Sunday, September 12, 2010

Giving the old bag her P45

After a good twenty years, quite possibly even more, the time has eventually come to say farewell to a companion of mine who has shared all of my ups and downs, and didn't complain once because the latter heavily outnumbered the former. The best partners don't do they? Bless her, she's had to put up with muddy football boots, heavy books, a laptop that was far too big for her, (ooh I say), various cameras, sand from all manner of European beaches and hours sitting by herself at strange football grounds in allsorts of weather, not all of it nice.

When you first see someone you quite like the look of you make excuses to go back and catch a glimpse don't you? I'm no different, I think I went back to Debenhams in Ipswich four times before taking the plunge. Once I plucked up the courage, the pair of us never looked back and for years you couldn't squidge a fag paper between us, we were tight. All kinds of travel adventures soon followed and rarely was she far from my right shoulder. Thing is, the longer you're with someone the more you take them for granted and, more to the point, ignore their faults because, (you think), you love them. I'm no different.

With the march of time, people and feelings change, but only the bravest do something about it. That'll be me then! Thing is, it's perfectly acceptable for you to think, or even once or twice mention to a mate that she's looking a bit tatty or seen better days, but the second someone tells you that then boy are you pissed off. You know though that the rot has set in and it's only a matter of time. Somehow, somewhere, something changes and things aren't the same, however hard you think you're trying. At this point the eyes begin to wander and a guilty conscience isn't really an issue.
For Debenhams Ipswich circa 1988 read El Corte Inglés Alicante 2010 and a big old Déjà vu. Forty nine euros later and my old Nike rucksack was a thing of the past, replaced by something I couldn't keep my eyes off. At least I had the good manners not to road test the new one before discarding the old, even if somebody has spelt QUIKSILVER wrong.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Pre-season 2010/11 in a 1000 odd words

In contrast to the same time a year before when I saw an embarrassing number of practise games, preseason 2010/11 for me consisted of just three and a bit matches, punctuated by almost three weeks in the UK as an escapee from the relentless August sun, in fairness the first of my five Spanish summers I'd actually done so. Whilst I was elsewhere and wearing jeans and a pullover and not shorts and T-shirt, Iberian football continued without me. I don't think we missed each other. Before I left, an immensely indifferent blog author fidgeted through Santa Pola versus newly La Liga Hercules, probably looking at my watch more than what little was occurring on the pitch. In the end, I think, Santa Pola equalised late on to earn a creditworthy 1-1 draw and I scurried away to get sorted for my flight the next morning.

The special one
Upon my return, the guilty smirks of the Hercules players had died away amidst all the furore of the "Totegate" tapes and the club proceeded apace with their pre-season plans as though nothing had happened. Such is the way with Spanish football, which, even when confronted by a guilty as sin verdict, tends to adopt an "oh well, worth a try" kind of facial expression, just like those worn by AC Milan and Juventus not so many years ago. Curiously, with a week to go before commencing league action proper, Hercules chose to forego any number of decent quality local sides in preference to, err Real Madrid believe it ot not, for their final pre-season outing, seven days exactly before hosting Athletic Club de Bilbao.

Estadio Jose Rico Perez in Alicante
Herc's home ground, the Estadio Jose Rico Perez in Alicante, really puts me in mind of the old and knackered Wembley, which, in front of the TV cameras invariably looked full with an immaculate grass playing surface. Behind the scenes though the place is a bit of a shit bin, or was, until promotion was secured.
In anticipation of being soundly thrashed once a fortnight by Spanish football's big boys, Hercules, bless 'em, have spent some money and put a little bit of effort in, chiefly on cosmetic things unseen by the majority of fans. I'll give you a few examples. Last year, the playing surface a metre beyond all four touch lines gave way to a manky earth and stone walkway, this season the dirty and dusty earth gap has beautiful and immaculately trimmed, plastic grass right up to the edge of the sparkly, spangly new electronic advertising hoardings. The dugouts too now cater for pampered Primera posteriors with a little more of that ubiquitous plastic grass on the floor in front of each seat to hide another dusty dirt strip. Rumour has it too, the club employed a local unemployed bod to spray paint each and every sun bleached seat a fresher shade of blue.

Tote, conscience clear, addresses the crowd
For the visit of Madrid in a meaningless pre-season friendly, so much was different for the press boys from the season just past. Not wishing to expose their VIP guests to the riff raff with microphones and cameras, the photographic corps and radio reporters were banished to a side entrance, far away from their usual door near to the changing rooms of both sides and extendable tunnel. Perhaps it was only the nature of the evenings high profile opponents, but, personally I was already pissed off with being considered an afterthought, sentiments which weren't about to improved by the security detail as Real Madrid emerged one by one to warm up in front of six thousand or so early arrivals an hour before kick-off. Eventually, super star coach Jose Mourinho left his players to it and took a seat on the bench flanked by his burly assistant José Morais. At this point the security operation swung into effect, marshalled by a massive goon, reminiscent of an Israeli commando, the assembled photographers were denied the opportunity of a decent shot of the man himself and had to make do with snatched photos of Madrid's main man. Yours truly included, although my shot turned out okay.

Super Bowl night
What followed was even more laughable as Hercules football club attempted to turn their final preseason friendly - for which they paid all of Madrid's travel, security and hotel costs and even gave them all the gate receipts - into an evening akin to the Superbowl. Fanning out from the players tunnel young girls in blue and white uniforms formed a guard of honour, as, accompanied by fireworks from the stand roof and ridiculous flame effects, one by one the first team squad were introduced to the expectant crowd. Eventually, some semblence of a football match began and, with Hercules a goal to nil up at half time, I left. Real Madrid replied with three unanswered second half goals to win the thing 1-3

Uluru - Redován style
Meanwhile just down the road, Santa Pola wound down their, by all accounts, quite good pre-season sequence with a trip to Mutxamel and two days later away again at Redován. Interesting choice of friendly was Mutxamel, especially since it was arranged after the Preferente fixture list had been published and matched Santa Pola and Mutxamel, in the opening game. I needn't have worried, a very much second string Santa Pola side equalised late on to grab a 2-2 draw against a pretty physical side who, I think, will be contenders next May. Two days later to avoid clasing with the start of the town's fiestas, 'Pola made the hour long cross country trip to Redován and one of the most attractive little grounds in the region. The last time I came here about three years ago, Santa Pola failed to score against the eight men of already relegated Redován and in the process blew a play-off opportunity by only drawing nil-nil. Under a quickly setting sun which turned the massive sloping mountain less than a kilometre away a gorgeous shade of orange and put me in mind of Ayers Rock, Santa Pola, featuring their likely starting eleven, were twice behind but still emerged 2-4 winners with a ruthless second half performance.

With a ten day wait to start their season proper, Santa Pola's players then had plenty of time to rest up between training sessions.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Hercules sweat, Cadiz complain & Real Betis look on with interest

Barely had everyone connected with Hercules CF begun their promotion celebrations before rumours began to circulate about "extra-curricular" activities during the season just passed involving payments allegedly made to secure wins. Before very long these rumours gained traction and appeared in print, forcing one or two of those featured prominently in the allegations to issue public denials.

Tote pictured recently
The embarrassing distraction for Hercules CF began some weeks earlier, when, a wider investigation into political corruption in and around Costa Blanca cities Orihuela and Alicante unearthed taped recordings of the football club officials discussing payment of large sums of money to opposing players to throw crucial games. Majority shareholder of Hercules, Enrique Ortiz, was apparently captured on tape at least four times talking about bribes and how they could be made available. In addition, various text messages between Ortiz and team captain Jorge López Marco (Tote) and senior player Abraham Paz also emerged and make incriminating reading. Leading up to the promotion chasing Alicante side's match last season against Cordoba, opposing goalkeeper Raul Navas allegedly trousered 100,000 € to throw the game, Tote is alleged to have said, amongst other things "get the money ready for this lot, we have to pass it to them on Sunday"

In addition, Ortiz is also alleged to have offered 20,000 € apiece to two Gimnàstic de Tarragona players to win matches against Hercules direct promotion opponents. On this occasion, Tote allegedly demands "Enrique (Ortiz) pay 'Nastic all the money tomorrow, they're going to screw everything up" On another occasion one message reveals an un-named team refused to take a bribe and Tote is recorded suggesting Ortiz pay his Hercules team-mates using the words "give something to this lot so they play their best, the others won't take it because they're ready on 300,000 € to beat us"

Tote leads the promotion celebrations
In the midst of all the press reporting of the case, a beligerant Tote broke cover to say "Let them prove it if it's all true. And if they do, they can punish us, but they won't because there's nothing in it" He went on “I don’t know what the judge’s latest decision is and I don’t care,” said Tote. “I’m not a politician and none of it interests me. When they feel like it the talk will end and meanwhile, we’ll attend to our business, which is to play in La Liga. We earned it by being better than the rest.”

Relegated Cadiz lodged a formal complaint with the Spanish football association, (RFEF) citing “a supposed infraction of article 75 of the RFEF disciplinary code, consisting of predetermination of results.” The RFEF  began their own fact finding investigation with a request for the tapes and transcripts of the text messages. This request was denied by three High Court Judges who refused to allow the tapes to be sent to the RFEF and the Spanish Higher Sports Council (CSD) because those same tapes "breech the fundamental right to privacy of the individual, one of the most important components of the Spanish Constitution" Without them as evidence any CSD/RFEF investigation would have been completely toothless.

The full story, including legal argument is here

Football fans in the provincial capital enjoy a civic reception for the team
Meanwhile, Cadiz resigned themselves to starting the 2010/11 season in the Segunda A, and Real Betis, the principle beneficiaries of any points deductions for Hercules, who appear to have got out of jail, maintained their discreet silence as the matter was gently swept under the murky Machiavellian carpet of lower league Spanish football.

The photographs in this article were reproduced courtesy of