The 2019/20 season is up and running and although I’ve already been on my travels, it’s always September before this blog gets a bit more exotic.
I love going to lots of Coleraine games (they are my team after all) but I get the feeling (*cough* website stats *cough* ) that you readers prefer it when I’m off in Spain and sharing my experiences of that kind of thing.
So here we are, a look ahead to five (kind of six) new stadiums which are on my list to visit this season!
1. The Victoria Stadium, Gibraltar
Back in 2017, I spent the Easter week travelling around the province of Cadiz, exploring some new to me places and finishing up in the strange little British exclave of Gibraltar.
There’s a whole wealth of material out there on this place and its complicated history and constitutional status, all written by people much more informed than I am. What I do know is that because of this, it’s a viable destination for international couples looking to get married – as Sarah and I will at the start of next month.
Although that is obviously the main reason for visiting The Rock again, considering there is football on, it would be wrong to not take advantage of it and see a game in my 11th UEFA nation.
The season has just kicked off, but under something of a cloud as three of the 16 teams in the new National League have already pulled out over financial concerns. Hopefully there are some teams left standing to allow me to see a game in this stadium with one of the most magnificent backdrops in world football.
And by going down there I’ll have the opportunity to watch a match from the other side of the border as well!
2. Estadio Salto del Caballo, Toledo
CD Toledo are not one of Spanish football’s biggest names. Aside from seven seasons in the Segunda in the 1990’s, they’ve spent their entire existence in the lower leagues.
What they can boast is a stadium with an iconic backdrop (shown above in a photo by friend of the blog Roddy Cons). The Alcázar de Toledo dominates the skyline of the city. There has been a building on that site since the Roman era but it reached its apogee in the 16th century when, as Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain during its great Imperial phase, Charles V ruled ‘an empire on which the sun never set’ from within its walls.
These days the idea of it being an imperial capital seems quite quaint, but it remains a fantastic spot for a day trip from Madrid. I last went there in April 2018 during Semana Santa, when I was able to see the Alcázar, explore the old town, get my photo with the Cervantes statue and do all the typical touristy things, but sadly football wasn’t on the menu, although I did spot the club’s shirt in a souvenir shop.
3. Estadio Vicente Del Bosque, Madrid
Keeping with the theme of stadiums with amazing backdrops…
After playing at the Estadio García de la Mata last season, Unión Adarve will be playing their home games at the Estadio Vicente Del Bosque this term, although the long-term plan is developing a permanent home in the Barrio del Pilar where the club is based.
As you can see from the picture, the skyline is dominated by the Cuatro Torres, the four tallest buildings in Spain, with their own link to one of the 21st century’s most iconic teams.
The land the towers are built on was formerly Real Madrid’s training ground. Facing financial problems in the early part of his reign as president, Florentino Perez cut a deal with the city council to sell the land, which helped wipe out Madrid’s debt and helped fund the signing of the galacticos. The towers ended up being nicknamed ‘Figo’, ‘Zidane’, ‘Ronaldo’ and ‘Beckham’ after the four biggest arrivals of the era.
I only saw Adarve once last season, but it was a brilliantly entertaining game and there’s a lot to like about the club. Not least their €40 season ticket and shirt offer which I’m seriously considering taking advantage of!
4. Estadio La Romareda, Zaragoza
This is one which is pretty high on my list of dream puente destinations in Spain this year.
I’ve been living in Spain for almost six years now and Zaragoza remains one of the few big regional cities I’ve never visited.
It’s a must-visit due to its history – dating back to Roman times – and magnificent architecture such as the Islamic-era Aljafería Palace and the Basilica of El Pilar, dedicated to the city’s patron saint and the centre of the week-long Fiestas del Pilar every October.
On the football front, historically Real Zaragoza are one of Spain’s biggest clubs, ranking ninth in the all-time La Liga classification, winning the Copa del Rey six times and famously lifting the UEFA Cup Winners Cup in 1995. Nayim from the halfway line and all that.
Alas recent years have not been kind to them, they suffered relegation in 2013 and have been stuck in the Segunda ever since, finishing a lowly 15th last season.
But things might be looking up – this season they’ve captured a lot of attention with the signing of former Manchester United and Borussia Dortmund playmaker Shinji Kagawa.
Besides, this is one of the three stadiums Northern Ireland played in during the 1982 World Cup. Having already been to the Vicente Calderon and Mestalla, I feel I should tick this last one off the list!
5. Estadio San Mames, Bilbao
Last but not least, the big one.
Earlier in August I received an e-mail saying I had been ‘partially successful’ in the Euro 2020 ticket ballot. Alas, no trip to the quarter final in Munich, but I did succeed in securing a ticket for the final group game in Bilbao next June.
I’ve only ever been to Bilbao once, back in November 2015 when going to a match sadly wasn’t possible and for some reason, getting to see inside the stadium wasn’t even on the table.
Aside from the Guggenheim Museum and some outstanding pintxos, the main thing I remember about the trip is trudging around the city in torrential rain. The chance to go there in June (in hopefully better weather) and make some new memories is extremely appealing.
There’s also the small matter that Spain may be playing there. Due to the *ahem* complicated nature of regional politics in Spain, La Roja haven’t played a match in Bilbao since 1967 but are guaranteed to play two of their three Euro 2020 group games there…