Linense v Cádiz II
Estadio Municipal de La Linea de la Concepcion / Segunda Division B – Grupo 4 / 1st December 2019
In my adopted hometown of Marbella, ‘La Línea’ is basically a byword for ‘shithole’ amongst the locals. I think it would be hard to argue a case for La Línea de la Concepción being an aesthetically pleasing town – it is a battered, uncared for place and it is undoubtedly grim. I’ll stop with the digs at the town though, as I generally quite like it. Something about its grittiness appeals to me, as La Línea feels very authentic and real and is a perfect counter to the oddball place right next door to it: Gibraltar.
If anything reflects the downtrodden ambience and feel of La Línea perfectly, then it is certainly its football ground – the Estadio Municpal de La Línea de la Concepción. Much like the town, the football ground is unkempt and looks unloved. However, it is exactly this reason why the ground is utterly, utterly brilliant. It was down to the line between Spain and Gibraltar for some third tier Spanish football.
I arrived into La Línea bus station just before 11am and had an hour to kill before the midday kick-off between Linense and Cádiz II. I had a quick wander of the weathered, deserted streets of La Línea before I headed back towards the border and then towards the beach.
The town itself had been ghost town-esque, but on arriving outside the ground, there was immediately a surge of energy in the air. Even before I entered the ground, I had fallen in love with the place. The traditional floodlights had a dreary coat of rust on them, demonstrating how stranded in time the ground is. In 1969, during a time when the Spain/Gibraltar border was closed, Franco had Spain play a World Cup qualifier against Finland here, and I could imagine very little has changed since then.
I headed into the bar that sat below the stand and it was here that it became clear to me how many Brits follow Real Balompédica Linense. Whether they lived on the Spanish or Gibraltarian side of the border was unclear, but when I thought about it I figured that following Linense would be a hell of a lot more appealing than supporting one of the Gibraltar league teams. The bar at Linense is more like a large restaurant with the walls adorned with club memorabilia and photos of Linense’s triumphs over the years. Linense’s triumphs generally come in the shape of making it to the second tier in the 50s – their highest ever ascendancy. The club have mainly found themselves jumping between 3rd and 4th tier since. On this crisp Sunday, I would be watching the club seeking 3 points in Segunda B, as they sought to climb from mid-table towards those much desired play-off spots.
Having indulged in two cañas of beer whilst I perused the various photos of the club bar, I headed to the gate. In another odd quirk of Linense, it seems they print their tickets on plastic cards, which I mused is not particularly environmentally sound and must cost the club a bit more dollar than if they just wapped it on some paper. It was novel anyway and once the steward had scanned the barcode on my plastic ticket, I was into the hubbub below the stand.
In the small concourse I found a few men selling the usual Spanish football snacks – sunflower seeds, nuts, crisps etc. – and a bar doing a roaring trade. There was an interesting gentleman queuing next to me wearing a black and white hat emblazoned with the badge of Gillingham FC next to Linense pin badges; he was shunning beer on this Sunday morning and instead going for the brandy. I thought it rather odd that a football ground was selling brandy, but there it was in a small corner of the bar with various other spirits to keep you going. The Gillingham chap told me of how he’d been coming to watch Linense for 9 years and it took him 3 years to discover the trove of spirits sold behind the bar. I left the spirits and opted for a beer instead, which accompanied me on the terrace.
The true magnificence of Linense’s home now truly revealed itself. Genuinely, Linense’s estadio ranks very highly on my list of favourite lower league European football grounds. The ground largely consists of two large, open stony terraces (although the one stand seemed to have had the roof taken away for some reason). It was easy to see why so many people brought cushions with them, and why they were selling them on the concourse, as the concrete benches are slightly unforgiving. The old, unforgiving terraces were the first reason I loved the place, but undoubtedly the ground’s pièce de résistance is the backdrop: The Rock of Gibraltar.
Many of those ‘grounds you need to visit before you die’ style lists champion Gibraltar’s Victoria Stadium because of the famous rock towering over it; Rock aside, the stadium itself is pretty ordinary. The ground that really should be on that list is this one. It offers an equally, if not better, view of the Rock and the ground just generally feels like a throwback – a ground completely stuck in time.
I headed up to the top of the stand just as the teams were coming out. If the football got dull, I could always just watch the Mediterranean behind me as the beach was just a stone throw away from where I was standing. After what I assume was the club anthem had blazed over the PA system, it was kick-off time.
Linense were cheered on by a gang of ultras in the corner who were noisy and boisterous throughout the whole game. Equally, Cádiz had brought a decent following, especially considering that this was Cádiz’s reserve team, Cádiz II. I also loved the fans’ attire choice: yellow jumpers with cult hero Magico Gonzalez’s face plastered on the front (since learning about the life and career of Magico a few months ago, I’ve become a little bit obsessed with the maverick Salvadorian).
The game itself was not the most gripping with no real chances; half chances demonstrated there was no real straight shooter for either team. I spent most of the first half trying to take the best photo I could of this highly photogenic ground. The half only really came to life when Linense found themselves with ten men after half an hour, as a high tackle was rightly shown a straight red. From here the game became a fiery affair.
Half-time was the catalyst for a bizarre chain of events on the pitch and in the stand. Some bandana-clad, middle-aged man spent the last five minutes of half-time trying to score into an empty goal from the halfway line (something he eventually achieved on his fourth attempt). On the team’s arriving back on the pitch, bandana man began jogging up and down the terraces, before he was beckoned down towards the Cádiz fans. Here, he was presented with a Cádiz flag and began posing for photos with it, much to the ire of the home support surrounding him.
He then turned into a sort of panto villain as he goaded the home crowd with the Cádiz flag dangling from the back of his shorts like a yellow tail. As he jogged over to the ultras, he was pelted quite aggressively with seeds. One home ultra decided he had had enough of this and went and stole the flag, before being pursued by bandana man. The flag was hidden away in a bag amongst the ultras and bandana man wouldn’t see it again. It was all very strange. I learned later that bandana man has been turning up to recent home games and performing his jogging routine regularly; I never did find out if he even supported either Linense or Cádiz.
The bandana man saga had proved more entertaining than the football, so it was almost a shame when the flag stealing escapades had died down and n the only entertainment now on offer was the football. Linense were great though and battled valiantly with ten men; they were probably the better team overall.
As the clock ticked down in the closing ten minutes, and despite Linense pushing for a goal, it felt inevitable that it would finish 0-0 – which it did. Many were already waiting by the exit for the final whistle, including myself, as the crowd in their black and white attire began heading back down the road to the town. Like a few others, I took post match refuge in the Liffey Irish pub at the end of the street, where I was offered plenty of advice regarding my upcoming trip to Morocco from the locals.
I had bemoaned the 12pm kick-off time, but it now meant I had the rest of the day to enjoy myself in La Línea and then over the border in Gibraltar. And enjoyed myself I did, so much so that I was thankful I hadn’t indulged in that morning brandy at the ground.
La Línea may get a bad wrap from many, but I wholeheartedly recommend getting yourself to their football stadium. It is bloody brilliant.