Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Valencia CF

Valencia 4-0 Gimnastic de Tarragona (30:09:06)

Manolo, el del bombo joins the European Football Weekends team.

Manolo's Bar - every drum a winner!

La Mestalla home to Valencia CF.

Why I thought you supported Atletico!? Yeah - whatever!

A marching band, La Mestalla and I.

Steepness, steepness they call it steepness.

The Valencia 'Yomus' ultras.

Ciudad de las artes y las ciencias - buildings more attractive than the football stadium shocker!

My European Football Weekends fall into two categories. Mostly, I go with the lads on what can turn into quite beery occasions. Alternatively, some trips I attend with my wife and these ones tend to be more cultural jaunts. This EFW fell into the later department.

It's not very often that I count the football stadium in the city as not being the most beautiful building. However, in Valencia this is very much the case. Aesthetically, I can't find fault with the Ciudad de las Artes y las Cinecias (City of Arts and Sciences). Local architect Santiago Calatrava has changed the face and landscape of the City with a series of stunning buildings built on what previously a marshy bogland.

The complex includes a museum (Museo de las Ciencias Principe Felipe), the beatlesque type Imax cinema and planetarium (Hemisferic), a multicultural arts complex (Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia) and lastly an 'Oceanografic' aquarium type arrangement which is actually worth paying to get into - it's exceptional.

Aside from the above we also did a couple of walking tours around the historical centre of Valencia. You'll almost certain to end up in the Plaza de la Virgen at some stage, and from that location there is simply loads to see and do. The Lonely Planet Best of Valencia pocket guide has some superb City walks which you can follow.

Make sure you down a glass of Horchata whilst you are in town. It's non alcoholic, but on a hot morning - almost guaranteed in these parts - it's a most refreshing local beverage.

Now then, onto the football (about time - Ed.). Until 2009 when they will be moving to a new stadium - Valencia play at the Mestalla. It's old, full of character and has very steep stands. It's fairly easy to just take a stroll down from the City centre but if you are feeling lazy on a hot day then hop on the underground to Aragon.

I got there reasonably early so I could not only pick up a couple of match tickets (22 euro each), but to pay a visit to Manolo el del Bombo's bar which is across the road, and opposite the small ticket huts. Manolo is the chap you see at every Spanish national game banging his drum. I had my photo taken with him as did plenty of others, and brilliantly he donned a new hat for each picture. The bar doubles up as a football museum and I can't think of many better places to spend a couple of hours drinking prior to the match.

As I sat there with my wife, eating very agreeable tapas dishes, sinking nice cold beers, watching Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid on a big screen and cocking an eye towards Manolo serve behind the bar - I did rather find a few answers to the question I ask myself quite often; 'Why do I like Spain so much'?

Unusually for a Spanish league game, the away side Gimnastic had brought a large travelling support down the coast with them. Any trifling doubt that violence might ensue was quickly dispelled when one chap turned up with a 6ft teddy bear which was roundly applauded. Strange but true. I must remember to take mine to West Ham next time we are at Upton Park, or maybe not eh?

As we took to our seats, just below the travelling hordes prior to the match a marching band appeared on the pitch and treated the locals to a few tunes. Marching bands are big news in Valencia and they went down a proverbial storm. As they paraded around the pitch, they would stop at twenty yard intervals and turn to the crowd, who in turn rose out of their seats and rewarded them with some overhead clapping.

Gimnastic Tarragona started the match by running around like headless chickens. It was as if it was their annual sports day, and the only thing missing was a bean bag on their heads. Their enthusiasm started to diminish after just three minutes though as Fernando Morientes helped himself to the games opening goal.

After that it was one way traffic. David Villa engaged in blazes of wizardry, he would go one way and the crowd would go the other. Villa is a brilliant player and a definite favourite here at European Football Weekends HQ. After he had scored a couple of goals he was withdrawn to a heroes reception. I'll give you an idea of how much he is liked at Valencia, the ovation he received was nearly as good as the marching bands!

Valencia declared at 4-0, and the away fans, just happy to be there clapped their team off the park and everybody seemed pretty chuffed with life. It was far too hot for running battles outside the stadium so we decided to ingratiate ourselves with the locals and head to the bars. There is a bar for every occasion in Valencia, it's a great place to stay up half the night sinking a couple of beers so we duly did just that.

It's worth mentioning our hotel at this juncture should you ever choose to pay a visit to Valencia. We stayed in the Home Deluxe Hostel. It's smack plum in the middle of all the action and every room is individually designed. You'll have to book well in advance but it's cheap as chips and very welcoming.

So with a new stadium being built which looks stunning and the City's other team Levante still to see, I shall definitely be returning. A City of architectural triumphs, guaranteed sunshine, sandy beaches and two football teams. Take your wives and girlfriends lads - Adios.

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