Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Only three days to go....

........until Hercules and Elche square up to each other in the Costa Blanca's fiercest local derby, "El Classico Alicantino." It may not have the cache of Barca against Madrid, but for local fans from either city, it's the first of two seasonal must win games.

Five matches in, thirteen teams and six points separate these Valencian rivals in the Segunda 'A' classification. Elche, after a disappointing start, recorded their first win last weekend when seeing off Cordoba at the Martinez Valero. For their part Hercules have lost once so far, away to Villareal B three weeks ago.

In 34 previous second division meetings between the two, the head to head record is identical, 11 wins apiece and twelve draws, Elche have found the back of the Hercules net 38 times and conceded 36.

In 2008/09 both matches ended all square, a ninetieth minute equalizer by Columbian Abel Aguilar, who has since left the club for La Liga side Zaragosa, earned Hercules a point in a 2-2 draw away and neither side could break the deadlock in a goal-less result in the return fixture at the Estadio Jose Rico Perez in Alicante.

Today, in a hot and crowded Hercules boardroom Elche President Jose Sepulcre and his opposite number Valentin Botella were all smiles as they fended off questions from the local print and TV media. In amongst the usual platitudes, both men expressed their desire to keep a clean sheet and not only win, but do so playing well.

In this regard Elche will be severely hampered by suspensions, Manager Claudio Barragan will view the game helpless from the stand after collecting a red card for dissent late in the recent victory of Cordoba. His energetic midfield playmaker Jose Luis Acciari was dismissed in the same match and will take no part in the derby and the home game a week later versus Recreativo.

PHOTO: Both club Presidents pose with the shirt of their opposite number

Monday, September 28, 2009

My kind of weekend

Just for once yours truly had one of those weekends football wise, seventeen goals in total with only a couple for the opposition. On Saturday afternoon Tottenham got things off to a flying start with a five goal thriller, are they still called that when one team bags the lot? Anyway, Robbie Keane did the business, taking home the match ball and a third of the next one with four goals. Jermaine Jenas chipped in with the second to see off a hapless Burnley.
Final score Tottenham 5 - 0 Burnley

Next up midfielder German was the toast of Santa Pola, tonking in a free kick from the kind of range David Beckham would think twice about to smuggle three points home from Hercules B of Alicante. Those two results by themselves helped the San Miguels go down a treat later that same evening. Unbeknown to me things were about to get even better.
Final score Hercules B 0 - 1 Santa Pola

Sunday morning dawned and the sun put in a very brief appearance before giving way to the rain, bloody loads of the stuff too, all day long it absolutely hosed down. Something to do with a northern Costa Blanca weather phenomenon by the name of "Gota Fria." Undeterred, off I trotted to see game three of my personal accumulator; Elche Ilicitano versus Torrellano, a good old fashioned Third Division tear up between two near neighbours separated by about the length of six large fields and an industrial estate. Apart from the quantity of goals, eight, but not equally shared, the only surprising thing was Torrellano didn't kick anything off. By the time their goalkeeper, Pepitiu, retrieved the ball from his net for a sixth time the Torrellano players looked like they just wanted to get home. Visiting centre-back Alexis had the right idea, he avoided pissing about in the torrential rain for ninety minutes by getting himself sent off just before the end.
Final score Elche Ilicitano 6 - 2 Torrellano

Just time to fit in a cheeky Segunda 'A' game then as Elche CF, still searching for their first win in four, hosted Cordoba CF. Assisted by two of the sexiest goals I'm going to see all season, Elche didn't even need top gear to see off a lame looking Cordoba. Fernando Usero staked his claim for goal of the season by lashing an unsaveable shot into the roof of the net from outside the box. Midfield partner Andres del Campo Santos had a good go at matching the feat to give the patient and sodden locals even more cheer on a miserable afternoon to make it a couple nil. Even the own goal by Cordoba defender Ceballos was quite tasty, a "first time" shot into the far corner.

The 3-0 win for Elche was just the tonic, two red cards however, took some of the gloss off an excellent performance. Shortly after Elche had sewn up all three points, Argentine midfielder Jose Luis Acciari saw red, a decision that so enraged manager Claudio Barragan, himself on a dogs chance after a wretched start to the season, he too was banished to the stand. Both player and coach intend to appeal their expulsions in order to be available for the must win local derby away to sworn Alicante enemies Hercules in five days time. Watch this space.
Final score Elche 3 - 0 Cordoba
PHOTO: Saul (17) rides shotgun as Santos celebrates his goal

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The day we went to Alicante

Spain's most wanted;

Top row left to right, Pazos, Hugo, Tari, Dani, Mario Fernandez.

Bottom row left to right, Monsa, German, Marcos, Paloma, Molina, Carlos Fernandez.

Photograph courtesy of Mark Welton

Californian rockers Green Day once implored their listeners to "Wake me up when September ends" For Santa Pola coach Domingo Grau, the ninth month of the Gregorian calendar can't last long enough, you see, he's had quite a good one. His expensively(ish) assembled squad have yet to be beaten and along the way a miserly defensive effort has conceded a single goal, even that was down to some dopey refereeing that allowed Albatera to have another go when they cocked up a free kick. Sure, one or two other Preferente sides have won all four but they're bound to aren't they when they have the easy teams first.
For the first time 'Pola played on a Saturday on a plastic pitch and it seemed to agree with them as they snuck in and out of Alicante with three more points, via the gloomy and rather uninspiring Ciudad Deportiva, home ground of Hercules B. Had the sun been rising and not setting, the impressive Estadio Jose Rico Perez, the shared home of Alicante and Hercules just a stones throw away, would have cast a giant shadow over proceedings. It mattered not, Santa Pola did the business in a tetchy game of football characterized by quite a few "take no prisoners" tackles which saw at least two players depart before they were quite ready.
Left midfielder German, Santa Pola's sniper for the evening, caned in a free kick from yards outside the box with which he got the hang of both power and accuracy, useful attributes when trying to propel a football towards their goal. That was the only time said ball nestled in either onion bag legally, the upshot of which was Hercules B slipped to their fourth defeat in four games. In fairness their coach was politely requested by the referee to "sit down and shut ya noise" he declined the offer and then spent the rest of the game making the same racket from the stands.
So, September will shortly end but not before Domingo Grau Macia ends up King for a day
Full time Hercules B 0 - 1 Santa Pola

Super Mario, an old friend and the shite referee.

Mario Fernandez, the elder of two American brothers Santa Pola had the good fortune to sign during the close season settled the third game of their regular season, diving in, as all decent strikers should do, amongst boots and bodies to connect with a free kick expertly headed on by central defender Hugo.

Try as they might, Pinoso gave it a good go, particularly in a bit of a one sided second half, but they came up just short and a single goal was enough to grab all three points for the home side as Santa Pola entered the third week of September unbeaten. Two wins and a scruffy goal-less draw were the sum total of their efforts, sufficient to hoist the Marineros into the top five of the classification.

The sub plot to a hard earned win was the return to Santa Pola of former coach Anselmo Serrano, a decent and knowledgeable football man quickly snapped up by Preferente rivals Pinoso. Dismissed by Santa Pola in March 2009 following an indifferent run of results, Serrano was greeted by fans and players alike with great warmth as he interrupted his match preparations to chat with old acquaintances and most of his former team.

In truth, little either coach attempted would have mitigated the dismal performance of match referee Sr. Antonio Andreu Sabuco. Beforehand, the Elche official pulled up in his big car and strutted about the place full of self importance, once under way though, he had the look of a rabbit caught in the full glare of a car headlights. The only thing he imposed upon the match was his own lack of authority. Cowering behind his yellow card, Sabuco would have struggled to maintain order at a whist drive.

On the upside, the long awaited new home kit finally found it's way to Santa Pola and the team took on an altogether more familiar appearance. I was beginning to think those ghastly pink things would be permanent.

Full time Santa Pola 1 - 0 Pinoso
PHOTO: Not Super Mario or an old friend

Friday, September 25, 2009

Next stop Rojales

Rojales, pronounced "Ro-harlez", was the next stop on Santa Pola's bi-weekly Costa Blanca tour. Thankfully it's only thirty minutes away, it wouldn't have done to travel for hours and then endure, what was, a pretty mediocre ninety minutes of football.

First things first though, the match won't take long to describe, Roharlez is one of those small inland towns very popular with the Brits and others in Spain which, in spite of the influx of large numbers of different European residents, manages to retain it's unique Spanish charm and character. A picturesque eighteenth century bridge spans the Segura river, which, during the heat of high summer trickles it way through the town on it's journey to the sea at nearby Guardamar. To the south of the town are four sets of cave dwellings, one hundred and fifty odd years of age, the most popular is El Rodeo, which these days houses exhibitions and small craft shops for local artesans.

Unfortunately, the skills of the resident artists weren't transferred to the nearby football pitch on which Thader de Rojales and Santa Pola ground out a goal-less draw. To be charitable Santa Pola weren't at their best and had goalkeeper Julio to thank for keeping the Thader forwards at bay. Deep into the second half, the game had nil-nil written all over it, you can kinda tell can't you? The home side did manage to prod the ball over the line fifteen minutes before the end, but our eagle eyed referee spotted something everyone else present missed and to the evident relief of the thirteen travelling fans, the 'goal' was chalked off.

Typically, having talked Santa Pola and their prospects for the season up, today was the day a friend of mine Derek Bevan, a scout for West Bromwich Albion FC, chose to come and see them. With a sterling effort Del boy managed to stay awake until five mintues before the final whistle, he later assured me he always leaves before the end "to beat the traffic." I couldn't help thinking this time he meant to say monotony!

It seems as well that without a pen or camera in my hand I might not be the greatest football watcher, if so, I apologise to the English bloke and his son who's view I kept interrupting by pacing around, arms folded, during an anxious last ten minutes. Sorry mate!
I don't think I swore.
Full time Thader 0 - 0 Santa Pola
PHOTO: Jose Fran Molina in a natty pink shirt

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Rime of the ancient Marinero

Santa Pola, having navigated the treacherous pre-season waters emerged the other side relatively unscathed, and began their 2009/10 season with a home fixture against Albatera C.F.
Actually, home isn't quite correct; sure, they played on a pitch in the town, but, just like Charlton Athletic years ago at Selhurst Park, very much temporarily. With extensive rebuilding works taking place at the clubs official ground, the Estadio Municipal Manolo Macia, squatters rights were claimed on the Els Ciprerets facility about two kilometers away.

Manager Domingo Grau sprang no real surprises with his first "Marineros" team of the new campaign, the eleven starters were; Julio, Monsa, Miguel, Tari, Dani, Paloma, Carlos Fernandez, Molina, Marcos, Mario Fernandez and Jose-Maria Ufano Rosado, "Chema" for short. To be honest, with a girls name you would want to change it wouldn't you? Keeping the bench warm under a nice tartan blanket, just like old folk at the sea-side, were reserve goal-keeper Pazos, Hugo, Pomares, German and Adriano.

To the immense annoyance of kit man Rafael Fuentes-Dols, the new seasons away shirts arrived before the redesigned home strip which necessitated the team taking to the field looking pretty in pink. Fifteen minutes in, Paloma opened the scoring with an impressive hit spanked in from outside the box the Albatera 'keeper got nowhere near for 1-0.

The real story though was that man Jose-Maria, the oldest player on the pitch and back with Santa Pola for a third spell, 35 year old Chema tormented the Albatera back line for the entire seventy five minutes he played. The veteran still possesses a blistering turn of speed and twice in a one sided first half gave defenders a ten yard start before winning the ball. Even a harsh looking yellow card for complaining about a snidy kick from Choki, the Albatera goalkeeper, when he played on after being flagged offside didn't dampen his enthusiasm.

After the break the unofficial dressing room leader and self confessed ladies man was it again, in the thick of everything good Santa Pola created. excellent saves denied him twice, before, on the third occasion he was bundled over in the box giving match referee Sr.Grisalvo the opportunity of two simple decisions. Penalty to Santa Pola and a yellow card for Albatera defender Trape. American striker Mario Fernandez stepped up to take the spot kick which Choki saved, Carlos Fernandez was on hand to spare his brothers blushes by belting in the rebound. 2-0. Definitely not Mario's fault he missed the pen' though, check out the size of Choki's hands in the photo on the front page of this blog, they're like a pair of frying pans. Shortly after, Chema left the action to well deserved applause and first use of the hot water when he was replaced by Adriano.

An embarrassing mix up with their first attempt at a free kick routine saw Albatera pull a goal back when the match official let them have another go. Nunez found the bottom corner with an excellent strike. Too little too late, because by then the points were secure thanks to the muscle bound short bloke sat on the bench smiling to himself. Surely his parents were having a laugh!

Full time Santa Pola 2 - 1 Albatera
PHOTO: Chema - the pocket rocket

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Pre-season friendlies are rarely friendly

The first few from ten passed off fairly innocuously, but then, as fitness and testosterone levels slowly crept up so too did the aggression and niggle, culminating in a spectacular fifteen man row and a badly fractured tibia. Seven pre-season friendlies in, an initial thirty plus training group was whittled down to twenty five with only a couple not sure of a contract. FFCV, (Federacion de Futbol de la Comunidad Valencia), league rules restrict Preferente teams, Santa Pola C.F. included, to twenty two contracted players and any number from the reserve squad, El Promesas.

At the end of the 2008/09 season, near neighbours Torrellano, just fifteen minutes down the road, ended up top of the Preferente Group 4 pile and, via the play-offs, were promoted to group 6 of the regional third division, two divisions and an even harder pair of play offs beneath La Liga. It was good to see that even amongst both teams radically changed squads, the historical simmering resentment hadn't completely disappeared, presumably because there were sufficient players from either team with recent experience of the fixture. Money must have been the only reason to schedule the game because these two don't get on and probably never will.
Either way, the respective Presidents swallowed their pride, were civil to each other on the telephone for the five minutes it took to agree the fixture and set a date.

Wednesday August the 19th at seven thirty saw four hundred odd spectactors, about a third of whom were visitors, witness Santa Pola on the wrong end of a 1-5 hiding. All was going well at the half way mark with the visitors 0-2 ahead. Curiously, with wholesale changes at the break, you could be forgiven for thinking any developing feuds would have been closed down before they had an opportunity to escalate, wrong! In time honoured tradition a yellow card for his assailant failed to appease Santa Pola captain Monsa who went looking for his man a short time later. You know the rest.

The initial couple became five, then eight before only six or seven thought better of it and half heartedly acted as peacemakers. One bloke, their centre half, who could and should have attempted to quell things, actually ran the width of the pitch to get stuck in. Once all concerned had put the lipstick back in their handbags, Torrellano scored the final goal of the game and the referee, who, had he had his wits about him could have tactfully suggested a couple of substitions to the opposing coaches, blew for time. On the upside, walking back to my car at the end of the hostilities, I caught sight of at least two Torrellano players hobbling towards the bus home.

A week later, in their final outing before the season proper Santa Pola made the trip to Los Montesinos to take on the home side of the same name on a plastic pitch. A comfortable 0-1 win for the Marineros was marred by a sickening tackle on 'Pola winger Paloma, who, doing a passable impression of Ed Moses didn't quite hurdle the outstretched leg of the Montesinos sub' who'd only been on the pitch twenty minutes. Paloma eventually got to his feet and continued until the end, the other bloke lay there groaning. Ten kilometers down the road on my way home, I passed the ambulance going in the opposite direction heading for the stadium, it's two man crew about to be pre-occupied by the unenviable task of piecing back together groaning boys shin bone.

Friendlies, I have my doubts.
PHOTO: Club captain Vicente and two of his mates