So the 2019/20 season didn’t exactly end the way anyone wanted it to. Well, in some places it hasn’t technically ended yet, but as far as I’m concerned, if it’s not possible to go to matches, the season is over for me. So although some of Europe’s major leagues are getting up and running again in the next few weeks, I feel the time is right for me to present my end of season awards – this is 2019/20 in Review!
The Season in Stats
So first up, the stats – once again courtesy of Groundhopper App, or as it’s now known after a slightly mystifying mid-season name change, Futbology. Same excellent app though!
Games – 46
Goals – 126
Goals per game – 2.74
Grounds Visited – 32
New Grounds Visited – 17
Most Visited Ground – The Coleraine Showgrounds (6 times)
Countries – Five (Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Scotland, Gibraltar, Spain)
Teams Seen – 60
Most-Seen Team – Coleraine (12 times)
Most Goals in a Game – 6 : Three matches I’ve been to have had six goals this season. They were: Glebe Rangers 0-6 Coleraine (3.8.2019), Linfield 2-4 Coleraine (17.8.2019) and Canillas 4-2 San Agustín de Guadalix (12.1.2020).
Most Common Result – 1-0 (12 times!)
In reality this category was settled back in August the minute Coleraine won 4-2 at Windsor Park against Linfield. A game that truly had everything – Coleraine scoring after 20 seconds, doubling their advantage through a hilarious own goal, then almost throwing away a 3-0 lead and a debutant scoring the killer fourth goal with almost his first touch.
Also scoring high on the enjoyment factor was another meeting between the two sides in December, this time finishing as a 1-1 draw in Coleraine.
In terms of Spanish games, one of the best was Fuenlabrada 2-2 Rayo Vallecano was played on a scorching hot day and the football matched it with ridiculous late VAR drama at both ends of the pitch.
Further down the leagues I witnessed an amazing comeback in November when Villaverde came from 2-0 down to earn a draw against Flat Earth in the Tercera and the Preferente games between Canillas and San Agustín de Guadalix (4-2) and Aravaca and Atlético Villalba (2-3) were both packed with excitement.
I’ve seen a few good ones this season, here are a few personal favourites.
Ben Doherty – Linfield v Coleraine (17.8.2019)
Youssef En-Nesyri – Leganés v Barcelona (23.11.2019)
Josh Carson – Coleraine v Ballymena Utd (26.12.2019)
David Cañas – Unión Adarve v AD Parla (2.2.2020)
Alberto Miñambres – Unión Adarve v AD Parla (2.2.2020)
Miguel Ángel – Trival Valderas v RSD Alcalá (16.2.2020)
In September I finally returned to Windsor Park for a Northern Ireland game six years after my last one and it really wasn’t worth my time.
The friendly against Luxembourg was notable for very little other than a comedy own goal and large numbers of bored children behaving obnoxiously in my vicinity.
Alcobendas Sport 0-1 Santa Ana from November definitely deserves a dishonourable mention – it was so forgettable that I actually forgot all about it when I was originally compiling this. And Alcobendas themselves were so forgettable that they basically don’t exist any more, having changed their name, moved to Paracuellos de Jarama and affiliated themselves with Rayo Majadahonda for next season.
Moment of the Season
Giving this one to two last-minute winning goals which saved two otherwise dreary and unremarkable matches and both had tremendous stories attached to them.
First up, Villaverde’s Estadio Boetticher on 24th January. The home side were enduring a nightmare season, cut adrift at the bottom of Tercera Group 7 with only one win all season and they hadn’t even scored in their previous six home games. They didn’t manage to score in the first 90-odd minutes of this one either, but when a moment of defensive indecision gave Alex Aragón a look at goal and he didn’t waste his opportunity. The celebrations as he sprinted to embrace the Botti fans pretty much sum up everything that is good about football.
For the second moment we head forward two weeks to 9th February and just a few miles away in Alcorcón. This time it was Deportivo La Coruña who had been enduring a nightmare season, having spent most of the campaign rooted to the bottom of the Segunda and already on their third coach. Yet they were now on a run of six consecutive wins and Fernando Vázquez, back for a second stint in charge, had instilled a belief in the team that had been missing in the first half of the season.
And they needed to dig deep in this one as things didn’t really go their way. They created very little and rode their luck a little bit with their opponents wasting chances. Then in the 92nd minute, Keko crossed the ball into the box and Mamadou Koné headed it in. The stadium erupted – as it was mostly full of Depor fans – and the subs and coaching staff sprinted to join the massive pile-on. The only way it could have been better was if it had been at the end of the ground where I was sitting.
From a purely aesthetic point of view it has to be the Wanda Metropolitano, which I only actually went to once this season – a far cry from last year when it was my joint most-visited ground!
A night match there under the floodlights is an occasion to savour, in terms of atmosphere and light shows anyway. The football when I was there was standard Atlético fare – score, defend, rely on a couple of Oblak wonder saves, kill the game with a second, defend some more.
Favourite New Ground Visited
With 17 to choose from, I’m certainly spoilt for choice in this category.
I’ve ultimately gone for one that I can’t believe it took me so long to visit – Dalymount Park in Dublin. It’s a classic ground, full of character and history. I really enjoyed my trip there for the derby between Bohemians and St Patrick’s Athletic last July and I’m somewhat sad that it’s unlikely I’ll get to go there again before it is demolished and turned into a new modern stadium.
Honourable mentions: I dearly want to go back to see another sunset game at the Estadio Municipal in La Línea, the Estadio Vicente del Bosque has a superb backdrop and it’s great fun when you head behind the goal to the Fondo Guiri, Leganés’ Ciudad Deportiva is not bad for a B Team ground, Moratalaz has a lovely bar and as it’s free entry, you often see people walking their dogs down through the park that the ground is adjacent to and Atlético’s new stadium for their women’s team is a really cool, modern design.
Ground I Wish I’d Gone To
I’ve spent a lot of time this year walking or running up and down Paseo de la Castellana past the iconic Estadio Santiago Bernabéu but never actually made it to a match there. I almost did – I had pencilled in Madrid’s Friday night clash with Eibar on 13th March as my game here for the season, but we all know what happened in Spain in the days leading up to that match.
I wanted to go and see the stadium in its classic form one last time before the reconstruction works fully kicked in over the summer, but it just wasn’t to be. Madrid will be playing their remaining home games this season at their training ground in Valdebebas, so by the time fans return to games, the Bernabéu will be almost unrecognisable.
Best Backdrop to a Stadium
I saw games on both sides of the Rock of Gibraltar in August and September and have to say the view from La Línea has the edge.
The view from the Victoria Stadium isn’t bad, but it’s just a bit too close to The Rock itself and the Spanish side definitely has the more aesthetically pleasing angle for photos.
There’s a nice enough view of the mountains north of Madrid from Santa Ana’s stadium, but to be honest, I was so cold that day that I couldn’t really appreciate it.
I saw Messi playing so he wins by default.
In truth he didn’t have his best game when I saw him at Butarque in November, you just have to sit back and admire him at work. His work these days involves a lot more dropping back into midfield than it used to (making up for the absence of Xavi and Iniesta) but he still leads La Liga in both goals and assists and it’s unlikely that Barça would be anywhere near title contention without him.
The fact that he indicated that retirement might not be too far off when collecting his sixth Ballon D’Or in December should make any lover of the game sad, regardless of club rivalries. We shall not see his like again.
That said, if anyone has seen him play more than twice and never seen him score, let me know. I feel like I’m the only one.
Best Additional Feature at a Stadium
More grounds should have an Aravaca-style puddle in the middle of the pitch. To quote Aravaca resident Lester Drake, the puddle is often the team’s best defender as it stops opponents from mounting any effective attacks down that side. All that was missing was two players going in for a 50/50 challenge in it.
The Abdoulaye Ba Award for Services to Bad Defending
Things were already looking bad enough for them in their home derby against Getafe when two defenders collided while going for the same ball, allowing Jorge Molina a clean run through to set up Jaime Mata for the third which killed the game beyond doubt.
As for Mr Ba himself, he was mysteriously absent for Rayo this season (or not as the case my be) before turning up at Depor as an emergency signing in March, but the suspension of football prevented him from adding his particular set of skills to Depor’s battle against relegation from the Segunda.
The ‘Not Following Your Own Advice’ Award
Prominently displayed around Alcorcón’s Estadio Santo Domingo is the phrase “Hasta el último minuto” (Until the last minute) which as team mottoes/marketing slogans go, isn’t a bad one.
However, it’s a little bit of an embarrassing one when you concede a winning goal in the 92nd minute as Alcorcón did when I went there to watch them play Depor in February.
Scoreboard Graphic of the Season
There was probably no need for San Fernando’s players to be shrouded in such mystery when they took on Unión Adarve at the end of February.
During and just after the game in La Línea de la Concepción on 1st September. It may be one of the less exciting towns I’ve visited, but it sure has great sunsets.
Best José Mourinho Shrine
Quite why C.D. Canillas have a little corner of their club bar devoted to the ever-controversial Portuguese coach isn’t clear, but it will no doubt warm José’s heart that despite his time at the Bernabéu ending on a sour note, someone in Madrid still loves him!
Most Luxurious Surroundings
In October I was lucky enough to get a free ticket to watch Leganés v Levante. What made it extra special was the fact it was in the VIP section. While the action on the pitch was reasonably entertaining, albeit ultimately disappointing for Leganés, I was able to enjoy the action from a comfortable seat on the halfway line and enjoy the fine spread put on at half time. As it was another extremely warm day, unlimited access to chilled water was greatly appreciated!
Strangest Company in the Stands
When San Fernando’s manager was sent from the dugout during his side’s clash with Unión Adarve in February, the last place I expected him to end up was a couple of rows behind me in the stand!
Needless to say, he didn’t just sit and watch the rest of the game, instead he continued to bark instructions and kick every ball (and a few seats for good measure). He was not best pleased when Adarve snatched a last-minute equaliser.
Oddly this one goes to a Spanish match rather than one anywhere in the UK and Ireland!
Sunday 1st December was an apocalyptically wet day in Madrid yet despite the terrible forecast I still decided to head out to a game. That game was Moratalaz v Alcalá and despite the second-half downpour it turned out to be pretty entertaining. It just kept raining for the rest of the day though, putting the rest of my post-match plans on the back-burner and confining me to the flat (long before that became normal).
Huge bias here but the kits created for Coleraine by Avec take some beating. It certainly helps that they’ve been associated with a winning team and some extremely memorable results, including a League Cup Final victory.
I’m also a big fan of the latest Northern Ireland home shirt from Adidas, launched in the final round of qualifiers and due to be worn in the Euro play-offs whenever they end up being played.
Away from teams I actually support, Leganés’ home kit is a unique way of mixing up stripes, especially if you can get hold of a sponsor-less version, Barça’s yellow away kit is a nice update of a classic design although the sponsor breaking the sash slightly spoils it, the home kits of Unión Adarve, Villaverde and RSD Alcalá are all simple but very stylish designs and there’s a lot to love about Aravaca’s Bristol Rovers-style blue and white quarters. And I finally managed to get my hands on Depor’s magnificent Galician flag and anthem-inspired third shirt.
And we can’t let this section pass without mentioning the superb retro kit worn by Recreativo Huelva to commemorate their 130th anniversary in December. Extra marks for goalkeeper Nauzet Perez donning an 1889-style flat cap as part of his kit.
The decision by Depor to abandon over 100 years of striped tradition and have a hooped shirt for the 2019/20 season was not received well by fans. And it accompanied some of the worst results in the club’s history as they slumped to the bottom of the Segunda Division.
Oddly it was replaced for two games by a special edition striped shirt in January, but returned again the next week. Leaked pictures of the kit for the 2020/21 season seem to confirm a return to normality with proper stripes!
At least it wasn’t actively offensive to my eyes like some other kits I’ve seen. Basically anything in neon colour schemes (Getafe, Tenerife, Parla and Atlético Villalba, I’m looking at you) but can anything really beat San Agustín de Guadalix and their goldy-brown kit with basketball-style shorts?
¡Villaverde! ¡Olé, olé!
Extra points for the wonderfully rudimentary YouTube video featuring a a spinning club badge.
I do have to say that I think Atleti’s is one of the most hummable tunes and is a real grower and while it’s not really a himno as such, I have to mention I’m a Bohs man, as played after full time at Dalymount Park.
How could it be anyone other than Super Pepino?
The Cucumber Knight continues to add colour and joy to Leganés’ home games, even when the players on the pitch have been unable to. He’s even struck up an endearing transatlantic friendship with Dillon the pickle, mascot of the Portland Pickles baseball team.
And now he’s got his own range of merchandise including scarves ( I am not embarrassed to admit I now own one!), key rings, stickers, cushions and t-shirts. Surely world domination can’t be far off?
In a world still mourning the loss of Leganés’ legendary lomo y queso bocatas, a hero was needed and Artístico Navalcarnero’s chorizo bocata stepped into the breach. It’s also the last thing I had to eat at a match before the shutdown so there may be a bit of recency bias in this pick. Leganés may have changed things up when it comes to food but their sandwiches are still pretty good – definitely the best in La Liga that I’ve tried anyway.
An honourable mention for Hearts’ speciality, the Tynecastle Park Pie, which was quite possibly the best thing about my trip to watch the not-so Magnificent Gorgie Boys this season, as the match was a bit of a slog.
Best Post-Match Feed
After watching RB Linense 1-0 UCAM Murcía, options for dinner in La Línea de la Concepción were slightly limited.
Thank goodness then for Mr Pollo King, an amusingly-named but surprisingly decent KFC rip-off on the way back to our hotel from the stadium.
Most Useful Freebie
It was extraordinarily hot when I visited Fuenlabrada back at the end of September for their game against Rayo Vallecano. So hot that the bars under the temporary stand on the far side had run out of water by half time.
An afternoon spent in the direct glare of the sun was made passable thanks to the free gift being handed out at the turnstiles, a La Liga-branded cap in Fuenla blue. I’m not a big hat person, but I wouldn’t have seen as much of the action from that pulsating 2-2 draw without it!
In October, while reminiscing about my first visit to the Estadio Vicente Calderón, I took a trip down to the banks of the Manzanares and walked along Paseo de los Melancólicos to survey the current state of the famous old ground.
All that remained was the old main stand and within a few weeks, once the big pile of rubble had been cleared away, the M30 motorway was rerouted from under the stand to through the middle of the pitch. The demolition has almost been completed now, though not without controversy as a recent video showed debris falling into the river.
Villain of the Season
It’s been another season of discontent at Rayo Vallecano.
Owner Raúl Martín Presa has never exactly been well-liked down in Vallecas, but over last summer his popularity hit a new low. Despite Rayo’s relegation at the end of the 2018/19 season, there was a minimal decrease in season ticket prices, also representing a rise from their previous Segunda campaign and in a slightly strange move, he removed automatic right to attend the Rayo’s Women’s team matches from season ticket holders.
Plenty of fans didn’t renew as a result and there were full-scale protests ahead of and during some of the early season games. In addition, the Bukaneros boycotted some matches (including the one I attended against Tenerife in October, where the pre-organised protests and lack of the usual atmosphere made it a slightly surreal experience). Rayo are a great club and I always enjoy my visits to Vallecas, I just wish the people in charge were a little more in tune with the club’s ethos.
Just on the subject of Rayo, I was considering going to the game against Albacete in December, eventually deciding against it, which was probably for the best as the game was controversially abandoned because of chanting from the Rayo fans aimed against the Albacete player Roman Zozulya. Zozulya had signed on loan for Rayo in January 2017, but was sent back to parent club Betis without playing a game after fan protests because of his social media activity which suggested he has far-right sympathies. The fact this came around the time several high-profile incidents of racism in stadiums in Europe occurred without matches being abandoned leaves a very sour taste indeed.
Better late than never, Belfast decided to get in on the terrible football statues action with this questionable likeness of George Best outside Windsor Park.
Worst Way To Spend Time During Lockdown
A word of advice, don’t watch Goal III.
Best Days Out
Basically any of the Día del Fútbol Modesto events which were organised through the season. It’s an extremely simple idea, but that’s what makes it brilliant. Get a group of people together to go to two lower-league games in one day, with enough of a break in the middle for a spot of lunch. Full credit to Lester Drake for putting something in place for the start of the season. The premature end to the season also meant that there would be no further DDFMs after the excellent January one at Villaverde and Aravaca, but I’m sure that once we’re allowed back in stadiums in the autumn there’ll be plans in place for another one!
Winning the DDFM Zoom Quiz at the end of May has to go down as a highlight too!
The Match I Wished I Could Have Been At
I dearly wanted to get home to see the Northern Ireland League Cup Final on 15th February in person, but it just wasn’t to be.
There were too many factors working against me, from the evening kick off in Belfast to the extortionate price of flights to Dublin, the need to travel via the wildly unreliable Dublin Airport buses and the likely need to stay overnight in Belfast after the game, I just couldn’t commit to it and so was robbed of another great experience like when I went home for the 2018 Irish Cup Final.
Still, it wasn’t so bad getting to watch all the action unfold at home as goals from Stephen Lowry and James McLaughlin brought the trophy back to Coleraine for the first time since 1988.
Personal, Non-Footballing Highlight of the Season
It’s pretty hard to top getting married really!
I’m not sure I would have survived the lockdown had I been in my living situation from last year, a small, dark box room in a shared flat with Sarah about six miles away on the other side of the city. Not having her with me every day to support me, laugh at my terrible jokes and generally keep me sane is unthinkable now.
Our weddings in Gibraltar and Northern Ireland were very different days, the Gibraltar one was a more casual day in spite of it being the official ceremony, while the one back home was more formal, but more enjoyable as we had friends and family present.
Once the stress of getting married was over, we found ourselves in an equally stressful situation – trying to find a flat in Madrid. It was not an easy process but after about two weeks of hunting we finally found a place to ourselves, which has served as our home and refuge amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Lovely yellow walls and all.
If I was to give this season a rating, it would probably be a 6/10.
I saw some brilliant games, some not so brilliant ones, visited a lot of new grounds and made lots of new friends along the way.
But the premature ending of the season in March robbed me of the chance to do so much more. Completing the Madrid Tercera, day trips to games in Castilla y León and Castilla La Mancha, the Euros in Bilbao, maybe, just maybe even the chance to go home and watch Coleraine in another Irish Cup Final.
Clearly football pales into insignificance in the context of a global pandemic, so although I’m sad to have missed out on those things, I’m kept going by the thought that they are all waiting for me in the future.
With the continuing de-escalation of our lockdown in Spain, I do hope it won’t be too long before I’m back in a stadium again!