2020 didn’t turn out exactly how any of us wanted.
Things started out alright, but by the time March rolled around our lives would be changed completely.
So here are a few of my personal reasons to be cheerful from this year!
Málaga’s Christmas Lights (again!)
Ok, I may have mentioned these in my 2019 review post, but Málaga has easily my favourite Christmas lights anywhere in Spain.
Once again flying into Málaga before travelling back to Madrid via bus the next day allowed us to see them again.
They’re different every year but they always manage to make an impression. Perhaps this time next year, we’ll be able to plan a slightly longer stopover to make up for breaking this new tradition in January 2021.
A Feast of Fútbol Modesto
Sadly there was only one official Día Del Fútbol Modesto in 2020, but it was a pretty good one!
Those of us who made it along were able to witness that rarest of things, a win for Botti in the early game followed by a five-goal thriller at Aravaca in the afternoon.
The 2019/20 season may have ultimately turned out disastrously for Deportivo La Coruña, but back in the early days of February, hopes were high not just of a great escape, but that an unlikely push for the promotion play-offs was even possible.
I travelled down to Alcorcón at the start of February to watch a team that had been transformed from the nailed-on certainties for the drop they were just before Christmas. Indeed they were now looking for a seventh successive win in the league.
The game itself was largely mediocre, enlivened for the most part only by the noise made by the Depor fans, who were almost the majority in the stadium.
Then, we got a bit of late drama, a winning goal from forward Mamadou Koné and a big pile-on to celebrate.
The seven-game winning run came to an end with a draw the following weekend and despite some initial good form after the return to action, three successive defeats left Depor on the brink going into their final game. And then Fuenla-gate happened.
Coleraine win something!
Any year that Coleraine win a trophy can’t be all bad, can it? I mean, it hasn’t happened all that frequently in my lifetime so I need to treasure these moments when they happen.
On 15th February, Coleraine played Crusaders in the League Cup Final, a trophy we’d only won once before and one which, for me at least, the scars of recent final defeats still ran deep.
Things got off to an awful start when a goal from former Coleraine man Jamie McGonigle our Crusaders in front. But the Bannsiders rallied an levelled through Stephen Lowry’s penalty before an instinctive finish from James McLaughlin early in the second half which turned out to be the winner.
I watched it all on TV, and if I regretted my inability to get back home on the day of the final, I regret it even more now.
One Last Normal Day Trip
Little did we know when we went to Ávila on 29th February that it would be the last day trip we would take together without having to wear a face mask. 😷
The old walled city is just a short train ride from Madrid and because February 29th only comes around once every four years, we wanted to make it a memorable day. While we were having lunch, we noted stories coming out of the Canary Islands about a hotel that had been locked down because of a corona virus outbreak and laughed at pictures of people who had been sunbathing with protective masks on, their mouths and chins a different shade from their badly sunburnt faces. Such innocent days!
We had a great time walking around the old walls, even though it was extremely windy!
Strolling Down the Castellana
One of the real highlights of Spain’s transition from lockdown was that parts of Paseo de la Castellana were closed to traffic at weekends, so when we were allowed out for our daily exercise at the beginning of May (after 50 days inside don’t forget) it was possible to include that on your walking or running route.
This seems mundane but there was something of a low-key thrill about being able to walk or run down the middle of what is normally one of the busiest streets in the whole country.
Summer Day Trips
After being stuck inside and then limited to our own locales from the start of March, July represented a huge opportunity to enjoy a bit of freedom again.
For us, this meant getting on a train and heading off to some new places, first Guadalajara and later Aranjuez.
Guadalajara was a bit of a let-down as it seemed like pretty much everything in the city was shut, but in Aranjuez we were able to visit the royal palace and wander around its gardens before the extreme heat got too much for us. Both places are on my visiting list for football in the new year as well.
Getting mentioned by the Football Ramble
I’ve been a big fan of the Football Ramble podcast for around about ten years now, one of many podcasts which have soundtracked walks, runs, drives, commutes and whatever else.
But in July I contributed an answer to a question they put out on Twitter looking for the weirdest piece of official club merchandise you’ve ever seen. For me, there’s only one winner, the official FC Porto anti-virus software that I found in their shop back in 2014.
Imagine my surprise the following day when I tune in and hear my name being read out and the panel finding the idea of the product just as funny as I did.
The episode can be found here (other podcast providers are available and the relevant section starts at 45:35.
Speaking of Porto…
Another trip to Porto
I visited Porto twice in 2014 and 2015 when I was living in Galicia, it being a relatively short journey south from Santiago.
This year, thanks to a good deal Sarah spotted, we were able to make it part of our short summer getaway. The city hadn’t changed much in five years and we were able to show each other around some of our favourite places from our past visits, try some traditional food and eat far too many pasteis de Nata.
The Estádio do Dragão Museum
A particular highlight of my time in Porto was getting to retake the tour of the Estádio do Dragão’s Museum, which I had last seen in 2014.
It’s one of the best football museums I’ve been to, a real treasure trove of memorabilia, trophies and creepy plastic statues. You can read more about it here.
Returning to Galicia
Galicia was my first home in Spain, but I’d not actually returned there since I left in December 2015.
So having already travelled as far as Porto in the summer, it made sense to go just a little bit further north and finally revisit it.
And it was a short but intense nostalgia trip.
Over the course of 24 hours in Santiago and two days in A Coruña, Sarah and I were struck by how little things had changed in the time we’d been away. Some of our old haunts even had the same wi-fi passwords as five years previously!
Our visit may have been short but we managed to squeeze so much in, visiting some of our favourite restaurants and bars in Santiago, photos outside the cathedral, a stroll in the Alameda, walking up to the Torre de Hercules in Coruña, and a quick visit to Estadio Riazor followed by a relaxing afternoon on the adjacent beach.
Coleraine take Europe by storm (sort of)
Traditionally Coleraine’s campaigns in continental competition have been short and featured their fair share of heavy beatings and hard luck stories. But the Europa League campaign of 2020 was genuinely historic.
Coleraine qualified for continental competition courtesy of being second when the league campaign was halted in March, though the method of how to decide the European places was not without its own controversy.
James McLaughlin’s late goal was enough for Coleraine to break down the stubborn resistance of San Marino’s La Fiorita at The Showgrounds, setting up a daunting trip to Slovenia to play Maribor the following week.
It was one of the toughest draws Coleraine could have got at this stage of the competition but the players stuck to their task admirably and when McLaughlin scored another brilliant goal, the upset looked to be on.
Maribor did equalise but missed a penalty and couldn’t break through the rock-solid Coleraine defence, meaning the game went to a penalty shootout. When the hosts missed their fifth kick, it fell to Ben Doherty to make history by putting Coleraine through.
The next round saw Coleraine pitted against Motherwell and the dream looked to be over when the Scottish side took a 2-0 lead into the break at The Showgrounds. But a superb second half performance saw Coleraine roar back, level the scores through two Doherty penalties and go agonisingly close to winning the game in normal time.
After extra time failed to separate the teams, it came down to penalties again, although on this occasion Motherwell’s NI international goalkeeper Trevor Carson made brilliant saves to keep out Coleraine’s first three penalties and send his team through.
Again, I had to watch all these games from the comfort of my sofa in Madrid, but it was hard not to get swept up in the sense of history in the making. Prior to this season, Coleraine had never advanced through two rounds in Europe in one season and had never won a tie away from home.
And as an extra bonus, when I received my own limited edition red European shirt in the post in November, it was signed by the whole squad. Not sure Sarah will let me frame it and hang it on the wall though! 😂
Football came back!
It felt like it would never come, but after six months of only watching football on TV, I finally got back to a stadium down in Móstoles in what was coincidentally the first game in the Communidad de Madrid where fans were allowed again.
Thankfully since then I’ve been able to go to a few more games since and watching football, as well as seeing a few friends, has been hugely important for my mental well-being over these last few months.
It’s not totally business as usual. Obviously La Liga, Segunda and women’s league are continuing behind closed doors – I honestly think that there’ll be no fans there until the start of next season – and even in the lower levels, lots of games are played without fans and even where we are allowed to attend, there are restrictions on numbers and lots of places are missing the usual bar and shop facilities.
I’ve taken a few opportunities to diversify my working life in the past 12 months.
I’ve really enjoyed contributing to both Get Spanish Football News and Football España at various points through the year, particularly in contributing in-detail round-ups of the week’s action in Spain’s women’s league for the latter, which has enabled me to get to a few more games than I would have expected to.
I’ve also made a couple of guest appearances on podcasts during the year, something which may become a more common occurrence next year – watch this space!
Ground Number 💯
I ran up a not too insignificant personal milestone in December my 100th ground on Futbology App (formerly known as Groundhopper).
I almost certainly would have reached this target long ago had last season not been cut short (or if I counted some of the fields Coleraine have played pre-season fixtures in as proper grounds) but it was nice to do it in the quaint surroundings of CD Los Yébenes-San Bruno’s Campo Eustasio Casallo, even though my original plan of going to CD Barajas was scuppered by, of course, Covid-19.
Here’s to the next 100!
A little bit of luck to end the year
The Spanish Christmas Lottery is one of the great festive traditions here although I’d never actually participated in it before this year.
Our landlord was selling tickets and he asked if we wanted to buy one from him and we thought, “Why not?”
If you’ve never seen the draw, it’s pretty hard to describe just how strange it is. So let this short video try to do it for me.
Yeah the kids sing the numbers that have been drawn and the prize they win. Which is pretty weird and a little bit creepy at the same time. ¡Miiiiiiiiiiil euuuuuuuuroooooossssssss!
To cut a long story short, we won €100! Not one of the biggest prizes on offer, but still a pretty good return for our €20 investment.
A Holiday Stay
Travelling home for the holidays was sadly out of the question. There were just too many obstacles to overcome and with Northern Ireland going into lockdown on Boxing Day and further travel restrictions between Spain and the UK just before the holidays, our early decision ended up being justified.
But that’s not to say we spent all the holidays staring at the yellow walls in our flat.
As part of Sarah’s birthday present, I got her a cut-price stay in the Riu Plaza de España hotel, which also allowed us free access to the Sky Bar with 360° panoramic views of the city.
And being in the city centre during the evening, not something we’ve actually done since all this started in March, allowed us to take a quick tour of the Christmas trees and lights.
All that remains is for me to wish all my readers a happy new year and that 2021 may be much better for all of you!