Greetings from Madrid!
Summer is well and truly here and Spain is heating up.
Plus, after almost 100 days, the COVID-19 state of alarm in Spain has come to an end and there’s wall-to-wall football on the TV. So things are looking up compared to where we were three months ago.
Where I’ve Been
As Madrid has slowly progressed through Phase 2 of the Lockdown escalation and into the so-called “new normality“, I’ve been able to expand my horizons a little bit more in the city and revisit places I’ve not been to in a very long time.
One of the real positives to this current situation is being able to see the historic centre of Madrid without the huge crowds of people that usually characterise it. Looking out at an empty Puerta del Sol, walking down Calle Fuencarral and not bumping into people going in and out of the shops, discovering that there is now a crowd control system organising people walking through Atocha (that has been needed for years – just a shame that it took a pandemic to sort it out) and having ice cream in an eerily quiet Plaza Mayor.
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A big win this month for my end of season awards, which were actually mid-season awards as things turned out. Despite the stoppage and fewer matches than I expected, I did enjoy the 2019/20 season and hopefully it won’t be long before the 2020/21 season is up and running.
Apologies for the lower than usual number of posts this past month by the way. I have tried to stick rigidly to the “at least one new post per week” rule over these last couple of years but I’ve eased off a bit this month. This is mostly just down to our newly rediscovered freedom meaning I really want to get outside and make the most of the lovely weather and this may continue over the summer or at least until I have regular football to go to again.
I just want to thank everyone who has continued reading through the pandemic – I was more than a bit worried that my traffic would totally slump, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the figures.
Game of the Month
A welcome return for this feature thanks to the return of La Liga to our TV screens. Ok, so it’s not quite the same as being able to go to games but it is nice to sit in a darkened room, with the air conditioning on and a nice cold drink in hand, watching some of the best footballers in the world do their thing.
Or in the case of this game of the month pick, the players from Deportivo La Coruña and Rayo Vallecano.
Of all the games I’ve watched since the resumption of La Liga, this was by far the most entertaining and incident-packed.
First Rayo took a 2-0 lead, capitalising on some terrible defending from their hosts (Ba wasn’t even playing) before Depor struck twice inside two minutes to level the scores early in the second half.
With time running out, Depor were then awarded a penalty after a VAR review, even though the replays appeared to suggest it shouldn’t have been awarded. Ager Aketxe took the penalty but was denied by Stole Dimitrievski.
In a slightly bizarre turn of events, play continued before the referee ordered the penalty to be retaken, as the Rayo goalkeeper had come off his line while saving the spot kick. Aketxe made no mistake this time but just when it looked like Depor would seal a huge three points in their relegation battle, the referee awarded an even more unlikely penalty at the other end. Rayo’s Mario Suarez Cooley converted and an utterly crazy game ended 3-3.
I hope I can see something of similar quality when I eventually return to a stadium.
Book of the Month 📚
This month I’ve been filling my free time with tales from the Taça de Portugal courtesy of the excellent One Thousand Miles to Jamor by Filipe D’Avillez.
It’s a brilliantly simple concept for a book, D’Avillez goes to one match in each round of the cup, bringing us the stories of these clubs both big and small, all hoping to reach the final at the Estadio Nacional at Jamor outside Lisbon.
The title comes from the fact that for teams in the Azores, Portugal’s furthest offshore possessions, the Estadio Nacional is approximately 1,000 miles away.
It’s with teams from the Azores that the book starts, but it moves on to feature the interesting stories of historic Lisbon club Casa Pio, Leixöes from Matosinhos outside Porto (not visiting their ground when I was there in April 2014 remains a huge regret) and Desportivo Aves, who last season were the holders of the cup, having shocked Sporting in the previous season’s final.
It’s only as the book reaches its climax that it deals with the big three of Portuguese football, taking in both legs of the Lisbon Derby semi-final which saw Sporting progress to the final, and their ultimate triumph, against Porto.
Covid-19 may have robbed us of an international tournament this summer, but thankfully we can still relive one of the most iconic World Cups ever thanks to the excellent Vincerà podcast!
Going through the tournament day-by-day as if it were happening right now, it analyses each game and features interviews with people who were there, whether players, coaches, journalists or just even fans – plenty of the guests are now major names in football writing, but travelled to Italy just to watch the games from the stands.
I enjoyed hearing The Athletic writer Amy Lawrence’s recollections of how, almost on a whim after finishing her university exams, she and several friends travelled to Italy with little more than a sleeping bag and followed the fixtures in Scotland’s group, buying tickets from local bars, sleeping in train stations and so on. A big change from these days of expensive tickets bought months in advance (I still have my Euro 2020 ticket) and overpriced Air BnBs.
What’s Up Next?
One of the biggest changes in the new normality is that we are allowed to travel again!
This is brilliant news as we’ve not left Madrid since 29th February when we took a day trip to Ávila in Castilla y Leon. During the lockdown period, I purchased a scratch-off travel map of Spain as a decoration for our flat and Sarah and I decided we would only scratch off provinces that we had visited together.
Although both of us have visited over 20 Spanish provinces, together we’ve only been to 11, so one of our objectives for the summer will be to tick a couple more off our list. Though we’ll not be going overboard, just taking things slowly as Spain begins to open up again. It almost seems inevitable that the virus will flare up somewhere again but hopefully the government is prepared for it this time.
And there’s the prospect that some fans might be allowed to attend the Madrid region’s Tercera play-offs later in the month, which would be a huge step forward and a nice way of closing out this strangest of seasons.
Until next time,
All the best,