Friday, February 12, 2021

Homage to Murcia: A Season of Football Anarchy

In 1999, British spy Austin Powers discovers that he has lost his mojo. It transpires that his mojo has not been lost but has in fact been stolen in a time-travelling heist by the morbidly obese Fat Bastard on the order of Austin's nemesis Dr Evil. The MOD sends Austin back to 1969 where he teams up with CIA Agent Felicity Shagwell and between them they end up saving the world but not before the phial containing Austin's stolen mojo is destroyed and lost forever. Austin and Felicity return to 1999 where she points out all the things he has done in saving the world which proved that he had never really lost his mojo in the first place. 

For Austin Powers now read Anthony (Tony) Higgins, the author of Homage to Murcia: A Season of Football Anarchy. For Dr Evil read Sky Sports; for Fat Bastard read Mike Ashley and for Felicity Shagwell read CAP Ciudad de Murcia (Murcia City FC). 

Tony is a football nut. But like so many football fans - certainly amongst my baby-boomer generation - he found himself losing his football mojo. Vast amounts of TV money from Sky Sports and others were changing the football landscape. The people's game was rapidly becoming the rich people's game with the loyalties and sensitivities of time-served fans a minor consideration only behind commercial interests. Tony had moved to the Murcia region of Spain by the time Mike Ashley became owner of his beloved Newcastle United in 2007 and it was at some time between then and 2013 that Tony discovered he had lost his football mojo. Then along came Felicity Shagwell.

Spanish football is complicated. The fourth tier of Spanish football consists 18 Grupos of 20  teams, a total of 360 teams. For the 2013/14 season CAP Ciudad de Murcia (Felicity Shagwell - hereinafter referred to simply as City) were competing in one of the even more numerous fifth tier Grupos. The club is the re-born reserve team of CF Ciudad de Murcia who were purchased in 2007 then moved 145 miles to Granada, re-named Granada 74 and went out of existence two seasons later. Their reserve team CF Atletico Ciudad stayed put in Murcia although lived a nomadic existence until they too went out of existence but were resurrected in 2010 a la AFC Wimbledon and FC United in the UK and re-named CAP Ciudad de Murcia. It is a fan-owned, fan-run club. In fact the CAP in the title roughly translates to "club of shareholders". There are literally dozens and dozens of similarly labyrinthine back-stories to various football clubs across Spain although few have ended up being fan-owned. 

There is also an awful lot of politics surrounding Spanish football, much of which can be traced back to historical allegiances from the Spanish civil war (see my blog Ghosts of Spain posted 23 June 2020). The City club and fans are vehemently anti-fascist and against the greed and excess of modern football. Indeed the team's shirts bear the slogan "Against Modern Football" embroidered across the back of their shirts. 

The book ostensibly follows City's 2013/14 season during which Tony missed only a handful of games, either home or away. But it is much more than that. Tony lives in the town of Caravaca de la Cruz which has it's own football club so he often goes to see them play and he also managed to watch football in the Basque country and Gibraltar during the course of the season. Interspersed with all the football-related comment is background on the various towns and cities visited, most of which are within the region of Murcia which enjoys a rich history dating back to the Romans.

If you like your football then this is an excellent read. If you also happen to like Spain in general and Murcia in particular then even more so. Football in Spain is very different to football in the UK in terms of its structure and history but the passions invoked by the people's game - the real people's game - are the same in both countries. Tony is a football nut. As with Austin Powers, he never really did lose his football mojo, he just needed a Felicity in his life to make him see it.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Adventures From Our Front Door

Of the two of us, I was always more the glass-half-full one. Mark and I have been mates for over forty years and our differing outlooks on life's prospects have always been evident. I recall posing the question of him once as to why he had a tendency towards pessimism. His response to my question was that by fearing the worst, he was mitigating the extent of any future disappointment if the worst was indeed to occur. Whilst I could understand that rationale, I much preferred the risks associated with blind optimism. Forty years on and our respective outlooks have done neither of us any harm. Mark is no longer the pessimist he once was and I'm probably not quite so gung ho as I might like to kid myself although I'm not up for admitting it just yet. 

Regardless of how one might personally describe that partially filled glass, the current Covid-related restrictions on individual liberties and activities, aided and abetted by the winter weather, make it difficult for some - nigh on impossible for many - to indulge in any type of adventure. Now, that might be okay for some but Mrs C and I didn't depart the world of work last year so that we could sit at home doing jigsaws. And to be fair we've been luckier than most in spending much of last year in Spain. But, right here, right now we're (still luckier than most but) stuck in cold, wintery Burnley unable to meet friends, see family, go for a pint, worship (my footie team of course), undertake a non-essential journey or (apparently) enjoy a takeaway coffee whilst having a walk. Jeez! It ain't always easy being an optimist.

One of the reasons that we're lucky is because we live in Burnley. The town nestles in a natural valley, surrounded by open fields with wild moorland at higher altitudes. From our front door is but a ten minute walk to the town centre and a similar hop, in the opposite direction, to the first of those open fields and beyond to the moorland. We literally have potential for adventure on our doorstep.

Today is cold with snow on the ground but not for long as the fine drizzle does its bit. But yesterday was beautiful, cold and sunny and with not much wind. Perfect! Armed only with an Ordnance Survey map and a small rucksack containing a flask of tea and some shortbread biscuits (yes, I know, it's an arrestable offence) Mrs C and I set off from our front door at 10.40 a.m., returning home almost five hours later. I will not bore you with the full route detail but it was a genuine adventure, undoubtedly assisted by an optimistic outlook on the viability of the passage through Hameldon Woods and the icy path to Hameldon Hill and its part-frozen moorland. Oh how we laughed as Mrs C went both feet ankle-deep in the slushy mud of the woodland path having traversed the fallen tree blocking our exit from the woods. And I always draw blood when I'm out anyway so the outcome of my tangle with a barbed wire restriction en route was really no surprise. But it was all worthwhile as we made it to the top of the hill, past the weather radar station and looked down towards Clowbridge reservoir. What a view. Mark would certainly have loved it.

There is something king-of-the-world about being up high, able to survey all around you, particularly when the landscape is so stunning. It's just a great feeling. And so of course is that celebratory pint in the pub afterwards but obviously that's much too dangerous in current times as none of us can be trusted. So in the short term Mrs C and I will continue with our no-pub adventures from the front door. But we'll be noting all suitable pub locations en route for future reference. Because this will all be over soon. I'm just not wired for fearing the worst.

The view from Hameldon Hill down to Clowbridge reservoir.