The real-life tales of a football writer
Manchester La Fianna played away at Sitges last weekend.
Their stadium - where Johan Cruyff plays most of his charity matches - backs onto a beach and overlooks the Mediterranean. Uninterrupted sunshine bathed the town 30 kilometres south of Barcelona - home to Bobby Robson and Gary Lineker when they were employed by Barca.
Before the game, the BATS (birds and that) went to the beach as I pondered what team to play. Suspensions and absences meant we were short on numbers and a text from the captain Tommy Rogers 40 minutes before kick off didn’t make things easier.
Sun. Soccer. Sea. Sitges
“Missed flight mate. Had nightmare. Good luck.” Tommy was supposed to be flying back from Stansted for the game, but I wasn’t overly surprised that his travel plans unravelled. Tommy’s from Essex and is an Arsenal fan. He played semi-pro when he lived in England and he’s been superb for us – a John Terry type player in central defence. And like Terry he’ll probably end up trophyless this season.
But Tommy has his blond moments, like at Christmas when I fixed him a ticket for Arsenal vs Tottenham. He’d begged for one for weeks and some friends helped out – for face value, naturally. All Tommy had to do was get to the Emirates to collect the ticket…but he slept in.
As for Saturday, it later transpired that Tommy made it to Stansted, but fell asleep in departures and missed his flight.
We did alright without Tommy and beat a Sitges side largely comprised of British expatriates 6-2. The hosts always give us a decent welcome and invite us back to their pub for sandwiches and a beer. That’s one reason why we’ve already accepted their invitation to play our first pre season game there next season. The other is that the fantastic walk from stadium to pub takes us past a nudist beach.
Manchester La Fianna line up in Sitges
Rob Moore, the football business manager who represents Benni McCarthy, Aaron Mokoena and Stephen Pinnear among others came to watch us play as his two sons help out on the Manchester bench. He didn’t approach any of us with a view to taking a trial at some second division Albanian team, but told us that our striker Dinho had done OK at Ajax Cape Town on his trial. Dinho’s having a further trial at another top level South African club this week. (Blog: The other 'Dinho in Barcelona)
Despite our big win on Saturday which leaves us just six goals short of 100 league goals with two games to play, the league title is out of our hands. We’re second, but that single goal defeat to Strollers and a subsequent draw to Dynamo have rendered our title hopes improbable.
Manchester La Fianna would be clear at the top if there was an overall league table from when we started in 2006. It’s a case of statistics proving anything, but overall league tables are far more significant in Spain than Britain. Kids can recite the top 10 like a times tables: Madrid, Barca, Athletic, Valencia, Atletico, Espanyol, Sevilla, Real Sociedad, Zaragoza, Betis.
Recruitment poster for La Fianna's clash with Sitges
Madrid have moved further ahead of Barca this season and were crowned champions on Sunday. I’m going to the capital tomorrow to see them play Barca for the final game of my derby book. I covered the game in Madrid in 2002 for FourFourTwo, but much has happened since and the publishers Harper Collins would like an update.
There’s talk that Barca will have to form a guard of honour to welcome the champions on the pitch, which will be like rubbing salt into a fresh wound for the Catalans. Madrid vs Barca is one of the great moments in world sport, but for the first time in years this game doesn’t actually mean much.
Not that either team will see it like that…
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