Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A kick in the Polops

Oh goody, I get to visit the Nou Camp stadium! Unfortunately, the one I went to was some distance from Barcelona and the two teams who contested the match were light years away from La Liga. Still, as incidents go this game was quite a good 'un, allsorts of stuff occurred and, best of all, Santa Pola came away with a point from a tough away fixture. Way back in November, our heroes lost at home to Polop, today's opponents who, since then, have maintained a place just beneath the play-off spots and have proven difficult to beat in recent weeks.

Having been to the ground in each of the previous three seasons on my travels with Santa Pola, I still haven't got the hang of finding the place, this time was no different. Quite often in sunny Spain you have to negotiate roundabouts the size of the Isle of Wight that have their own postcodes, well, Polop's got one of these! The football stadium is actually situated on the southern edge of town and had I done a couple of circuits of the Isle of Wight ring road I would have spotted the correct exit off the roundabout. Instead I chose the wrong one and headed north through Polop town centre, out the other side and then did a massive, fifteen kilometre loop back down to the industrial estate where, less than a thousand metres from the roundabout, the stadium is situated. Ho hum!!

Somehow I managed to get there before any football started, although, had I continued driving around in my own little lost world I really wouldn't have missed too much, the first half was a bit of a shocker and I'm certain I caught the referee stifling a yawn. Santa Pola, despite playing by far the better football, were second best for much of a dull forty five minutes where Polop always looked likeliest to score. A stuttering half of football was interrupted three times by lengthy stoppages to allow players from both sides to receive treatment.  At a generous count, three goal scoring opportunities were the sum total, a couple of Polop efforts Julio easily saved and a Paloma cross which sailed an inch over the head of Adriano, from which any kind of touch would have tested Polop 'keeper Tonet. Half time 0-0

Almost immediately after play restarted things began to get quite tetchy, 'Pola full back Juan got away unpunished with a none too subtle shove in the back on Puncho as Polop began looking menacing, with and without the ball! After one or two "ave it" type challenges play continued for about twenty minutes, whereupon Juanlu went down in the Santa Pola box under a challenge from Monsa that was more Roy Orbison than Roy Keane. It mattered not, captain Monsa picked up a yellow card and Juanlu, having completely conned the referee, earned a dubious penalty that colleague Punchu slapped in via the base of a post for the opening goal. Meanwhile, on the near touchline Santa Pola substitute Hugo interrupted his warm up to have a go at the ref too; only one winner there sunshine, in the book you go!!

A goal down, most of the Santa Pola players tried to play football to get back into the match, the exception was full back Juan who was instantly red carded for a spiteful hack on Mingot. A second red card followed soon after when Monsa, who seconds earlier had been replaced, booted the back of the dug-out like frustrated players do and was promptly grassed up by the nearby assistant referee. Monsa's incredulity at the card soon evaporated and was replaced by a red mist only the intervention of playing colleague Marcos and others could quell. Santa Pola continued to push hard and Polop were put under intense pressure as time ebbed away, panic stricken clearances lumped anywhere were the order of the day, most of which were pumped straight back into the Polop box. From one such, Polop goalkeeper Tonet dropped a bit of a goolie and the ball, right at the feet of the lurking Adriano who stuffed it over the line with four minutes remaining. To be honest, it was an exceptionally lucky goal but nevertheless one Santa Pola definitely deserved.
Full time 1-1

PHOTOS; Top - No, not that Nou Camp stupid!
                  Middle - Juan had to go
                  Bottom - as Mark Wright once said "you fucking beauty"

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The midfield maestro and a doddery old bugger

The last time Santa Pola and El Campello locked horns back at the end of October, the home side ended 'Pola's seven game unbeaten start to the season. The game was hardly a classic, but that I suppose, is what you get when a man's game is refereed by a bloke who looked like someone's son. Liberally scattered amongst the five goals, only two of which were scored by Santa Pola, were about twenty cards, including two dismissals for El Campello who just about managed to cling on and grab all three points.

Rather curiously, when the two teams met for the rematch at the Manolo Macia a week ago, Santa Pola were once again in the middle of their second unbeaten run, the fixture was match six of the Marineros latest string of results avoiding defeat. To be quite honest, El Campello are a bit of a shite team and I had this nagging fear they were going to repeat the trick. I needn't have worried. The long awaited spring had gotten off to yet another false start, a couple of days earlier the town had enoyed decent temperatures and sunny days, no such luck on Sunday March 7th though. A murky, overcast morning more reminiscent of November, which also threated rain, was probably perfect for a murky overcast kind of a football match. Thankfully, not many people bothered to watch because half an hour after kick off the local derby featuring Elche and Hercules started just down the road.

A sombre start with an impeccably observed minute of silence to commemorate the passing of the Mother of one of the young academy players kind of set the scene really, it seemed to be that kind of morning. At about 1135 La Ribera referee Rodriguez Castello whistled to start proceedings, and, aside from a thirty minute Santa Pola purple patch, during which they racked up only a single goal, not a fat lot really happened until the very end when things got nice and tasty as everyone left the field. More anon. Marcos showed the strikers how to do it a quarter of an hour in, set up by Pedro Miralles he stroked the ball past a stranded Jordi for his first goal in fourteen games and four months. To be honest, 'Pola could and should have been about nine goals up at the break, they were that good and that dominant, at half time though only Marcos seperated the teams.

With Santa Pola a single goal is rarely adequate, clearly, Campello manager Jose Campillo had done his homework because the visitors gave the home side a bit of a doing in the second half which began to bubble up quite nicely. For long periods the away side pinned their hosts in their own half without ever really going close. Both sides traded bookings and substitutions, the introduction of Mario Fernandez gave Santa Pola options up front and caused problems for a tiring Campello back four. Sometimes, a yellow card or even a red seems an inadequate punishment for some footballing misdemeanours, one of which the burly Californian was an unsuspecting victim of. Taking the ball into the corner, like you do when you're trying run the clock down, Fernandez knew little about the scything hack from behind by Lopez that completely cleaned out both of his legs and left him in a bemused heap. The cowardly wanker who did it accepted his booking and simply wandered off with a smug look.

Eventually, just as the sun was setting, or so it seemed, Sr.Castello blew for time having added on about ten additional minutes. His whistle was the cue for an outraged Campello bench to start a pushing and shoving match with their opposite numbers; meanwhile, up in the stand, a potty old twat from Campello was bellowing all sorts of nonsense at a couple of Guardia Civil who, by now, had stepped in to separate the warring factions. Eventually, order was restored and the geriatric bloke was jeered out of the ground by a couple of insolent local youngsters.   Full time 1-0 and the streak continued for another week.

Top - Marcos did the business
Middle - Paloma with some mad skills
Bottom - Adriano gets stuck in

Friday, March 12, 2010

Sweet revenge and some ill behaviour

Claudio Barragan was sacked on October the 4th 2009, earlier that day his employers, Elche Club de Futbol S.A.D., had witnessed a gutless capitulation to near neighbours and sworn enemies Hercules of Alicante. The three nil defeat following an appalling start to the season which left the Franjiverdes deep in the mire at the Segunda A table, was too much for club President Jose Sepulcre and Barragan was out. That was then and Sunday March 7th 2010 is now.

Since then Elche have hauled themeselves out of the relegation mire and sit handily placed in the top  half of the table. Hercules, despite one or two indifferent results, are perched right at the top of the pile with a small points cushion between them and fourth, the spot at which the entire season counts for nothing. Game on. Getting on for nineteen thousand people turned up with over eight thousand from Alicante contributing to the biggest crowd the Martinez Valero has seen in ages. Something had to give and unfortunately for the visiting hoardes, the Hercules back four blinked first after only sixteen minutes. Leading score Molina, back earlier than expected from a foot injury, found Saul who's pin point cross found Usero at the back stick who did the business in style.

1-0 and the expected reaction from Herc' never came, instead it was Elche who continued to set the first half pace as the Alicantino's found their discipline wanting, forcing Madrid referee Lesma Lopez to resort to the card. A poor first half showing from the visitors simply emphasised the confidence with which Elche strutted around the pitch creating by far the better chances. Montenegrin striker, the usually deadly, Andrija Delibasic had a poor first forty five for Hercules, forcing local hero Willy Caballero into a single serious save all half. At the other end, what should have been a ring rusty return for Molina was anything but as the second divisions leading scorer added to his tally by smacking home a thirty seventh minute cross from Juli for Elche's second and the game's final goal.

An altogether better Hercules effort in the second period failed to produce anything as the closest they came to making Elche sweat was a Delibasic header, correctly dis-allowed with the frontman yards offside. Between towering performances from the green and white shirted back four and Argentine 'keeper Caballero, the Elche motto for the afternoon appeared to be "they shall not pass" and Herc' duly didn't. The half-time score was also the result, Elche 2-0 Hercules. With their win Elche climb to eighth, a mere seven points behind third placed surprise package Cartagena. Win, lose or draw Hercules weren't ever going to relinquish top spot, all that happened was the teams directly beaneath them closed things up a little. For the Blanquiazules La Liga football is still a distinct possibility, what probably hurt more than the loss of three points was the surrender of local gloating rights.

For this reason, and with the liklihood of no Elche/Alicante derby for at least a season, a handful of the more fed up away contingent decided to indulge in a little hand to hand combat outside the ground with some of their more vociferous rivals. The fisticuffs were soon quelled by the swift intervention of the local law enforcement, who, with just a handful of arrests were, like the local football team, more than happy with how the afternoon's events finished up.

PHOTOS - Mark Welton

Monday, March 8, 2010

Don't step in the dog sh*t!!

Once in a while travelling around Alicante province to watch football throws up a really pleasant surprise, it may be an unheard of win for Aspe or another visit somewhere you've been to loads of times before that you see a new side to. The way they are playing presently a win for Aspe is about as rare as rocking horse shit, so, the really pleasant surprise a week or so ago took the form of seeing a new side to an old favourite.

Altea is the favourite and Sunday February 28th was the day Santa Pola's next adventure in Preferente land took place. With a four thirty kick off scheduled, the plan was for the boss lady and I to spend half a day there, grab some scoffs on the seafront, have a bit of a mooch around and then make our way to the Las Garganes ground to try and enjoy fourth versus seventh. In the end most of those things happened, the odd man out was grabbing something to eat along the seafront, which, for sure would have happened had I been travelling alone. Thankfully I wasn't.

What followed was quite a delightful couple of hours in a part of town I never even knew existed. Most visitors head for the promenade area or amble around the picturesque marina, both very agreeable. Us two? well, we began walking uphill, and, despite my moans and groans about what seemed like vast quantities of dog shit we had to manoeuvre round, didn't stop until we reached the exquisite old town. If you're not a fan of cobbled streets, white-washed cottages and centuries old architecture then stick to the prom. Altea old town is wonderful, and has as it's centre-piece, the church of "Nuestra SeƱora del Consuelo" (Our lady of solace), unmissable with it's blue and white domed roof.  Twenty euros, a mediocre baguette each and an hour later, we picked our way expertly past the turds back to the car and headed off to footy, the whole reason for being there.

Santa Pola midfielder German opened and closed the scoring, unfortunately Altea also scored twice in between his two goals as the match finished a couple each. The four goals though weren't the only talking points from a highly entertaining game. Gandia referee Sanchez Bonaches, who, if memory serves was rather good the last time he took charge of Santa Pola, somehow managed to seriously piss both sets of supporters off with a couple of odd decisions. A suspiciously offside second Altea goal was followed by his failure to award the home side what looked like a clear penalty, good and bad fortune then for the visitors. 'Pola eventually finished with ten men as, with moments left, Chema was shown a second yellow card for playing on after being called offside. 2-2 the final score and not a bad result against a decent team.

Finally, just time for a bit of a comedy moment. Just yards away from the ground, the babbling Rio Algar, (river Algar), passes beneath the busy N332 Almeria to Valencia road, which itself is raised on a stunning twenty arch bridge spanning the waters below. Mid-way through the second half an intrepid driver, spotting the game taking place, ignored the horns of other passing motorists and stopped his car on the southbound carriageway to get a better look. This is a bit like parking up on the nearside lane of the A1 at Stamford to try and get a glimpse of the Burghley Horse Trials. Only in Spain!!!!

Top - Altea, a mix of inconsiderate dog owners and a fabulous old town.
Middle - Pedro (24) tries his luck.
Bottom - Frustrated here, German had the laugh.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Time gentlemen please.

A couple of days after Elche and Levante bored the pants off nearly six thousand people, Santa Pola welcomed near neighbours Alone de Guardamar to the Manolo Macia, where nearly six hundred people, a fantastic crowd at this level, turned up to watch. In fairness, one or two of them were wearing the colours of Glasgow Celtic, a sure sign of an allegiance to the visiting side who's Junta Directiva, (Board of Directors), these days has a heavy Scottish bias. It's not very far away, less than twenty kilometres, so perhaps the large number of "sweaty-socks" were hoping their heroes could avenge the easy 0-3 Santa Pola victory in October, when, three goals to the good at half time, the visitors "parked the bus" and strolled through the second half to help themselves to a simple three points. Today though, just like before, it wasn't to be for the Jocks!

Quite by accident she who must be obeyed and I have got into the habit, every second Sunday morning, of arriving in Santa Pola about ninety minutes ahead of each home fixture, this time is put to good use in one of the town's very best cafeteria's, "Juande" a people watchers paradise opposite the town square that offers the very best in toasted offerings, coffee and clientele. In actual fact, "quite by accident" is anything but, and for a great many footy people the place is the first stop on a three legged coffee/football/tapas tour where a few of the same faces appear before, during and after the game.

One ten minute walk later and suitably coffee'd up, yours truly was helping himself to a team-sheet and a place to sit, because, being a bit of a murky, overcast kind of day brave boy didn't trust the sky overhead not to piss it down. In the end, it stayed dry and for a brief spell the sun made a fleeting appearance, before that though, a black cloud appeared to hang over Santa Pola, who, try as they might, were unable to score. To kind of give the referee from Elche a little bit of credit, conditions weren't ideal, rain was in the air and on a greasy surface players from both sides had difficulty keeping their feet.They only had to endure those difficulties though for forty three and a bit minutes because that was the (slightly early) point at which Sr.Albadalejo blew for half time, perhaps he was dying for a pee!! 
Mid-way through, nil-nil.

Watched from the press box high in the stands by a few spectators who would normally be much more involved, Santa Pola and Alone kicked off for a bit more of the same. Five minutes later frustration got the better of one of the elevated watchers and for the remainder of the match 'Pola manager Domingo Grau bellowed instructions from the tunnel area. The remaining Santa Pola players, like Grau banned due to previous disciplinary offences, stayed where they were. Once again Santa Pola were thwarted by either the brilliance of their oppenents goal-keeper or awful finishing, Chema watched as a goal bound header was clawed out by Julen who then punched out a shot by the same home forward. Just as things were beginning to get a little uncomfortable for the Alone defenders, one of their forwards, substitute Mario, took the wind right out of the Santa Pola sails by scoring with ten minutes left.

You could tell Alone were keen to hang on to what they thought were three away points by the ease with which their players went to ground, the slightly portly referee was having none of that though and eventually included an additional eight or nine minutes of "stoppage" time. Miguel Blasco Tari only needed five of them though, this was the point at which Julen made his only mistake of the game, dropping a corner at the feet of the grateful Santa Pola centre-back who prodded home from close range to rescue a deserved point. Quite a few of those visiting folk from north of the border in pretty green and white striped shirts were overheard at the end complaining about how long the official took to blow up, they'd obviously overlooked things like the lengthy substitution of Andres who took an age to hobble off, (helped by a man either side of him), to permit scorer Mario on.

Final score Santa Pola 1-1 Alone de Guardamar

Top - Domingo Grau and three suspended players look on (Mark Welton)
Botom - Adriano (14) feels the force (Mark Welton