Greetings from Madrid!
We’re at the business end of the season now. Over the next 31 days trophies will be handed out, promotion places decided, European qualification sorted and battles against relegation go down to the wire
And I can’t wait.
Where I’ve Been
April was a great month for travelling. In the first weekend of the month I took the train up to Valladolid, where I watched Real Valladolid v Sevilla and (before it started raining) got to explore the city centre a bit. It was a good day out and you’ll be able to read a bit more about it later in the month.
But the big trip of the month was my Easter break in Lisbon. It had been three years since my last visit to the Portuguese capital – and this time I wasn’t alone! Over five days, Sarah and I visited a lot of the famous sights, walked a lot and ate all the pastéis de nata.
I spent the first day of the trip doing football things – the excellent museum and stadium tour at the Estadio da Luz and then visiting the home of OS Belenenses, the Estadio do Restelo, where I was able to pick up a scarf for the collection and take a quick look around the ground.
Belenenses are 100 years old this year and are one of only five clubs in Portugal to have ever won the league title but are currently playing in the Lisbon regional leagues after a split between the football club and the SAD (effectively the company which runs the club) last summer.
This had led to the bizarre situation where there are two Belenenses – Belenenses SAD, playing in Liga NOS in the Estadio Nacional, but with virtually no support, and OS Belenenses CF, who retained the history, the stadium and the vast majority of the fans. The situation is explained better here in an excellent article on PortuGoal.net.
Game of the Month
April wasn’t a vintage month for goals. My two forays into the Tercera both produced 1-0 scorelines, Leganés 0-0 Celta was utterly forgettable, Valladolid 0-2 Sevilla was entertaining enough but by far the best game was at the Estadio da Luz where I saw Benfica defeat Vitória Setúbal 4-2.
Aside from the experience of being in one of Europe’s greatest stadiums, this game was packed with incident from beginning to end – literally. Benfica opened the scoring after two minutes and there was a late penalty for the visitors. And of course, a significant helping of VAR. What game is complete without that nowadays?
Most Popular Post
Last month’s Monthly Musings with its mixture of day-trips, food recommendations and football kit geekery was the top click-getter during the month of April. I always enjoy writing the monthly update – I feel it’s a nice way to connect with the readership and share a few things that I’m doing away from the world of football.
My long-in-the-writing look at the Santiago Bernabéu museum and tour has also been pretty popular since it was posted last Monday, so why not check it out if you haven’t already?
Kit of the Month
It must be said that there’s something about purple as a colour in football kits. It’s not that common among major clubs (Italy’s Fiorentina are the most famous) but as the colour is prominently associated with the region of Castilla, of which Valladolid is the capital, it’s no surprise that the local football club had adopted it albeit along with white stripes.
Valladolid’s kit is made by Hummel, a cult favourite brand and it’s a typically classy effort with a big collar and the trademark chevrons down the sleeves. I didn’t buy one, but you’ll be pleased to hear that I did pick up a scarf to add to the collection.
Speaking of scarves, here’s how I’m doing so far in 2019.
Unfortunately Canillas didn’t have any available when I visited during Semana Santa and I had already bought Benfica and Sporting scarves on my previous visit to Lisbon in 2016. The Belenenses centenary scarf is a nice addition!
Food Glorious Food (in Lisbon)
If you go to a football match in Portugal, then it’s essential to have a bifana – a traditional sandwich consisting of marinated pork in a crusty bread roll. I had one at the Estadio da Luz and was suitably impressed. It wasn’t cheap (€4) but it kept away the hunger during the match. Buying your food at the stadium was much more organised than I’ve experienced anywhere else. A man took my order and I paid while I was still standing in the queue and by the time I reached the front, my bifana and drink were ready for me.
Another great thing about Portugal – the fact that peach flavour ice tea is readily available, while in Spain most bars and restaurants only stock the lemon variety.
There are two restaurants I want to highlight for the benefit of anyone who is planning a trip to Lisbon. The first is Trobadores, located in the city centre, not far from Praça do Comercio. It offers a great selection of Portuguese tapas but for me, the real highlight is being able to cook your own chorizo on a small fire on your dining table.
Lisbon also has a number of chinos clandestinos, Chinese restaurants hidden away in back streets, basically inside someone’s flat. Sarah and I decided to check one out near Plaça Martim Moniz and we were glad we did. Admittedly, getting there made us doubt if we were doing the right thing, heading down a dark alley before climbing steps surrounded by graffiti and knocking on a door, but the food we got made it all worthwhile. Possibly one of the best Chinese meals I’ve ever had!
Book of the Month
A return for this section as a bit more travel time has given me more room to read!
Or in the first case, listen. I spent a lot of my long journeys to and from Lisbon listening to the audio book version of Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography. Read by The Boss himself! I’ve still got a couple of hours to go, but they’ll fly in over the upcoming long weekend.
In my free time I finally got round to reading Robbie Dunne’s Working Class Heroes about frequent blog topic Rayo Vallecano, which helped me get a little bit more of an insight into the chaos that goes on behind the scenes of the club. The story about the club bus driver being told to drive to San Sebastián along back roads so as to avoid tolls sums things up. With that finished I’ve just turned my attention to Giles Tremlett’s Ghosts of Spain, something which multiple people have told me is a must-read.
So with the season definitively at its business end, I’m hoping to see a few more big games in La Liga which will affect the battle for Champions League places (Atlético v Sevilla and the potentially decisive final day meeting of Getafe and Villarreal are top of my list) but it’s the lower leagues where the real action is going to be – there are lots of promotion play-offs in Segunda B and Tercera due to get underway in the next few weeks.
Most significantly, three years after a game where they were battling for their very existence, Recreativo de Huelva are on the verge of reaching the Segunda B play-offs. Needless to say, if they do, I’ll be back on a train to Huelva for the occasion. My two and a half years in Huelva were mostly marked by watching them draw 0-0 every other week and doing just about enough to keep their heads above water, so it has been great to follow their improvement from afar this season. A great club, which deserves to be back in the Segunda.
Something non-football related that I’ve been looking forward to a while is the Madrid Open Tennis tournament which runs from the 3rd to the 12th of May. I’m going to the evening session on the 10th, when two men’s quarter-finals and a women’s semi-final are scheduled.
We went last year and while it was enjoyable, we missed out on seeing any of the truly big names. Hopefully this year will be different! I’m particularly excited about the prospect of possibly getting to see Federer, Nadal or Djokovic play live. Sarah is mostly hoping for Nadal, but any of them would be enough for me.
Oh, and you can’t possibly have missed this… but the next time I post one of these, it will be the day of the Champions League Final. And I’m going! Expect more excited build-up to that once the line-up has been decided (or less excited if either of the English teams are involved) and I have the tickets in my hand.
So until the next time,
All the best,