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.
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.
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.
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 2018, the 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.