If there’s one thing I enjoy on a Saturday evening, apart from reading about a Franchise 5-0 stuffing, it’s sitting down in front of Sky Sports and putting on La Liga football.
While the Premiershit tries to convince us all that it’s the most exciting league in the world, the Spanish equivalent goes one better and tries to prove it. Having watched it for a number of years (first on the original TVE Internacional coverage, then on Sky), the level of skill, intensity and atmosphere has always been a constant high. Witness Barca v Chelski. Despite this, I’d never been able to watch a La Liga game in the flesh. Until, that is, I found myself in Madrid..
Now, I somehow managed to time my visit to coincide with el Derbi, or Real vs Atletico. You should therefore be reading about the noise and intensity of the Bernabeu. Or indeed the clashes with police and the 1200 Atletico fans allowed into the ground. You should expect the occasion sneer about David Beckham being used as a shirt selling merchandise tool (though TBH he actually looks like he fits into the Real setup, and certainly justifies his place). But you’re not.
I suppose I ought to say that I didn’t go to the game because I refused to line the pockets of Zidane, Ronaldo and co. Instead, I should have spent my dough on a fifth division team that was formed during the Spanish Civil War, and whose pitch contains the ashes of those slaughtered by Franco. The truth was, I didn’t have a ticket, and wasn’t going to pay â‚¬80 to some iffy looking tout for a dubious looking stub. Additionally, the gawping daytrippers wearing Siemens branded shirts were starting to annoy me. So, the other game of choice was Getafe v Real Betis…
You’ve probably heard of Real Betis, they’re the sort of team that knock Newcastle out in the early rounds of the UEFA Cup. You maybe haven’t heard of Getafe. Don’t worry, up until a couple of years ago most people hadn’t. They’re known as the club that nobody watches. They were formed in 1983, and this was their second season in the top flight. While they get crowds of 13000 now, they were getting 5000 in the lower reaches. Their president even has a Real Madrid season ticket, which is a bit like finding out Kris Stewart used to support Liverpool. And yet, there they were, sitting comfortably in mid-table. In short, Getafe are the Wigan of La Liga, and the game had the potential to be another Wigan v Aston Villa.
Now, when I arrived at the ground, I expected there to be a few people about. What did surprise me was how many had turned up. Not just Getafe fans but plenty of Real Betis ones as well. Loud bastards as well. Also, there was plenty of graffiti about, though not all of it was of a friendly nature.
If getting a ticket for Real v Atletico was harder than getting Peter Wankelmann to be honest, getting la taquilla for this game was piss easy. And a helluva lot cheaper as well (â‚¬30 behind the goal, and even got offered the same seat in the Betis end). Hassle free, just as football should be.
The thing about Getafe’s ground is how small it is, though it does hold roughly 18000 people. It’s placed between a motorway, a big Carrefour and more than a few new housing developments. It’s not particularly well furnished either – only one stand has a roof, the seats are pretty basic and refreshments are baguettes, Coca Cola and bottled water. And that’s about it. Mind you, it did seem to work well enough, you could get served pretty quickly and for a stadium it was averagely priced. Does make you wonder if these new stadia in England are over-doing the facilities a bit too much…
So, I got in, spent a few minutes decyphering where I was sitting from the ticket, then realised that it was in an unfilled bit of the stadium. There were more than a few Betis fans at the other end, while the Getafe fans seemed to wander in as the Spanish do. They don’t seem to have an obvious Ultras section, though some of them did hold up a sign with “Ultras” on it. They did have a couple of drums though.
Which was just as well, as the PA was playing some pretty lousy music. One song that stuck in my mind sounded like a mixture between that “I eat cannibals” song and Las Ketchup. Marc Anthony this wasn’t.
Also interesting to note that despite the passion associated wth Spanish football, there was no antagonism at all shown to the couple of Betis fans in the home end. They just walked around, minding their own business and no obvious signs of abuse. This wasn’t isolated – the night before, whilst watching el Derbio on telly, I was in a bar near Atletico’s ground, which was owned by a Real Madrid supporter. It was about half/half in terms of support, and there was absolutely zero sign of people wanting to twat each other. I saw the second half in the bar in Atletico’s ground, and while noisier was never likely to erupt into violence. Mind you, the beer was served in plastic glasses…
As for the teams, while there weren’t many star names about, there were a couple of regonisable names. The most obvious one was Edu (yes, that Edu – the ex-Arse geezer) for Real Betis. Getafe had Veljko Paunovic, a Serb who was doing pretty OK up front. Look out for him in the World Cup. And, for those who like to claim that they saw him on his debut (bit like what we do when we mention Michael Owen), a recently signed Brazilian called Jaja. He was on the bench, much to the disappointment of a few home fans. But more on him later..
So, agua in hand, the teams came out and we were due to be treated to a feast of football. And to be fair, there was a lot more skill shown than the Wigan v Villa equivalent. Then again, RPV v Frimley Green has more skill. The game wasn’t the best TBH, though Betis were struggling and Getafe didn’t need to exhert themselves. The first and only goal of the game came from Paunovic via his head. Cue much waving of scarves and cries of “Het-Taf”, phlegm optional.
The rest of the first half wasn’t overly exciting, couple of half chances but nothing more. Of far more interest to everyone was the Burberry clad individual, who had clearly been on the Mahou too much beforehand. For some reason, he decided to start a scuffle with somebody. The stewards eventually came, and dealt with him in the most appropriate manner. Yup, they allowed him to stay. Don’t tell me Getafe are that desperate to keep people in….
It was then starting to get just a tad cold. OK, I was underprepared a little, but seriously, this was starting to get Chessington and Hook like. I should have known of the impending doom when the bloke behind me (wearing a Man U tracksuit top, believe it or not) had a blanket with him. With the wind being more Siberian than Iberian, I consumed the only hot drink on offer. It was some Spanish broth type thing, which was surprisingly tasty. Well, I think it was, but then I had lost all sense of feeling. Perhaps the snow covered peaks from the nearby Guadarrama mountains were telling me something…
Suitably warm(er), the second half started. And it was, well, a bit better. Or rather, Getafe attacked a bit more. To be fair, they could have scored a couple more. They weren’t going to lose though, I can see why Betis were down the lower end of the table. The passing was a little bit wayward, and we needed something to lift people..
And lo, appearing star-like, was the man they had all come to see. Yes, Jaja rose up off the bench and the whole of the Coloseum Alfonzo Perez rose as one. Spanish guile and Serbian sniping were soon to be complimented by Copacabana skills, samba strokes and rhythmic flair that we can expect from the magicians of world football*. Well, almost. Personally, I thought the guy was shit – he looked unfit, he got dis-possessed a few times and basically looked like Peter Crouch minus the talent. He will of course now score 17 goals and sign for Barcelona for â‚¬20m.
* – it is mandatory for all sports hacks to put down every single cliche going when describing Brazilian footballers. Even ones that move as well as that bloke shot at Stockwell tube station.
This really did wake the crowd up, and it got quite noisy. The last ten minutes were pretty raucous, and Getafe had a few more openings. With a better strikeforce, it would have been 3-0. As it was, the whistle blew, and it was the single goal that won it. One strange thing was that when leaving, the exit sign was in both Spanish and English. Can you imagine KM having “Salida” signs up? Come to think of it, there aren’t many “Way Out” signs either…
To sum up, Betis were quite simply awful. They couldn’t pass to save their lives and seem unable to cope with other teams (like the home side) surpassing them. As for Getafe, they’ll always be a small fish in a big pond – even if there is talk of them building a new stadium to accomodate all the new fans that La Liga will bring them. I’ve heard this sort of thing somewhere before. Can’t think where, though. Not that being such a thing is bad of course, but I just couldn’t help thinking that should they get relegated they’ll do a Rayo Vallecano.
For the unitiated, Rayo are another Madrid club who enjoyed La Liga success a couple of seasons ago. They play in a 15k stadium which had three sides (the fourth was a block of flats – I kid you not, I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Shitty area as well). Anyway, they went down and ended up in the third division, currently playing to crowds of 3000. With Getafe, you just can’t help thinking that many of their followers will be back at the Bernabeu or Vicente CalderÃ³n when it all goes pear shaped.
As I picked up the next days papers (Spain has at least two national sports papers, and very good ones as well), it did appear that the headline of “Musho Geta, poco Betis” summed it up. Not that I was paying much attention to it, I couldn’t help noticing the pictures of Mourinho and the caption of “El Prat”……..