Call on Me – Málaga v Rayo Vallecano

Málaga v Rayo Vallecano

La Rosaleda / Segunda Division /17th September 2019

I’ve missed playing football so, so much, so I was delighted to make my debut for the school staff football team against the school’s sixth form last Friday.

It was the first time I’d stepped onto any form of football’s hallowed turf (the school’s astroturf in this case) in over 18 months and I was absolutely buzzing for it. Trying to be all ‘football hispter’ wearing my Stuttgart Kickers shirt I was excited. Really excited. Too excited. The excitement clearly got to me in the opening stages, as ‘sloppy’ would be a generous term to describe my start. Clearly, I’d been watching too much Málaga football and it had affected my game. Quickly enough, I realised fancy passes weren’t happening for me and with the much fitter young ‘uns taking an early 4-0, I decided to change my game and just run around and press everything. And soon the fancy bits were beginning to come off too, as I grabbed myself a couple of assists and eventually the winning goal in a 13-12 thriller to go along with the man of match award given to me by my teammates. With that award on my mantelpiece (a metaphorical mantelpiece – it was actually just written on a staff football spreadsheet) I arrived at La Rosaleda on Tuesday night with achy legs, but half hoping I’d get a game for my adopted Spanish club with Málaga travailing in the league. My services were not required, but I still think there may be a chance for me later in the season with this thin Malaga squad already beginning to look tired.

It was to be my first midweek game at La Rosaleda. I’ve always loved midweek games, but the Tuesday evening 7pm kick-off meant a mad dash down the Sierra Blanca hill, where my school is based, to make my lift to Málaga. Luckily, Ken turned his car around and picked me up en route and soon me, Ken and Mark were on our way up the coast. Mark even provided me with a little Segunda Division guide to the season from the local paper to keep me entertained on the journey down the AP-7 (apparently the newsagent had given him a load as no-one seemed to care about second tier football in Marbella it seemed).

New shirt – now Okazaki-less.

Midweek meant a quieter prematch atmosphere around the ground, but this also meant less people in the club shop. The club shop was due a visit, as it was finally time to ditch the redundant Okazaki shirt. I expected the trading of said shirt to be a far more complicated process than “Here’s my Okazaki shirt – can I swap it for a new shirt?” ” Yes, here you go,” but that’s exactly how it went down. Less than a minute after entering the shop, I was out with a brand new, completely nameless, home shirt. I had fallen for a couple of Málaga players, but there was no way I was getting anyone on the back of the shirt this time, as who the hell knows what the club is going to do in January; will there even be a club in January? Yes, this question has cropped up a few times now and it is indeed supposedly getting that bad; maybe more on that another time.

Whilst I was shirt swapping, my fellow Marbella Guiris had gone off to a bar they simply dubbed the ‘Chinese Bar’. Unsurprisingly, the ‘Chinese Bar’ was not its official name and having circled the small bars and bodegas near La Rosaleda, I gave up trying to find them and headed towards the familiar Guiri Army flag strung up outside Bar Hermanos Madrid. I’d learned quickly that watching Málaga at the moment is a bit of a chore and soon a few bottles of Victoria were needed to brace myself for what I assumed would be a long evening of football. I was joined by fellow Guiris Tinks and Gordon, who travel over from Southport regularly and who regaled me with some of their tales watching Málaga over the past ten years; it proved great entertainment to pass the time before kick-off.

Me and my pal Tinks.
I’ve noticed lots of people have carrier bags with them at La Rosaleda…

Last time out, I chronicled the shit show currently presiding behind the scenes at Malaga; Rayo aren’t too fond of their owners either it seems. The Spanish Football Podcast had dubbed this game the “The Really Unpopular Owners Derby; maybe not the catchiest name, but you really should check out the TSFP podcast if you like your Spanish football – it’s excellent stuff.

Rayo are a club I’ve always really liked because 1) they usually have really cool shirts, especially when they choose to go ‘full red sash’ and 2) they are the club who gifted Swansea City with the godly Miguel Pérez Cuesta – or Michu to his friends. I quite like them, but their fans aren’t loving the club right now, as there have been multiple protests against the president Raúl Martín Presa. The reasons? Well there are seemingly plenty, including a huge hike in season ticket prices over the past two years; the decision to charge fans £50-60 extra if they want to go watch the Rayo women’s team (the rest of the Spanish women’s league add no extra cost); and many are still angered at the way their infamous stadium was left in such disrepair last season that it was briefly closed down for safety reasons. The club is very much seen as a community-orientated, rather socialist entity and so fans see any sort of corruption of their treasured Rayo as very, very serious. Nonetheless, despite the unrest, a small, but hearty gang of away fans had made their way down from the suburbs of Madrid to the coast for the game – a great effort for a 7pm midweek kick-off.

After the usual prematch processions, Málaga came out the blocks flying and were playing actual attacking and enterprising football, the likes I had yet to see from Los Boquerones. I’d purred over the quarterback exploits of Keidi Bare at my first Málaga game – and he started brilliantly here – but I knew deep down then that my head and heart would be quickly turned by the playmaker in front of him: Juanpi – he sort of feels destined to become my true Málaga love.

Match action.

I’m a proper football romantic and the Venezuelan Juanpi is the sort of player who romantics like me fall in love with: players with guile, players with flair, players that play. And for the opening 20 minutes, everything seemed to be going through his majestic pink boots of Juanpi. My pal Ken really is not a fan of Juanpi’s and the car journey to Málaga had involved me trying to explain why he should really love Juanpi. I felt I was being proven right here; however, Ken’s side of the argument would appear justified in the second half.

There were half chances galore, until, eventually, Málaga were in. A great through ball to the left led to a low cross across the six yard box for right wing-back Cifuentes to tap in (number 3 in my list of Top 3 favourite Málaga players). La Rosaleda was witnessing its first lead of the season and the fans were loving it. Again, protests against the president were saved for pauses in the game, as the fans got right behind the team during the game itself, seemingly never hounding or criticising the lads on the pitch. Even with a smaller crowd for this midweek game, the Malaguistas were making a hell of a noise to back the team.

Sadly, Málaga’s early explosion was short-lived; soon the players were the ones blowing as they very suddenly began to look really, really tired. With former Premier League winner Leonardo Ulloa (of ‘that Leicester City underdog season’ fame) leading the line, Rayo began to plough forward and Málaga were mighty lucky to get in at half-time a goal up.

Rayo had a battering ram of a secret weapon to launch in the second half. A player who might be familiar to Manchester United fans for all the wrong reasons. However, it was this former Sir Alex Ferguson ‘flop’ signing that began to truly turn the tide. Rayo brought on the infamous Bebé.

Bebe centre stage.

Positioned out on the left, Bebé looked up for it; so much so that I began to worry that it was my fault, as, on learning that Bebé was in the Rayo squad, I had tweeted a semi-mocking tweet the night before about the Portuguese’s comical reputation at Old Trafford. It took five minutes for Bebé to thunder one from 25 yards onto the post. The warning shots had been fired.

The 53rd minute minute saw the inevitable equaliser from a similar position to Málaga’s opener. A ball in from the left just missed the diving header of Ulloa, only to leave Embarba to tap in from a few yards out. There looked like only one winner now.

Málaga really did looked knackered, but the defenders still worked their arses off. If there is one thing you cannot fault about this group of Málaga players, it is that their work ethic. Still, they looked very, very tired throughout the second half. I suppose it is lucky that the club have such a big squad to rotate over the coming weeks…oh wait…

Second half.
Love a sunset over La Rosaleda.

Going back to Juanpi, as much as he made my heart flutter earlier, he was now making it spike with frustration. He had gone missing, as Ken always says he does. He really is a player I’m going to love and hate in equal measures (a true sign of the kind of flair player us football romantics love).

As Juanpi went hiding, Rayo’s Bebé was not hiding. Bebé was looking devastating, but Málaga were just about holding him off. There was a slight buzz amongst the home fans as Lorenzo, the young Spanish/Swiss striker signed on the cheap from Manchester City, came on for his debut. Sadly, Lorenzo was to see little to service to him, so it was really difficult to judge him. It was nice to see how buzzing he was to make his debut in his various social media posts though.

A mix of some ballsy defending and Rayo not really creating anything in the last quarter, meant that Málaga clung on for a point well earned.

The face of someone confused by how good Bebé actually is,

On this September evening, especially during the first half, there had been some glimmers of hope for Málaga and I was actually quite glad that they didn’t need to call on me (but give me a call if you are interested – I know you like a cheap signing these days). However, as I’ve said before, it looks like a very long season ahead for this Málaga team.

It was then back to the Marbella and The Tavern and a chance to indulge in the Ken and Pam’s Málaga point policy: “points mean pacharán” – basically every time Malaga get a draw or win you get a free shot of pacharán (a sort of sloe fruit liqueur originating from Navarre). I can’t imagine I’ll be getting many free shots this season the way it is going.

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