It’s January, the holiday season is over and I’m enjoying my last few days at home before heading back to Spain to start work again. As this is the traditional time to set goals for the year to come, I think it’s only right that I share a few of my own personal footballing aspirations for 2019 – well six of them to be precise.
1. See a Big Game in Madrid
This one is fairly self-explanatory. Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid are two of the biggest teams in Spain and both are expected to challenge for major honours every season. Matches where they take on their rivals for these honours are huge occasions and I’d like to experience one of them.
There are two obvious candidates, the Madrid Derby at the Wanda Metropolitano in February and then el clásico itself in March at the Santiago Bernabéu. The Derbi Madrileño (not to be confused with the South Madrid derby) has always been an intense rivalry, but one that used to be horribly one-sided until Diego Simeone turned up and made Atleti a force again. They’re rarely high-scoring thrillers, but the atmosphere at a packed-out Wanda would surely be worth the ticket price alone.
Then there’s el clásico, the match that everyone instantly thinks of when La Liga is mentioned. The two most successful sides in the country facing off against each other, the dazzling white of Madrid against Barça in their blaugrana, Catalonia against Old Castille and the million and one other narratives that this fixture conjures up. And for the neutral, it’s a fixture that very rarely disappoints.
Of course, both of these would be tremendously expensive, but as maybe a one-off experience, it might be worth it? Speaking of which…
2. The Champions League Final
The Champions League Final comes to the Wanda Metropolitano in June 2019, so it goes without saying that I’d want to go. Missing out on the Copa Libertadores Final before Christmas has only increased my desire to go.
Living in the host city of the final offers a perhaps once in a lifetime chance to go, especially given the depressing reality that the biggest game in club football will probably end up being played in places like America or Qatar in future.
Applications start in March 2019 and I’ve already pre-registered for the lottery (you can do so here if you want to try your luck) to try and get tickets for the game. The price will undoubtedly be astronomic, but I’d regret it forever if I didn’t try. Though knowing my luck, if I’m successful, I’ll end up watching the existential nightmare of a Man City v Liverpool final.
Should I not be successful in getting Champions League Final tickets there’s always the chance of another cup final in Madrid. The last few Copa del Rey finals have been held in the capital and there’s the assumption that the Wanda Metropolitano will become the default venue for the final, assuming Atlético aren’t involved, so there’s always a chance of making that one which would be a cheaper and possibly easier option.
Things will become clearer after the traditional January blitz of Copa matches.
3. Revisit Some Old Favourites
As someone who was a regular watching Recre through two and a half years when their most common result seemed to be 0-0, it hurts me a bit that I’ve not been there this season to see them now that things have picked up a bit.
Sitting just outside the promotion play-offs at the halfway point of the season makes a nice change from the relegation battles the club has become used to in recent times and there’s always the chance that a good run in the second half of the campaign could make the dream of a promotion push a reality. I’d love to make another trip down to see a few old friends and take up my old seat in the Grada 20° Diciembre once again.
If I could, it would be great to combine a trip south with a game in Seville. Both Sevilla and Betis are having great seasons at home and in Europe, so visiting one of these fantastic grounds would cap off a great weekend. The only issue is the lack of forward planning with kick-off times. La Liga is slow enough with these, but with Recre games in Segunda B it’s usually little over a week in advance that the kick off time is announced, making booking accommodation and transport a bit of a nightmare.
These aren’t the only places I’d love to visit again. It’s now well over three years since I last visited A Coruña and saw Depor play in the Estadio Riazor. The distance between Huelva and A Coruña made return visits almost impossible over a weekend, but Madrid is a lot closer, with better transport links.
I also have a hankering to revisit Lisbon, hopefully with sunnier weather than my storm-lashed trip in March 2016 and this time see a Benfica game, having went to Sporting back then and only managed to do the stadium tour of the magnificent Estadio da Luz.
The connection between all these is that I’m desperate to get out of Madrid a bit more often in the second term. I only left the city three times between September and the start of the Christmas holidays and while there is plenty to do, it definitely left me with itchy feet and a severe case of wanderlust.
4. A proper European Football Trip
It’s been a while since I’ve been able to head away with just my closest friends for a weekend of football and soaking up the local culture.
As you may remember from a previous post, I’m getting married – which seems like as good a reason as any to justify a trip to celebrate the end of single life (I really hate the term ‘Stag Party’) and watch some football.
Nothing is decided yet, it will probably depend on fixtures for next season, but I have a long-standing dream to see Ajax playing at home so watch this space.
5. Another Irish Cup Final (please!)
This is the most selfish of my wishes but anyway…
It would be amazing to see Coleraine back in the Irish Cup Final for the third year in a row. The club has never managed that before in their history but experiencing success last season always leaves you hungry for more.
It’s been a bit of an up and down season for the Bannsiders, who were dealt a huge blow in September when manager Oran Kearney, who masterminded the Cup triumph last season, left to take charge of Saint Mirren in the Scottish Premiership. New boss Rodney McAree has an impressive track-record from his time at Dungannon Swifts, but has had to deal with a lot in his first few months in the job, injuries to key players, a squad left short in key areas by a lack of summer transfer activity and the general instability which comes when a long-serving manager leaves unexpectedly.
Coleraine have been in worse situations than this and still enjoyed good cup runs (two seasons ago being a prime example) so with a couple of reinforcements in the January transfer window, there’s no reason that they shouldn’t have me leave the first weekend of May free…
6. See Northern Ireland reach Euro 2020
This is number six because it’s possibly the longest shot of all of them.
The disaster that was Northern Ireland’s UEFA Nations League campaign, combined with a nightmare qualifying draw against the Netherlands and Germany has meant a repeat of the heady summer of 2016 in France is highly unlikely.
But I’m nothing if not an optimist. The Netherlands have failed to qualify for two tournaments in a row, Germany are still suffering from their World Cup hangover and were relegated from League A in the Nations League. Perhaps one of them will make a slow start to the qualifiers? It should be said that NI played pretty well in most of the Nations League games, but the difference was that their opponents, Bosnia and Austria, had top-level attacking players who made the difference, while NI wasted chance after chance.
The fixtures have handed Northern Ireland the four most winnable games first before the matches with the big names in the autumn. If we get 10/12 points on the board from those games, maybe we have half a chance?
What do you want to see or do in terms of football in 2019? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter @viajesenfutbol