Friday, 30 September 2011

Widzew Lodz v Jagiellonia Bialystok

I Would Do Anything For Lodz

Widzew Lodz 4-2 Jagiellonia Bialystok (25:09:11)

Nothing gives me greater pleasure than to welcome 'Adventures in Tinpot' legend, Kenny Legg back to European Football Weekends....

The man: "Kenny, are you free to go to Warsaw to do a presentation in late September"

*checks fixtures within 200km radius of Warsaw"

Me: Yes, yes I am. Where do I sign boss?*

In the big (imaginary) AiT book of football there's a chapter titled: "Places To Go And Watch Football Before You're Really Old" - Poland was definitely near the top, somewhere below Buenos Aires and Istanbul, just above above Guernsey and way above Bashley. I've heard that in Poland the weather is shit, the fans are aggressive, the stadiums are crumbling and the football isn't great; well these are all massive ticks in the appendix titled "AiT Criteria For A Cracking Trip."

 Think there's a bulb gone up there mate. 

Lodz was boiling and this meant the Widzew fans, almost to a man were sporting headgear in the style of Liam Gallaher from the Be Here Now tour. Quite frankly I wanted one of those Widzew emblazoned beany hats to doff in their direction.

The Widzew fans were more interested in having a few beers and keeping cool than on cracking some skulls. If they did fancy being proper nawty it wouldn't have been hard to track down any Jagiellonia Białystok fans, a group of ten, who all looked identical, had set themselves up outside of the ground supping a cold Harnas in the midday sun. If my brief survey of the males of the north eastern Polish city had taught me anything its the local Police will only ever require one male photo-fit picture and the Bialystok version of Crimewatch must be a massive waste of airtime. "The man we are looking for has the build of a portaloo, a severely shaved square head, was wearing a black shirt tucked unfeasibly tight into his trousers and probably stole the handbag to fund a burgeoning addiction to steroids. He may also have been wearing a bumbag"

 The questions for to get the ID card proved quite taxing. “Surname....ehhh...”

As usual, when I go to a foreign field, I am overwhelmed by an irrational urge to buy a scarf to wear once and then shove in my retirement home for unloved scarves. The only options in Lodz were from two shops that sold an array of cheap tat. They catered for all the family; scarves celebrating the long standing 'Hooligan Family' relationship with Ruch Chorzow for the nostalgic Grandad, something pink for the lady, a mug proclaiming 'The Chipmunks' as Widzew fans for the young ruffian, the Liam Gallaher beany hat for everyone and, for the fashion conscious hooligan, the Widzew balaclava, T shirt with a bloody knife motif, Widzew mouth guard and the ultra stylish (see what I've done there) cheap Widzew 'Hooligan" white sports socks.

Alvin and eh, Feodore are big Widzew fans.

The stadium was as ramshackle as we'd dreamed. A vast grass bowl housing huge concrete steps all, somewhat unnecessarily, illuminated by cloud scraping floodlights. Inside, weather beaten seats were disturbing the rapid weed growth on the exposed terraces and, most importantly, we had a spot offering us a genius view of the Widzew Ultras.

They start slow and build from there. The teams are greeted by a slow hand clap but after that the 3 drummers and 2 Kapo's lead every chant with lung bursting enthusiasm and hear it returned with a chorus of voice box damaging pride from a devoted crowd that follow every order and make for a superb, noisy and unrelenting spectacle.

A goal for Bialystok after fifteen minutes means things are cranked up an ultra notch. The big Widzew flags and dished out and a couple of minutes later the order comes out to get the shirts off as Piotr Grzelczak scores an equaliser.

 The arms out in front. 

The chants don't stop. There's the one where everyone lunges forward, the one where everyone jumps on the spot, the one where every section of the ground takes it in turns to chant and twirl their scarves in the  (the piss poor attempts by the Krewetka brigafe kanapkę** in which the main stand get's laughed at) and the one that sounds like 'shall we stab your mother' (yeah, no thanks lads.....actually, what are your rates for a slash to the lower thigh?) My favourite involved half the block sitting down while the other half stands and urges the team on and then, the cheeky switch, down is the new up, the groups have swapped positions and yet the chanting continues vociferously unabated.

The scarves up high.

The second half starts with the same slow hand clap but then one of the Kapo's serenades the fans for a couple of minutes with a power ballad ('I would do anything for Lodz....but I won't do that' perhaps? Yes, I know it's not pronounced like that) to stony silence. Thankfully for him he's saved from this Kapo Cul de Sac nightmare when Sebastian Madera royally twats it in to give Widzew the lead and send the ultras bonkers barmy. A lead that lasts a minute but is restored, and then doubled, within the next 15 minutes thanks to goals from Bieniuk and Budka.

Everybody get nekkid.

Token match shot. 

From then on it's party time for the Kapo's and theWidzew Ultras. Twirl your scarves, lunge forward, get your shirts off, sit down, jump around, arms out in front, belt out the same Lodzki widzew ole ole chant for five minutes, quiet down and then extra loudly belt out the Lodzki widzew ole ole chant again for another ten minutes. That must be a magical feeling to lead that many people, although granted, you've not got a clue what's going on in the match though.

The sit down/stand up.

At the end of the match the victorious Lodz players stand in front of the Ultras, lead some chants and respond to the rhythmic orders of the Kapo. It's great to watch, the togetherness and camaraderie between fans and players is a long way from anything imaginable in England and it's been a joy to spend the afternoon in the sun witnessing the skill of the Kapo's, the passion of the Widzew fans and occasionally glimpsing the entertaining fare on the pitch.

My work presentation? Yeah, that didn't go so well. Asking for a megaphone to do my presentation wasn't met with the enthusiastic response I expected, the Widzew Lodz balaclava was a fashion faux pax, not everyone concured with my chant based hypothesis that 'Somerset is full of shit, shit and more shit' and yes with hindsight, my attempts to get 80 of my work colleagues to take their shirts off and twirl them round their heads was massively misguided. Damn you Widzew Ultras!

*"Steps removed and sequence shortened.  
** prawn sandwich brigade. Hopefully. 

If you don't pay a visit to Adventures in Tinpot by Kenny Legg at least once a week then I'm afraid you're a waxy, scale-scrubbing cretin. 

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Monday, 26 September 2011

Brighton & Hove Albion v Crystal Palace - The thoughts of Kevin Day

Brighton & Hove Albion v Crystal Palace - The thoughts of Kevin Day....

Brighton entertain their fiercest rivals Crystal Palace tomorrow for the first time in six years. European Football Weekends has one foot in the Brighton camp. On the other side of the fence is Match of the Day 2 regular, Kevin Day....

I just want to get this over with now. I've been as nervous as Ryan Giggs in a newsagent for the past six weeks and I never get nervous because I'm old enough to believe that football is just a game. But this one is so not  just a game.  So I just want to take the inevitable stuffing, turn the  phone off and hide under the duvet until the seaweed fans switch their gloating searchlights elsewhere - and if you think the eye of Sauron is an unforgiving and exhausting gaze, it's nothing to what Palace fans have been subjected to from the smugness of Sussex recently.

And if that strikes you as a tone of weary resignation then congratulations, you've caught the mood of Palace fans.  Our away form is dismal:  the defeat at Doncaster being the latest proof that Palace could make a fortune by hiring themselves out to shit teams desperate for a win.  And although our financial fortunes have improved, the seaweed are officially on a roll.  They've got a brand new environmentally friendly stadium powered solely by self-righteousness (I'm not saying it's middle class but I believe Sandi Toksvig is the pitch announcer).  They've got money to burn and a team playing free flowing attractive football.  Not only that, but they seem to be in the wank bank of every journalist and pundit south of the river - I have been told off many times for shouting "get a room" at Steve Claridge as he bats his eyelashes and tells us how brilliant and gorgeous Brighton are.

"But Kevin” I hear you say (and I really do hear you, the voices in my head won't go away until this is over),  "Why such bitterness about a team that play fifty miles away from you?"  It is odd that they are our bitterest rivals.  Millwall and Charlton carry on their scrap dealing ways unhindered by our contempt, they don't even register.   It's all reserved for Brighton. And the odd thing is, it's all so new.  It's only since an FA Cup game that went to a third replay at Stamford Bridge in 1975, that this passion has been unleashed.  I was there, it was one of my first 'away' matches a kid and I still remember Alan Mullery's face contorted with rage, attempting to confront Palace fans, which being Alan Mullery he obviously failed to do (if I was the Navy Seal that found Bin Laden and Mullery was next to him, I would have been in a real pickle).

Both teams were in the old Third Division then and got promoted and relegated together in several seasons to come.  Within five seasons it became a lifelong enmity and some of the pre and post match fighting was horrendous (and let's face it, out of character, neither team had any sort of reputation for trouble).

I'm also aware that dispassionately, the Brighton story is a good one. A team saved from oblivion, travelling from ground to ground, being refused permission to come home then returning triumphant to their own
patch.  A romantic football lover like me should be all over that.  But I can't be dispassionate about them. Especially not when people I never knew were Brighton fans have crawled out of the woodwork to tweet and
text me about how good they are.  My God, I wish I had gloated when they were two divisions below us and really shit, but I didn't because Palace fans are too nice.  And now it's too late. We're going to lose
and they are going to gloat.

Like this? You might like the EFW interview with Kevin Day

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Real Betis - Benito Villamarín Photo Special

Real Betis - Benito Villamarín

I attempted one of those 'stitch jobs' on the camera at Real Betis for their game against Mallorca; you know the deal: shaky hands, much tutting, swearing like a trooper, shouldered slumped with the results and all of that. Anyway, click to enlarge this image, and afford yourself a good chuckle at the, cough, seamless breaks in the three photos that have been lovingly stitched together.

For the match day experience report from the day, head on over to 'Mad Béticos and Englishmen'

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VVV Venlo v Ajax Amsterdam

V Festival

VVV Venlo 2-2 Ajax Amsterdam (21:08:11)

‘Venlose Voetbal Vereniging’ (VVV) Venlo is an Eredivisie club located in Holland’s most southerly province of Limburg, a narrow strip of picturesque towns and scenic countryside squeezed between Belgium and Germany, writes Paul Whitaker. VVV also happens to be one of the Eredivisie clubs geographically closest to the footballing heartland of North-Rhine Westphalia. If you have never been to this part of Germany before, think of North West England and then add cheap match tickets, drinking beer on terraces, currywurst and watching talented local players who also turn out for a successful national team. For  European Football Weekenders wanting a classic ‘two matches in two countries in two days’ trip, then I recommend VVV Venlo as an authentic dutch footie experience to compliment the Bundesliga football just over the border at  Borussia Monchengladbach , FC Koln, Schalke 04, VFL Bochum , Borussia Dortmund, MSV Duisburg, Fortuna Dusseldorf  or  Bayer Levekusen.

Trains to Venlo from Amsterdam’s Central Station via Eindhoven, will take nearly 2.5 hours and a 2nd class return will set you back about € 42 euros ( Our preferred option was a direct train from Dusseldorf’s Hauptbahnhof that take just over an hour to Venlo.  2nd class returns were also cheaper at €25 ( Judging by the Germans who got off the train with us, visitors seemed to be either heading for a smoke in the ‘coffee’ shops in the centre or cycling to scenic countryside outside. If you have the ‘wife filter’ activated on your computer, type ‘’ into your internet search engine and you will click on an excellent english language website  of  tourist attractions, all within a cycle ride of Venlo. Highlights include the famous ‘Hertog Jan’ brewery, located in the picturesque village of Arcen and the National War and Resistance Museum, just outside the rebuilt village of Overloon. Venlo’s tourist office (40-2 Nieuwstraat), a few minutes walk from the train station can provide details of bike rentals but not the quality of ‘weed’ on sale at the coffee shops.

The town council must be applauded for ensuring Venlo’s most popular bars and trendiest hotel are all handily located in one street, Parade. There is the ubquitous Irish bar called ‘Shannons’(69 Parade), ‘Cafe de Gouverneur’ (27 Parade) and ‘Kefee d’n Erme’ (23 Parade) before you retire to bed at the trendy ‘Hotel Puur’ (7 Parade) . Venlo’s younger football crowd apparently hang out at ‘Baer de Woers’ (3-9 Steenstraat). There does not appear to be an established ‘away’ bar in Venlo, as most visiting supporters have to travel directly to the VVV’s stadium on organized coaches. The only Ajax shirt on display in Venlo centre all weekend, was hanging in a sports shop.


Getting to VVV from Venlo centre or the train station is a doddle. Simply follow the throngs of yellow shirted VVV supporters walking /cycling along Kaldenkerkenwerg for about 15 minutes and the stadium’s floodlights are popping up over the trees to guide you in. If you are saddle sore after a hard day’s ‘lusting around Limburg’, you can always pick up the bus from the central station. The number 3, direction “Casinoflat” or number 5 or 6, direction “Veegtes”. Jump off at “Maagdenbergplein” and it’s an 8 minute stroll to VVV. This brief tour around Venlo’s residential suburbs will set you back about 2.50 euro return. Parking in the area around the stadium appears to be at a premium and probably explains why so many choose to walk or cycle from Venlo centre.


VVV have been playing football at the Seacon Stadion or de Koel, since 1972. Although it may not be Holland’s oldest football stadium, it distinct design helps makes watching dutch football there an enjoyable experience. Despite this part of Holland being flat as a pancake, two of de Koel’s four stands (including the main stand) appear to be set into North Limburg’s only hillside. Consequently VVV supporters have to go down to reach the stands and even the players have to negotiate flights of steps to get to the pitch. This probably explains why de Koel translates as ‘the pit’.


De Koel has only a capacity of 8000 maximum, of which 1500 can stand on the home terrace sections O1-4. Here, you will find VVV’s main supporter group, “D’n twellefde man” providing most of the de Koel’s noise and colour. At the opposite end, 500 away supporters will be tucked up safely behind the high metal fences in sections W1-3. I hear de Koel will close in a couple of seasons when VVV Venlo will move into a “multifunctional complex” also hosting music concerts, trade-shows and other events. I only hope “D’n twellefde man” can persuade VVV and the new stadium owners to incorporate a terraced section into the design. If safe terracing works at de Koel and across the border in Germany where the day before I had watched 25,000 Borussia Dortmund supporters bouncing on the Sud Tribune, why get rid of it?


Views of the pitch are excellent from all parts of the de Koel, but sections O , Z , N and W 4 , 5 , 6 are season ticket holders and doubtful you will get a ticket in these sections. Try and ask for tickets in  sections VN4-5 which  will not only give you good views of VVV Venlo’s home terrace, but also the players entering the pitch from their changing rooms high behind you in the main stand. Many home supporters (including me) took the opportunity to stand behind their seating sections and I took the opportunity to stroll around half of de Koel, to cheer on VVV attacking the other end in the second half.


The club shop is located in the same white building as the ticket office, both outside De Koel’s main entrance. Be the talk of the pub back home and pick up a  yellow and back  VVV home shirt, with ‘Scelta Mushrooms’, the shirt sponsors and not the name of their star striker. VVV souvenirs can also be purchased at sport shops back in Venlo centre. The club issues a match programme called “de sloef”.  Costing a mere €1, the magazine can be picked up from a number of vendors dotted both outside and inside de Koel.
Between the club shop and de Koel, you will find a statue of Jan Klaassens, VVV’s most famous player. Klaassens first stint at VVV led the club to their only piece of silverware, when they beat ADO Den Haag 4-1 in the 1959 KNVB Cup. Klaassens then went on to pick up two league titles wearing the red and white of Feyenoord, 57 caps wearing the orange of the dutch national team, before returning to finish his  career  in the yellow and black of his beloved VVV. After hanging his boots up in 1967, Klaassens ran a small cigar shop and I only know this after stumbling across the tiny premises, back on Venlo’s Parade. It was now crammed full of memorabilia from Klaassens’ distinguished football career and must be a contender for the smallest football museum in Europe.

VVV supporter’s club bar can be found at the left corner as you walk towards de Koel. Thankfully, you do not need exchange euros for any of those annoying club ‘tokens’ or ‘cards’ to enjoy the local tipple, Lindeboom. Knowing dutch football supporter groups trend of friendships with other groups I was surprised to hear VVV’s “D’n twellefde man” did not have any supporter friendships, especially with any of clubs just over the border in North-Rhine Westphalia. The only other ‘football tourists’ appeared to be a Japanese couple there to support fellow countryman and VVV defender Maya Yoshida.

VVV ’s big rivals are as expected clubs from the province of Limburg. Fortuna Sittard and MVV Maastricht are both in the ‘Eeste Divisie’ or Jupiler league. Limburg’s other Eredivisie representative Roda JC  Kerkrade, will guarantee a full  away supporters section, an 11.30am kick-off and a great match atmosphere at de Koel. Please get there early if Ajax the visitors. I missed a kick-off for the first time in 15 years, due to crowd congestion outside de Koel. This did not happen queuing up outside Wembley, Camp Nou, San Siro or La Bombonera...


The match itself was less one-sided as the VVV supporters were predicting before kick-off. Although Ajax started off strongly, they failed to take numerous chances. Two goals from VVV’s talented midfielder Ahmed Musa early in the second half had de Koel rocking and VVV on course for their first home win over Ajax, since 1989. Ajax coach Frank De Boer made some tactical substitutions and the reigning champions soon pulled a goal back. Christien Eriksen ran almost the length of the pitch before feeding the ball through to Theo Janssen to score on 68th minutes.  Kolbeinn Sigthorsson then levelled the score a minute later. VVV’s goalkeeper Gentenaar pulled off some crucial saves towards the end, but points would be shared. Both the VVV supporters and myself went back down Kaldenkerkenwerg happy with what we had seen at de Koel.


Club Basics 

Club Name: Venlose Voetbal Vereniging (VVV) Venlo
Address: Seacon Stadion , Kaldenkerkerweg 182, 5915 AH Venlo, Netherlands.
Supporters Websites:  or

Getting a ticket for VVV Venlo

VVV epitomizes the Venlo folk in their hospitality to visitors and if you contact the club via  , they should be able to sort you out a ticket. Simply email the club/supporters club and make arrangements to collect ticket from ticket office about an hour before kick-off. Ticket office is outside De Koel’s main entrance and some photo ID or passport will normally be needed when collecting tickets. Tickets for Eredivise fixtures normally go on sale about three weeks before and refreshing to see VVV do not increase ticket prices for the visit of Ajax, Feyenoord or PSV . Ticket prices are cheapest in the VW and VN sections at €20 euros and although you are close to the pitch, also note you are open to the elements.

Thanks to Freek van de Kerkhof for the ticket and patiently answering my questions on everything VVV.

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Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Sevilla v Real Sociedad

Behind Enemy Lines

Sevilla 1-0 Real Sociedad (17:09:11)

I'd been in Seville for a week, and already fallen head over heels for Real Betis and their underdog ethos. I'd even been made an honorary Bético and featured on their websites HERE and THERE. But I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't cover their hated city neighbours whilst I was in town, right? It was time to slip into disguise, clip a comedy moustache under my hooter and covertly enter the lion's den: Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán.

This is the only city in Spain with two teams of roughly equal standing. The local press here often trot out, possibly made up, statistics as to  the numbers of fans each team has - and blow me down if they don't just say it's 51% to 49% one way or the other, just to create a rise and get some debate going. It's a tactic that has served Talk Sport well down the years, no? My cockles had been well and truly warmed here by the fact kids playing in the street - until 2am - wore either Betis or Sevilla replica shirts. Not a Barca or Real Madrid item in sight. Refreshing.

The Thursday before the Sevilla v Real Sociedad match, I stepped out of my apartment on Calle de la Feria and into a street market full of chaps trading football stickers. I'd been told several times that I was in the best district of the town, 'La Macarana' - the working-class heart of the 'real' Seville (beats heart with clinched fist) - and this just about confirmed it. It was the sort of market where one could buy old Sevilla CF season tickets for 50p a pop, and giant Real Betis calculators. I filled my boots, obviously. And if you think this whole paragraph was written just as an excuse to wheel out a photograph I took of some of those Spanish football stickers, then you'd be absolutely correct...

Got, got, need....

Fast forward two days, and for this match I'd chosen to opt out of the press box and sit with the actual fans. Or to put it another way; the club had turned down my request for accreditation. They said I was welcome to have a press pass for the Valencia match a week later, but that was too late for EFW. Who said 'Sevillista el que no bote' eh? Actually, that was a few thousand Real Betis fans a while back. Actually, I didn't mind not having a pass, and no it wasn't me who had sprayed 'Betis Ole' on gate 32 of the Sevilla stadium, but I was slightly put out that they didn't sell Sevilla slippers in the club shop. 3-0 to Betis on that score by the way.

You do have to hand it to Sevilla when it comes to whacking great artistic mosaics outside the stadium. They've got two at the ground, and both are mightily impressive. Then again, you'd expect nothing less from a city with thousand beautiful buildings. So, if Sevilla can lay claim to the best mosaics at a football ground, then surely today's opponents, Real Sociedad are entitled to raise their hand when it comes to the 'best club badge' category. What's not to like about an old skool football wrapped in blue and white flag. Brilliant.

I hereby award giant mosaic Number One 5 (five) Fifa stars

And giant mosaic Number Two 4 (four) Fifa stars

I paid €35 for my match ticket to sit in with the Sevilla ultras. Their season tickets start from €410 rising to a whopping €3000. They've got 39,000 abonados (season ticket holders) - but they don't always attend every  game because the average crowd last season was 36,489 (80.2% of the capacity). I'm telling you all this nonsense because I spent €6 on Marca's Guide to La Liga, which I charged to the @GTCMedia account, and they'll be wanting a return for that outlay.

The ultras at Sevilla like to think of themselves as 'lefties'. There were a few mandatory Che Guevara flags knocking about - but by and large the rest of the crowd wouldn't look out of place at Arsenal's Emirates Stadium; the sort who might tie a jumper over their shoulder. One of those chaps told me beforehand that Sevilla's new gaffer, Marcelino had booted out most of the dead wood during the summer, showing no less than 13 players out of the door. They were replaced by five shiny new stars, none of whom arrived with a big money tag, though. Real Sociedad's star player is Antoine Greiezmann. He's also their most wanted, and as such should be off by January.

EFW covert operation in amongst the heart of the Sevilla ultras: a success

This girl waltzed in with three chaps all wearing Real Sociedad shirts. Nobody cared. 

This pre-match conversation took place in Cafe Bar San Pablo during which time we watched Barcelona absolutely destroy Osasuna, 8-0. There were collective shrugs of the shoulder each time Barca marauded forward and scored with ease. Those present in this bar were already resigned to to a race for third place in La Liga and this, just two games into the season. Sigh. That scoreline from the Camp Nou would have resulted in yet more steam pouring from the ears of the president of Sevilla, Jose del Nido; a chap that has described the Spanish league as "rubbish" - the greatest pile of junk in Europe. His outburst had nothing to do with the fact Sevilla are making €100m (€100m) less than both Barca and Real Madrid in the distribution of TV money this season. Honest.

After the relative doom and gloom in of San Pablo, I was spoilt for choice in choosing another bar surrounding the stadium. I opted for La Pitarra because it had been serving beers since 1900, but I could have chosen dozens of others. Or brought along a few litre bottles of Cruzcampo and downed them outside on the streets like hundreds of younger fans were doing.

My seat really was bang in the middle of the ultras on the lower tier of the north stand. I had to stand on that seat the whole game, and inhale the waft of dodgy cigarettes which were constantly on the go. I was fairly high to be honest, but not as high as those 150 away fans that were gathered in the corner of the very top tier in the far opposite corner. A fair turn out from Real Sociedad given the distance and a 10pm kick off.

150 or so away fans in the top corner

Front row tickets for these lucky punters. #precarious 

The atmosphere was ticking along nicely until, after 12 minutes, a chap grabbed a microphone and had his drunken foghorn voice pumped through speakers at the back of our stand. You're not singing loud enough he declared, and that was it; for the rest of the game he sang non-stop regardless of who would join in with his singing or not. It's probably the worst example of a football capo I'd ever seen or heard. And I love noise at football matches.

I recorded him (see below). Let me know what you think. Notice that nobody is joining in with him. He's singing songs along the lines of "We're followers of Sevilla, and we're out of control"

Recording of *that* Sevilla fan. Thoughts welcome in the comments section below

There was a huge surge in our section as Freddy Kanoute was sent clear just before half time. It also caused a smuggled pint of beer from the upper section to come spilling down, showering twenty or so chaps to my right in Cruzcampo. Kanoute missed that chance, but made amends in the second half with a typically clinical finish to win the match for Sevilla. It was his seventh goal against Sociedad in six games; his hundredth victory for Sevilla and, one must admit, he is an absolute joy to watch. A gift for La Liga. The goal caused a bit of an old fashioned crowd surf from one chap; he was lifted from top to bottom of the stand, and back again. It was his birthday, apparently. Nice touch. 

A birthday crowd surf across "La Bombonera

Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán

Hands up if you love European Football Weekends

That was my last night in Seville. A simply wonderful city with equally warm and charming inhabitants. I had no sleep that night thanks to Spanish pioneer of rock and roll, Miguel Rios who was wowing thousands of fans, belting out his 80's classics, next door to my apartment on his farewell tour. But I didn't care a jot. The next morning I was heading up to Madrid to see Atleti take on Racing Santander in a stadium named after two Brighton and Hove Albion players: the Vicente Calderon. Good old life.

Previously reports from this trip: Real Betis v Mallorca; Cordoba v Numancia and Xerez CD v Nastic.

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Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Xerez CD v Nàstic

Sherry Good Show

Xerez CD 0-0 Nàstic (17:09:11)

The mandatory beaming smile broke across my face as I glanced down at the agenda for the day on the short train journey from Seville to Jerez: "Fiestas de la Vendimia" - A three week extravaganza of sherry, horse-riding and flamenco, and a Segunda División  match between the local darlings, Xerez CD and their visitors from Catalonia, Gimnàstic de Tarragona. Six hours of sampling sherry before a football match - what could possibly go wrong? Bring it on...

I think Xerez is my favourite name of any football team, ever. Heh-reth or, in the Andalusian accent, simply Heh-reh. Saying it out loud - which I hope you're all doing now - admittedly, transforms your face into hamster-like-features but, that aside, it's tremendously good fun to pronounce. Especially, and here's a good tip, after six hours of drinking sherry.

Considering it was fiesta time, things seemed a little quite as we made our way across town to the first port of call, Bar Juanito. Not to worry too much as this stage though, because this place had picked up an award for the best tapas dish in Spain: a plate of artichokes. They were alright. A little on the bland side, in truth. I'm putting myself forward to judge of the best tapas in Spain for 2012 - so what this space on that score. 

Bar Juanito: lovely beer and surroundings trump the 'award winning' artichokes. 

En route to the centrepiece of Old Jerez, the impressive 11th- and 12th-century Islamic fortress of Alcazar, we got sidetracked by a sherry tasting festival that was kicking off next door. Lowering a few glasses in the cultural capital of wine - or "sherry" as is generically called around here - wouldn't go a miss on a scorching hot day would it? All the local bodegas (wineries) were represented and for €1 a pop you could have a drop of their finest offerings served up by beautiful women kitted out in traditional costumes. And don't worry about trying to slide the glass in your bag afterwards whilst nobody is looking - that comes free.

A bit arty after a few glasses of sherry, Last?

Six sherries later and we were on our merry way. But again we didn't get too far. Around the very next corner was the "Feria Gastonomica de la Vendimia" - which roughly translates as every bar in Jerez with a stall knocking out their food speciality with a ready supply of booze. If this was a cartoon, my eyes would have popped out on springs. The most popular person in the street was a chap scooping out free sherry to passers by from a huge barrel. We stopped to pose for a photo. It took my wife three goes to get the perfect snap, which meant three glasses of free sherry. Always thinking, my wife. Bless her. 

Fiesta time in Jerez. Now where's that chap scooping free sherry from a large barrel... is is ... next to the grinning, and rather merry, Editor of EFW. Cheers old chap. 

As kick-off drew closer I asked which bus was best to get to the stadium? Everybody laughed. The bus drivers were on strike. Good timing. There they all were across the street in a little hut getting tucked in like everyone else. Good for them. Just follow the blue shirts, I was advised.

Following those blue shirts took me across a bit of wasteland near to the ground and into a street full of "characters". This was strictly the domain of the Xerez CD ultras, Kolectivo Sur. Luckily, Brighton & Hove Albion and Xerez CD have a fast-growing mutual friendship, so I was welcomed with open arms and had several bottles of beer thrust into my palms. Xerez had around 8000 abondos (season ticket holders) last season as well as 60 different peñas (supporter groups). And their view on last season? 'Vamos a echarle huevos' (we want to see a bit more effort).

HQ of the Kolectivo Sur

Mis nuevos amigos

Always present. Always passionate. The Kolectivo Sur.

I was told the game to see would be a Xerez v Cadiz derby. All police leave is cancelled for that one; barking dogs outside Jerez's beautiful old tile-walled de la Frontera train station the lot. Things were a little more sedate as Nàstic rolled into town though with a following of zero travelling supporters.

I was under strict instructions to buy a Xerez CD mug for the Guardian's Spanish football correspondent, Sid Lowe. I did try Sid, but I couldn't find any club shop despite lapping the ground beforehand. If only you'd have asked for a bag of pipas. These sunflower seeds are the favourite snack of Spanish football fans, but there is a fine art to actually eating them without swallowing half the shell. You can buy pipas everywhere. Mugs no, pipas yes. 

Things that you notice in the 22,000 capacity, Estadio Municipal de Chapin then. First and foremost, there is a palm tree in the ground. It's tucked away in the corner next to a hotel which has a balcony overlooking the ground. Note to self: book room in AC Hotels, Jerez next time I'm in town. It's also got the dreaded running track as well, and if you've paid €10 to sit behind either goal - it's a fair old distance from the actual pitch. And then there's the mascot. I'm not sure if he's there for every game, but have you ever seen a man dressed, head to toe, as a newspaper? At first I thought it was that cartoon of milk used in Blur's 'Coffee & TV' video. That or a mattress. 

Hotel with a balcony overlooking the ground, tick. Palm tree in ground, tick. 

And just for good measure: the best football in Europe?

I think it's best we gloss over the actual game. It finished 0-0 and I don't recall there being a single shot on target. The club had given me a press pass and a doff of my sombrero to them for that. Next time though I'll join my friends in the South Stand. The trains in this region are brilliant, and so by the third peep of the full time whistle, I was back on the train to Seville in very good time for their match with Real Sociedad later on that night. *the photo at the top of this article was taken from a picture in the ultras bar. 

Estadio Municipal de Chapin

 Previous postcards from this trip: Real Betis v Mallorca and Cordoba v Numancia.

Tomorrow on EFW - Crossing Enemy Lines: Sevilla v Real Sociedad

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Monday, 12 September 2011

Córdoba v Numancia

Cór blimey, guv'nor

Córdoba 1-0 Numancia (10:10:11)

We alighted the train before it chugged back out of Córdoba Central, onto the cobbled paths and into the heat of the morning. A day of sightseeing, interspersed with cañas and tapas, was on the agenda. But what was this catching my eye and shining like a beacon: a match day poster for a game? Córdoba v Numancia to be played this very evening? Yes sir. I'd only gone and done it again; landed in a foreign city on the day of a match, and with eight hours to spare until kick-off. You simply couldn't make it up.

I won't bore you with those hours spent sightseeing, there'll be 2000 words on Andalucia's most spectacular structure, the Mezquita over on our sister site 'European Cathedral Weekends' later in the week. The flowers and that were indeed lovely, but for now it was time us - my wife and I - to wave a little white hanky and give in to the culinary delights of the city and dive head first into some of those inviting Bodegas (wineries).

Aside from the obvious 'dos cañas por favor' the Spanish phrase I'd urge you to learn would be 'Que es tipico de la casa?' (what is your [food] speciality). Armed with that winning vocabulary, you won't go far wrong, not just here, but in all of Spain.

The legendary Bar Santos seemed as good a place as any to kick-off our gastronomic highlights package. Typical of this gaff is the tortilla de patata. They were roughly the size of a large hat and, fittingly, ours was served up by a chap called Jesus. Did Jesus want to appear on EFW - photographed with one of his prized trophies? You bet he did ....

Jesus and his prize-winning Spanish omelette, tick.

Next up we'd been recommended to grab a sought after seat at the "Casa El Pisto" Taberna San Miguel Bar.But seeing as that was a full four minute walk away, we called in for an intermediate swifty in Bar Correos which was in full swing with Cordoboses chewing the fat over an ice cold beer.  Man alive, when it came, Casa El Pisto was worth the wait. After a couple of cañas I noticed a jug of something rather splendid on the bar. The local Moriles wine and I were about to have words. It was extremely moorish on a very hot day, and they began to sail down the hatch rather freely. Like many bars in the area, it was a shrine to bullfighting. Feeling well feed, not to mention a little merry, we called for the owners - Pepe y Lola - to pose for a photo. Well, Ricky 'chuffing' Stein gives the staff the recognition they deserve, doesn't he?

Pepe y Lola - I doff my sombrero to you both. Legends.

I've just been reminded that during my deep and meaningful conversation with Pepe, I'd told him "Tu marido es una cocinera fantastica," (Your husband is a fantastic cook). I meant his mujer (wife). Whoops. We all laughed. And he gave us a free glass of Moriles

Onto the Taberna Salinas with a spring in our step. This place had been serving punters since 1879. Berenjenas con miel (aubergine with honey) was ordered, downed, and saluted. Who knew a trip to a Segunda Divsion match could be so much fun. 

Just when we thought 'nothing could go wrong now', Tony 'reprehensible bag of feces' Blair reared his unwanted head. He'd previously paid a visit to the Bodega Campos, and as a result everything in the place had been upped in price. We boycotted the food in protest. Out the back, there were rows of oak barrels which had been signed by local and international celebrities. Blair's signed barrel sat atop that of a chap called, Curro Romero. Having heard a bit about Romero, I know who I'd rather share a beer with. He's a real character; a bullfighter obsessed with Real Betis, who on the odd occasion would stroll out into the bullring and declare that he couldn't be bothered with it all. The crowd didn't mind; some weeks he was good others, he was a disaster. There is a statue of him outside the bullring in Sevilla. I didn't see one of Tony Blair there last time I looked.

Tony Blair 0 Curro Romero 1

After one for the road in Regadena with its 21 flower pots hanging on its outside wall, it was time to negotiate the 36 degree heat and walk the ten minutes to the stadium. "Tu eres Danny de European Football Weekends," called a voice in the club's offices before I'd even opened my mouth. The staff there must have been briefed to expect an English lunatic with a bright red face and a beaming smile. They handed me over a folder with some information about the club, and a little press pass with my name on it. Good old life.

You'll find one of these trestle tables outside every Spanish football ground. 

Willy Wonka's golden ticket

My first impression of the ground was that it looked to have about 15,000 seats too many. There was nobody inside just minutes from the start. And then, like in most Spanish grounds, there was a late rush and 5,000 fans strolled in with a minute to go. Small knots of supporters huddled together in what little shade was available. A group of around 60 or so ultras tried to raise an atmosphere in one corner of the ground, and Numancia, for their part, had brought with them 1 (one) travelling supporter. 

The referee resisted booking anyone until the 14th minute; then, after the home centre forward Pinto had rolled a country mile after being clipped on his heels, the floodgates opened. Eleven players received a yellow card after that. I do get the impression that referees in Spain love booking players. Whatever, when there's not much to get excited about in terms of tiqui-taca it makes for thunderously good entertainment.

No goals at half time, so I was left to ponder what it would be like to fanny around a football stadium dressed as a crocodile in sweltering conditions - like the Córdoba club mascot does every other week. Better than going down the gym, I concluded.

The club mascot acknowledges the fans with a friendly gesture. 

Blanco y verde, blanco y verde .... Córdoba

I'm no Michael Cox of Zonal Marking. Whilst he busies himself working out the formations of teams - clocking up one million hits in the process - I can't help but look around stadiums and giggle at women in hats made out of the matchday programme. I know this isn't possibly the best news in terms of my career, but boy does it make me happy. Having said that, even I could tell you that the single best player on the pitch today was Córdoba's Brazilian talisman, Charles. Caaaarlos, Caaaaarlos sang the fans. He missed a penalty; nice height for the goalkeeper and all that. A few minutes later he made amends with a 'smasheroo' from a fair distance into the bottom left hand corner of the net. 1-0. I'd suspected that Numancia's right back was there for the taking - heh heh ... just kidding, Michael.

Ingenious use of matchday programme, tick

Estadio Nuevo Arcangel 

Andalucia loves you, apparently. It says so all over Malaga airport as you arrive, and I'm sure I've noted living legend, Miguel Ángel Jiménez with that catchphrase emblazoned on his golfing clobber as he sucks on an expensive Cuban La-Di-Da in between shots. I was beginning to feel the love for the place too. Not least because I was about to jump back on the train I'd arrived on, and continue en route to Sevilla and see Real Betis the next morning. Cruzcampo don't do European Football Weekends ......

Cór blimey, guv'nor. I had to end the report with this chap, my hero: the single away fan at the game.

Like this? This was that trip to Real Betis v RCD Mallorca.

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