Monthly Musings (August 2021)

Greetings from Madrid!

July has been a scorching month here in Madrid and I’ve spent a significant portion of it hiding inside air-conditioned cafés and restaurants.

It’s been a busy month, except on the live, in-person football front, with a trip, lots of research and writing and of course, the all-important vaccine appointments!

Where I’ve Been 🗺

Sarah and I did manage to get out of Madrid for a couple of days by taking a short weekend break to Cuenca in the middle of the month.

The two and a half hour bus journey from Madrid was worth it just for the change of scenery, even though temperatures there were barely any lower than in the capital. But it was a new place for both of us and it was so quiet compared to the non-stop noise we’re used to.

The views from the top of the city are spectacular and we went inside one of the famous casas colgadas (hanging houses) which contains, rather bizarrely, the Spanish museum of abstract art. Then after lunch, we walked down to the other side of the gorge to get best view of the houses, before cooling off with a drink in the Parador.

As I’ll expand a bit more on below, I went back to the Wanda Metropolitano for the first time since I saw Atlético play Athletic Club in October 2019! On the second visit I went a bit early and used a free hour to explore Territorio Atleti, the club’s new on-site museum which opened last summer. But there’ll be more on that in the next few days.

Game of the Month ⚽️

Erm… Pickings have been extremely slim in Madrid here this month. A number of the bigger clubs have gone away from the city to begin their build-up and those that are playing locally are mostly doing so in their training grounds, either behind closed doors or with attendance limited to season ticket holders. Lower league sides have a later start so generally haven’t started playing matches yet.

Here’s hoping August will be better!

Most Popular Post 💻

The closing stages of Euro 2020 dominated the start of July, meaning another month at the top for Rating the Euros TV intros – BBC v ITV, which already looks almost nailed on to claim the overall number one spot at the end of the year.

Coming in second was my 2020/21 end of season awards post which was published just at the end of last month and has picked up plenty of momentum.

July has basically been my “month off” from the blog as I’ve been working on a couple of other things, and even then I’ve still been updating the Football Fashion Parade with new kits from all the Madrid clubs as soon as I see them.

Book of the Month 📚

I’ve been reading a lot this past month, being off work has given me a lot more free time and so I’m definitely trying to make the most of it.

I started off the month reading An Ode to Four Four Two – the formation, rather than the magazine – by John McNicholl, which pays tribute to what he calls “football’s simplest and finest formation” by looking at the achievements of a number of iconic teams who lined up in that fashion.

It was a nice light read, tinged with nostalgia as I grew up in the days when 4-4-2 was still the default formation for football in the UK – even though on Championship/Football Manager I always preferred the 5-3-2 attacking formation with wing backs pushed on and a number 10 in the hole behind two strikers.

In the aftermath of the Euros I also revisited Michael Cox’s Zonal Marking, which I’d first read two summers ago. It traces the evolution of European football through eras defined by players, coaches and tactics from each of the major footballing nations, up to the present. His conclusion, that we are in an “English era” defined by the Premier League importing the coaches and styles of other countries certainly holds weight in light of English clubs’ recent domination of European competition and perhaps even in the revival of their national team too, although in the Euro 2020 Final England seemed to fall back on bad, old habits, the “first half good, second half not so good” epitomised by the Sven-Göran Eriksson years.

Football Shirt of the Month 👕

This time last summer I was on holiday in Porto and I had hoped to pick up their 2019/20 home shirt as a souvenir in some kind of end-of-season sale. Alas, I was out of luck. Porto had already launched their new home shirt for 2020/21 so it was dominating the shelf space, with the old shirt hidden away in a rack off to one side of the shop – but still being sold at close to full price.

And that was the last I thought of it until around Easter, when a visit to the El Corte Inglés in Puerta del Sol revealed that hey had one in the upstairs outlet section. But it was still around €50.

Thankfully this story has a happy ending as early in the summer rebajas, I paid amother visit and the shirt was down to a much more manageable €24! Needless to say, I didn’t let this opportunity pass by and I now get to mix up my running attire with a bit of Portuguese class.

Euro 2020: It’s Coming Home Rome 🇮🇹

And so, a great tournament came to an end with a brilliant series of matches.

Italy v Spain in the semi-finals was a superb contest between two evenly-matches sides, England v Denmark was dramatic, even if not as high quality as the previous day’s contest and then the final, oh the final.

Italy were deserving winners of the tournament overall, impressive throughout the group stages, survived a bit of a scare against Austria and then defeating a couple of heavyweights in Belgium and Spain on the way. Merely getting to the final was a huge thing for England, but they’re not quite there yet when it comes to winning a tournament. In truth, I don’t think they would have been anywhere near the final if they’d had Italy’s path through the knockout stages.

The scenes at Wembley were obviously a disgrace but they did remind me of my experience at the 2019 Champions League Final. After going through the ticket checks, I witnessed a couple of people attempting to break through – but on this occasion as the ticket checks were being done near the bottom of the steep slope that leads up to the Wanda Metropolitano, they were easily apprehended.

Vaccination Time! 💉

As I mentioned last month, I had just received the first appointment for my Covid-19 vaccination and I was able to get it at the Wanda Metropolitano.

The ground is still looking good and was actually being set up for a concert that evening. I saw a queue of people waiting outside and initially feared it was the vaccine queue, but it turned out to just be some incredibly dedicated fans of whatever band was playing.

Thankfully, there wasn’t really any sort of queue outside at all, I just had to walk up to the entrance, scan my QR code that had been provided when I booked my appointment and then wait for around 20 minutes in the stadium concourse. In there the line moved pretty quickly and once at the front I was directed to the nearest available station and it was all over inside a couple of minutes.

The second dose on 30th July was even more straightforward. There were barely any people in the line in front of me and I ended up getting my shot five minutes earlier than scheduled.

With the first dose, my arm was just sore for a couple of days afterwards. the second one was a bit more complicated. My arm was sore again, but I also had a bit of a temperature and felt tired during the day after.

What’s Up Next?

Ok, this is big. After being away from Northern Ireland for more or less 19 months due to the pandemic, Sarah and I are going back!

I’m hoping that a few weeks back home will help me relax a bit more. I’ve enjoyed having a bit more free time for writing and reading this past month, but the constant heat in Madrid makes things a little more unpleasant. This isn’t usually a problem we’ll face in good old NI!

We’ll be able to enjoy a couple of weeks of visiting family and friends, helping Sarah cross a couple of places off her Northern Ireland travel bucket list and of course, I will be able to see some football!

Until next time,

All the best,

Andrew

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