It’s been a busy few weeks for me here in Spain with lots of things happening on a family front. Firstly I had to go to Gibraltar, for the wedding of my sister in law, and shortly afterwards the sad passing of my father in law, who lived out here as well, has put football on the back burner for me recently.
Nevertheless, I’m not one to miss a football opportunity and whilst in Gibraltar I took the chance to take in a game there. I’ve been asked by the editor to cover the game in detail for the fanzine but I’ll give you a few snippets here. I presume that most of you know that the Gibraltar FA has just recently, on 24th May 2013, become the 54th member of UEFA. This came about after years of trying and under a storm of complaints from the Spanish, who have actually refused to play Gib if they are ever drawn against them in any competition.
The game was introduced to The Rock, like in neighbouring Spain, by the British, in Gib’s case servicemen and workers. UEFA inclusion means that clubs from the Gibraltarian Premier League (there are only 6 teams in it) will be eligible to play in the Champions League and Europa League next season. So with that as the background we arrived on The Rock the Friday evening before the nuptials, which were taking place on the Saturday.
As luck would have it football is played on a Friday night in Gibraltar and the top two teams in the league, Lincoln Red Imps and Lynx FC, were playing against each other. The game was held at the national stadium called the Victoria Stadium, which as it happens is not the correct category to stage international matches. The Gibraltar FA have plans to build a new purpose built stadium ,which will be up to FIFA/UEFA standards, over the next couple of years, it will be called Europa Point. http://europapointstadium.com/
This means that the international team will have to play their European qualifiers, against Ireland, Scotland and Germany, at the Algarve Stadium in Portugal, the stadium where Newcastle United played a couple of friendlies at a couple of years back (I went).
Anyway back to the league stuff and bear in mind I’m now used to watching lower league football but to be honest the first half of this game was dross. BUT, it did liven up in the second half and I witnessed one of the best goals I’ve seen at any level when Joseph Luis Chipolina, a Gibraltar international and former player of Spanish Segunda B club Real Balompédica Linense (which is literally walking distance from the Victoria Stadium back across the border), smashed in a great goal from outside the box. That goal was Lincoln Imps third of the night and the game eventually finished 3-0. Consequently as I write Imps are on the verge of winning the title and only need a point from their next game to clinch the league, so the Champions League anthem will be blearing out for them at the Victoria Stadium next season.
I live about thirty five minutes from the Murcia/Andalusia border, to reach Gibraltar we had to drive almost the full length of Andalusia. We passed through the provinces of Granada, Malaga and into the province of Cadiz, where Gibraltar is situated. The night before we set off it seemed relevant, even poetic, that the big Andalusian derby between Seville and Betis was taking place in the Europa League. Seville won, I’m glad to say, on penalties after losing the first leg at home 0-2. Most people think Betis are the working class team of the city and Seville more middle class. That has changed over the years and in the main the more excitable fans of Betis are far right leaning and carry the Spanish flag whilst the lads and lasses of Seville’s Biris (Ultras) are more left leaning and carry a variation of the green and white Andalusian flag with a red star in the middle. Lots of them follow a doctrine for an independent Andalusia and support political parties like Nación Andaluza and Sindicato Andaluz de Trabajadores (SAT), incidentally a lot of Cadiz fans have similar leanings and display the same red star flag at games. That may surprise some of you as independence movements for Catalonia and the Basque Country are well documented BUT Andalusia. Every Spanish stereotype you can think of, except Paella, emanates from that region. White horses, white villages, sherry, flamenco, Spanish gypsies etc. etc. are all Andalusian hallmarks yet there are some people who live there who don’t feel Spanish. They align themselves with the ideology of Blas Infante the father of Andalusian nationalism, who has a huge statue and monument in Seville dedicated to him, if interested you can read more here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blas_Infante
In a way, when you analyse the history of Andalusia, an independence movement is not as surprising as it first appears, as for hundreds of years the region was the heart of the kingdom of Al-Andalus and in reality the authentic Spanish are from the Kingdom of Castile, whose capital was Toledo a town not far from modern day Madrid. In fact the proper name for the Spanish language is Castilian.
Anyway enough of the history lesson and back to football matters. Like United’s, Ciudad de Murcia’s season has ground to a halt with nothing left to play for. However this weekend coming they have an interesting away game at Aguillas, which is at the coast. They play at the second oldest stadium in Spain called El Rubial and there are more British links there too. A Scottish engineer called Juan Gray Watson brought football with the railways to the town back in the early 1900s. There is also a football museum in Aguillas that I am going to try and have a look at too.
I missed last weekend’s away game, at Basilicas, where the Ciudad team showed their support for justice, in the case of Athletic Bilbao fan Iñigo Cabacas. It was the two year anniversary of the death of Cabacas who was killed by a plastic bullet fired by police into a crowd outside a bar in Bilbao, after a very minor incident.
The fans were in high spirits after beating Schalke 04 in the Europa League, in April 2012, when a small scuffle broke out amongst local fans. The police were called to the disturbance and this is when the tragic event occurred, apparently when the minor fracas was well over. Nobody has faced any criminal investigation for this and last weekend fans all over Spain, especially in Seville, Cadiz and the Basque Country, showed their solidarity in a call for justice over the incident. See thousands of people on the streets of Bilbao here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EhuUqgoxHoo
A bit of football bonus happened this week as well, as Ciudad played their first international friendly against a club from Iceland called Íþróttabandalag Vestmannaeyja (IBV). They play in the Icelandic Premier and have played in the Champions League and people like David Moyes (yes him the football genius) and David “Calamity” James have turned out for them in the past. I feared the worst but Ciudad played well and were only beaten 0-3, at the state of the art Murcian football facilities, called the Pinitar Arena. http://www.pinatararena.com/
Only about forty Ciudad fans, including me, made the trip as the kick off was at 6pm on a Tuesday evening and most people work here until nine o´clock. It was a great experience though to see Ciudad play under the UEFA flag, something I never thought we would ever see.
I’d like to finish off by dedicating this blog to my father in law Dennis. He was a no nonsense Irishman from Newry and moved to the North East, after various stop off points around the UK, in the 70s. He was what you would call an armchair United fan, but his son and subsequent grandchildren have all went on to be huge Mags, following the club at various times all over the UK and Europe. I’m going to miss the craic!