Sunday, July 25, 2010

And, Murcia against Valencia

Just about a year or so ago Cartagena FC were scrapping it out in a promotion battle for a place in Spain's Segunda A division, one level below the national elite. Having achieved that tough objective, all concerned with the football club could have been forgiven for resting on their laurels and accepted a mid-table finish and decent consolidation as the club strengthened their newly acquired status. Over the following year, a great many people were to be surprised.

Fast forward twelve months and Cartagena were still at it. With Real Sociedad assuring themselves of the first of three promotion places the day before, four clubs were still in with a decent shout of climbing into La Primera from a notoriously difficult division, Segunda A, these two included. Whether or not they continued their upward progress with a second successive promotion, fans of the club had clearly loved the ride and continued to turn up, rain or shine, to support their favourites. As you'd expect then, quite a few locals made it for the visit of Hercules, one of Cartagena's nearest and very much NOT dearest Segunda 'A' rivals, both geographically and in the classification. The visit of Hercules seemed to provoke outright hostility, perhaps something like, but not quite matching, the animosity shown towards the utterly despised Real Murcia from just down the road. I think that the winner take all nature of the fixture with three crucial promotion points up for grabs had a lot to do with it, because, in my experience Cartagena football fans are passionate and at the same time very knowledgeable and kind.

It mattered not for the home supporters, Hercules and their fans were in town and stood, like a bloody great obstacle, in the way of the Cartagena promotion effort. Eventually, I made it pitchside despite the best efforts of one of the stadium employees who tried, unsuccessfully, to point me in the direction of a commentary booth in the stand miles away from the action. I wasn't too disappointed when I got there, for such a small ground, barely fifteen thousand when completely full, just like the original Den at Millwall the Cartaganova stadium generates a pretty scary atmosphere.Once the mess from about a million paper serviettes had been blown off the pitch by a gusting late evening breeze, Cartagena and Hercules kicked off their must win league battle, and quite a good one it was too.

Just like the Geordies, football fans in Cartagena have an unbridled passion and a unique accent too, I've never been to St James Park in Newcastle, but, with every third seat in the ground occupied by a bloke or a bird in a black and white striped shirt, this six pointer of a game could well have been taking place in the North East. Inside five minutes, the suitably attired local hordes should have been screaming obscenities at the 1500 or so travelling Alicante fans, in the end they had no need to as Hercules' Romanian striker Danciulescu spurned a golden chance to settle any early nerves by shoving a decent chance past a Cartagena post. This was tense stuff and mistakes were plentiful from players from either side, you could perhaps excuse them given what was at stake, but the referee endeared himself to neither set of supporters in rapid succession.

Two decent penalty shouts just minutes apart, one for either side were denied, the second of the two for a clumsy looking shove on Hercules forward Tote, had the look of a the referee trying to atone for an earlier blunder by evening things up. Not long previously, livewire Toche for Cartagena was bundled to the ground inside the box and then prevented from gaining his feet by a non too subtle Hercules centre back. Of the two, Cartagena had every right to feel the more aggrieved. Half time 0-0

The tension continued with neither side able to make the crucial breakthrough in an equally absorbing second period, Cartagena, spurred on by their raucous support, probably had the better of things with neater approach play but no cutting edge upfront. Chelsea reject, Enrique de Lucas, who was brilliant all night, grazed the Hercules bar with a fantastic long range effort that saw Calatayud rooted to his line before Danciulescu could and should have done far better on at least two occasions.

Predictably, the game ended scoreless, a result that probably helped neither team, both of whom were aware of the degree of difficulty of the encounter and importance of three points. Afterwards, in a sweltering and far too small press room, both managers were discretion personified, respectfully praising their opponents whilst gently bemoaning the lack of a penalty apiece.  Full time 0-0

In the end there was one winner though, all season long Liga Adelante sponsor BBVA bank has been running a competition for their clients, which, in the great tradition of SoccerAM, involves footy fans hoofing a football into an empty net from the centre circle during the mid-game interval. Tonight, one lucky punter managed it and walked off with a cheque for forty grand under his arm, the jammy cunt. I was itching for a go.

Top - Tote (top totty, geddit)??
Middle - The excellent Farinos
Bottom - How you should you look having just trousered 40 grand