• Tuesday, 6 March 2012

    Unbelievable Jeff! #16 - Spanish special

    What a weekend it was in Spain's Primera Liga. Goals rained in everywhere and a lot of them were very special indeed. All four goals in the Getafe v Málaga game were outstanding, none moreso than the absolute rocket that left the unlikely boot of Jeremy Toulalan. Speaking of unlikely scorers, Barcelona were indebted to Seydou Keita (who we're big fans of) as the ten men of the champions struggled past a gritty, if limited, Sporting Gijon side. Bottom side Real Zaragoza got a vital win over fellow strugglers Villarreal thanks in part to a cracking equaliser from Luis Garciá.
    But none of that makes our entry for Unbelievable Jeff today You see, we had a delegation in Spain this weekend for the big game of the round, the Basque derby between Athletic Club and Real Sociedad.

    Arriving in Bilbao on Friday afternoon, the hotel was located and it was straight up to San Mamés where a small queue was formed up from the ticket windows. Socios only, however. Come back at half ten tomorrow morning. We got there early, but the queue snaked round from the ticket windows right up to the hole in the ground that will one day be the new San Mamés. Thick end of two hours later, it was apparent that there were no more available. We tried again on Sunday morning and got talking to some of the ultras in a bar over the road from the ground. Complete sell-out. The queues were huge on Thursday and Friday morning before we arrived and every one had been taken.
    We'd been out and about in the town on Friday and Saturday and already been won over by the place. It's not exactly a tourist town, so the fact we were there at all, let alone for the football, proved quite the novelty for the locals. We were made extremely welcome and we figured that watching the match in one of the bars near the ground wouldn't be a bad second choice. How right we were.
    Cider and what looked to be a sickly combination of red wine and coke was flowing from 10am. The streets and bars were packed, blue and white mingling freely with red and white with nary a hint of trouble nor the sight of a single copper. Two weeks previously, I was at a game between a blue and white striped team and a red and white striped one and every copper in West Yorkshire seemed to be in town. Commuters just trying to get home were being filmed as they got off the train, so the Spanish approach was welcome and refreshing.
    We watched the Zarzgoza v Villarreal game in one bar and wandered off to grab a decent spot at another for the main event. It was gloriously chaotic everywhere, but we grabbed a spot in a bar where we'd seen the previous night's games. Beer and pinxtos disappeared down our faces at alarming rates as the atmosphere continued to build.

    Athletic dominated the game which was played in an absolute deluge and took the lead midway through the first half as Susaeta finished off a typically Bielsan passage of neat, passing play. The big moment in the game came in the second half when a rare spell of pressure from La Real produced a goal for Carlos Vela that, crucially, none of the officials saw. Athletic responded to it better than La Real and Susaeta, the best player on the field by some distance, made it safe ten minutes from the end with a ripper of a free-kick:

    As unbelievable (Jeff) as that was, that's still not the point of writing this. What was unbelievable, Jeff, was the city, the people, the atmosphere, the camaraderie, the whole experience. A fabulous weekend had by the pair of us, a colossal amount of beer consumed and football watched, capped by that wonderful effort from Susaeta.
    Back to reality now though as I have been roped in to cover the Huddersfield v Hartlepool game tonight. I don't know how it's going to measure up to what I was party to this weekend. If it's even 20% as good as the derby, I'll be a happy man.

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