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