Thursday, October 27, 2022

Lo lo lo lo Vamos Cartagena!

If a week is a long time in Politics (just ask erstwhile PM Liz Truss), then two and a half years is a long time in the life of a blog originally set up to talk all things "real Spain" including real football. Since I first introduced the subject (see Real Football in Spain), the Real Federación Española de Fútbol (RFEF) has streamlined its previously labyrinthine four-tier structure of four hundred and forty football teams by (wait for it) inserting a new third tier and adding another twenty teams into the overall mix. On the bright side, that means another twenty teams added to the original four hundred and thirty nine for potential visits by Mrs C and I.

I say "teams" as opposed to "clubs" because the B teams of many of the larger, well known clubs participate in this structure albeit the B team cannot play in a division any higher than one below that in which the first team plays.

Briefly, the Primera División (La Liga) consists twenty teams, the Segunda División twenty two teams, the (new third tier) Primera Federación two leagues of twenty teams each, the  Segunda Federación five leagues of eighteen teams each and the Tercera Federación eighteen leagues of sixteen teams each. As for promotions and relegations? Trust me, don't even go there beyond the top two divisions.

So if you think that the Spanish football league structure is complex, just wait until you start looking at the histories of its member clubs. Politics, hubris, corruption and bankruptcies make Derby County's recent travails seem positively mundane by comparison. Take a look at Homage to Murcia: A season of Football Anarchy for one such example of a complex football club history.

And so, only a mere two years after our one and only "real football in Spain" experience at the start of the 2019/20 later-to-be-aborted season, we're back! Yes, Mrs C and I have made it not once, not twice but three times to our nearest decent(ish) size football team with at least one more home match to take in before we head back to the UK in early November. And who is the lucky recipient of our current affections? It is the team of (currently doing well in the Segunda División) FC Cartagena, not to be confused with (currently lost somewhere in a sixth tier division) Cartagena FC. And indeed it would be only too easy to get confused as a quick delve into history makes it anything but clear.

Cartagena CF was founded in 1919 but went out of business following the 1951/52 season for making the rookie mistake of not paying its players.

Cartagena FC was founded in 1940, originally as UD Cartagenera until 1961, then as CD Cartagena until 1974 and since as Cartagena FC.

FC Cartagena was founded in 1995, originally as Cartagonova FC, in place of CD Balsicas, then the city's main team who made similar rookie mistakes to those Cartagena CF had made forty three years earlier.

To further confuse matters, Cartagena FC was the official reserve team of FC Cartagena between 2002 and 2009 but they all gave it up as a bad job because everyone had a headache by then. Enough. Back to the football.

Over the course of the last three weeks, we have attended the club's (FC Cartagena that is, not Cartagena FC) Estadio Municipal Cartagonova stadium to watch them play (then) top of the table Deportivo Alavés, (then) bottom of the table CD Leganés and, most recently, seventeenth in the table UD Ibiza, drawing one-one, losing one-two and winning two-nil respectively.

The Municipal Stadium, opened in 1988, is a mini-Camp Nou (home of FC Barcelona) in that it is a bowl of a stadium, largely uncovered, with a lower tier and a steep upper tier affording a great view of the pitch albeit with the downside for potential fatal falls. Unlike Camp Nou, it doesn't accommodate over ninety thousand spectators but with a capacity just in excess of fifteen thousand, it is a decent setting for second tier football and the eight or nine thousand fans who regularly turn up to generate a noisy and fanatical atmosphere. For all three games, we bought tickets (fifteen euros each) behind the goal at the north end of the stadium, close to the small but vociferous band of supporters who maintain a constant singing, chanting and banging of the drum throughout the whole ninety minutes. I don't know if this small band refer to themselves as Ultras but they should do because their support is fantastic. For night matches under the floodlights, the atmosphere is ramped up by the pre-match light show accompanied by the rousing Gary Glitter track Rock and Roll (Part 2). Clearly, nobody got the memo here about Mr Glitter.

The club appears to have a selection of nicknames, mainly arising from their black-and-white striped kit but they are best known as Efesé which chant regularly rises from the crowd. I tried to google the background to Efesé as I couldn't find any such word in my Spanish dictionaries and it came up with a long, convoluted tale of some old drunk from years back who was a supporter of the club which was a bit strange because the club hadn't been formed back then. Anyway, the google translation of this tale didn't make any sense to me so I consoled myself with chanting Efesé (think chanting the initials F S A and you're just about there) along with the rest of the crowd. Sadly, the old drunk story is more interesting than the reality which is that - for reasons best known to the fans - Efesé is how you pronounce the initials F C in Spanish, i.e. Efé for F and sé for C. That's a bit crap really, don't you think? 

To further confuse the issue here (and remember, Spanish football specialises in confusion and complexity), Cartagena FC (not FC Cartagena) have a sign outside their ground which translates to "the authentic Efesé". Whatever it means, both clubs lay claim to it and it does make for a good chant.

In the twenty third minute of all FC Cartagena home matches, the crowd breaks into applause to remember Miki Roqué, a young footballer who made thirty appearances for the club on loan from Liverpool during the 2008/9 season and who sadly died in 2012 from cancer. A reminder that life is precious.

The Spanish love their football and, as far as I can see, there are only two main differences between watching second tier football in Spain as compared to second tier football in the UK aside, that is, from Mr Glitter and the economical pricing and ease of entrance to the match itself. One, very few away fans attend matches and two, the whole affair is like a giant picnic. Giant, silver foil clad bocadillos (basically a sandwich made with a long baguette) are unwrapped and consumed with the greatest of ease, no mean feat considering that two of these big boys lasted Mrs C and I two whole days when we did our Camino earlier in the year. And for those that don't bring a picnic, the rest of them chew their way through bags of pipas (sunflower seeds), the eating of which involves removal and disposal of the outer shell to get to the seed. Some crack the shell between thumb and forefinger but the aficionados pop them into their mouth, crack the shell between their teeth then remove the seed with their tongue whilst spitting out the shell. All very lovely. Throughout the match, there is a discernible mishmash of noise emanating from the cracking, chewing and spitting out of pipas from around the ground.

The main challenge at the end of the match is to safely negotiate one's way to the exits down the steep terracing whilst wading through the piles of pipas shells.

The Deportivo Alavés and UD Ibiza games were both 9.00 p.m. kick-offs (Sunday night and Monday night respectively) whereas the CD Leganés game was a 2.00 p.m. Sunday afternoon kick-off. The cloudy and windy start to the day tricked me into wearing a pair of jeans for the CD Leganés match but of course, this being Spain, the sun eventually emerged and I spent much of the ninety minutes sweating my wotsits off whereas the Spanish were generally togged up in their long trousers and coats seemingly oblivious to the heat and happily tucking into their picnics and pipas. After the electric atmosphere of the previous Deportivo Alavés evening match, the Sunday afternoon suffered by comparison due to  unpleasantly tight, sweaty jeans plus ninety minutes of gamesmanship by CD Leganés that would have put many an English Premiership side to shame. It's always a mystery as to why only the team in the lead, with thirty five minutes to go, seems to be afflicted by collective cramp for the remaining thirty five minutes but I guess it's just one of those things. Anyway, across the three games the overall quality of football was good and whilst it is difficult to compare, I am going to do so anyway and suggest that the Spanish second tier is pretty much on a par, quality-wise, with English tier two and a half. Okay, English tier two and a half doesn't exist but I would define this as lower Championship, higher League One quality.

Unlike the English Championship and League One though which doesn't yet suffer the curse of VAR, I was surprised to discover that Spanish tier two football does make use of football's equivalent to killjoy. Right at the end of the CD Leganés match, FC Cartagena had an injury time equalizer ruled out when the referee was advised to go check the monitor a good five minutes after the ball hit the back of the net. Booooooooooo!

It may have taken us nearly two and a half years to properly get going with this Spanish football lark but we're liking it. Real Spain. Real football. Real beer. What's not to like?