airport I would go to, so with a decision to be made, I elected to just do the Friday night game. With flights, hotel and match ticket all now booked, I was on my way to Spain once again.

The only thing that made me a bit nervous about booking this one would be what kind of team Barcelona would be fielding. With those that appeared for the Spanish national team in the recent Confederations Cup only just back in training, and the league season still a couple of weeks away, the team could be a mixture of reserve players and kids, or just the reserve (or “B”) side. Still, the chance to see Santos was enough to persuade me to part with the cash for the trip, and it was that factor that meant that Fleetwood (as nice as it is) could go whistle.

Not only would the game be Barca’s first home game of the season, but there would be the annual presentation of the squad to the supporters prior to the game. Although they have already been playing games in Poland, Germany and Norway, there is still the trip to the Far East (to play Thailand and a Malaysia XI) and the two-legged Spanish Super Cup to come after this one, which means that the big name players might miss this one, although I really hope not. Having beaten Santos 4-0 in the 2011 World Club Cup final, it would be nice to see the proper first team playing in this one, and it would be even better to see how Neymar fits into the overall plan. Continue reading

Write Barca off at your peril

History?  You want history?  What about the mighty Barca crashing out of the Champions League after a humiliating lesson in football in Milan?  That was sure to be on the cards as Dagger’s Diary Brian headed off to the Camp Nou on Tuesday…..

This trip represents a couple of firsts for me. It’s my first midweek trip to Barcelona, and also my first Champions League game here. While Dagenham Dan will be at the Daggers game against Torquay, I am here on a solo trip for the first knock out round game against Milan.

Barcelona are going through a bit of a wobble at the moment. A 0-2 first leg defeat at the Guiseppe Meazza three weeks ago has left them with a rather large challenge tonight, in order to progress. If that wasn’t enough, a league defeat at Real Madrid (coupled with a cup defeat to the same opposition) has reduced the lead at the top of the league.

Of course, even the best teams can have a bad run of form. The Milan defeat has been put down to just an off-night for the side, but the drop in form has also come along at the same time that the coach, Tito Vilanova has been in New York, recovering from cancer surgery. While those who have stepped up to lead the team are obviously giving it everything, the loss of the team leader is clearly having a negative effect on the club. While the president has said that the health of Vilanova is the main priority for the season, losing such a lead in the division, as well as the Cup and an early exit in the Champions League would mean that, in a world that demands success ever more impatiently, no trophies would signify failure, no matter what the moral issues of the time.

100_5939 Recent performances have not quite reached the high standards of the last few years, coupled with the results. Not keeping a clean sheet in the last twelve games signals a problem in defence, and the reliance on Lionel Messi for goals suggests a rebuilding exercise for the club in the very near future. However, Messi, Puyol and Xavi have all recently signed contract extensions, which should keep the side together for the next few years at least.

This game against Milan though is one that, even at this stage, will go some way to defining the club’s season. If they can succeed tonight, then the resultant boost from recovering such a negative position should provide enough to get league campaign back on track. Defeat, and the nervous looks over the shoulder at the approaching Atletico and Real Madrid might just turn the last couple of months into nerve fest which Vilanova might not appreciate, especially given the health scares of the last few months. Continue reading

Derby Day in Barcelona

Whilst the UK huddled under an umbrella last weekend, trying to keep warm with some FA Cup good cheer, the Daggers Diary team headed over to their warm weather retreat in Barcelona where the main event was a city derby with a distinct lack of atmosphere.

Back in November, the population of Catalunya went to the polls on the possibility of independence from Spain. With the economic difficulties affecting much of southern Europe, the issue of going it alone has risen to the forefront again. It is felt in Catalunya that they provide more to Spain that they get back from the central government in Madrid.

catalunya-espanyaThe result of the election was the separatists won a majority of the votes cast, although it actually has no legal standing in Spanish law. However, the issue of independence or nationhood for the region has always been simmering under the surface and much of this has been centred around the city’s main football club. Read almost any history of the club, and it will tell you of people going to the stadium during the Franco era, and speaking and chanting in Catalan, when the language had been banned by the central government. The club even had to change its name, from Futbol Club Barcelona, to the more Spanish sounding Club Futbol de Barcelona. It may only be a small change to those looking in, but to those fans at the time, it meant a great deal. Continue reading

El Clasico

Ten years ago the game between Barcelona and Real Madrid held little interest outside of Spain. But thanks to the arrival in Spain of David Beckham (and of course Michael Owen and Jonathan Woodgate), the coverage of La Liga on our TV’s and of course the rise to worldwide dominance of Barcelona, it has today become the biggest club match in the world.

Ironically, over this period, the animosity between the players seems to have been replaced by hype in the media. This has been quoted as one of the reasons for the success of the Spanish national side in the past five years which has seen them win 2 x European Championships and a World Cup. For many years the reason for their capitulation in major tournaments was said to be the divisions in the squad between the Castillians and the Catalans.

However, today the Spanish are undoubtably one of the greatest international teams to have ever graced a football pitch, and those divisions have disappeared (10 of the 11 starters in the 2010 World Cup final played for the two teams). But that hasn’t stopped the game capturing the eyes of the world.

Over recent years the teams seem to have played each other more and more, and with characters like Jose and Pep in charge, not forgetting some of the world’s greatest players such as Ronaldo and Messi, it is more than just a game. Fortunately, this excellent book, written by Richard Fitzpatrick has come along just in time for the first high-octane meeting of the two Spanish Giants in the Super Cup.

For anyone interested in the history of the rivalry, both in terms of the political and geographical context then this is a must read. It contains some fascinating interviews as well as a page turning history. If you have read Morbo, the history of Spanish football by Phil Ball, then you will certainly enjoy this. The book also packs some serious facts and stats at the end which would put John Motson to shame.

Fitzpatrick’s advantage of living in Spain, covering football for a living allows him to get under the skin of the performers and audience of the greatest show on earth. He examines some of the classic games played between the two, and the impact the results had. The 1974 5-0 win by the Cruyff-inspired Barca team in 1974, for instance is put into context, along with the more recent encounters under Jose and Pep.

Whilst it is hard not to see that Fitzpatrick takes the Barca side in some of his debate, it is still a great read and one that should be slipped into every piece of hand luggage for those travelling, or downloaded onto the Kindle for those delayed train journeys. You can buy a copy of the book from Amazon here.

It’s not all about the Camp Nou

Brian Parish abandons the Daggers for one weekend and heads off to the delights of Barcelona.

About twice a season, Dagenham Dan and I eschew the delights of Dagenham, and board a flight to the Iberian Peninsula to take in a game or three over the course of a weekend. Normally these involve a trip to the Camp Nou to watch Barcelona destroy whichever team happens to be that weeks whipping boys, but this time around we thought we would try something different. Neither of us has yet made it to the new Espanyol stadium, so we decided that a trip to watch them instead was in order.

Well, that’s not strictly accurate. Just before the tickets went on sale, I spotted that the fixtures had been altered because of a player’s strike that had postponed the first round of league games. So when I rang Dan with the news, the conversation went something like this; Continue reading