Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Meanwhile, over in Alicante. Part I

Hercules CF

Estadio Jose Rico Perez - capacity 30000
Inuaguration 1974
President: Valentin Botella Ros,
Manager: Esteban Vigo.

It's still a few months yet away from what could be called the business end of the season, but so far football fans in Alicante have rather enjoyed what they've seen up to now, football fans that is, who support Hercules CF. The city has two senior teams, one of which is absolutely crap and the second that most definitely isn't.

Right now 2009/10 looks like being the season that ends Hercules five year run in Spain's national Segunda A division, it's not all bad news though, if they carry on as they are presently, Herc' will face off next year against the big boys in La Liga. Exactly half way through their forty two match campaign, "los blanquiazules" sit top of the table second division table, ten points better off than fourth placed Villarreal B and with a really sexy goal difference.

Last year, in spite of spanking Salamanca 1-5 away in the last game of the season, Herc outscored allcomers and still suffered the disappointment of finishing fourth, three points worse off than Tenerife and Real Zaragoza and a further point adrift of Segunda A champions Xerez. Curiously, the three teams who pipped the Alicantinos in 2009's close run thing are now propping up the rest of top flight, with Xerez rock bottom on a dismal eight points from nineteen matches.

For Juan Carlos Mandia, the highly regarded but ultimately unsuccessful Hercules coach in their narrow 2008/09 promotion failure, it was La Liga football at any cost. He walked out on the Alicante club last summer when Real Racing Club Santander, who liked the look of his CV, came calling. For Mandia, who had never coached at Spain's highest level, the disloyal gamble failed miserably; he was sacked in November by the Cantabrian club after a dismal start yielded a single point from five home games.

With the resentful Herculanos still simmering, the club appointed Andalucian coach Esteban Vigo to replace the departed Mandia. Clearly, Esteban Vigo Benitez learnt quite a bit during his playing days, which included a trophy laden ten years with Catalan giants Barcelona and a handful of games for the Spanish national team, that vast experience is now being put to excellent use during his second career. The foundation stone of a renewed attempt on the second division summit is a miserly defence which has conceded just fourteen goals in those twenty one starts, along the way slipping to defeat just twice, both times by a single goal. Up front Herc' aren't too shabby either, thirty two times opposing 'keepers have retrieved the ball from the back of their own net, a figure bettered only by hated local rivals Elche.

Under the tutelage of  Sr.Vigo, Hercules CF appear to have done everything right thus far. A word of caution though, for a full month after the English Premiership has been done and dusted for another year, Hercules and their rivals will all still be playing, their season continues until the third week of June.


Top - Ex trainer Juan Carlos Mandia, for whom only the shirts were greener in Santander.
Middle - Estaban Vigo is unveiled in July 2009 by club President Valentin Botella. (right).
Bottom - Herc defender Juanra battles Numanica's Nano (19) recently.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Albatera - don't hurry back, hurry past!

Sometimes, when you've walked into a smoky pub and then left, your clothes smell a bit rank don't they?, well Albatera is a bit like that - you drive home thinking "what the fuck is that smell" At this point I need to extend a profuse apology. To the people who frequent smoky pubs!

Albatera is a small town just about twenty kilometres from Elche, as shit holes go it's quite a bad one, barely worth four lines on Wikipedia. Ten thousand odd poor souls, (although arse holes would have done just as well), live there and of that five figure number, approximately eighty five per cent are inbred. It shows. Manchester City striker Carlos Tevez isn't the most handsome chap is he, try finding his 2010 calendar, compared to a typical Albatera resident though, Snr.Tevez is most definitely Hollywood 'A' list.

Inbred number one, who, I think goes by the name of Gregorio, (initially I mis-heard and thought it was Prickorio), works in the football club ticket office at the ramshackle El Calvario stadium, which, if it existed in the United Kingdom would have been condemned some time ago. Dear old Gregorio it seems, has only one mission in life, namely to take ten Euros from anyone who passes within fifteen yards of his glass window. Aided and abetted outside on the gate by the ninety four year old bastard son of two cousins, G even tried to gently coax the Santa Pola Club de Futbol players and their Delegado, Rafael Fuentes, into parting with a few quid, (can you call Euro's that?), before letting them in to take part in the game. Next time, I'll suggest they call the dumb cunt's bluff, don't pay up and let Albatera C.F. explain to the Federation why the game couldn't take place. It's well worth mentioning that on the afternoon Gregorio tried in vain to trouser some cash from the Santa Pola players and technical staff, the visiting coach broke down en route and everyone aboard the stricken bus was mighty pissed off when they eventually arrived and in no mood for that old malarkey.

Eventually, just in time for the scheduled 1600 kick off, Santa Pola had cobbled together eleven players, some managerial types and a subs bench who were allowed in and a game of footy took place, granted not a particularly good one but ninety and a bit minutes of soccer nevertheless. Santa Pola scored first with an outrageously streaky free kick from German, who only has one modus operandi, kick it fucking hard and hope it hurts the goalies hands. Today, as it happened, the bloke in the green shirt was also the bloke in the photo on the homepage of this blog. Choki is his name and he made a bit of a pigs ear of fielding German's free-kick pile driver thingy, the ball bounced off his chest and in, 0-1. Sorry, don't care who you shout at, it's your fault sonny!!

Urged on by quite a few local spectators, who very publicly demonstrated their complete lack of understanding of the rules of football as only the truly ignorant can, Albatera were much better in the second half, a goal down at the break they emerged for the second half and took Santa Pola apart. Despite their dominance, the yellow shirts could only manage a single goal and the match finished one apiece. A cheery middle finger goodbye to the educationally challenged Gregorio and we were on our way. Ideally, Albaterta, who are a shit football team in a shit village of a small town will be relegated this season and replaced by a team from a town where the inhabitants don't hump family members to perpetuate a freakish bloodline, Full time 1-1

We'll see.

Top - the City of Manchesters resident knuckler scraper
Middle - the excellent German
Bottom - Carlos Teves' most recent one night stand - his sister!!

Even the facking lino' had tights on!!

When you think of Spain what comes readily to mind, gorgeous ladies? San Miguel? the European cafe-culture, sun, sangria and some humpty on the beach? Well, for most of the year nearly all these things are freely available, although, there is a bird in my local Dia supermarket with an amazing arse but a face like Rowan Atkinson. Right now though we're in the middle of the period when a little bit of nookie outside is probably not a smart idea and if you decided to risk it you'd need some protection for your fingers too, gloves! Unfortunately, and unlike the poofters in Germany and Sweden, football in Spain doesn't have a mid-season break, this means those who take part expect people to come and watch it.

So it was on the Costa Blanca's coldest day since about 1973 that Santa Pola headed off to San Vicente to take on Preferente strugglers Jove Español. It's probably just me but on those kind of occasions 'Pola always end up playing away at the bleakest and most windswept grounds imagineable. In the above photo, concentrate not on the football action, but the six or seven people huddled together next to the bar. These are in fact, random strangers who had never previously met, but, through necessity, chose to share body warmth to ward off the clear and present danger from hypothermia. I don't think the icy wind and freezing cold temperature agreed with the home side because they were absolutely crap, they eventually lost 0-1, but really, they should ought to have been at least four or five goals worse off.

Santa Pola full back Dani notched the only score and it was quite a good one, usually when defenders get forward and have a shot the ball ends up in the adjacent postcode, not this time. Our hero started and finshed the move, leaving the grunt work in the middle to midfielder Emilio and centre forward Mario Fernandez, who set him up with a deft flicked header into space. From just inside the box, Danny Boy slapped in a lobbed shot someone like Glenn Hoddle or CR9 would have been quite proud to claim ownership of and in the process grab all three points for the visitors.

As luck wouldn't have it, the goal occurred fairly early on in the first half so everyone present had to hang around at Ice Station Zebra for at least another hour. The half time interval didn't really help either, normally it's an opportunity to grab a coffee, not to drink mind you because nine times out of ten it tastes horrible, but to wrap my fingers around to thaw them out. This time the mid match beverage was served up in something only an Action Man could have made use of, so no help there then.

It was one of those games where only the really hard men choose the short sleeved shirt and most of the players wore gloves, as did the referee, for sure John Barnes from years gone by would have feigned injury.
Talking of match officials, the ref's assistant running the line on the dug-out side of the pitch did well to make do without any gloves but rather ruined his macho image by sporting a natty line in black tights. Presumably he did ask the missus before rummaging around in her smalls drawer.

PHOTOS; Top - some strangers becoming acquainted
                  Middle - Dan the man
                  Bottom - the cross-dressing assistant referee

Friday, January 15, 2010

Crappy New Year

Full credit to the lads and lasses of easyJet, their collective efforts managed to get me and the good lady home to Spain in time for the first Santa Pola fixture of 2010. After the misery of our outward journey, we could have been forgiven for worrying about the fact we only had about nineteen hours between our scheduled departure time and kick off. I did have a contingency though, this involved either walking or grabbing a taxi direct to the game from Alicante airport, thankfully neither were necessary which was quite a relief because I didn't really fancy lumping a big old black suitcase around with me pitchside.

Had I known two important things, for sure I would have extended my UK stay into the following week, in this order, those two things were; (a) the game wasn't taking place at the remodelled Estadio Manolo Macia and, (b) Santa Pola would lose to league leaders Horadada despite a terrific team effort that posed the visitors quite a few questions. In the end, both happened and more by outrageous luck than judgement we avoided the UK's worst winter for ages which left everywhere buried beneath a foot of snow for at least a week and would have delayed our late return home by a further fortnight.

For the first time in twelve days I didn't need a huge coat and gloves, a scarf was sufficient together with a light fleece, Sunday January 3rd was the date and for a week or so after the game I wished I was somewhere else because unfortunately Santa Pola lost. Credit where credit is due though, Horadada are a decent football team and their position at the top of the charts most certainly isn't some kind of fluke. So far this season teams have been nicking points off each other all over the place, not many though have taken on Horadada and emerged with very much at all.

For eighty minutes Santa Pola gave them a stiff test and looked good value for at least a point, unfortunately, football is played over an hour and a half and the final ten proved crucial as the visitors scored two unanswered goals. Both teams were mighty impressive for the duration, shifting the ball about quickly and with intent, frequently a single touch was enough to put both defences on red alert. At the mid-way point, both goal-keepers had warmed their hands without being required to bollock the centre-back as they always do once a goal has been conceded.

Sometimes you enjoy a first half so much that the second is eagerly awaited and disappoints, for sometimes, read 'today'. Horadada continued where they left off and Santa Pola didn't seem able to continue their high tempo. Visualise a Tug of War with eight muscle bound hard men on each side, the red tape in the middle of the rope barely moves, but then slowly, imperceptibly one side gain an advantage and from that point on the momentum shifts, thereafter the winners become obvious. Santa Pola got to that point at about seventy five minutes. For the home side minutes eighty to about ninety three or four contained two goals, zero points, fourteen crestfallen players and about three hundred and fifty disappointed locals as 2010 began with a defeat.

I think, after about five months, I've got it sussed. Santa Pola are a good football team and play extremely well against outfits with technique and fitness, but when it comes to the crunch against cack teams they're found wanting and get dragged down to a level beneath them, a bit like Liverpool and Reading in the Cup.

Actually, it wasn't such a crappy New Year in fairness. So what, 'Pola lost but after a two week break it was right nice to be amongst familiar faces, all of whom were there for the same reason. Full time Santa Pola 0 - 2 Horadada.

Top - some ropey old weather in the UK
Middle & Bottom - no quarter asked or given when these two squared off

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

How not to do that Customer Service thang

Today's six hundred and odd words have very little to do with football, in fact nothing whatsoever, there is however, a very tenuous link to my blog title in that I, (the guiri), wrote it and the subject matter is, funnily enough, about travel. When I've finished it, I'm going to head off to the sofa and stick into the DVD my copy of "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" You'll soon see why!

What began as an ordinary journey to the UK for Christmas ended up anything but for the girlfriend Maria-Aurora and I. With a scheduled flight time of twenty to five we dutifully pitched up at Alicante about half two and were politely informed about "a delay of a couple of hours" during check-in, fair enough I thought, that'll soon pass. Armed with my recently started book and a copy of The Daily Telegraph, first stop, as always on my annual Christmas project to super-size myself on junk food, beer and chocolate was Burger King. Cholesterol levels topped up we sat at a nearby lounge and waited, and waited, and waited.

Every hour or so the nearby screen would update our flight information to read "now estimating"  adding a further thirty minutes to the departure time. Eventually, just as I was about to hack my own thumbs off with Aurora's toilet bag tweezers out of sheer boredom, the lounge abruptly emptied and the screen read EZY3172 Gate 26. I had carefully selected a lounge in the middle of the 1 to 26 range of departure gates to minimise the distance we had to hump our carry on luggage. Unfortunately this handy little tip is of absolutely no use at all when, three minutes after plonking our seriously irritable selves down on seats near gate 26 it was changed to 1B, a not inconsiderable walk back. Picture the distance between, say, Cleethorpes and Billericay and you get the idea.

Eventually, at about 2230, only a couple of hours after I'd arranged to be picked up at Stansted airport by my mate, she who must be obeyed and I finally boarded our flight.  Unbeknown to the pair of us and a couple of hundred other unfortunates, some of whom had been there since the morning, the easyJet piss taking was far from over. The evening, which had already turned to rat shit, and most of the following morning were about to become considerably worse. The assembled customers remained positive though, in just a couple of hours we'd all be in the UK for our Christmas hols and the inconvenience of a delayed departure would soon be forgotten. Wrong!

Seats three rows apart and nine month old twins on my left didn't bode well for the hundred and fifty minute flight, in the end though the twins were remarkably well behaved compared to a few adults and yelling "are you okay baby" over the heads of nine strangers wasn't so embarrassing after the second time. Apparently we overflew Cherbourg and had I looked to my left I could have seen the lights of Portsmouth, I really couldn't give a fuck, I just wanted to see the lights of Bishops Stortford. I never did. Five minutes out, our driver for the night, Captain Fuckwit, announced that due to fog at Stansted and poor visibility, (allegedly), down to zero we were diverting to Birmingham. In fairness to EasyJet it had been snowing and they did manage to fly us to the right country. I was just waiting for the nob in the cockpit, (excuse the pun), to declare cheerfully we had arrived ten minutes early like they always do, conveniently forgetting the six hours we'd all wasted earlier that afternoon.

Just as we began our marathon wait at the baggage carousel, I noticed three armed policemen riding shotgun on our flight crew as they walked past. No doubt they were off to their cosy and warm hotel room to get shit faced and shag each other senseless. A minute or so later all the stewardesses passed us too!! Two hours after we left the plane our luggage evidently still hadn't and the mind numbing tedium was only broken by the sound of an asthmatic belt spluttering into life. Good stuff thought everyone present, as we all grabbed our luggage and headed off to find the courtesy buses. By now it was almost two in the morning and the temperature outside was minus loads with a scary wind chill, ideal conditions then for a three hour wait for the promised coaches. This of course was an easyJet promise, (their staff were last seen hours ago heading off for a night off debauchery), and was only fulfilled by a fantastic French duty manager for Birmingham International Airport, I never got his name.

One by one the buses arrived and, typically it was every man or woman for his or herself, freezing cold children and elderly folk were barged aside in the undignified scramble for places in the warm. One shivering Irish lady of quite advanced years had on a new pair of gloves, so new unfortunately she hadn't figured out a way to cut the plastic joining them together and was taking it in turns to warm her hands. I bit them apart with my teeth and offered to let her borrow Aurora's furry hat, in which I looked ridiculous but didn't honestly care. By now Aurora was also feeling the cold, or more specifically her feet were, never one for complaining I could see she was in a bit of trouble. At long last the next coach arrived and I shepherded both the Irish pensioner and Aurora aboard and made sure both bags were securely in the hold. At five thirty am we headed off to Stansted where we arrived more than twelve hours after the flight was due to land.

The future may well be bright but for me it definitely won't be Orange!

Monday, January 4, 2010

A nice day out until about ten past four.

For the second successive year yours truly had quite an agreeable day in Algueña, by a long distance one of the nicest towns I'll visit on my travels following Santa Pola C.F., a nice day that was until the football, the whole reason I went, kicked off. First things first though, I'm going to try and skip through the soccer quite quickish, and a little more about Algueña, pronounced al-gen-ya. Only about 1600 people live there which I can well understand because if you lived there you'd want to keep it secret too. It seems the only criteria to be an Algueña resident is that you have to be extremely nice, I thought last year was a bit of a fluke but nope nothing had changed by 2009.

About an hour away from Elche, Algueña sits at about 2000 feet in the shadows of the Reclot hills, which, on the day we travelled there, one of those cloudless and crisp winter afternoons, were covered in a light dusting of snow. Being at the centre of the regions vineyards and olive groves, it would have been a bit rude not to visit one of the numerous and top quality Bodegas whilst I was in town. Before it's exported overseas and Sainsbury's unsuspecting customers stump up about six quid a bottle, it's possible to pay less than a euro a litre for some top notch hootch locally.

Next up was the important task of some scoffs, not being forearmed with local knowledge, it was a case of "ooh this looks nice, we'll give it a bash" It can't have been that bad, the place was full of Spaniards which is the best recommendation you can have. Tucked away almost out of sight was a large circular table of eight very familiar faces, co-directors of Santa Pola C.F., clearly great minds think alike. They seemed to be the lucky ones though, judging by the quantity of empty wine bottles scattered around, most of the group were half way through anaesthetising themselves perfectly against the footballing pain we were all about to endure.

Under a rapidly setting sun with the temperature sinking just as quickly, Algueña and Santa Pola kicked off their third versus fourth Preferente fixture and for the first five minutes we had quite a game. 'Pola competed well and more than matched their hosts for endeavour. Then, Algueña scored and the Santa Pola wheels came off and were last seen bouncing towards the picturesque walled cemetery high on a hill overlooking the ground. Two defensive blunders gifted the home side a couple more and at the half, Santa Pola were three nil down, out of it and simply playing for pride. Only a couple of visiting players emerged with any credit, for American striker Mario Fernandez and his younger brother, midfielder Carlos, the word quit doesn't exist in either of their vocabularies. Unfortunately a football team consists of eleven and not two!
Full time Algueña 3 - 0 Santa Pola.

A miserable car journey home in pitch darkness and icy roads ended the final day out of 2009 following Santa Pola and for most of the ride I regretted not getting stuck into the local vino at lunchtime.

Top - Local produce at ridiculous prices
Middle - Centreback Hugo (16) gets a hard time in the Algueña box at a 'Pola corner
Bottom - Not his day - Juan (23) was withdrawn at half-time