“One day you will wake up and there won’t be any more time to do the things you’ve always wanted. Do it now!” — Paulo Coelho
Football… What is it about the beautiful game which gets adrenaline flowing, hearts racing, and an unusual ability to turn grown men into blubbering babies?
Life as a football fan isn’t easy. In this day and age it’s expensive to follow, and more often than not a cruel sport for frayed emotions. Yet week by week we go back for more punishment, to be put through the ringer of nerves, excitement, bitter disappointment, and unparalleled joy. I know a lot of people don’t understand this. “It’s only a game” they say, but it’s not just a game is it. To us its far more important than that.
When you’ve supported a club from such an early age its engrained into your mentality and heart. It could be your hometown club, it could be a club you’ve adopted, it could be a club which has family ties, what it is not though is just a game. This is something you adore, a team you love, there’s pride at stake, and it hurts at times. Those who don’t support a team I doubt will ever understand this concept, nor grasp the type of attachment and emotion which comes with it.
Personally, I’ve never felt the desire to go and watch another team from the same country, for me it would just feel like cheating.
The vast majority of fans will never get the opportunity to follow their team around the globe, and as a huge Wolves fan over the last twenty-odd years I’ve begrudgingly come to accept this. However, with the world only getting smaller the popularity of the away day abroad which combines both travel and football, is on the rise.
I’d hazard a guess most football fans have at some point in their life idolized a foreign club, whether that be the Ajax team of the 70’s, the Barcelona of the 90’s, or Milan of the 00’s. There is also the more obscure teams which have developed a cult like status, not so much because of their success, but more to do with a brand of football, style of play, atmosphere, or even location. This is where two passions collide… Travelling the world whilst experiencing new cultures, people, and places both on the field and off it. The rigours and stresses which come with following a team not included, the loyalty to your own team not playing heavy on your heart. This isn’t like cheating on the wife, this is like going to the party with her best friend… Integrity and loyalty still intact.
For me Spanish football has always been an enticing proposition. From a young age I would watch awestruck as they showcased their flair-filled talents in the Champions League… The flamboyancy, the way they used to caress the ball around the field, the star players from Kluivert at Barcelona, to Zidane at Madrid.
Strangely enough though, it was not these two giants but in fact Valencia which really caught my eye. Canizares with that bleached blonde hair, Mendieta a Rolls Royce of a playmaker, and then that man mountain John Carew. Dressed in their white, black and orange, dishing it out to teams which visited the magnificent Mestalla.
I had images portrayed in my head. Warm sunny days, beaches, typical Spanish architecture, and the lifestyle to go with it. It appealed to my wandering mind and elaborate daydreams… Sun, sea, and football.
It wasn’t however until the age of eleven that I first went on a proper holiday abroad – A family vacation to the Balearic island of Mallorca. You know what, it rained the entire week. Never the less it was new and interesting, and it was during this trip that due to a young lad from Cameroon who went by the name of Samuel Eto’o, I took a liking to Real Mallorca. I remember sat mesmerized as he dismantled Madrid’s defence, giving the Galacticos superstars a night they’ll never forget in front of a stunned and enraged Bernabeu… I was sold!
Unsurprisingly Eto’o outgrew the over achieving minnows, and his performances earned him a move to Catalan giants Barcelona. In turn Mallorca have unfortunately been on a downward spiral ever since, and although after his departure my interest in them started to dwindle, just for those memories alone there will always be a soft spot reserved for them.
Spain for all its big cities and even bigger clubs has some wonderful smaller hometown teams. Clubs which may be small in stature, but massive in heart and character. Many of which lie in traditional locations overflowing with culture, history and uniqueness. Locations which exude attractiveness, making them a must visit destination for travellers from afar. One such place is Pamplona, home to Osasuna and also home to my other half (who just for the record has no interest in football what-so-ever).
Having visited this wonderful city for the first time back in April of last year, and realising that El Sadar stadium is literally a stones throw away from her apartment, I began to take interest in the team I only really knew from the Championship Manager (later known as Football Manager) series.
At the beginning of the current season they were once again back in the second division, after a disastrous return to La Liga the year before.
Due to my attachments to the place and its people I began following their games, and somehow with an expert use of persuasion managed to convince my partner to take me the next time I visited Pamplona. Credit to her she upheld her promise, and it was truly an experience I will never forget. Something which was all so familiar to me in football, but at the same time all so different and new… I was hooked, and the seed had been planted. Football and travel entwined, the start of my away days bucket list had begun!…