As any fan of the beautiful game knows, an International break in the fixtures means a weekend without a game for top flight teams around Europe. In Spain, as in other countries, it represents a chance to get a look at some grass roots football, see the national team in action and perhaps even meet one of your personal heroes. Mrs Paella was back in the UK visiting her folks, so my mate Gary (on the left) came out to visit and ensured that we did all three and more!
The fixture list was not kind to us. It was impossible to plan much in advance because none of the clubs could make up their minds when they were going to play their games. Yes, it was frustrating, but websites like Soccerway, Sofascore and Groundhopper were closely monitored until we finally had a list of FIVE games to see over three days.
Game 1 – Elche Ilicitano v Roda CF
Elche Ilicitano, the reserve team of Elche, were in action at 1630 on the Friday afternoon. That gave us the chance to watch our first game of the weekend, have a bite to eat, then settle in to watch England demolish the Czech Republic on the TV later. The Ciutat Esportiva Juan Ángel Romero stadium is the training ground for Elche’s first team and we were surprised at the crowd of several hundred spectators as we had expected maybe 27 and a couple of dogs. Maybe the entry fee of just €5 was a factor. That made for a good atmosphere as the home team upset the form book and ground out a 1-0 victory against CD Roda who have had a far more successful season in Tercera Group 6. It wasn’t pretty, but you don’t expect fourth tier football to be so.
Game 2 – CF Torre Levante 0-2 Crevillente Deportivo
On Saturday morning it was a two hour drive up to Valencia to stay at the Olympia Hotel in Albaraya. That meant we could just walk over the road, take a quick look at Levante’s stadium and then find the “ground” where CF Torre Levante play their home games. We were surprised to have to pay €10 to go to a game in the same division as the one we had paid half the price for the previous day. Justice was served (!) when the home keeper fumbled a weak shot into his own goal after just 45 seconds. Their opponents, high flying Crevillente Deportivo, went on to win 2-0 but it should have been far more comfortable than that. A sparse crowd created very little atmosphere though.
Game 3 – Spain v Norway
The reason we had to go to Valencia was this game. You don’t get too many opportunities to watch a world class team so we jumped at the chance to see Spain play at Valencia’s Mestalla in a European Championship qualifier against Norway. The hosts were far too good for their Scandanavian opponents but they almost blew it by being far too profligate. Indeed, Norway equalised with a bit of a soft penalty before Spanish captain Sergio Ramos sealed the deal with a penalty of his own in style – a Penenka! The atmosphere was disappointing though. Do Spanish fans not sing songs, or could we not hear them where we were?
Game 4 – Ribarroja CF 2-1 Discobólo-La Torre
After a hearty breakfast we headed into the Valencia hills to see my friend and pick some oranges! Take a look at his blog about El Pozo Naranjo to see how he’s getting on in the Valencian countryside. Not too far away we made it to Ribarroja just in time for kick-off. With one goal in our first game, two in the second, and three in the third, we couldn’t wait for Game 4! Sadly we didn’t see four goals, and we had to make do with three. Considering this was being played in Preferente Valenciana we were surprised at the quality and entertainment on show. It was great value for €5 each. Both sides are challenging to reach the play-offs and on this display, Ribarroja may well have an extension to their season after a hard earned 2-1 victory. The imaginatively named Discólobo-La Torre now have too much ground to make up.
Game 5 – Orihuela CF 1-0 Novelda CF
A mad dash down from Valencia to Orihuela saw us arrive at the Estadio Municipal Los Arcos just in time to pay €10 and catch the kick-off. It was a good game but it is very clear why Orihuela CF are sitting pretty at the top of their league (Tercera, Group 6, just like two of the other games), and Novelda CF are fighting bravely in a relegation battle. The home favourites won 1-0 and at times there was a gulf in class but Novelda never gave up and they could easily have defied the odds with a late equaliser.
Meeting a personal hero
Of all the fixtures over the weekend, Orihuela v Novelda was the one around which all our planning was based. Why? Well, Brighton and Hove Albion legend David López is now the club captain responsible for steering Novelda clear from trouble at the bottom of the league. He oozed class during a game where his team-mates could not make the most of his distribution of the ball from midfield. It must have been very frustrating for him, but still he agreed to spend some time with us before going to console his beaten colleagues in the dressing room. He signed our shirts and had a good chat. He is such a gentleman, a professional, and a hero of ours.
How heroes are made!
You may be asking why we were so keen to meet up with a player who is plying his trade at such a lowly level. Well, here is the moment he made his mark as a true Brighton legend!
So, next time you want to watch some football, you might want to look a little lower down the leagues to see some passion and some goals!