Last night I returned - dazed and confused - from four days of alcohol abuse in La Coruña, northern Spain. It was the place a few of us spent an international weekend-less fixture between Deportivo and Mallorca. Having seen the fixtures at the start of the season, the third international break of the English season was too much to bear, so a few of us Albionites booked a weekend in (windy, northern) Spain - a place where we could continue to watch a team playing in blue and white stripes in a second division whilst drinking too much beer.
We were welcomed with open arms thanks to the Spanish connections forged through some of the Albion’s North Stand Kollective members, and you can see why those NSK kids like a flag or two at Falmer. Deportivo's 'ultras' - the Riazor Blues - have 96 flags in their North Stand alone. We joined them not only for the match on Sunday, but they also allowed us in the ground the previous Friday, a time when they always have full permission from the club to run around the ground using copious amounts of Sellotape to proudly display their flags and banners. It was an exceptional experience, wandering around an empty stadium as if we owned the place, made even better by experiencing the ground complete with noise 48 hours or so later.
The Riazor Blues, so named after the name of the ground and the team’s main colour (like Falmer Blue and Whites, I suppose), are what you would expect from any group of football supporters. Vocal and committed, tattooed and intimidating, yet to us remarkably friendly for no apparent reason except they had met two of our group before. They also actually owned two bars nearby to the ground, an envious prospect when we only have two pubs even close to Falmer, none fan-owned. It means that I have spent most of the time since I got back home sourcing an available barn near to Falmer that we could use as a TSL-baR. The Deportivo ultras even had an adjoining boxing gymnasium in one of their bars. Whilst a nice idea, fitness isn't necessarily something promoted here at TSLR Towers - we would be much more interested in an adjoining Jacuzzi room, filled with Harvey’s, Harvey’s drinkers and Gully’s Girls.
In one section of, effectively, their North Stand, I pondered why there were so many seats missing, as yet un-replaced. The Riazor Blues had ripped them out, they said, because they didn't like sitting down. A novel concept to our Logan’s Run-style of UK footballing authorities, but if you've ever had a good look at Spanish health and safety, you wouldn’t have been at all surprised.
As for the match itself, it was reasonable. The skill levels in the Spanish second division are higher per player than those in our Championship. But this also meant a few of those skillful players got a little over-excited and, ultimately, kept hold of the ball a little too long, usually ending in a loss of possession. It may be obvious to offer a comparison with Bruno, but they generally played a little like him. The refereeing was just as bad as you would expect from English league officials… quite appalling. On this occasion, though, that suited the home side: a Mallorca player was harshly dismissed for a second yellow when he miss-controlled a ball that bounced onto his hand in the first half. Then with Deportivo leading 2-1, the officials awarded them a second goal when it appeared to be cleared off the line. Think Gordon Greer v Watford, and some.
Before, during and after the match the Deportivo lads were loud, despite their insistence of using three drums, sacrilege on these shores of Albion. But they used them to control the tempo of songs already being sung - rather than using them as the starting point to all songs, as fans tend to do in English football. Hilariously, when it became clear that we were Albionites on Deportivo turf, the bloke next to us said he knew sometime TSLR contributor and all round good egg, The Hovian. It’s a small world, I mused, as my ears were caught up in a hitherto unknown world of atmosphere at an actual football match.
We picked up a Deportivo fanzine, and are now hastily inserting the text into Google Translate so we can say it’s not as good as TSLR in a future blog post. In other comparison news, they don’t sell beers in the ground, only the sin-alcohol stuff (that’s non-alcohol to you and I) who actually sponsor Deportivo whilst those around us were smoking as many Woodbines as they liked. Whether the smoking was allowed or not was irrelevant, especially as one home fan was seen smoking with his arm round a steward. There was a heavy police presence even inside the ground, but they took little notice in supporters. I mean, they were primed should it kick off, but everyone tended to let each other alone.
One of the locals was a gentleman named Nigel, who managed to spend the majority of his weekend with our group, showing us how to be a Riazor Blue. It was very kind of him, and quite undeserved, although I suspect he just wanted to avoid going home to his wife a little longer. They all invited us back for the promotion party at the end of the season - something they are quite confident of. I wanted to show willing, so in my terrifyingly poor Spanish (ie, English that he couldn't understand), I invited him over for our promotion party at the end of this season too.
We did a bit of non-football culture in La Coruña too - they have a lighthouse; they are obsessed by Octopus; the Estrella Galicia (Galicia's the region you know) was delicious; and there’s some Catholic cathedral and Galician Parliament not a million miles away with its famous Bakewell-style tart on offer. But it was the European Football Weekend (copyright, Sir Danny Last) we were after. And just get a look at some of this stadium roof porn photo (20 likes on Instagram, Danny, surely?). The next time there’s an international break, there are worse places to watch football.