Málaga v Melilla
Marbella Football Centre, Benahavís / Friendly / 7th August 2019
Everyone remembers their first time apparently, but I doubt in even a month’s time will I be able recall much of my first ever Málaga game – a preseason friendly against third tier Melilla. That is the game itself at least – I’ll certainly remember the occasion thanks solely to where the game was played. My new life as a Malaguista would begin in the beautiful village of Benahavís.
Benahavís is a relatively untouched gem up in the mountains north of Marbella and seven kilometres from the coast. I’m currently based on the coast in San Pedro de Alcántara and I did initially consider walking up to the village, but an orange weather warning and a San Pedro native warning me of the hilly walk, the lack of any real footpath and the abundance of wild Spanish drivers prompted me to get a taxi up instead. A glorious taxi journey it was too, as we winded up through the mountains and past the popular gorge, Cañón de las Angosturas, where tourists were sampling the famous gorge walking route. Moments after passing this gorge, I arrived into Benahavís itself.
Peaceful and pretty was my first impression of the place and probably my lasting impression too. The village has around 7,000 inhabitants and is becoming increasingly popular with expats because of its combination of being remote and beautiful, in addition to being just close enough to the coast too. Plus, the area is synonymous with golf and has multiple golf courses around it, which is certainly attracting golf lovers to the area.
I spent my first hour or so in the village just happily wandering aimlessly and getting very sweaty thanks to the various steep hills that make up this mountainous village. Also, I had arrived into the village just as everything was closing for an afternoon siesta, so there wasn’t really much else for me to do while waiting for the evening’s 7pm kick-off. I was not brave enough to make the strenuous climb to the Montemayor castle that sits atop the mountain, which I sort of regret now as I read that you get some pretty awesome views of the coast. However, the fact I didn’t gives me a welcome excuse to return to Benahavís.
Gastronomy is Benahavís’ other chief selling point with its restaurant scene being heralded as one of the finest in the Costa del Sol. There would be no fancy dining for me on this visit, again due to my timing, so I settled outside a small pizzeria for some pizza and Cruzcampo, while I counted down the time until kick-off.
From the main hub of the village, I headed down the hill and immediately tonight’s venue was below me. The Marbella area is a very popular destination for football clubs during preseason and for mid-season warm weather training and so there are several pitches and training complexes scattered around the region – including here in Benahavis. Really it felt wrong to call this a ‘ground’ , but clearly being a tick-hunting groundhopper, I’m going to count it on my list.
Due to the training pitch environment, the evening’s game had free admission, which was nice. The downside of the whole experience though was undoubtedly having to watch the game through a fence; it felt weirdly disorientating watching through a fence for so long. What was great to see was the amount of blue and white Málaga shirts on show with three sides of the ground flanked by Malaguista (we’ll come on to the fourth side shortly). The team itself would not be wearing blue and white on this warm summer’s evening though.
Earlier in the day, Málaga had launched their third kit, a kit that is very, very pink and which I have to say that I’m a very, very big fan of. Benahavís and Malaga share a close relationship with the town’s name sitting on the back of Malaga shirts as the town sponsors the club. Thus, before kick-off the mayor of Benahavís was presented with a commemorative framed pink shirt as a gesture of good will.
The game itself really was nothing to write home about (he writes as he writes about the game). It was quite cool to see Melilla play as the place itself intrigues me. Melilla is a Spanish enclave which sits on the opposite side of the Mediterranean in north Africa. It’s a sort of baby conjoined twin to Morocco, which I really want to visit at some point during my Spanish adventure.
Like many others in attendance, I was most looking forward to seeing Málaga’s new star signing Shinji Okazaki, especially since I now own a Málaga shirt adorned with ‘OKAZAKI 23’ on the back. I was delighted to see him start and play through the first half and although he might not go on to be the most prolific for Malaga this season, there is no doubt that he’ll win over fans with his work ethic. If he wants to be prolific too though that’d be great!
I heard a father and son talking about going to get a beer from the bar and having previously had no idea that there was a bar on the site, I decided to follow behind them. This meant leaving my view of the game for about a minute and I had absolutely no doubt in my mind that in that one minute I’d miss a goal. I was spot on. Just as I rounded the corner towards the bar, I heard the cheer. 1-0 to Malaga. A fine assist from Okazaki too so I’m told.
The football ground sits on a small sports complex, which also features an adjacent driving range next to the football pitch. The football pitch actually must be one of the only flat parts of the whole village! Behind the far goal you’ll find the changing rooms and other usual amenities of a football facility, which then leads onto a large bar/restaurant area with a couple of swimming pools. The gate to this area said ‘VIP’ and I didn’t really consider myself a very important person, so I tentatively asked the security guards at the gate could I use the bar. After vowing not to use the swimming pool at all (I hadn’t brought my trunks!) I was allowed in. Now I had the luxury of watching pool side with various other fans who had worked their way in and I even had a rubber ring next to me just in case I had too much beer and fell backwards and needed saving from the pool.
That goal I missed proved to be the only goal of the game, as the rest of the game was played out with just the occasional chance for either team. Overall, it was sort of what you’d expect from a preseason friendly played on a training pitch.
After getting myself on the pitch for some photos (I chose not to join the kids running after the Málaga players), it was time for me leave Benahavís. There was still time for a few parting beers back in Legends bar in the centre of the town. This seemed to be where all the expats hung out and talk about football. One Chelsea fan explained to me that in the past two weeks Darren Anderton and David Bentley had been drinking in the bar too, so I was half expecting (and hoping) that the English, ex-Spurs player theme would continue and I would soon be joined for a beer by Andy Sinton or Aaron Lennon, but it wasn’t to be.
So all round a pleasant afternoon in what can only be described as a very, pleasant town – and one I’d like to visit again at some point with the energy to climb up to the hilltop castle. Hopefully next time I watch Malaga I’ll get to see them score – I must time beer runs better.