Thursday, 27 March 2008

Magnificent Madrid

Rayo Vallecano 1-0 Universidad de Las Palmas 23:03:08 (12pm)

Real Madrid 2-3 Valencia 23:03:08 (7pm)

My brief whilst back in Madrid was to see two games of football in one day. Kicking off with a starter of Rayo Vallecano v Universidad de Las Palmas who were kicking off at midday, allowing me plenty of time to also attend the main dish of Real Madrid v Valencia at 19:00.

I started the day, like all Sundays in Madrid should with a stroll around El Rastro, the largest flea market in Europe. Over the years I have developed an unhealthy amount of football badges and here I was able to pick up every Spanish 2nd division badge to add to my growing collection. I know, I know!

After snooping around El Rastro, I headed towards the working class neighbourhood of Vallecas. During the Franco regimethis area gained a reputation for resistance to the right-wing dictatorship. The pride of the area - at least they were in 2001 when they reached the last 16 of the UEFA Cup - are Rayo Vallecano FC.

Thesedays they ply their trade in the Segunda Division B (Division 3 to you and I). Their three sided Teresa Rivero stadium has a 15,000 capacity and is bedecked in the club colours of red and white. Rayos kit is a classic, think Madrid taxis (white with a red stripe) or the Peru kit of the 1978 World Cup finals and you´ve got it.

After a couple of cheeky beers in the supporters bar underneath the main stand I got my ticket. It set me back a very reasonable 10 euros.

To my delight to PA belted out an albums worth of punk classics at full volume prior to the match. We were treated to The Clash, The Ramones, Sex Pistols the works. All in keeping with the slightly anarchic feel to the club.

After taking in the first half however, I was rather thinking that 10 euros was a bit over priced. All I had to entertain me were the Rayo ultras behind the goal. Despite it being Sunday morning, they belted out songs non stop for 90 minutes.

Being a university team Universidad did rather live up to the student stereotype. The traffic-cone-collectors looked and played like they´d been up all night drinking subsidised cider and listening to The Levellers. They ´parked their camper van´in front of the goal and they weren´t going to budge for love or indeed money.

Thankfully in the 63rd minute, Michel of Rayo sent 5,813 fans into raptures with a piece of individual brilliance not all that in keeping with the game. His goal was to send Rayo up to second in the table.

Universidad annoyed me with their negative tactics. What is it with teams who only start to ´panic play´with five minutes left after putting in a half arsed performance beforehand!? In stoppage time they smacked the underside of the crossbar and the ball bounced on the line before 21 players pounced on it. I have seen them given.

After a brief conference, the lino and the ref decided they didn´t much fancy being chased out of Vallecas by a baying mob with pitched forks and awarded a free-kick to Rayo.

Just prior to that the referee realised he hadn´t dished out his full quota of yellow cards and brandished a flurry of them in a mad two minute spell. It´s one of the great pleasures in life watching a Spanish ref book a player as if his life depends on it.

The metro was located right next to the stand I was in and by the third peep of the full time whistle I was back on my way into town to meet the wife.

We met up in Casa Alberto on the Calle Huertas. The Sunday afternoon drink of choice in Madrid is Vermouth. This place serves up the hard stuff on tap. We got chatting to the landlord who insisted on giving us free drinks. Nice but after four or five vermouts it´s a struggle to see nevermind feel your legs.

Some lunch was called for so we headed to La Casa del Abuelo in Calle de la Victoria for some heavenly langostinos.

In sharp contrast to Vallecas, the Santiago Bernabeu is located in the heart of the Madrid business district. There´s not much to say about this place that everybody doesn´t already know. It´s a slightly ugly concrete jungle from the outside but inside it´s nothing short of magnificent.

Correctly rated 5 stars by UEFA the stadium has hosted three European Cup finals as well as the 1982 World Cup final. There are also plans afoot to add a retractable roof.

The match was a complete sell out meaning I had to buy my ticket from a tout. I paid 80 euros after he´d intially asked for 130. I knew the going rate was 100 euros so although feeling slightly robbed it could have been worse.

Sid Lowe of the Guardian newspaper keeps bleating on about this being the worse La Liga in recent years in terms of quality. Therefore, I wasn´t expecting much of a match. As it happened it was one of the most compelling I´d ever seen.

With the game poised at 2-2 going into the last few minutes - the Valencia striker Javier Arizmendi of all people saw world cup winner Cannavaro off like a puppy before out foxing Casillas from the acutest of angles to win the match. It was his first of the season and that from a player thought to be the worst in La Liga. Previously he´d ben so bad that the coach had him playing at right back.

Prior to Arizmendi´s comedy winner, Raul and David Villa had each score a brace apiece. In between rolling about the floor, Villa was easily the best player on the park and if he isn´t playing for Chelsea next season I´ll eat my sombrero. Total class.

It was a fairly cold night in Madrid but the Bernabeu has a rather unusual feature in that it has heaters situated on the underside of the stadium roof. Subsequently it was as hot as you like in there.

As per usual though the atmosphere was somewhat lacking. Aside from the Ultras Sur behind the goal, no-one seemed too bothered in creating an noise. Granted there was those dreaded hooters but in my eyes - whoever thought of allowing those things anywhere near to a football stadium needs putting behind bars.

After the match I headed into town to meet up again with the wife and a few friends and we engaged in a traditional Madrid bar crawl long into the night.

Over many a beer we discussed the important things in life such as the fact that "Go hang a salami, I´m a lasagna hog" reads the same backwards as forwards. Palindrome genius indeed. Good old life!

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