El Camino de La Liga

Welcome to El Camino de La Liga

The challenge: to visit every club in La Liga and see a match in their stadium in one season. That means 20 teams in 38 weeks.

The reason: to see more of Spain, to learn more about Spain, to meet new people and to see some good football.

Bienvenido al Camino de La Liga

El desafío: visitar cada club de fútbol de La Liga española y ver un partido en su campo en una sola temporada. Eso significa 2o equipos en 32 semanas.

La razon: ver más de España, aprender más sobre España, conocer gente nueva y ver buen fútbol.

View Spanish football stadiums in a larger map

Red = Visited Blue = Still to visit

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

A Tale of Two Cities

After several recent trips to the north of Spain it was time to head south to see two cities and two matches in two days. Andalusia is Spain´s second largest and most populous region. It´s a land known for its hot weather, cloudless skies and tourist beaches. It is also the region with the most number of teams in la liga, four in total. I travelled there to see two of these teams and the cities they represent. Two teams who suddenly find themselves as bigger rivals than before.
The first stop on my Andalusian adventure was Seville, Spain´s fourth largest city and the capital of Andalusia. One of Spain´s most important cities and a popular destination with tourists, Seville is associated with everything stereotypically Spanish; flamenco dancers, bullfighting, sun, sangria, gypsy women and la Macarena (the song is named after a neighbourhood in the city). Recently though, the city has also become familiar to football fans around Europe due to the exploits of one its football clubs. Over the last few years Sevilla Fútbol Club has become a household name after winning back to back UEFA cups, as well as a European Super Cup.
Like some of the cities of the north, Seville is a football city. However, despite the recent success, Sevilla doesn´t have the whole city behind it. It´s not very often you will here Glasgow and Seville in the same sentence, but when it comes to football they have something in common. That is because both cities are divided by two football teams who are equally as big. There are other cities, such as Liverpool or even Madrid, who have two teams but one is bigger and more successful than the other. In Seville though, like in Glasgow, there isn´t a big one and smaller one but two big ones. In fact, you could say that it´s impossible for one to ever be bigger than the other. In Seville, the significant other is Real Betis.
The clubs may be equally matched in terms of fan base, stadiums, prestige and history, but the current situation of both on the park couldn´t be more different. Sevilla have carried on the good form of recent seasons, easily qualifying from their Champions League group and challenging Barcelona and Real Madrid. Real Betis, on the other hand, find themselves mid-table in the second division with as many problems off the park as on it. Real Betis´relegation from la liga on the last day of last season was a huge shock similar to that of Newcastle´s relegation in England.
When la liga lost Real Betis, it didn´t only lose a big club, it also lost the Seville derby. The Seville derby is one of the biggest matches in Spain, second only to Real Madrid vs Barcelona. While Sevilla fans reveled in their bitter rival´s relegation it soon dawned on everybody that there would be no Seville derby for at least one season. As much as the two clubs dislike each other, they need each other and deep down, if Sevilla fans are being honest, they probably miss Betis a little. With Betis out of the picture for the moment, a new Andalusian derby has sprung up.
The second stop on the Andalusian trip was Málaga, Andalusia´s second largest city. Unlike Seville, Málaga is located on the coast. Like Seville, it has tourists, although its tourists are the Costa del Sol type. Most importantly though, like Seville, it has a football team in la liga.
In Spain the fighting isn´t just between the regions, but within the regions themselves. In Asturias it´s between Gijón and Oviedo, in Galicia between La Coruña and Vigo and in Andalusia between Seville and Málaga. This has led to Málaga vs Sevilla taking on extra importance and becoming this season´s biggest match in the south. So how real is the rivalry between the two? A quick look at some of the stalls before both matches gave me a clue. I could see several anti-sevillista scarves on sale in Málaga but I didn´t see anything anti-málaga in Seville. This confirmed what I suspected, there is antipathy between the two cities but it seems to flow in one direction more than the other.
The turn out in Málaga´s Rosaleda stadium was surprisingly good, considering their team is in the relegation zone. It was probably helped by the 20 degree temperatures (not bad for December) and a winnable home match against Osasuna. The Rosaleda is perfect representation of the city itself. Like many things in Málaga it is newly built, yet it is located between a gypsy market and a dried out river.
Likewise, at Sevilla´s Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium the turnout was high for the visit of Valladolid. This probably had less to do with the weather, although it was as warm as in Málaga, and more to do with Sevilla´s good form. Like the Rosaleda, the Sanchez Pizjuan represents the city very well. Old and dirty but with a special, hot atmosphere.
With both teams needing wins, the atmosphere was good. In both stadiums the Ultras put on an impressive show. The Málaga ultras in particular were impressive considering the lack of inspiration offered up by their team. In the end, despite the best efforts of both sets of fans, neither side could fashion out the victory they needed, both drawing 1-1. In Sevilla´s case, the football was good but the finishing wasn´t. In Malaga´s case, the football was worryingly bad and only a lucky equaliser rescued a point for them. With Barcelona and Real Madrid both winning, Sevilla lost some ground on the top two. Results at the other end of the table moved Malaga further into the relegation zone and unless things improve very soon they are facing relegation to the second division and Andalusia is facing the prospect of looking for a new derby to get excited about.