Thursday, 4 February 2016

No Hablo Espanol! - Football Abroad

With Christmas fast approaching, most people would be concentrating on Presents, mince pies and what size turkey they need to feed the 5,000 on the big day. Me & the missus however aren't 'most people' and with a very trying year at work for me plus a hard 2nd year at Uni for her, we decided that rather than join the usual Xmas madness, we were going to sod off somewhere warm and instead keep minimum wage slaves in a job by doing all our shopping on Amazon when we got back.

In the end, we plumped for 4 days in Valencia. Being on the Mediterranean coast meant it had the right amount of sunshine for her and being an old city meant the requisite amount of old interesting shit for me. Job done. It was only after booking all this that I first looked into anything vaguely football related out there.

SPACESHIP!!

Cathedral by night. Sort of.

"But Taz!" I hear you cry "You expect us to believe you booked a trip to Spain and didn't look up the football first?". 

Nope. It's true. I sorted a trip out to the home of one of La Liga's leading lights who are currently managed by Gary Neville, without even checking if they were at home or not. The main reason for this is very simple, the missus hates football. Doesn't understand it, doesn't want to understand it. So when we go away anywhere, I tend to have to rein in my mildly obsessive interest in the beautiful game and wing it once there. This is the main reason I failed miserably to deliver you any MLS (or lower) based nonsense from our USA trip this summer! We're on holiday to see stuff that isn't football apparently. Fussbal Verboten! Denied! In this case though, it was going to be a particularly tough ask. As Valencia were at home not once, but bloody twice in the 4 days we'd be in town. Oh dear.

First, they had a Copa del Rey 2nd leg tie on the Wednesday, the morning of which we'd be flying in, against a small 3rd Division outfit called Barakaldo from the Basque country. And the other on the Saturday in La Liga against Getafe. I decide not to push my luck with the former given we'd have only just arrived and I doubted the missus would want to eat dinner alone whilst I tossed it off watching the Spanish equivalent of Arsenal against Southend. Nope. Keep your powder dry Taz ol' son. Work the charm, enjoy the beautiful city of Valencia with the beloved and then see if we can maybe, just maybe, sneak off for the league game on Saturday. 

So, the next two days are full of wandering and sightseeing in the lovely winter sunshine. Along with lots of nice food. All very coupley and relaxed. Perfect. So come the Friday, we'd done quite a bit of the old town and seen most of the main stuff and the opportunity arrived without even a single mention of football or stadiums and the line. "Anything you want to see then?" asks her ladyship, almost certainly knowing what I'm going to say.


Mestalla. Ticket tout just out of shot.

Oh come on, everyone likes to see the away turnstile!

"Well, I wouldn't mind a trot round the Mestalla" says I, sounding as disinterested as possible. When her ladyship didn't immediately kybosh the suggestion, I then justified it as only being a couple of stops on the metro and that it would only take a half hour or so from our day of sightseeing. My puppy dog like charm is clearly working perfectly as she agrees. We'll take a wander up so I can check out the stadium. And check it out I do, whilst she finds a bench in the sun, pulls out her Kindle and sets about catching up on some reading. That ladies & gents is how little my other half likes football. She'd rather sit next to a main road and read than simply even walk around a fucking stadium.

Still, it means I can wander off and geek. And look for stickers. Mmmmm, lovely lovely stickers.

The first thing that surprises me is the size of the place. The footprint is not very big at all, but the stands tower above me. I stroll round snapping the odd stickers I see, although there aren't as many as I thought there would be. In fact, it's generally very clean the whole way round. Sadly, there's no real gaps that allow a view into the bowl itself. So a walk round and some stickers are all I can get. Ho hum. Back to the missus!

We head off for some lunch and then hit a few more sights in the centre before we get to 4pm and a bit tired, we head back to the hotel. With lunch done and most places not open for dinner until at least 8:30, there's not much to do. But bless her, the missus once more presents an open door opportunity and I'm there to charge through it without so much as a second thought. Checking out the touristy maps, there's an ad for 'Mestalla Forever' which is basically the club's stadium tour. "Don't you want to do that?" she asks.

You know what, I'd not thought about it. I'm not that into them usually, but it means I'll at least get a half decent look round the ground, including the inside. Engage charm circuits.

"Well, I wouldn't mind darling. But I don't wanna go leaving you all on your own!"

In the end, she decides to stay and do as the locals do with a little pre-dinner siesta and that I can indeed go and further feed my ever so mild and normally barely noticeable football based obsession. Result! So I grab my 72hr travel card and leg it for the Metro. The last tour of the day is apparently at half 5 and I intend to be on it.

I think this is the right stop.

Standing on the corner.

After another stroll around the ground, I join less than half a dozen others in the 'waiting room' for the tour. An Asian family from Oz and an Italian couple. The whole thing feels a touch rushed to me and we're all done inside 45 minutes. But I guess it is the last shift on a Friday night and I'm sure everyone wants to get packed up and piss off for a nap before hitting the town for tapas. Plus with it being dark early, most of the stuff outside in the stadium is a waste of time as you can't see anything.

Still, I head 'home' after a quick look round the very bland and pointless branch of Adidas masquerading as a club shop so I and her ladyship can get ready to go for a slap up dinner. The lamb I have that evening in the small restaurant round the corner from the hotel is as good as any I've ever tasted and actually makes me forget about there being a game tomorrow.

The next morning, we take the metro down towards the beach and take a stroll around the marina, redone for the Americas Cup in 2007, but now largely unused since the subsequent Grand Prix that used to run on the streets round here disappeared a couple of years back. Probably because they weren't paying that little tosser Ecclestone enough cold hard cash to bring his dull Scalextric circus here any more. Still, the beach is nice and we get to have a walk round the quirky Cabanyal district with it's funny little houses. After all this, the missus fancies some culture and some museums. But I'm all walked out, my back is hurting from being on my feet for 3 days and I'm really not in the mood.

"Why don't you go to the football then?" she suggests. "I'll go do my museums, you go sit down and watch your game".

Well, you might think I orchestrated this, but I didn't. I was indeed tired and suffering a touch from being on my feet for 3 days as I'm not quite as fit or as young as I'd like to think I am anymore. But even so, you don't need to ask me twice about doing a game abroad! And after some stock "Are you sure?" and "If you don't mind" to be doubly sure we head back into town, where she disappears off into the old town once more and I'm on the metro back to the Mestalla for the third time in 2 days. Time to get a ticket. I wander up to the ticket office and ask the dude behind window number 9 if he's selling. He's not as it turns out as he's there for members pickups only, but if I go to window 4, they can help. When I get there, what appears to be a Scandinavian fella is already trying to sort his own needs. And from his conversation I can tell that the only thing they're offering him is a minimum of 40 euros for a seat. Ouch! Who said European football was well priced eh?

Big stand.

Very nice. But it's not the SSC though is it?

Still, to be fair there are tickets as cheap as 10 euros on offer, but it seems these are members only and not available to us tourist wankers. Whilst I wait my turn, a shifty local approaches. "You want ticket?" he asks. Not wanting to bother with touts, I try & fob him off. "Yeah mate, I can wait" before pointing to the desk. It's not enough and he persists. "Good ticket. Very cheap!" and to prove the point he pulls a small wad of tickets from his pocket and shows me one. They're the 10 Euro cheapo jobs I can't buy because I'm not a member. I'll humour him. "How much?"

"Forty euro" he states rather more confidently than you'd expect. I laugh. "Too much!" and again, I point again to the counter. He has a think for a moment and counters again. "Good ticket! No fake! Not Italian!". Again, this makes me chuckle and I kind of admire his salesmanship, so I take a punt. "Twenty Euro?".

The tout mulls over my offer for a moment and I guess decides that 100% markup is better than kick in the bollocks and accepts. "Ok, come come!" and leads me around the corner to complete the deal. Either that, or kick the fuck out of the cheeky Inglese. Thankfully it's the former and whilst it seems he's happy to discuss terms in full sight of the ticket desk, the exchange of readies is a different matter! I double check the ticket to make sure it looks genuine, but figure that you'd have to be a pretty unimaginative forger to produce knock off 10 euro tickets and take a punt, handing my new mate a crisp 20 euro note.

He seems happy with the deal and even takes a moment to walk me down the side of the ground to point out what gate I should use. "Kick off four PM!" he calls over his shoulder as he wanders off back to look for more punters. 4pm? Fuck. That's ages away. I thought it was 3pm. Silly sod, I'd obviously looked up the time and seen the GMT equivalent. Oh well! So, with no bars open, I decide to head the 2 stops back to the hotel and chill out for an hour or so. A quick call to the missus meanwhile reveals she's still out culture vulturing. Time to find an ATM!

This last task proves tougher than it looks. Despite our hotel being on one of the main shopping streets in Valencia, finding a bank with an ATM proves difficult. And when I do find one, the machine I'm confronted with looks nowt like what we draw readies from here in the UK. In fact, they seem to do fucking everything but allow you to draw out money! On most of the ones I find, you can put money in, draw money out that someone has sent you, bid on some auction stuff (?), or most bizarre of all, look up the nearest ATM. Erm! In the end, I finally locate a Santander 10 mintues walk away and thankfully this has a machine of the type I'm more familiar with, but I still have to wait 10 minutes to use it whilst some local faffs about doing god knows what with about 3 different cards. Still, it kills time and with some cash on my hip once more and it's time for some La Liga action.

Walking to the ground.

The view from the top tier entrace at the Mestalla.

Back at Aragon metro, there's a few more people than before! Still, it's nice to be part of the throng strolling up to the ground. A few stallholders have set up along the way too, selling the usual knock off scarves and other tat. With about half hour to kick off, I think it's best to get inside rather than faff about, so I join the queues. At my designated gate, I note pretty much everyone else around me is popping credit card sized season tickets into the bar code readers on the automated turnstiles. Once again the doubt of earlier returns. What if my mate the tout was the sort of loser who'd sell forged 10 Euro tickets? Oh well, we're about to find out! Thankfully, the ticket is good, the turnstile beeps and displays a green light. I'm in!

Now begins the schlep to my seat and I have two options. Firstly, I can take a central staircase to the top level or I can follow the sloping ramp that encircles it. I opt for the latter, mainly as the missus and I have been on our feet for 3 days, including having climbed the 207 steps of the Micalet tower at the Cathedral a couple of days ago, which nearly fucking killed me. Besides, as a cardio workout is not something I tend to endure as part of my pre-match routines, I select the slope. Even by this method, it takes me a good ten minutes to wind my way towards the top. In fact I walk so far, I stop at the first level available feeling sure I can't go any further up. I spot a steward who appears to be assisting some local ultras to recover their drums and flags from a storage cupboard and interrupt his important work to make enquiries. He takes one look at my ticket, laughs and points upwards.

Shit.

Off I set and after a good few minutes more, I emerge onto a deck bathed in the late afternoon sun. With still 15 mins before the game starts, I take the opportunity to take in the view. And peer over the deck to the street below. Bloody hell this is high up. And the stand itself still towers above me! So I locate my block and emerge into the bowl of the Mestalla. Yep, this is high! Another steward checks the ticket and points up into the gods behind me. There's MORE? I then have to schlep up a good 30 steps or so, making by far the steepest seated section I've ever experienced in a stadium. Each row of seats has a railing in front of it and with good reason. Going a bit loopy in the cheap seats over a late winner here would be utterly fatal without them. In fact, I think the last time I was seated at this altitude was on the flight over.

I take a few pre-match pictures and get the tourist stuff out of the way. Plus have a little chuckle at the Spanish pronunciation of 'Gary Neville' by the PA announcer and then the teams are out of the tunnel.

Jaume, Barragán, Gayá, Parejo, Mustafi, Abdennour, Gomes, Danilo, Alcácer, Cancelo, Piatti SUBS: Villalba, Negredo, Zahibo, de Paul, Ryan, Mina, Santos

Panoramaramarama!
Away fans. Yay!

The game is a slow boiler. It takes a few minutes to get going with Valencia knocking it about a bit whilst Getafe sit back and wait to hit on the break. Although, when they finally do after about 10 mins, it's pretty effective. The visitors break quickly and end up with a 2 on 2. But just as it seems they're in, a clumsy foul stops the move on the edge of the box. From my satellite in orbit seat I have a great view as the Getafe 10 whips the free kick over the wall and into the near corner despite the keeper's best efforts to keep it out. 1-0 and the tiny pocket of away fans in the gods at the opposite end go potty.

Valencia look shocked and there's a couple of other nervy moments soon after. Then suddenly just 5 mins after going behind, they're level. Cancelo gets down the right, puts an early ball into the near post and Alcácer tucks away a fabulous volley. It's a cracking strike and has even neutral tourist Taz on his feet applauding. 1-1.

This goal lifts the crowd and the team and they suddenly pin back the visitors, probing down the flanks and being foiled by desperate defence. Then suddenly under no pressure, the rather clumsy looking Abdennour plays a lazy little pass inside about 30 yards out from his own goal. Getafe pounce on the error and despite a blatant body check on the edge of the D, a pass finds Lafita and he whips a first time shot past the startled keeper. 2-1 and there's genuine consternation around me from the home fans whilst that little section at the other end gets bouncy bouncy once more.

Getafe are playing confidently now and have a third ruled out for offside when a free kick in from wide is nodded in from a few yards out. Things don't get worse for the hosts when after about half an hour, midfielder Gayá hobbles off and they bring on the tiny looking Mina. Who from my vantage point looks like one of the mascots. His impact is immediate however. A clever little ball into the channel finds Alcácer and he lays a teasing first time low cross along the edge of the 6 yard box. The burst has caught the visitors by surprise and Mina is one of two white shirts queueing up at the back stick to tuck away the equaliser from close range with probably his first touch of the ball. 2-2 and there's only 35 minutes gone!

One nil. Ooops.

Two nil. Stressed local pictured for effect.

Clearly, all this excitement is far too much and the visitors decide that they'll do away with the 'hitting on the break' part of their game plan and sit in more after this to try & take the sting out of things. So Valencia largely control possession and sit in the Getafe half for much of the remainder of the 1st 45, but only have Danilo's low shot bringing a good save from the keeper to show for it. Shortly before Half time, my phone buzzes and reveals that Tombo has put the U's one up at home to Maidenhead. Lovely stuff!

At the break, I decide I can't be arsed to rappel down to the lower levels and investigate refreshments, that and I doubt they do bacon rolls or cups of tea here. Although, a cuppa would come in rather handy right now as the sun as dipped behind the top of the stand I'm in and it's slowly getting colder than the summit of Everest up here. So I just pull up my hoodie and try not to let my teeth chatter instead.

Valencia are out after the break attacking my end and they're looking positive. Getafe are still looking to sit off and defend and this again gives the hosts shed loads of ball and they're working it wide to try & prise an opening. Cancelo is their best hope and he's causing problems, but despite having almost constant possession, the home team can't quite fashion a decent chance. After an hour, I get another buzz on my phone, it seems that we've gone to sleep at GGL and allowed Maidenhead to level. A couple of minutes later and there's another telling me that bastard Tarpey has put his side ahead. Fucks sake!

Neville tries to shake things up with a couple of subs with 15 to go. One of which is former Man City Man Negredo. The changes help and the last 10 minutes or so are pretty frantic. Valencia think they've taken the lead from a Parejo free-kick out wide that the keeper seems to have clawed out from over the line at the near post, but the ref says no. Seemingly La Liga is yet to catch onto goal line technology! Then Negredo has a great chance with a header from a teasing cross, but only gets a glancing contact straight at the keeper rather than a firm nod that would almost certainly have made it 3-2. A quick check of my phone does reveal a goal however. It seems Macca has levelled from the spot at GGL. Back in the game Sutton!

At this point, Getafe probably think that they've sat deep long enough and to continue to do so is just asking for trouble. Plus with the oppo going all out for a winner, there's chances to be had at the other end! So they push on a few yards and the counters start to come their way. Lafita is the main beneficiary, with one lightning break ending with him darting into the box and firing a dipping effort off the bar with the keeper stranded. And then another break in the final dying moments, he's teed up by a team mate about 8 yards out with only the keeper to beat. Go on son, win it for that little cluster of away fans above you! And don't go doing a wild, slashing airshot in front of over 30,000 people now eh?

Oh, you have. Well, that's a bit embarrassing.

Getting arty at HT.

Emptying out.

It's a dreadful miss and one he doesn't have time to dwell on as the final whistle goes almost straight after, leaving Mr Neville still searching for his 1st win in La Liga. One thing that struck me most about the miss was that rather than have the home support going "WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!", hooting in derision and aiming wanker signs his way en masse, a slightly embarrassed gasp echoes around the Mestalla instead. Very odd. Although I'm sure there were a few mutterings of 'wanker' from the away fans regarding their man's error.

What's even odder is that when I returned to the UK and sought out highlights online of the game, not a single fucking one showed this wonderfully missed sitter. Not one. Clearly the Spanish don't engage in such vulgarities as revelling in players having made a bit of a tit of themselves. Pfft. Where's the fun in that I ask you?

I take a few post match pics and note that the big video screens are wishing people a Merry Xmas. So I take this seasonal greeting and begin my descent back towards base camp and higher oxygen levels. As with most big stadia like this one, the place empties out pretty quickly and having wound my way back down the corkscrew I'm stood on the platform at Aragon metro within a few minutes. I pass the time by checking my phone and finding that the U's have once more endured a Desmond at home. Not great, but not a disaster either. Despite the crowds, I manage to squeeze my way onto the second train that shows up for the quick 2 stop dart back to my hotel, the missus and a massive slap up dinner.

Madam is of course awaiting me having cultured herself out. Sadly though, most of the museums had shut up shop between 3 & 4 (bloody lazy continentals!) so she'd been left to largely do some more wandering having not quite got to see everything she wanted (such as the Ceramics museum. I know, choker right?) before coming back for a siesta. A quick freshen up and we're then off to stroll in the direction of the bullring once more to seek out a restaurant we'd been recommended. Here I partake in a Toledo steak that quite simply can only be described as "fuckin' handsome" and a definite 'Top 5' contender, possibly even a top 3. All washed down with a couple of bottles of a marvellous local brew called Turia.

"The grub here will make your balls tingle"

Mmmm. Beer. 
Nice weather, female company, football, beers and a bloody nice steak. What more could a chap want eh?

Not bad Valencia. Not bad at all.

Taz




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