Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Meanwhile, over in Alicante. Part II

It's just like someone foisted upon the unfortunate Hercules coach, Esteban Vigo, the Spanish equivalent of a Manager of the Month prize, the award of which is almost invariably followed by a dip in form. Me, ever the conspiracy theorist, I have my own thoughts, which are; subconsciously football players get a bit pissed off with seeing the manager pick up a bottle of champagne and a silver salver for their efforts on the pitch and bring him down a peg or two by taking their foot off the gas. By the looks of things though, Hercules haven't just stepped off the accelerator they've jammed on the anchors too.

A few short weeks ago, they were sitting pretty at the top of the Segunda A pile with points in hand over Cartagena in fourth and a decent goal difference. Then they made the short journey, just twenty three kilometres, to hated rivals Elche, where, the wheels didn't just come off they were last seen bouncing down the N340 back to Alicante.  Way back in October, Hercules easily disposed of their near neighbours in the first derby of the season, a result that ended the career of popular manager Claudio Barragan.  In the return match at the Martinez Valero in March, Elche gained revenge with a 2-0 victory, a result that set in train a string of setbacks for Hercules no-one connected with the club could have predicted.

Including the derby defeat, Hercules have managed to collect just two points in seven games from a pair of scruffy draw(er)s, never was the description "pants" more appropriate. The five defeats in the same period, three of which took place at home, were, with the exception of a 0-1 reverse to Real Sociedad, all against struggling sides. Confidence appears to have evaporated, just like their previously dominant league position. Now, as the end of April approaches, Herc' find themselves fourth in the classification with a mountain to climb. Worse still, hated rivals Elche, are creeping up on the blindside and the way the two outfits are playing the possibility of them passing each other heading in opposite directions is quite likely.

Still to come Hercules have nine games in which turn turn things around and get their campaign back on track, the stand out fixtures include visits to Cartagena and Levante, the teams directly above them and occupying the final promotion places behind champions elect Real Sociedad. Two spots and a couple of points worse off sit Elche, in terrific form and full of confidence, two crucial things presently missing from the Hercules arsenal. The Alicantinos seem to have got themselves into the kind of rut where it matters not who they play, before Christmas the mindset was "right, playing so and so today, we should piss this" and they would. Now they take to the pitch desperate to avoid defeat and delighted with a point, last Sunday was a typical example, a scrabbled one-one draw in Soria, the home of mid-table Numancia came courtesy of a second half own goal by midfielder Barkero.

Manager Vigo is good, one of the best in the division, what he now needs to do now is use his undoubted motivational skills to persuade his underperforming squad to believe the same about themselves. It's a tall order because most of the clubs in and around the top of the table promotion battle have already had their wobbly moments. One thing in his favour is games, twenty seven points are possible between now and the third week of June, with no play-offs only the top three make the cut, so a minimum of twenty four points and no defeats is the ask. Achieve that Sr.Vigo and you're welcome to a shiny dish and the bubbly.

Top - Phil Brown was eventually sacked by Hull City
Second - Hercules still face a tough visit to Cartagena who they beat in January
Third - Barkero (17) kindly obliged for Herc' with an own goal recently
Bottom - Esteban Vigo chats with his Las Palmas opposite number, Croatian Sergio Kresic, before their game a month ago

Monday, April 19, 2010

Kinky boots and borrowed shorts

Two weeks after Mutxamel got out of jail and skulked off home clutching a very fortuitous point, Orihuela B arrived and were nowhere near as lucky. For three or four games now Santa Pola have threatened to dissect someone, and today, the visitors from one of the regions nicest small cities became the Marineros science project. It wasn't even close, and, charitably, 'Pola even allowed their opponents to score. In a season during which Santa Pola have never been easy to beat, but looking hard to criticise, probably haven't fulfilled their huge potential as a squad, Sunday April 11th will stand out as the day on which, collectively, they recorded their best result of the season. Unbeaten game number nine fell at the right time, as Santa Pola's confidence levels rose ever higher, with no obvious escape route from the the Preferente's basement, Orihuela's belief was heading in the opposite direction, all the ingredients were there then to give the division's second worst team a bit of a slap.

Quite a number of poorly informed spectators label boxing barbaric, to be honest though, with a couple of pugilists, the moment the referee gets a whiff one of the pair is getting knocked about a bit he'll step in, call it over and save quite a bit of unnecessary punishment. Football though isn't like that, the arbitro is compelled to continue until ninety minutes are completed, more often than not compounding a one sided encounter by adding at least five minutes. For Orihuela B, a decent football team with a knowledgeable technical team, the day started badly and went from bad to worse. Requested by a fussy referee to change their blue shorts to avoid a clash with the home side, Orihuela were compelled to borrow their hosts black change strip, there though the kindness abruptly ended. Not long later Santa Pola took those borrowed shorts to the cleaners!!

On a nice sunny morning not that many people turned up to watch, their loss. Santa Pola began as though they meant business and finished up being the business. They took the piss for fiteen minutes, before, on an unseen signal from an unknown player, went into overdrive and battered their shell shocked visitors with a style of play no-one in the league could have coped with. As it turned out, Orihuela B survived the first half a creditable two goals down, two being much better then the thirteen it might easily have been. Midfielder Emilio, wearing a ridiculously cool pair of football boots capped an outstanding performance with the first goal, combining good control, first touch and finish to set the home side on their way. A minute before half-time, Mario Fernandez added a second to create a little breathing space after a good work by Chema and Serra. Never has a goal been more deserved, selfless team performance followed selfless team peformance
for the Californian striker and his reward? a place on the bench.

Two up at the restart, the whole team relaxed and from early in the second half the three points were secure, the only unanswered question was how many were they going to rack up. Only an outstanding tackle in his own box by Pena, shades of the late Bobby Moore, prevented Paloma making it three nil inside the first five second half minutes. It mattered not, enter stage right 31year old forward Chema. This is a bloke who, just like Peter Pan, refuses to age and for the umpteenth time this season Santa Pola benefitted big time. As well as being one of the oldest members of the 'Pola squad, Chema is also one of the fittest and fastest, by a good 20mph. Not the biggest shock then that today he helped himself to goals number three and five for Santa Pola. Combine his raw pace and drop a football at his feet it's barely surprising the hardest defenders around shit themselves when they see him coming.

In between Chema's pair, substitute Adriano also got in on the act, a poor defensive clearance was slapped back into the box and in the melee that followed the 22 year old was on hand to shove the ball in. To the disgust of the yellow shirted defenders who claimed in vain the whole of the ball hadn't crossed the line. The assistant referee on my side disagreed, told the ref and five nil it was. I shouldn't be ungrateful but no goals against is always good, especially when the frontmen have banged in two and a half braces. With seconds left Orihuela B went and spoiled it by notching the final goal of a very one sided game of footy.
Full time Santa Pola 5 - 1 Orihuela B

Top - Eleven blokes who will seriously damage your football health
Next - Scorer Emilio's outrageous footwear
Second bottom - Chema, frighteningly good
Bottom - On the arse of  his borrowed black shorts, Orihuela B captain Rojo proudly shows off the name of one of Santa Pola's principal sponsors

Monday, April 12, 2010

Night, night lights out.

Santa Pola, having finished the previous week with a couple less than a full set, returned home seven days later for Jornada 27, this time against handily placed Mutxamel, the team that didn't look very good at all when cantering to a 3-1 win on an arctic afternoon in November. Thankfully, aside from the travelling party and various officials from the team, they didn't bring any away fans and so, we were all spared the misery of that cackling hag and her old man from the first game. Santa Pola appreciated the fact too because without that fucking horrible distraction they played really well.

Santa Pola haven't lost a game since way back at the end of January, admittedly there have been one or too two many drawn games, but, collectively the side have acquired a resilience and a steely determination not to lose. In matches gone by conceding early would knock the confidence and thereafter, games would be a bit of a struggle. Not so today. Mutxamel had the temerity to open the scoring from the penalty spot inside ten minutes when the unlucky Pedro Miralles was yellow carded for a handball inside the box he knew very little about. Pony-tailed veteran Pepe slapped the ball to the right hand corner as 'Pola goalkeeper Julio blew his 50/50 by diving the wrong way. It was almost as though the local players thought to themselves, "cheeky bastards, how dare they score"

Unwittingly, Mutxamel had just pulled the tail of a dangerous dog and found themselves themselves pegged back very soon after when Paloma was first to the loose ball after Chema was hit late and hard and with very little subtlety by Mathi. As the ‘Pola players helped Paloma celebrate slipping the ball inside Robert, who could have done far better, Mathi was booked for the spiteful hack he thought he’d got away with. Way too often we criticise the umpire but today those present witnessed excellent officiating by Benidorm referee Perez Diaz. The goal settled the Santa Pola nerves and their slow start was soon forgotten as they proceeded to take their opponents to the cleaners without managing to add more to their single strike.

The half time break came and went and 'Pola continued in the same vein, not missing suspended defenders Carlos and Monsa largely because Mutxamel rarely ventured forward because their strikers were playing deep, helping out a defence who were on the back foot from the off. Defender Wata tried the patience of referee Diaz once too often and was red carded for a caveman challenge on Paloma, thereby leaving his team a man short and even deeper under the Santa Pola cosh.

Somehow Mutxamel stayed level for the forty minutes it took them to mount their first attack of the half, it was a good chance too that Caturla slapped over on the volley. Realising immediately he had just squandered a great opportunity the wasteful forward thumped the ground in frustration. As Santa Pola continued to batter the visitors senseless their American star Carlos Fernandez was knocked out cold following a sicking clash of heads with Bruno, who eventually got groggily to his feet. The Californian midfielder was much less lucky, after lengthy treatment on the pitch surrounded by concerned colleagues, including his alarmed brother, centre-forward Mario, he was stretchered to a waiting ambulance and thence out of the ground. In a subdued atmosphere the remaining five minutes were played out in a low key fashion, and, in spite of an excellent effort from the home side the game meandered to a tame 1-1 draw.

For Santa Pola the signs have been there in the past few games, playing this well somebody, sometime soon was about to cop a good hiding!!

Top  - Mario Fernandez (12) tangles with penalty scorer Pepe
Middle - You're nicked sonny - Wata has to go
Bottom - Paramedics attend the unlucky Carlos Fernandez

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Where are ya?

Did you know that of the twenty two Segunda A teams for 2009/10, only fourteen actually carry the name of their host city? Thought not, would you like to know who doesn't together with allsorts of other inane trivia? thought not again, but fuck it, I'll tell you anyway. Spookily enough, at the time of writing, to the unfamiliar it's not at all obvious whereabouts exactly the top three in the classification call home. With twelve games and two and a half odd months to go, Real Sociedad sit on top of the pile closely by followed Hercules, who we're all familiar with, and then Real Betis. The prefix "Real" as everybody should ought to know literally means 'Royal' the deeper significance though is probably not so well known. Spain, just like Great Britain, has historically had a functioning Monarchy, together with, the one eyed Scottish tosser aside, an elected political leadership. Prime Minister and assorted Government functionaries or not, Spain has always had His Majesty and Queenie bimbling about in the background and only with his or her Royal Assent can a sporting society, (football team in this example), prefix themselves Real.

Sorry, I digress, but back to the question.With apologies to Everton fans wherever you are and to butcher part of their football song "if you know ya geography"  you'll know that leaders Real Sociedad, Hercules CF and present third placed outfit Real Betis entertain locals every second Sunday in San Sebastian, Alicante and Seville respectively. By the way, Betis' Ruiz de Lopera stadium is the biggest in the division with a capacity of over 55,000, easily bigger than the majority of this year's Primera Division sides home grounds. A few years ago Andalucian businessman Sr.Manuel Ruiz de Lopera, with the club facing bankruptcy and extinction, put his hand in his pocket to ensure the club's survival. For sure an expensive way to put your name on a football stadium but I'd do the same for Santa Pola CF if they were in the shit and I was minted.

Elsewhere in the second division, most of the names speak for themselves, Elche, Cordoba, Cartagena, Salamanca, Real Murcia and Albacete for example to name but a few. On this list of what appears to be a random selection of nondescript football clubs, Albacete stand out and join Real Betis as one of only two who also include in their full titles the Spanish words for ball and foot, literally "Balompie" I could go on for ages with completely uninteresting facts about the Segunda A, ever so many of which refer to Real Betis, a team that has spent more than thirty of the previous forty seasons doing the business with some success in La Liga. Visualize a decent sized English town, say Newcastle and combine it with some serious footy folk, in this example the Toon Army, and you can kind of get my drift. Unfortunately, a tasty stadium, full most weeks with tasty locals who can sing a bit doesn't seem to be a blue print for continued top flight soccer. Sporadic relegations are a fact of "Verdiblanco" life with the most recent, in May 2009, being greeted by riots outside the ground after Betis could only draw 1-1 with Valladolid, a result which sent them down.

Perhaps surprisingly, Madrid features just the one team in this seasons Liga Adelante. Rayo Vallecano take their name from the populous Vallecas district to the South East of Spain's capital city in which the club is based. Aside from the occasional decent season, Rayo are one of those clubs a bit like West Brom or West Ham, up and down like a whores drawers. Around the league the club is noteworthy for having the only female President in Spanish professional football. Maria Teresa Rivero is her name, and this 74 year old Andalucian from Jerez assumed the presidency in 1994 from her husband, Jose Maria, who, some years earlier had been banged up in jail for his part in a financial scandal that engulfed the family firm. Senora Rivero has also found time to spawn thirteen children, none recently I must add!!

My patch, Valencia, which features the provinces of Alicante, Castellon and Valencia is well represented and is actually home to five top flight clubs, Herc', Elche, Villarreal B, Castellon and Levante. The next best is Andalucia with Betis, Cordoba, Cadiz and Spanish football's very first professional outfit Real Club Recreativo de Huelva, who were founded in 1889 by a couple of British blokes. Not as old as Notts County but a good effort nevertheless. In the far north west of Spain, not many kilometres from the Portugese border sits the biggest city not designated a provinvial capital, Vigo, a city that houses the Balaidos stadium, home to Real Club Celta de Vigo.

Sixty thousand people live in Irun, which, if it was any further north they'd all be speaking French, the city is strategically important as a main border crossing from the Basque province of Guipuzcoa into France, the width of the River Bidasoa away. Twice a season the local football team Real Union take on their near neighbours and local rivals Real Sociedad from just down the road in San Sebastian. In point of fact Sociedad actually have four times more season ticket holders than the 5,000 capacity of Real Union's tiny Gal stadium. That shouldn't be an issue in 2010/11 becase this season Real Sociedad are storming the the division and look likely to be playing in La Primera next year while Union are deep in the shit at the foot of the Segunda A table.

Finally, spare a thought for Las Palmas, by rights they should be playing in the Moroccan first division because geographically they're nearer to Africa than mainland Spain. This season they had to make do without their local derby as well because Tenerife went up to the first division. Now, the nearest rivals for the Canary Islanders are a ninety minute flight away in somewhere like Cadiz, Cordoba or Huelva. On the upside, sort of, at least the lads don't have to endure interminable coach trips to their away games I 'spose!!

Top - Betis President Manuel Ruiz de Lopera
Below - Murcia's stunning Nueva Condomina stadium
Next - Right, obviously, Maria Teresa Rivera
Bottom - Las Palmas stretch their legs after yet another long flight