Oviedo: For Club and Country

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Every so often, I take a look back at trips I’ve taken in the past. This time I’m looking back three years to the time I went to Oviedo in September 2015 for what turned out to be a packed football weekend.

The story of how I went to Oviedo doesn’t start really early on the morning of Saturday 5th September 2015, it actually goes all the way back to November 2012. At that time Real Oviedo were facing a battle against bankruptcy and in an attempt to raise money, shares in the club were sold. I became aware of this because the campaign was publicised by Oviedo-supporting journalist Sid Lowe and decided to do my bit to help out.

With a share purchased, the idea of going to Oviedo was firmly planted, almost a year before I moved to Spain. When I did make the move, it was to the region adjacent to Asturias, but the traditional unpredictability of Spanish kick off times and the length of the journey involved kept me from making the trip.

However, by good fortune my new local team, SD Compostela, were in the same league as Oviedo and in my first two years, I was able to see them play twice, including the day they won Group 1 of Segunda B in spring 2015.

A few months later, and knowing I would have a bit more free time on my hands at the start of September, I looked into the possibility of going. And I was in luck, not only did the Segunda fixtures hand Oviedo a home game that weekend, but Spain were playing a vital Euro 2016 qualifier the day before and amazingly there were still tickets available. I acted quickly and within half an hour, had my match ticket, hotel and bus all booked.

So back to 5th September 2015…

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The route to Oviedo. Wouldn’t fancy staying on till the end…

It was dark when I left my flat in the middle of Santiago and made the trip up Rua de San Pedro and towards the bus station where I would get the bus. The journey was long and slow, but I got there by early afternoon.

After settling in to my hotel room it was time to get something to eat. And what better than one of the local specialties? Cachopo consists of two beef fillets sandwiching ham and cheese and then fried in breadcrumbs. Having eaten it, I felt like I wouldn’t need to eat for the rest of the weekend.

Anyway, on to the important stuff, match number one. The Estadio Carlos Tartiere was a significant distance away from where I was staying, but the steady stream of people in red shirts making their way through the city meant there was no danger of me getting lost.

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View from the outside.

True to form, I arrived quite early which at least gave me the opportunity to explore the surroundings and mingle with the other early arriving fans outside. Needless to say I had to repeatedly explain why someone from Northern Ireland was interested in going to Spain v Slovakia a few times and I’m not sure my Spanish at that stage was adequate enough to accurately get that across.

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Manolo el del bombo – Spain’s most famous fan

I did manage to spot a famous face making his way to the game, not a player, but a fan. Manolo el del bombo, who travels everywhere with the Spain team, mixes with royalty and owns a bar facing Valencia’s Mestalla stadium filled with memorabilia celebrating his years following the national team (which I would eventually visit nearly two years later). Here, in the absence of any players, he was posing for photos with fans, embracing his position as an unofficial mascot or symbol of the team. For a bit more detail about him, here’s a nice profile (written by the aforementioned Sid Lowe) back in 2012.

When I finally made my way into the ground and found my seat ahead of kick-off, I was in a nice position, very close to the pitch in one of the corners. The match itself was hardly a classic though. It was important for Spain because earlier in the qualification campaign, a couple of Iker Casillas blunders had seen them lose in Slovakia and dropping any more points would have made qualification for the finals in France a little more awkward. Speaking of Casillas, he retained his starting spot for this game as this was only a few days after a dodgy fax machine had halted David de Gea’s proposed move to replace him at Real Madrid ad it was decided that the Manchester United goalkeeper wasn’t in the right frame of mind to play. Fortunately for Spain, on this occasion, Casillas had little to nothing to do.

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My view of the action.

If anything, the game would probably be most remembered for the treatment of Gerard Pique at the hands of a large section of the Spain fans. Repeatedly making inflammatory comments about Real Madrid and his support for a referendum on Catalan independence hardly endears him to a lot of Spanish fans, especially not in Oviedo, a city where traditionally many people support Madrid alongside their local team, so it probably wasn’t a surprise that his every touch was whistled and jeered. What maybe was surprising was that behind me a group of fans decided to retaliate by whistling when Sergio Ramos got the ball. Perhaps they were from Gijon, Asturias’ other city, where oddly enough, there’s a lot more support for Barcelona.

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Iniesta – The Magician

Leaving controversies like this behind, it was good to see this Spain team, admittedly somewhat past the peak of their powers, but still capable of passing teams to death. The result was never in doubt from the moment Jordi Alba finished off a good move by heading home in the fifth minute and Andres Iniesta’s penalty on the half hour just made sure. I was happy to have finally seen the great man in action (especially since my trip to Barcelona in 2011 had seen him only making a brief cameo off the bench) and he didn’t disappoint, barely misplacing a pass all game. He’s always been one of my favourite players, as much for his unassuming personality as for his artistry with the ball and I consider myself fortunate to have seen him play.

20150906_155723And so on to the following day, when I would be heading back to the Tartiere for arguably the main event, Real Oviedo vs Albacete, the game I’d waited nearly three years to see. But on the way I took a bit of a detour and inadvertently ended up outside the Spanish team hotel. With time to kill before the game, I joined the ranks of fans (again, I was probably the only Northern Irish person in attendance) waiting for the players to leave and board the bus as they travelled to their next qualifier. Most players headed straight to the bus, but ex-Real Oviedo player (and candidate for the title of nicest man in football) Juan Mata took time to sign autographs and pose for photos with fans (including me)

With that little detour over, it was back to the Tartiere, where it was a little bit quieter than the previous day. There was a reasonable queue at the taquillas for match tickets when I arrived, but it fortunately moved pretty quickly and I was able to get inside with enough time before kick off to buy my customary souvenir scarf from the merchandise stand inside. Unfortunately, the extremely classy dark blue Hummel home shirt the players would wear that afternoon wasn’t in stock, only the lurid yellow and pink away and third kits, of which I stayed well clear.

The players on display may not have been as talented or well-known as the ones that had graced the pitch less than 24 hours before, but the match itself was arguably more enjoyable. Oviedo clinched their first win of the new season in the Segunda and their first at that level since their descent into the lower leagues in 2003. Susaeta opened the scoring with a great free kick before Borja Valle doubled the lead thanks to a horrific error from the Albacete goalkeeper, who let the shot squirm through his arms and over the line. Albacete pulled one back before the break and this kept the outcome nicely in the balance until minutes from the end when a cross was deflected into the path of Linares, who calmly slotted home as the defenders appealed in vain for offside.

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Players and fans celebrate Linares’ late clincher.

So the home fans left the stadium happy, dreaming that this would just be the start of a successful season. In the end it didn’t quite work out that way as Oviedo ended up 9th, hampered by the mysterious departure of manager Sergio Egea at a time when they were third in the league and well in the mix for promotion.

I thoroughly enjoyed my weekend in Oviedo and it’s only really my distance from it that has kept me from making a return visit. It’s quite a compact city, I found it easy to walk around the centre near where I was staying and there are lots of beautiful buildings to admire and amazing restaurants to dine out in. If you do visit, you must take a trip down Calle de Gascona,  the city’s bulevar de la sidra lined with bustling bars where the local cider is served in the traditional Asturian fashion, where the glass is held close to the ground and the cider is poured from a bottle held above the head. It’s quite something to witness. I went at the end of summer, when the weather was extremely pleasant, but bear in mind that it is in Northern Spain, it will more than likely be wet so make sure to prepare for that.

Of course, writing all this has got me checking out bus and train prices from Madrid to Oviedo for this Autumn, so who knows, maybe I’ll end up making a return visit soon enough!

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