Malaga v Las Palmas
La Rosaleda / Segunda Division / 24th August 2019
In 2009, I left Swansea, after three of the best of years of my life at Swansea University. Just like Arnie seemingly keeps ‘I’ll be back’-ing into more and more Terminator films, I was certain I’d be back too. I was in love with the city and more importantly the city housed my greatest love: Swansea City Football Club. On leaving uni and having to work a shitty job at a certain Mike Ashley-owned sports outlet for a year, whilst I did some teaching work experience on the side, the hardest part was undoubtedly giving up my Swansea City season ticket. ‘Not to worry, this season ticket sabbatical would only be for a year or two,’ I naively thought. In fact, it was to be ten years until I bought my next season ticket – except, after ten years living away from Wales, this season ticket would not be for Swansea City…
And so I give to you the 59,157th socio of Málaga CF: me. A couple of weeks after moving to Spain, I took the plunge and went full on Málaga: season ticket, shirt, scarf – the whole fan shebang. I was going to attempt life as a Malaguista and life down this ‘second team’ route would begin on a warm summer’s evening on the 24th August: Málaga v Las Palmas in a 9pm kick-off (9pm? WTF?!) As my new Spanish life was beginning to hit full swing, on seeing La Rosaleda for the first time I knew it would also be just like starting over – starting over a new football life.
The city itself was on the final day of Feria and the place was still utterly bonkers as I arrived into the chaos of it all at 1pm. Every street had dancing, street bands and just general merriment as people drank Cartojal in the streets. The Málaga game didn’t kick-off until 9pm, but there were many Málaga fans already out enjoying the festivities in the early afternoon, so I hoped the party atmosphere would spread over to La Rosaleda later that evening.
After an hour or two of joining in the colourful, relentless partying, I decided to escape to my beloved Central Beers to take one of the few chances I get to drink some proper craft beers in this part of the world. I spent most of my time there trying to convince the owner Juan that he needs to open a craft beer place in Marbella. Apparently he had considered it before and I think I made a compelling, yet pathetically pleading, argument. But yes, please come Juan.
Beered up, Cartojal-ed up and tapas-ed up, I began the 20 minute walk north of the city to the home of Málaga CF: La Rosaleda. There was still plenty of time until kick-off though as I was going for beers with Málaga’s famous Guiri Army.
The sunny life of the Costa del Sol obviously attracts expats from around the world to live there, especially from British shores. With us being such a football mad island, of course many of those Brits relocating to Spain are football mad too (e.g. me). A long, long time before I rolled up here, some of these ‘Guiri’ – the Spanish word for foreigner – wanted to rekindle that great British pastime of going to the match with your mates and so from their Lounge Bar base in Benalmádena, an expat branch of Malaga CF began – the aforementioned Guiri Army. Some I’m told have been doing this for 30 years now! The Guiri Army have always mingled happily amongst the locals (who it sounds like are still a little bit bemused by it all) and there is a strong mutual love there. Everything I had read or been told about the Guiri Army was that they just want to have a good time and results were secondary to that, which I think fits in nicely with my own philosophy on what makes a good footballing day out (although it is a much jollier occasion if your team wins too!)
I had been told to head to Bar Bodega Hermanos Madrid, located just 5 minutes around the corner from La Rosaleda, to join up with the Guiris. What I initially found was a typical, small, quiet bodega that you would expect to find in any traditional Spanish town. This did not seem to be the sort of place that a gang of British football fans would call HQ and I began to think that this had to be the wrong place; however, within seconds it seemed, the bar was taken over by accents from all over the UK – the Guiri Army had arrived. Of course, I somehow ended up with the friendliest tribe of the British Isles: Geordies. My Geordie pals were holidaying in the area, but apparently venture over to a few Málaga games a season like many other UK-based Guiris, who have had a taste of Málaga and want to come back for more. The community spirit even led to me, a Swansea City fan, happily chatting away with a Cardiff City fan having spotted his club tattoo. If Málaga can peacefully bring together a Swansea and Cardiff fan, then there was a good thing going on here. The whole cheap beer and mixing of fans was too good it seemed, as the time flew and it was soon time to cross the road and time to sample La Rosaleda for the first time.
Now anyone who has heard me talk about football stadiums will know ‘gritty and traditional’ are favoured over ‘sparkling and modern’ by me. La Rosaleda translates as ‘The Rose Garden’ – which makes it sound charming and lovely doesn’t it? Well, it’s anything but. The surrounding palm trees do not stop it looking utterly brutal and a concrete monster. Luckily, I love brutal and seemingly, when it comes to football stadiums, I have a weird thing for masses and masses of concrete.
The stadium is your typical open Spanish bowl and holds 30,000 fans. It was only a few years ago that Málaga were having the time of their lives in the Champions League and marching agonisingly close to a semi-final appearance – and then this stadium would be full. Now, with the club back down in the Segunda, the crowds have sadly diminished to just over half capacity, but the hardcore still make a hell of a noise in their blue coliseum.
For those unaware, my beloved Swansea City have been a little bit in the shit in recent years. We’ve gone from a model Premier League club to a club run by disinterested American owners who have sold off all our best players and brought in a few cheap replacements. “Win something with kids,” seemed to be the message. Luckily, we have awesome kids and a good manager last season who stabilised us; now we have a newer, seemingly better manager this season who’s led us to joint top of the league (at the time of writing) and our best start in decades. On jumping on board this Málaga bandwagon, it seemed like I’d signed up for the Spanish version of Swansea City: relegated to the second tier two years ago after a golden spell, odd owners, a fire sale and just two signings. I basically now follow two of the same club. Malaga had won their first game of the season, a long way from home in Santander, and so I had my fingers crossed that Málaga could do a “Steve Cooper’s Swansea’ and carry on their good start.
Not quite sadly.
The game was not without entertainment, but not an absolute barnstormer either. Malaga generally dominated proceedings without too much cutting edge. It also took me very little time to uncover and adopt ‘my new favourite player’ too. Quite frankly, to me now, Keidi Bare will always be “The Albanian Pirlo” as I repeatedly gushed about his sprayed passes to young Geordie Matt beside me.
There were two great chances for club captain Adrian, who was leading the line while marquee signing Shinji Okazaki is still not permitted to be registered by the league. A close range effort was thumped wide when it was easier to hit the goal and shortly after a great run led to a shot being smashed against the post.
0-0 at half-time. I should probably throw in here for those who have followed my European exploits on the previous incarnation of this blog, Lost Boyos, there’d be no half-time beers or even beers in the stands here. Spanish football just doesn’t seem to go for it. It looks like it’s a season of sunflower seeds for me.
Half-time also gave the famous ‘Spider’, a long term Guiri Army member, to approach me and rib me for a photo he had seen of me on Twitter at Real Betis holding up a green Betis scarf; in my defence, that photo was from months before the notion of moving to Spain – let alone becoming a Málaga season ticket – had entered my mind. Hopefully I’m forgiven as I was extended an invitation to join the Guiri Army party bus from Benalmádena any time.
Las Palmas came out firing from the off in the second half and their manager Pepe Mel (remember him West Brom fans?) would have been delighted when they took the lead, even when it came about in bizarre circumstances.
Malaga lost the ball on the halfway line and Las Palmas’ Rubén Castro was played straight through. He decided not to run through though and from 30 yards he instead decided to lob the ridiculously out-of-place Munir, who was miles away from his goal for some reason. 1-0 to Las Palmas against the run of play.
As we hit the 80th minute and I began to think that I’d not be seeing a Malaga goal that evening, they would get their equaliser. A great through ball played in Juanpi, who had his shirt pulled in the box and earned the home team a penalty. There was a long delay, including a VAR check I’m guessing, before the captain stepped up to the spot. Adrián made no mistakes this time and sent the keeper the wrong way. My first Málaga goal would be a penalty by the skipper.
Full-time: Málaga 1-1 Las Palmas.
On getting out of the stadium we headed straight back to the beer. Except it wasn’t from any bar, but from the guy selling Málaga merchandise outside the stand. It seemed he’d brought an icebox of San Miguel with him. Bizarre. Beers were enjoyed back outside the bodega before me and my Geordie pals and the Guiri Army parted ways for the night, as I headed back into Málaga itself.
It’d been a superb introduction to what Málaga fandom is all about and all was jolly good fun. The game itself had been a fairly gentle one to ease me in too. I feel there is a lot more memories to come from my season watching Málaga anyway – and maybe even beyond that.
The loveliest moment of the night came towards the end of the night when someone asked why I had moved to Málaga. I corrected them firstly, as I’ve actually moved down the road to Marbella, before explaining that I’d move over to join my Gibraltar-dwelling boyfriend, before he then dumped me about 6 weeks before I got here.
“Don’t worry,” came a very northern, eavesdropping voice behind me, “Málaga will love you.” A lovely sentiment from this random man, who didn’t say anything else to me after that and just sort of disappeared into the crowd. I think I can probably love Málaga back too. I think that was a nice way to end the night and a nice way to wrap this up – much nicer than me adding in the bit about how I spewed up that last San Miguel behind a bus stop about ten minutes after leaving the bodega.
Onwards and upwards and vamos Málaga!