Spanish football is famous the world over for the style and beauty on show in their domestic game. Mark Salkeld flew to Spain to see matches in Valencia, Malaga, Granada and Seville. Here are some of his highlights.
Watch La Liga live with Nickes.Com!
Valencia and the Mestalla
In Valencia, all that was required was for us to head slightly east of the town centre to the 55,000 capacity Estadi de Mestalla in time for the mid-afternoon kick off in the sun.
Our tickets were located opposite the main stand and although we were in the upper reaches of the stand, we still had a clear view of the whole pitch for the game ahead.
Valencia struck early through Nani and recently loaned Simone Zaza to give them a 2-0 lead at the interval, which they failed to add to during the second period and managed to keep out Athletic after golden-oldie Aritz Aduriz tweaked a hamstring moments after coming on as their final sub with over half an hour to go.
The Ultras who were situated low to our left never stopped singing throughout and supporting the side. Again, after another group trip to the club shop, we decided to head back to one of the local Cien Montaditos branches close to the apartment.
On the Monday, I took Spain’s impressive trains first to Cordoba, and then on to Seville which would be my base for the next five nights.
See Valencia vs Real Madrid, January 28, 2018: 2 nights in a 3* Valencia hotel (including breakfast) plus match ticket (excl. flights): from £215pp
Betis vs Sevilla: Seville derby
Arriving in Seville, I took myself on a rather impressive free walking tour of the city encompassing the Saint Mary of the See (the second largest operational cathedral in Europe behind St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City) and the equally impressive Plaza de España which I am told featured in Lawrence of Arabia and Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones. Both spectacular and well worth a visit should you find yourself in Seville.
There was yet 48 hours more sightseeing to do until the long-awaited Seville derby on Saturday afternoon.
My tickets were in the North Stand. The ground itself is a little dated, but what it lacks in aesthetics is made up in atmosphere as Betis fans are known as one of the most passionate fan bases in Spain.
The ground itself is about 30 minutes away on foot from Plaza de España close to the Guadalquivir river. After a quick stop outside the ground to buy a scarf, I headed into the ground to find my seat and watch the atmosphere build ahead of time. As the South Stand was being rebuilt, officially there were no Sevilla fans, though there were a handful in the main stand.
Prior to the pre-match tifo, there were two banners unfurled in the stand opposite the main stand reading ‘Una Vida Entera…Dedicada a ti’ which translates as ‘A whole life dedicated to you’, with large plastic white letters spelling out El Gran Derbi in the space between the two. A short time later, the two teams came out, greeted with a green and white mosaic in all three built stands followed by a rendition of Real Betis’ club himno which was absolutely deafening.
Towards the end of the first half, full back Riza Durmisi curled a free kick in between the wall and caused absolute mayhem in the Betis end which was nothing more than Betis deserved at half time. In the second half though, they were beaten by two set plays, and their cross town rivals took the points over to the other side of the city.
See Real Betis vs Barcelona, January 21, 2018: 2 nights in a 3* Seville hotel (including breakfast) plus match ticket (excl. flights): from £260pp
Málaga at La Rosaleda
Arriving in Málaga on Monday, I went on another free walking tour in the morning to show me the city, ahead of the Andalusian derby at La Rosaleda that night between Málaga and Real Betis.
I made my way to the Malaga club shop and took advantage of the Dia de Andalusia promotion on the long sleeved current season yellow away shirts for €35 and made my way to the turnstile.
The ground is a perfectly pleasant ground, with comfortable seating and good viewing all round. Málaga made the breakthrough with Pablo Fornals scoring after a howler from Betis’ defence left him one on one. Second half however, Betis capitalised on some slack (and slow) defending from Martin Demichelis to score twice and take the points back to Seville.
Again, the ground was a 30-minute walk from the city centre, allowing me to crash out ahead of a pre-booked bus at 7.30am to Granada.
See Málaga vs Atlético Madrid, February 11, 2018: 2 nights in a 3* Malaga hotel (including breakfast) plus match ticket (excl. flights): from £235pp
Granada at Estadio Nuevo Los Cármenes
Now in Granada, I made my way up to the truly spectacular Alhambra palace. Another World Heritage site, the views from various points in the complex are stunning and there are several instances of indoor courtyards, ornate Arabic gardens and wonderfully intricate carvings on the walls/in the doors.
After a little downtime and some tapas, I made my way down to the Estadio Nuevo Los Cármenes which again was roughly about 30 minutes away from the city centre. I made my way to a nearby market stall selling pipas (sunflower seeds in their shells) which are a hallmark of any Spanish football match.
The stadium was a pleasant three-tiered small ground with temporary seating filling in the corners. I ended up sitting above the ultras who kept a good atmosphere throughout the game, especially as they managed to record a much needed three points after goals from Wakaso and former Barcelona winger Isaac Cuenca, before Alavés pulled one back to make things nervy.
Alavés however managed to have two men sent off in added time to ease the Granada nerves slightly.
Seville: Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán
The bus from Granada back to Seville was very impressive. At a cost of €6 I was not expecting much, but was greeted with a touch screen interactive entertainment system, loaded with plenty of dubbed TV/films, music or internet facilities. Close to my base in Seville there was an attraction called Las Setas (The mushrooms) which are supposedly the largest wooden structure in Europe and essentially look like giant illuminated mushrooms.
Once I’d taken far too many pictures, I put on my Sevilla away shirt from the previous season that I’d bought earlier for €20 in the club shop, and set off to the ground. This time, it was around a 20-minute walk, and gave me plenty of time to stock up on more pipas and a bottle of Coke to take to my seat in the South Stand Upper tier which provided a fantastic view.
As with the derby five days earlier, there was to be another tifo during the club himno which was choreographed fantastically and created a wonderful atmosphere.
The game was settled by a solitary Iborra goal, tucked in from a saved Stevan Jovetic penalty. Late in the second half, the Sevilla fans produced a panolada, in protest at their distaste of the refereeing decisions which involved 30,000 Sevilla fans on their feet waving white handkerchiefs and booing, which was certainly different!
See Sevilla v Real Betis, January 7, 2018: 2 nights in a 3* Seville hotel (including breakfast) and match ticket (excl. flights): from £256pp
It was a fantastic trip and I would recommend visiting the clubs in Andalusia should you be able to do so. Flights to Málaga start from around £40 return, and using ALSA buses you can navigate around most the area easily.
This is an edited version of a feature that first appeared in Football Weekends magazine, the fan’s guide for great trips in Europe and the UK. Visit www.footballweekends.co.uk for more details.
Watch La Liga live with Nickes.Com!