Sunday 20th January 2013
Spanish Segunda Division
CORDOBA CF 5, 0. REAL MURCIA
' Moments before the start the entire stadium, green scarves raised, movingly erupts into song. While some clubs have a simple pop tune, Cordoba have an anthem, both moving and powerful. It seems to reach out onto the pitch and connect the supporters with the players. '
It's Sunday morning in Andalusia. A winter sun simmers brightly above as the wonderful aroma of Spanish tapas infiltrates the narrow cobbled streets of the ancient city. Near the once great mosque, the Mezquita, early risers sit chatting in the cool shadows. A small local crowd gathers eagerly around a shabby mobile churro van and hastily consume it's contents followed by coffee and more conversation.
The call to prayer has long been replaced by piped flamenco music and Spanish pop in the hope of luring an out of season Japanese tourist to it's tacky and uninspiring souvenir shops. There are a few travellers and it is not difficult to gain their attention, or money. Stragglers lost in the white washed alleyways and cut off from their groups are pounced upon by Roma's selling lucky heather or lone guitarists in Barcelona shirts playing only more bad music.
This is Cordoba, once capital to a mighty Muslim caliphate and a rival in the Islamic world to both Baghdad and Istanbul. The Arabs were here for hundreds of years and have obviously left their mark in the culture, language and the cuisine of Spain.
Their influence seems subtle until you realise that almost all things typically Spanish were descended from the Moors. Saffron, rice, oranges, cumin, grapes, certain words, music and even the beginnings of the Spanish guitar.
Their impressive architecture although partly demolished and converted, remains a lasting testament to a once great empire. Close your eyes and you can almost picture Arab merchants trading below the great walls of the Mezquita or worshippers washing their feet before prayer under the orange groves. There is such a Middle Eastern feel to this part of Spain that is as though a hydrogen bomb has been dropped, wiping out the people and leaving only the buildings intact.
Yet across the old Roman bridge, past the Moorish fort and beyond the city walls, another call to prayer beckons the faithful. This time the origin is English and it has become almost become as much a part of Spanish life than churros and coffee. The reason is Football, to some simply a game, to others a religion, to the few, life itself.
Codoba's ground, the Estadio Nuevo Arcangel lies away from the orange groves, paella menus and tourists. The pretty cobbled streets are replaced by busy high roads, supermarkets and council flats. A small column of buoyant fans in green and white from the old town, strangely pass a grounded 1950s passenger plane on the way to the game. Located in what was once industrial wasteland, a large section of vacant space around the stadium is taken up by a car boot type market and an essential churro van.
As they leave the path, supporters skilfully navigate between stalls selling second-hand tracksuit bottoms and other worthless knick knacks before arriving at the ticket offices. Naturally some are gladly waylaid by churros and chocolate.
There is clearly a family orientated feel to today's match as the club have advertised a promotion to bring a friend ( this time it seems to mean the wife, children and girlfriend ) for 5 Euro's. This in the hope that it will booster the attendance figures and assist in a late surge for a play off place.
Half an hour before kick off there is a gradual trickle of enthusiastic supporters that quietly enter the Nuevo Arcangel. Fathers puff contentedly away on cigarettes while Mum's desperately try and keep the children happy and warm. The clear blue skies have been replaced by dark clouds and there is a noticeable drop in temperature.
Of the 11,000 attendance a huge bulk of Cordoba fans in the bottom corner of the North Stand attempt to muster up some pre match chants and songs. Large flags are unveiled and waved in the now biting wind. Sitting in almost silence the few Murcia supporters that have made the journey sit huddled in a small group in the heavens of the West Stand and display a few banners of their own.
Moments before the start the entire stadium, green scarves raised, movingly erupts into song. While some clubs have a simple pop song, Cordoba have an anthem, both moving and powerful. It seems to reach out onto the pitch and connect the supporters with the players.
With the players kicking off to chants, drum beats, flag waving and green and white balloons blowing around the stadium, it contributed to a fantastic atmosphere for a second tier confrontation. The North Stand faction in efforts to maintain the support focused their ' call and response ' chants towards the quieter sections of the home crowds around the ground. Amazingly there was a rousing reply, especially from the South Stand who indulged in both song and some over the top synchronized dancing.
Such support reaped dividends and it seemed to directly inspire the home team on the pitch.Their performance throughout the 90 minutes was almost faultless and produced some fantastic entertaining football. With a missed penalty and countless chances it was a miracle that they did not score more and was probably due to over confidence and encouragement form the crowd to show-boat. Self indulgent and arrogant yes, but also an indicator that possibly this team had been under performing throughout the season.
Real Murcia in their defence did not play badly but were simply outclassed on the day. They were in contention to gain some points up until the fifty eighth minute when they went down to ten men through a needless red card. Already a couple of goals down the away side resisted admirably but could not stop a team in the ascendancy.
Although a collective effort some praise must go to Cordoba's 18 year old attacker and local boy, Fede. His intelligent, creative and skilful performance in midfield disguised his young age and judging by today it will not be long before some of the bigger clubs will be knocking at his door.
In appreciation of the support from the northern and southern sections of the stadium the players after scoring would head towards the cheering crowds behind each goal. Such antics would earn a yellow card for midfielder ' Pedro ' Antonio for over celebration . But such complete domination by the home side caused a period of the dreaded Mexican wave throughout the Nuevo Arcangel. Thankfully shortly after some of the supporters realising their mistake again broke out into the club anthem, a more appropriate means of a thank you to the players for an outstanding display.
With Sunday service over the crowd continued to celebrate. The result sends a message to the Segunda Division that Cordoba are serious contenders for a play off place in the coming weeks. Only time will tell.
Leaving the ground the happy departing crowd again weaves it's way through stalls of shell-suits and old Spanish football shirts back to the city and the walls of the Mezquita. Maybe religion isn't a bad thing after all.
Cost of admission. 13 Euro's. ( special promotion on the day, 5 Euro's if you bring a friend )
The Nuevo Arcangel gets 9 out 10. Although still being updated and not yet completed the atmosphere created by the fans earns Cordoba a high score. Thankfully it still retains a classic traditional four stand and floodlights look.
Floodlights. 7 out of 10. ( at least they have them ! )
The ground lies a fair distance from the main train station and a taxi is advisable if time is a factor. However a visit to the Mezquita is a must and a walk from the old town would only take around 20 minutes.
For all you sweet tooth's, no visit to Spain would be complete without trying a churro ( Spanish doughnut ) or two followed by a coffee. 9 out of 10
No programme available.
Budget Tips. Airlines such as Easy-jet often have good deals to Seville ( nearest airport to Cordoba ) for as little as £60 return. Alternatively this lovely historic town can be reached from Madrid in a couple of hours via an efficient and fast train service. Cost of advanced tickets from Seville can cost as little as 20 Euro and takes only 45 minutes.
There is also a regular daily bus service from Seville that costs half the price but is a 2 hour duration.
Going outside the holiday season ( November, January to March ) should guarantee cheap accommodation for as little as 15-20 Euro a night for a basic room in a prime location.
Most of the attractions of Cordoba are in walking distance of each other and a travel card is not needed.