Sunday, 22 September 2019

Ground 332: Campo Municipal, CD Mulagua

How long does it take to start a football club from scratch?  For CD Mulagua, just 35 days separated registering with their regional football federation and fielding a team in a friendly against Gomeran neighbours UD Alajero.  "The work of many months achieved in weeks," Mulagua's Facebook account announced when the team was accepted into the third group of the seventh-tier Segunda Regional."My family and friends were all against me getting involved in this," president Lorenzo Negrin wrote, "but Sergio Jerez Padilla brought a group of committed players who have aspirations to go higher.  We hope to be a family that will bring a lot of happiness to the people of Hermigua."

The co-founders are well-known around La Gomera, Padilla arriving from two seasons as el mister at Alajero and Negrin formerly involved with the now-defunct CD Orone Santiago.   These connections have helped their new club hoover up a whole host of raffle prize sponsors, vital funding for what's now the fourth senior men's team on the island. "I'm very happy to receive support from all over La Gomera and Tenerife too," Negrin wrote.  "Maybe we can add a few grains of sand to the local economy."

Mulagua's first ever competitive opposition is Union Deportivo Chio, a village team from the south of Tenerife who come fresh from an eventful summer of their own.  "This will be a very complicated year because we've just lost half of our team," reckoned new coach Nando Ferrer.  "My only goal this year is for the club to function properly."  With no car and just a single bus that can make it in time for the 12.30 kick-off, things functioning properly are at the top of my mind as well.  Fortunately, I'm saved the 19km hike to Hermigua by the punctual departure of the half ten guagua, which climbs straight up through the mountains, loops precariously back down by a terraced vineyard and some banana trees, and finally drops me off by a 16th century Dominican monastery and an enthnographic park.  Safe to say it's all un poco mas exotico than my last time out in suburban South Tyneside.

Things are different on the pitch too.  A chalkboard at the entrance lists raffle prizes, including a box of biscuits and a restaurant meal for two. There's a Lego block-coloured concrete stand along the near touchline, with a road above and a mountain, a banana field and a park on the other three sides.  The home side kick off but it's the visitors who score, a first-minute through ball bouncing twice between defenders and straight to the boot of Chio's centre forward.  "Have it!" he shouts, jogging to the corner flag in celebration.  "But...," Mulagua's left-back begins, looking at the linesman for help.  Chio have a second chalked off for offside before the home side muster a threat of their own, a midfielder chesting down and smashing the blue-and-pink ball against the bar.  I count a crowd of around 80, including 15 standing on the road above, three sitting on a pile of logs and ten on the ramp that leads down to the stand.  Most of them are cheering when Mulagua score their first ever competitive goal, a corner skimming the pitch before the side netting ripples and green shirts joyously converge on the mystery scorer. "For real?" laughs a bloke in flip-flops.  "I didn't see a thing," chuckles his mate between two gulps of beer.  

"You've lost your intensity," Ferrer screams from the touchline, but his team doesn't take long to win back the lead, the number 10 doing a Riyad Mahrez impression down the right before bending in a cross that that a teammate gleefully cushions in.  The middle of the stand rises in celebration as the centre forward gives the scorer a fireman's lift back to halfway.  At the interval I shell out a euro on a raffle ticket and head down to the tea hut, which is busy knocking out paella and cold beer from under a tree in the neighbouring park.

The second half is no less eventful.  I miss a sending off, fail to win the raffle, a Mulagua player Joelintons a free header wide, and two of his teammates can't get their foreheads to a ball that spins annoyingly across the six-yard line.  "Up! Up! Come on," a home fan implores his team.  "In the goal."  With 15 minutes left, the visitors oblige him by smacking a free kick in to the corner from 25 yards. Even worse, in time added on the red-and-whites knock in a fortuitous fourth, finally poking a shot into the net after the luckless home keeper twice saves one-on-ones.  "They didn't deserve so much punishment," Gomera Verde laments post-game. Not the start Padilla and Negrin were looking for, but then they've only been going a month and a half.

Admission:  Free
Date:  September 22nd 2019

A Brief Guide to Groundhopping in La Gomera

CD Santos Reyes are the current kings of Gomeran football.  The Valle Gran Rey team were promoted to the fifth-tier Primera Regional last season and play their home matches a short walk from Playa del Ingles on the edge of the closest La Gomera gets to a beach resort.  If you're travelling from San Sebastian de La Gomera, bus number 1 takes the scenic route (5 euro; about 1 hour 40 minutes) through Garajonay National Park, or you can skip round the island on Fred Olsen's fast boat (10 euro; 70 minutes) then walk 30 minutes along the seafront from the port at Vueltas.  The quirky stadium has the Atlantic at one end, a mountain at the other and a single stand with cover half provided by a roof and half by some parasols. Entrance to games is 5 euro, though any cheapskates among you can climb up a road behind one goal and watch from a rock for free.

CD Bahia de Santiago were a penalty shoot-out away from promotion to the Primeria Regional last season and must be one of the few club sides in Spanish football that are best reached by boat.  Their campo municipal is a short stroll from Playa Santiago's beach, where the Fred Olsen ferries stop off on their route from San Sebastian to Valle Gran Rey.  Unless you've got a residents' discount, the number 3 bus from San Sebastian takes a bit longer but is half the price or there's the free option of a 21km coastal walk.  If you're coming from the north of Tenerife, you can also fly to La Gomera's pint-sized airport and walk down the hill to the ground.  Entrance is free and there's a bar inside the ground.

UD Alajero play on a municipal pitch with a covered stand, a bar in the corner and a view downhill to the North Atlantic.  After finishing last season dead last in the Primera Regional, they're now in the same Segunda grupo as Mulagua.  You can get to Alajero on bus number 3 from the station in San Sebastian de La Gomera (4 euro; about one hour).  Entrance to the ground is free.

As most of the players travel from Tenerife, kick off times for the four men's teams are usually 12 or 12:30 on Sundays to fit in with the ferry schedules. You can find all the league fixtures for Canary Islands football at Tercera level and below here.  With other fixtures staggered across Friday night to Sunday afternoon, it's easy enough to fit in more than one game across a weekend if you base yourself on Tenerife. Including La Gomera in your plans would mean a flight or return ferry (64 euro with Naviera Armas or 68 with Fred Olsen, though there are discounts for groups and over-60s).  You can find all the Gomeran teams on Facebook; up-to-date kick off times are listed here.

After UD Gomera resigned their Primera Regional place in March 2018the sole occupants of San Sebastian's stadium are AD Sanse, who play in the third-tier Segunda Division Feminino Group 6.  The uncovered stadium is a 10-15 minute walk from the town centre. There's a hut selling coffee next to a corner flag and a bar on the street outside.  Games usually kick off at noon on Sundays; entrance is free. Their Facebook page is here.

Sunday, 8 September 2019

Ground 331: New Fields, Whitburn and Cleadon FC

Hello again, reader.  It's been a while.  In case you'd been wondering, since I last wrote anything on here I've shivered through the death throes of Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, watched an unlikely promotion lift-off at Desna Chernahiv's Yuri Gagarin Stadium almost aborted by Arsenal Kyiv, looked on as Whitley Bay lost at Stockton Town, South Shields won at Whitby,  Hercules Alicante stalled at home to Levante's B team, and Rayo Vallecano went down to Getafe on a balmy Sunday lunchtime in Madrid.  Apologies to all but one of the home teams listed; I can only promise not to come back soon.

I've also accidentally taken in the reopening of Belarus's national stadium as Dynamo Minsk hosted Derry City in the early rounds of the Europa League, sat through Ukraine U16s besting Belgium - a rare home win - at Kyiv's House of Football, and ended two years in Eastern Europe with a Brexit-beating move to the North Atlantic, tanning myself at three grounds on La Gomera:  a promotion play-off that Playa Santiago lost on penalty kicks, an island derby at Santa Reyes where the opposition turned up off the ferry with just nine men, and CD Tenerife's youth team's routine thrashing of UD Alajero as the latter finished rock bottom of the sixth-tier 1a Regional Grupo 2.  Oh, the glamour of it all.  Eleven new grounds in just over two years; in school report parlance, I could definitely do better.

Which is one of the reasons I'm at groundhoppers' dream club Whitburn and Cleadon this afternoon. Since my last visit in 2016, they've joined up with a junior football team, changed their name, shifted to a fourth different home ground, and been promoted to the middle-tier of the Northern Football Alliance after a six-season stay in Division Two.  "The move to New Fields settled us," reckoned manager Ryan Shave. "Having a pitch we know is in decent condition and looked after is previous seasons we were asking players to help put up nets and barriers while watching us pick up dog crap off the pitch".  Whatever else they suffered, that was something they never had to dirty their hands with while dropping through the leagues at the Dnipro Arena.

Shave's team sit third with seven games gone, already 15 points ahead of a Felling Magpies side who've played six, lost six and conceded 42 goals while they were at it. The visitors are out and working on their shape in more than one sense of the word when I arrive at New Fields.  "A perfectly normal clump of grassland, with a hedge on one side and a school on the other,"  the Telegraph's Jonathan Liew wrote in a piece on South Tyneside Council's plans to sell it off in 2016.  With the local area not yet safe from the housebuilders, the 'Keep Cleadon Green' flags are still flying outside the brick clubhouse building the home team are emerging from. I find myself a spot where I won't be expected to chase down stray balls, eventually settling on a place where the visiting subs can retrieve any overhit passes and the home keeper beats me to the weeds behind his goal.  "Howay lads, someone grab this," referee Keith Scoffham says, holding linesman's flags out to both teams.  I take a headcount of nine other spectators, including a bloke with sunglasses and a camera bag he never opens, two people out for a walk and a visiting fan with his own folding chair.

The Magpies hold their own until the quarter hour, when their keeper scuffs a clearance and a Whitburn forward walks the ball around him and into the net.  "Eeeh, Jesus Christ," a defender rages.  "From our own mistake again." "Keep the shape, keep the shape," a midfielder tells his teammates.  "You're doing well," says Scoffham.  "Great half, lads.  Great discipline.  Thank you."  At half-time the teams form circles on the touchline, the referee stands alone with a water bottle and a defender has a slash behind the goal.  "At least he turned his back," a player laughs.  "You won't be coming on as a sub this half, will you?" Scoffham asks one of his assistants before restarting the game.

The second 45 is dominated by the home team, who see a header nudged back off the line and a shot that just fails to squeeze between the keeper's knees before they finally clank a second goal in off the bar.  "Dig in!" shout the Felling coaches.  "Keep going, heads up."  The away side battle gamely but the closest they get to a goal is a penalty shout that Scoffham waves away.  "Blatant ref, man," a midfielder complains. "Come on, lads.  Sometimes I get them right, sometimes I get them wrong. Do you want to moan or play?"  With ten minutes left, Whitburn dink a third goal in and go first in the table ahead of Hexham, Red Row Welfare and Blyth Spartans Reserves.  "Our first clean sheet of the season. Eight games in and we somehow sit top of the league despite not hitting any form," they tweet at full time.  Football, eh?

Date:  September 7th 2019
Admission:  Free