Eight Things I’m Looking Forward To In 2021/22

It’s that time again when I start thinking about the new season and where it will take me.

I’m currently back at home in Northern Ireland, about halfway through my mandatory ten day quarantine for coming in from an amber list country so I obviously have plenty of time on my hands for thinking and planning.

Obviously the pandemic is nowhere close to being totally over, so I don’t really have an idea how feasible some things might be over the next twelve months or so. At the very least, I hope that travel between different regions in Spain remains possible throughout the year and that we aren’t just locked in the Communidad de Madrid as soon as September rolls round.

Anyway, here we go, starting with one very close to home…

1. Seeing Coleraine again

The last 19 months is the longest period I’ve spent without watching Coleraine play live.

Since I was last at The Showgrounds to see a 1-1 draw between the Bannsiders and Linfield on 28th December 2019, plenty has happened. A League Cup Final victory, two second-place finishes in the league and an epic run in Europe and while it has been great to be able to follow from afar with online streams every week, over the last year, nothing compares to actually being there on the terraces, standing with your friends, joining in with the chants and eating a greasy burger at half time.

All being well, once my isolation period is over this weekend, I’ll be jumping in the car and driving off to the last pre-season game at Dollingstown – a ground I’ve never actually been to – before the first game of the season proper away to Larne the following Saturday.

The only downside is that due to the pitch at The Showgrounds being torn up at the end of last season to be replaced by a new artificial surface, there won’t be any home games while I’m in Northern Ireland. So I’ll have to wait a wee bit longer to return to my most-visited ground.

2. Going back to the big leagues

I love my fútbol modesto, but I have missed semi-regular trips to La Liga grounds in and around Madrid.

Aside from the Copa de la Reina Final at Butarque, the closest I’ve got to a La Liga ground has been my vaccination appointment at the Wanda and semi-regular walks down the Castellana past the building site that currently passes for the Bernabéu.

La Liga has started the season with crowds restricted to a maximum of 50% capacity (although some regions have already imposed further limitations) despite the country’s high-vaccination rate so it might be a while before going back is feasible for me as a non-season ticket holder, but when the limit is raised, I’ll be aiming for at least one game at each of the major grounds.

I’ve not been the the Wanda or Vallecas since October 2019, Getafe since March 2019 and the Bernabéu since February 2019 and those are all statistics I want to change this season. It would seem like a real waste of my time living in Madrid if I didn’t take advantage of these grounds virtually on my doorstep.

3. Returning to the Riazor

While I’m hoping there may be opportunities to see Depor play a little closer to home, or even to go somewhere new for a weekend, a trip back to A Coruña and the Riazor is one of my must-do things for this season.

I’ve not actually been to a game there since the end of September 2015 when I was still living in Santiago and Depor were still in La Liga. How things change!

This season the objective is to escape the third tier, now the newly-created Primera RFEF which will hopefully prove more straightforward than last season’s bloated and overly contrived Segunda B system. Still raging at the circumstances of their relegation, Depor never really got to grips with being every side’s cup final, the scalp everyone wanted to take and generally struggled to score throughout the season, which meant that even securing their position in the third tier proved more complicated than it should have been.

My trip to Galicia last summer reminded how much I love the city of A Coruña and I was keen to go back last season but the closure of borders between regions for pretty much the entirity of 2020/21 made this impossible. Even if it hadn’t, I doubt I could have sourced a ticket anyway given how many season ticket holders the club had.

Things should be different this season, so hopefully it won’t be too long before I’m hopping on the train north at Chamartin for a weekend by the coast.

4. Revisiting Recre

Another old haunt I desperately want to revisit this season is Huelva.

I’ve not been back since a quick visit to pick up some bags I’d stored at a friend’s place over the summer in 2018 and I never really imagined not returning to my old home for quite so long. I still have friends there, I still pine for some of my favourite restaurants and cafés and I just miss the relaxed, small-town atmosphere.

But of course, football is a main reason for going back.

Recreativo endured a miserable time last season, with the peculiar format of the Segunda B effectively resulting in double relegation for them. Now the Tercera, the fifth tier of the Spanish pyramid, awaits them and will be a certain amount of pressure on them to earn immediate promotion, as they will be by far the biggest name in a league which includes teams from the smaller towns of western Andalucía plus one-time La Liga competitors Xerez and Córdoba’s B side and Sevilla’s C team.

The Estadio Nuevo Colombino is still a nice place to visit and I’m looking forward to someday taking up my old place in the Grada 20 Diciembre and playing my part in their revival.

5. Completing the Madrid Tercera (100% for real this time)

This has been a somewhat cursed objective for me over the last two seasons. In 2019/20, I was well on the way to completing it when in March, the football world shut down and Spain went into full lockdown. Then last season, games behind closed doors, capacity restrictions, socios-only matches and local lockdowns all limited my ability to tick off every ground.

Hopefully, this time will be it. Even though it’s going to be another sizeable task. Despite the federation instructing the regions to move towards smaller groups for the Tercera, Madrid has somehow ended up with 21 teams again, and I have ten grounds to go before I can say I’ve completed the division, though to be able to say I’ve done it properly I honestly feel like I’d need to go to them all in the same season.

From Galapagar and Tres Cantos in the north, to Parla in the south, it’s a challenge I’m looking forward to!

6. Going on some Fútbol Modesto day trips

Madrid’s central location in Spain makes it perfectly suited for visiting the historic cities of nearby Castilla y Léon and Castilla La Mancha – I have done most of them from a purely tourist point of view – but now I want to work in some football too.

Back at the start of the 2019/20 season, I put Toledo, with its spectacular views of the Alcazar in the background on my list of must-visit grounds for that year. And of course I didn’t quite manage it, saving the trip for the better weather in the spring turned out to be a poor decision and I didn’t actually get back to Toledo until May 2021, on a day when there was no match on.

On 29th February 2020, I looked down on Real Ávila’s ground from atop the city’s Roman walls and thought about now nice it would be to go back there for a game. Little did I know that would be the last ‘normal’ trip I took in Spain before the pandemic.

Segovia is somewhere I haven’t been back to since November 2017 and I’d love to go back and see the sights again, actually eat in a restaurant there this time and see Gimnástica Segoviana in the Segunda RFEF, perhaps against one of the Madrid clubs.

Guadalajara is in the Madrid Cercanias network and as such one of the more easily accessible cities for me. Unfortunately my only visit in July 2020 was a bit of a washout, it was incredibly hot and pretty much everything was closed. I did have a nice lunch though. I have high hopes of being able to tick off Deportivo Guadalajara and their ground early on in the season, especially if they continue to play matches on Saturday evenings.

There are plenty of other smaller towns which can be reached by bus with their own teams and I may well managed to add in a few visits to them as well, especially if they play on Saturdays.

7. Going on a proper trip abroad

One of the things I’ve missed most over the last couple of years is my traditional Easter trip away. I’ve often used this period as an excuse to go to Portugal and see some football – which is always good, but I did think that living in Madrid, with more international flight options, would enable me to look a little bit further afield.

And if I really think about it, I haven’t been to a football match outside the UK, Ireland or the Iberian peninsula since August 2017 in Berlin. And I’d really like to change that.

As far as dream destinations go, I really want to go back to Italy. It’s now been 11 years since I went to Milan and *shudder* 18 since I went to Rome, and I’d be perfectly fine revisiting either place, or trying somewhere new. Florence and Venice stand out as interesting destinations from a cultural and historical viewpoint which also offer Serie A football.

I wouldn’t even rule out a weekend away somewhere in northern Europe if things open up a bit more. I’ve never been to the Netherlands or Belgium and I think they’d be great places for a quick trip. And while not exactly ‘abroad’ I’ll be keeping an eye out for cheap flights from Madrid to Mallorca post-Christmas in the hope of catching a game at Son Moix!

8. Finishing up at the Women’s Euros in England

After the 2012 Olympics and Euro 2016, I’m always on board for a trip to a major international tournament and Northern Ireland qualifying has added an extra level of interest.

The unprecedented success of the side under former Coleraine manager Kenny Shiels was a real bright spot for Northern Irish football in the difficult circumstances of the pandemic-affected season. The fact that a team with a large number of part-time players will be mixing it with the likes of England, Germany, Sweden and holders The Netherlands next summer is pretty exciting.

The fact it’s scheduled to be in England should mean that plenty of fans will travel over for the games and I’m looking forward to the draw at the end of October when we’ll find out who plays who and where.

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