2018/19 in Review

So here we are, finally at the end of the 2018/19 season.

From a Europa League warm-up friendly in Coleraine to the Champions League Final in Madrid, via Edinburgh, Lisbon and lots of other places in between, this has been an amazing journey and one I’ve been pleased to share with all my readers.

But it’s over now and I thought it best to pause for breath before 2019/20 begins in earnest in early July.

And what better way to do that than by giving out my own personal awards for the season? Some of these were actually really hard to decide on, but it was a really fun way to look back on the games I’ve seen over the past 12 months.

First up…

The Stats

Courtesy of the excellent Groundhopper App, I’ve been able to keep track of things a bit better than in the past and it’s also responsible for helping me find some of the matches on the list.

Games: 55

Goals: 141

Goals per game: 2.56

Grounds Visited: 21

New Grounds Visited: 14

Most visited Ground: The Showgrounds/Wanda Metropolitano (9 times each)

Countries: Four – Northern Ireland, Scotland, Spain, Portugal.

Teams Seen: 60

Most-Seen Team: Coleraine (12 times)

Most goals: Coleraine 8-0 Dergview (27.7.2018)

Most Common Result: 1-0 (13 times!)

Now onto the awards proper…

Best Matches

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Celebrations as Alavés go 2-1 up at Rayo

There are a few games which stand out above the others. My first three visits to Vallecas this season were all brilliant in different ways. Rayo 1-5 Alavés had comic defending, brilliant goals and a brilliant atmosphere, Rayo 2-2 Villarreal was a great example of two desperate teams going toe-to-toe, while Rayo 2-2 Real Sociedad simply summed up why Rayo would eventually go down – blowing a comfortable 2-0 lead.

For pure entertainment as a neutral, Union Adarve 3-3 Coruxo from the end of March ticked all the boxes and I really enjoyed the occasions of the Derbí Madrileño in February and El Derbí Histórico in December.

In terms of good old schadenfreude, watching Real Madrid lose at home to Levante after a totally bonkers opening 20 minutes was an early season highlight while watching their season start to implode at home to Girona in February was good fun too. More on that one later…

Best Goals

A few good ones which spring to mind…

Ibai Gomez (first goal) for Alaves v Rayo Vallecano

Felipe Luis (with his right foot!) for Atleti v Real Sociedad

Aaron Burns (second goal) for Coleraine v Cliftonville

Best Goal I Actually Have My Own Video Of

Joan Jordan’s free kick for Eibar at Leganés in January.

Worst Match

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Not counting pre-season friendlies – because they’re almost always terrible, I’m afraid it’s going to have to be Leganés 0-0 Celta Vigo from the end of April. On paper it looked like it could be a really good game. Lega needed a few more points to secure beyond doubt their status in La Liga, while Celta were still fighting for their lives at that stage.

Yet from the get-go at Butarque, both sides seemed to agree that a draw was good enough for both of them. In 90+ minutes there was only one real goalscoring chance, Iago Aspas’ lob getting hacked off the line by Kenneth Ormeruo early in the second half. However, there was a bit of a fight near the end of the first half and the weather was lovely, so not all bad!

Best Rubbish Goal

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Remember Nikola Kalinic? He’s become a bit of a forgotten man in the last few months at Atlético (not hard to see why) but Simeone was really keen to sign him last summer and he did score one of the best terrible goals of the season, converting a cross from about two yards out with his stomach when Atleti beat Alavés 3-0 in December.

He scored against Valladolid the following week and that was it as far as La Liga was concerned as Diego Simeone turned to loan signing Alvaro Morata to try and plug the gap left by Diego Costa’s injury/suspension/general ineffectiveness (delete as appropriate)

Most Entertaining Player (for all the wrong reasons)

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Rayo Vallecano’s Abdoulaye Ba is box-office. No player in world football sums up their team’s style of play as much as he does.  Unfortunately this means being bad at playing out from the back and making comic mistakes that repeatedly lead to goals.

The first time I saw him play this season, he got sent off for needlessly hitting an opponent off the ball as Alavés went 2-1 up in Vallecas and that set the standard which he effortlessly maintained throughout all my other Rayo matches.

Hero of the Season

Both the hero we need and the one we deserve, has anyone lit up La Liga as much this year as Super Pepino?  Leganés’ anthropomorphic cucumber mascot has been a massive hit ever since he made his debut in August and has become something of an internet sensation.

Which makes it all the more bizarre that Lega haven’t capitalised on this by getting lots of Super Pepino merchandise in their store at Butarque.

Most Terrifying Mascot

Barry. Always Barry.

Comeback of the Season

Santi Cazorla didn’t play football for 636 days. At one point he feared that he would never walk again (as detailed in this excellent, but extremely graphic, interview with Sid Lowe). Yet he finished this season having been arguably Villarreal’s best player and playing for Spain again for the first time in nearly four years.

If you’re not moved by his story then you probably have a rubbish bin for a heart. I was extremely glad I got to see him play when Villarreal visited Rayo back in November.

Laugh of the Season

Turning up at the Wanda on Madrid Derby day to discover that Thibaut Courtois’ ‘legend’ plaque outside the stadium, which had already been defaced following his move to Real Madrid in the summer, was now serving as a dumping spot for empty beer cans and glasses, toy mice and the lid from a tin of Mark’s and Spencer’s shortbread.

Courtois of course, did have the last laugh with Madrid running out 3-1 winners.

Best New Stadium Visited

It is the ground I’ve gone back to the most in Madrid this season – the Wanda Metropolitano is something special. Whether it’s an Atlético match, or about a quarter full for an early season Rayo Majadahonda game or hosting the Champions League Final, it doesn’t disappoint.

Stadium I Most Want To Go Back To

I loved my visit to Edinburgh last July and particularly going to Tynecastle to see the Magnificent Gorgie Boys against the Blue Brazil (Hearts v Cowdenbeath to the uninitiated). So much so that I’m eagerly awaiting the release of the Betfred Cup fixture dates so that I can make a return visit this summer.

Best Atmosphere

The Estadio da Luz in April was something special. Almost a capacity crowd, united as one in cheering their team on in an unbelievably tight title race.

(Whisper it though, I think the Estadio Alvalade was louder when I visited it to watch Sporting in 2016)

Best Kit

The Depor third kit, featuring the words of the Galician anthem, has arguably been the best thing about a mediocre season for the club. I did get to see it in action back in September (albeit worn by the B Team away to Fuenlabrada)

Close runner-up is another sash kit – Rayo’s black away kit, featuring the red sash and trimmed with gold.

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Let’s just not mention Rayo’s third kit, ok? If I was doing a worst kit category, that would probably walk it.

Best Food

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Leganés’ world-famous (probably) bocata de lomo slays all the competition here. Which makes the news that they are potentially considering stopping selling hot food at games next season extremely distressing!

Honourable mention for the bifanas at the Estadio da Luz in Lisbon and for the fact that they made the who experience of queuing so easy. Order and pay while you wait in line and then collect when you get to the front. Everyone else take note!

Most Inventively Named Sandwiches

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“Dos Villas, un Laporta y un Sharapova porfa.”

At Union Adarve’s Campo García de la Mata ground.

Best Bar

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Lovely setup at CD Canillas when I visited there for a midweek Tercera game during Semana Santa. A nice little spot to have a relaxing cup of café con leche before the game.

Unfortunately Canillas got relegated from Tercera at the end of the season, so if you visit this great bar you’ll be watching Madrid Preferente football.

Best Backdrop to a Stadium

The backdrop to RSD Alcála’s Estadio Municipal Del Val is definitely one of the nicest views I’ve had this season. Shame about what was happening on the pitch – a scrappy 0-0 draw against local rivals San Fernando de Henares.

Honourable mention for the views of the Madrid skyline from the back of the main stand at Vallecas.

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Best Himno

Yeah, you know what’s coming here.

A la bimbam, bimbam, bimbam!

Bimbam, bimbam, gol!

Honourable mentions for ‘Lucha Getafe’ and Atleti’s has really grown on me over the season. Also ‘The Hearts Song‘ is brilliant.

Best Sunset

Leganés win this one hands down.

One of my favourite pictures of the season, taken during Leganés’ 2-2 draw with Eibar in January. I can’t wait to head back there in the autumn for some more like this.

Best Ticket Design

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RSD Alcalá win this one easily. Not hard given that the vast majority of Spanish teams have a generic ticket design, but even so it’s hard not to love the image of Miguel de Cervantes playing football.

Most Specific Search Term For The Blog

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Extremely impressed that someone found my post In Leganés Dreams Come True through this brilliantly specific search. I do hope the piece was of some use to them!

Moan of the Season

That time I was stuck in a huge queue outside the Wanda waiting to buy a ticket for Rayo Majadahonda v Extremadura still annoys me.

Clearly they had underestimated the demand there would be for tickets and only decided to open two windows at the ticket office. And still did nothing when a huge queue almost stretching back to the Metro entrance developed.

In the end I missed about 35 minutes of the game and two goals but did get to see Extremadura’s Enric Gallego make history as the first visiting player to score a hat-trick at the Wanda Metropolitano.

Most Spectacular Collapse

Remember Alcorcón? The plucky underdogs who emerged as surprise promotion contenders in Segunda on the back of great home form and an amazing defensive record. I went to see them in November as they beat Zaragoza 2-0 to stay top of the league for a second consecutive week.

Courtesy of Soccerway.com here are their results for the rest of the season…

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And remember that one of those four victories after November was a walkover because Reus were kicked out of the league. They then finished their season by losing 11-0 in a friendly to Cameroon.

Bucket List Item of the Season

Madrid Derby? ❎

Champions League Final? ❎

Nope, something even better than either of those…

Sergio Ramos getting sent off!

Ramos’ 25th red card in a Real Madrid shirt wasn’t one of his best – a totally needless second yellow for deliberate handball as Madrid desperately chased the game against Girona at home in February, a result which effectively derailed their chances of winning the title. This happened only a few days after Ramos deliberately got himself booked against Ajax, so he would use up his suspension in the second leg and be free for the quarter finals. How did that work out Sergio?

Best Intervention By a Referee

Don Mateu Lahoz (aka the Spanish Raymond Crangle) livened up an extremely full Atlético v Leganés match in March with a back heel.

It was pretty much the most memorable thing which happened in the match and almost single-handedly saved it from being the worst match of my season.

Biggest Disappointment

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Coleraine not getting to the Irish Cup Final on 4th May when a combination of public holidays gave me a five-day weekend. It would have been a perfect opportunity to take an extended trip home (more than my brief 48-hour visits of the previous two years) and we would probably have won it again too – though not taking anything for granted considering how inconsistent we were this season.

Shame that linesman in the semi-final had x-ray vision and was able to see through a couple of people standing in front of him that Jamie Glackin was fouled outside the penalty area. Nope, I’m still not over that.

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