Update – This Crazy Game of Football

Weighing up the cost…

When the price of a ticket is at least €200 and none of the teams is one you support it is just not worth it.

Add to that the fact that out of two squads of players I only know of one player. A certain Carlos Tevez, who has played for several European football clubs and now plies his trade at Boca Juniors. And as it turned out he never even made the starting line-up! I do not follow football much these days, but it turns out that Dani’s auntie Natalia – who does follow it – also did not know any of the other players. In the end there were a couple of other players who came on as substitutes had played in Spain. I only half knew them.

We tried. We went to the stadium a few hours before the game and witnessed some of the build-up. The atmosphere would be tremendous. That was a certainty. Argentinian fans are equally famous for that. They were always going to create an atmosphere the likes of which the Bernabéu has (quite possibly) never seen.

Mega Clásico

They usually refer to this fixture El Super Clásico. – presumably the term El Clásico not being enough. That is for the league meetings between these two teams. This one however had been deemed far too important. La Copa Libertadores at stake. This one has been called El Mega Clásico!

Before we left the area we had a drink in a bar opposite the stadium. It was amazing to see fans of both teams drinking beer in the same place. I am sure that would never happen in Buenos Aires. I even heard a River fan wishing some Boca lads good luck.

We did buy Dani a souvenir scarf. He didn’t seem too concerned about the game. Thankfully he is still too young. All that will come later.

River Win, but so does Madrid

The final score was 3-1 to River. A decent game that was decided in extra time. It was a great victory for the club but there was another winner. Madrid had managed to pull this thing off. At relatively short notice. If there was a FIFA World Cup (mundial) to be held at short notice then Spain could just be the place to do it thanks to this effort. And who knows? The next World Cup is due to be in Qatar in 2022. A lot has been said about the chances of that not happening…. I wonder; do the power players in Spanish football know something we don’t?…

One more thing about the game. Dani correctly predicted the winners. He is bloody good at that. I need to start placing bets on his forecasts.

No Trouble. Yet.

Up to the game all was fine. If anything is going to happen it will be after the game when one side has lost. The other set of fans will be celebrating. That may be late into the night and early hours. As I left for the airport first thing this morning there was no news of trouble. Which has to be seen as a minor miracle.

It has been said that Argentinian football is like its politics. Chaotic. While the fans at last night’s match would have been surprised to share the stadium with the opposition supporters they would have also been confused at not being caged in. Mind you that is as much for the protection of the referees in Argentina as it is about hooliganism… An interesting weekend.

Football Fiasco

Attention all football fans.

Well; and non-football fans. Indeed, everyone!

Here is a tale so incredible I would not believe it myself if I hadn’t just witnessed the reality of the build-up.

Tomorrow (Sunday 9th December) we may go and watch the South American version of the European Champions League football cup final. The Copa Libertadores de América (Liberators Cup). We are not jumping on an aeroplane having just won the lottery.

No: The game will be played just down the road – from Dani’s school actually – in the Santiago Bernabéu stadium in Madrid. We were there walking around outside of the stadium today and the South American fans were already in evidence.

Copa Libertadores

For the first time in the cup’s history the two biggest teams in Argentina (both in Buenos Aires in fact) Boca Juniors and River made the final. The final is played over two legs, one game at the stadium of each finalist. A few weeks ago, I watched the first game played at Boca Juniors stadium La Bonbonera. It was live on Spanish TV and the game ended in a 2-2 draw. Being effectively a local derby between teams whose fans quite literally hate each other there were no “away” fans allowed. The same was to be true in the return game a week later. However, the River fans had other ideas. With no Boca fans to attack the River hooligans decided to launch a full-scale assault on the Boca team bus. Several players were injured. Enough to cancel the game. A few weeks later, unable to rearrange the match, it has been moved to Madrid.

This is the South American football club cup final! Why couldn’t they find a suitable location in that continent you may wonder? Well; anywhere in Argentina would attract both sets of fans – and other club’s hooligans no doubt. Brazil? You must be joking. The Brazilian’s and Argentinians hate each other when it comes to football. There would surely be serious trouble. And so Real Madrid’s stadium was chosen to host the final. With the first leg ending in a draw this is now in a fact a one-off final.

Crazy Idea?

Who thought that was a good idea? Who thinks the weekend will pass without some violence? Myself and Dani’s mum have both been to football matches in the stadiums of Boca and River. We know how volatile it is.

Admittedly, most of the hooligans from both clubs will not be able to afford the trip to Spain for this football match. But there will several thousand supporters for sure. An estimated six thousand have flown in in the past two days. Come to think about it, who would deal with any violence on board the aeroplanes? Maybe they are travelling on separate aircraft? Crazy.

Like all South American countries Argentina is well represented in Spain. There are estimated to be more than72 thousand Argentinians living in Spain. You can bet the real number is higher. They are expecting 50 thousand fans in total at the game. Another figure worth a mention is the four thousand police that will be on duty in and around the stadium tomorrow.

Will we go? Will there be trouble? Update tomorrow….

Hats off to Gatwick

Airports can be Run Properly

Since I have been working in Kent my airport to Madrid has been Gatwick airport. I have travelled through so many airports that I hesitate to say it is a joy. But compared to my normal airports of choice (Liverpool or Manchester) I have to say that Gatwick airport is somewhat of a pleasant surprise. The horrible experience of getting through security at.  Manchester and the pathetic arrival at Liverpool mean that both of those airports easily kill that (almost) mythical “joy of travel”.

Gatwick is refreshingly different. They have an efficient security system and friendly, competent security staff. I am sure it can get quite hectic during summer months but the evidence I have seen first hand suggest that even then they will be able to cope.

I have been meaning to complement them for a while and finally this is it. This is how travelling via an airport should be. Well done Gatwick airport.

First Visit to see Santa

This weekend Dani visited his nana and also met up with Santa for the first time in the UK. We went with his little cousin. Stanley is now a chatty three-year-old and he made no attempt to hide his Christmas wish-list. Dani was first to sit down next to Santa Claus. When Santa asked what he wanted for Christmas Stanley dived straight in. “A Thomas train” he shouted.

Santa did his best not to get side-tracked and offered Dani a second chance. He thought for a short time and said, “A train. But not Thomas”. He thinks that Thomas the tank engine stuff is for babies now. How quickly he has moved on. It doesn’t seem five minutes since he was a Thomas nut himself.

Next visit to see his nana will be for Christmas. His first in the UK. He will enjoy it.

11oz Burger!

On a completely different subject…. I have just eaten an 11 ounce (oz) burger topped with pulled pork and cheese. So effectively a 12oz burger. That is three Burger King (?) quarter pounders! It was a struggle but I managed it.

Now I need to rest. This working away is quite hard sometimes…

Cave Visit

Cuevas de Nerja

Last weekend we spent down south. Not far from Malaga is the popular resort of Nerja. At this time of year it is not exactly full of holiday makers but nevertheless it is still a popular destination. Keeping a promise to Dani we visited the famous Nerja caves (Cuevas de Nerja). Of course he loved it.

The caves are  a series of underground caverns with the usual eye catching stalectites and stalagmites and more besides. This is one of the top tourist spots in Spain and it showed. Even in November there were crowds of people keen to go into this subterranean world.

I had visited the caves a few years ago with Dani’s nanna and a couple of my aunties. On that visit we were allowed in to the cavern containing the concert hall. A permanent seated concert area. Incredible. On this visit – for reasons I still don’t know – we were not allowed into that part of the caves.

Discovery

Although there is evidence of pre-historic dwellers, the caves somehow escaped the modern world until 1959. Back then 5 boys “disappeared” one day from school sparking a search. The boys had been out the night before looking for bats and had climbed down one of the cave’s natural entrances they had just found. Once inside they discovered this hidden natural wonder.
When the five boys emerged and ran excitedly to tell their school masters what they had found nobody believed them. It seems almost unreal now with this part of Spain so over developed but these caves lay hidden for centuries. 

Flash photography is not allowed and unfortunately my photos do not do this place justice. It really is one of those places you have to see for yourself.

Facts

Total surface area: 35,484m2. Total volume: 64,379m3. Caves stretch for almost 5 kilometres. There are over 580 cave paintings.

Sad News…

There has been some sad news recently about Dani’s English teacher (who is actually American). He attends the same school but at secondary level – I think he is about 14 years old. He is currently under-going treatment for some kind of leukemia. Very sad. At least we believe he has been responding well to treatment. Also there is reportedly a good recovery rate from this type of disease. We can only hope he comes through it.

Birthday Bash

Fifth birthday party in the mad house….

Dani had an eventful birthday party in one of the many animal houses in Madrid. Let them loose in the caged and padded area and leave them to it. Well, you can do. I prefer to keep an eye on things from time to time. You never know when something will happen. After an hour of non-stop calorie burning it was time for a top up. Pizza, hot dog or burger with some unhealthy side-snacks. It was almost impossible to keep them from running back in to the play area. In fact they had to be dragged back out for the cake and happy birthday song. And of course for Dani to open his presents. Then they were gone again.

The Fight

Soon after the calorie fix (and for some a sugar burst Coke fix) a little fight broke out. Some of the mothers were immediately concerned. The ones who had little boys. The mothers of the girls seemed like they couldn’t care less. I knew something was up when I saw that Dani had noticed something and scampered up to the top of the monkey house in double quick time. There was a stand off and Carlos (twice the size of the rest of them) was looking particularly angry as he confronted Yago (one of the few smaller than Dani). Not that little Yago was worried. Fair play, he stood up to him. He had just punched Jaime in the mouth and he was crying (Jaime that is). Carlos’s mum shouted up at them and amazingly managed to get the three of them to come down to ground level and out of the cage. After a short lecture all three did the right thing and patched up their differences. Whatever they may have been. It was all forgotten in a three-way handshake.

Who knows how and why it started? Who cares? It was ancient history within a minute.

Grudge Free Existance…

Isn’t it great at that age. No grudges. At what age do people start harbouring resentment and bitterness. It is an odd thing. Easy going, quick to forget kids just get on with life. Adults carry all sorts of baggage around with them. It can be bloody heavy. Why do they do it when kids do not? I think that remains one of life’s mysteries.

The day of his actual birthday was the Monday. I had to fly early in the morning. It is hard enough any Monday I have to return to work. This one was even more difficult. At least I had been there to see him celebrate with his class-mates.

There will be another party soon. When he flies over to the UK to see his family there.

Annual Road Race

Race Day

Every year in Madrid there are series of road races and fun-runs to rise money for a well known children’s hospital opposite Retiro Park. The Hospital del Niño Jesus. Last Sunday was the day this year.

This time last year I was preparing to go on my first trip to Korea. Was that a year ago? Wow! Scary. Meanwhile Dani was taking part in his first 2km run/walk for this noble cause.

Corre por el Niño 2018

There are 10km and 4km races for the more keen runners. Then there is the 2km fun-run or “marcha familiar” . This year I ran with Dani. And fair play to the lad, he did run the full 2km. There were plenty of other participants. Thousands actually.

Intergalactic fund-raising…

There was some help on hand to occupy the kids. None other than Darth Vader and a collection of other Star Wars characters. Vader is not widely known for his charity work. More associated with terrorising that far away galaxy. However, he did a great job of cheering the kids, the participants and the spectators. I always thought he received bad press….

Accompanied as usual by his band of stormtroopers. There were other Star Wars characters on hand to give the kids a high-five as they jogged off around the 2 km circuit. There was even a Jawa and one of the sand people (aka Tusken Raiders). I should have got more photos, I know…

Dani won. I came a close second. In third place was Dani’s mum. Then came Susana and her dad Javi. Not that Dani was trying to win as such. He just has more energy than the rest of us. But when t was all over the two cousins shared the top spot on the podium.

Now I am waiting for a flight to Madrid from Gatwick. A long weekend for myself because this weekend is Dani’s 5th birthday. Where did those five years go? Sunday is party time….

Fantastic Castle

All young children love castles. Dani certainly does. So, this weekend we took a relatively short trip to one of the best in Spain.

Manzanares El Real

Manzanares El Real is a small town in the foothills of Sierra de Guadarrama, about 40km from Madrid Like all small towns in the mountains it has its own charm. But what sets this place apart is the best-preserved castle in the region and surely one of the best in Spain.

The Castle of Manzanares El Real is a real gem. From the outside it looks every bit the classic 15th century castle. Inside you can walk through the well-preserved function rooms where 17th and 18th century artwork adorn the walls.

   First built in 1475 by Diego Hurtado de Mendoza in Elizabethan Gothic style the castle was initially a military fortress. But within a few years the Mendoza family made it their home. Diego’s eldest son Iñigo finished the build. However, in less than a century, following Iñigo’s death, the castle was empty.

The castle is bounded on one side by the Santillana reservoir with the panoramic views of the Sierra de Guadarrama mountain ridge to the other. The reservoir was constructed in 1906 with a second higher dam built in 1969. It is an important source of Madrid’s water supply. Incidentally, when you look out across the reservoir you can just make out a much more modern kind of castle. Built to keep people in, rather than keep them out. The Soto de Real prison, built in 1995.


The renovation and restoration work began in 1914 and it is clear that the improvements have been both extensive and effective. The work continues. Funded by the Community of Madrid.

Now there’s a Coincidence!

As luck would have it there was a craft beer festival in the village square the very same day. Dani’s second beer festival – if anyone is counting. Not that he samples any of the produce of course.

It was not a huge event – only 8 beer makers’ stalls – but something different. I had only ever heard of one of the brewers so definitely worthwhile. Naturally a few beers were tasted. It would have been rude not to. Then, after a short walk it was back to Madrid and an early night. Because tomorrow is the annual road race in aid of the Hospital de Niño Jesus, children’s hospital located opposite the Retiro park near the centre of the city. Dani’s second time but my first…

Bits n Bobs

Odds n Sods….

 A few bit and pieces I thought I should write about….

I have been thinking lately about this Blog. Hardly anyone reads it but I am not doing it for the glory (as many people seem to do). The reason I am writing it is for Dani (plus it is sometimes good fun of course). So he can read it when he is able to . That will not be much longer the way he is progressing. But mainly to read again when he is a fair bit older and will appreciate it a lot more. Generally I have written about one specific topic or day out. But it occurred to met that there are lots of little things happening all the time and that I should try to capture them. So here goes with some of that…

Working in Kent

I have settled into my new job in Kent. Tucked away in the corner of England, south of London, it is one area I have never spent time in before now. Despite the south-east of England being one of the most densely populated areas on earth this part of Kent is actually quite countryfied. My plan (as much as there is one) is to try and last another nine or ten months but it is hard only seeing my boy at weekends. That said I travel Friday afternoons and Monday mornings so I do get to be with him all weekend. As much as most working dads I suppose. And it is short(ish)  term.

As and when he comes to visit me here there are plenty of interesting places to take him. Like all young boys he loves castles. There are two fantastic castles in Leeds and Rochester, plus the medieval city of Canterbury all very close. Then of course there is the big “smoke”. London. Only an hour on the train.

More Fantasy/Dream Fights…

I love all this. It can run and run. At least until he hits his teenage years – by which time he may hardly be talking to me; if what most people are telling me is correct.

“Dad. Who would win a fight between Chewbacca and Paul Stanley?”

You may recall that I wrote about the Lego Paul Stanley (the singer of 1970s – and beyond -rock band Kiss) a few months ago.

If you were a gambler you would put your money on the crossbow wielding Wookie; right? That’s what I thought. I was wrong. As Dani demonstrated. Paul Stanley clearly has hidden skills apart from his glam-rock/shock-rock singing.

“Look dad. Paul Stanley battered Chewie.” And so he did. I saw it with my own eyes. We live and learn…. Long live rock n roll eh? Although that was Rainbow not Kiss.
Chewie mercilessly slain at the hands of Paul Stanley.

Jaime’s visit… Chess games to come…

While on the subject of Chewbacca…

Dani’s brought his (latest) best friend from school home with him the other day. Jaime. Dani gave him one of his Chewie Lego characters. He did have two. A very generous statement I have to admit. Even if the one he gave him was actually not real Lego but one of the many fake Lego compatible versions out there. It looks set to become a theme now. Visiting friends’ houses after school and reciprocating the invites. I vaguely remember such things from way back when…

Jaime goes to after-school chess lessons while Dani does Judo. I prefer he continues with the Judo but the ultimate strategic board-game has been mentioned a lot recently. It means that I will have to teach him how to play the checkered game of kings, queens and pawns. Something I had been looking forward to but wasn’t expecting to happen so soon. Now, what are the rules again?…

Rook takes bishop.

Medieval Tale

Medieval Market

A couple of weeks ago we went to a medieval market in Alcalá de Henares; a large town about 25km to the east of Madrid. It is where I was working when I first met Dani’s mum. Although I spent about two years in Alcala de Henares I never realised this medieval market was an annual event. I had never heard of it and certainly would have remembered attending it. Whatever…

It turns out that this is the biggest market of its kind in Europe. And it certainly seemed to be.

The kids get in the medieval mood

Uncanny Coincidence….

Apart from this large well attended festival the town is famous for being the birth place and home of one Miguel Cervantes (Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra to give him his full name). Possibly the most famous Spanish writer and one of the world’s pre-eminent novelists. It is said that his most famous novel, Don Quixote, has been translated into more languages than any other book except the Bible. That said it is still a book I have never even felt like reading – literary philistine that I am.

The town of Alcalá de Henares is a little like Stratford on Avon in England. While both have other things to see and do their main source of tourism derives from their famous writing sons.

Will Shakespeare: 23 Apr 1564 – 23 Apr 1616 (age 52)
Miguel Cervantes: 29 Sep 1547 – 23 Apr 1616 (age 68)

They died the same day! An odd coincidence. It was far too crowded to get into Cervantes house but we had been before and will probably go again.

A Hard Day’s Knight

The medieval fighting was held inside the old town walls. The crowd was split into 4 groups by the master of ceremonies with the idea being that each section would cheer one of the four knights. Our quadrant was to support the Grey Knight. As luck would have it he was the clown. An absolute cheat and master of dirty tricks. It was all good fun though. The kids loved it. So did I.

It was hot and they must have been burning up in their armour. Well done to the actors.

As expected, after all his antics he met with a timely defeat.

There you go kids. Cheats usually lose.

Licenced to Print Money…

One stall seemed to be making more money than any other. In more than one sense. This guy was punching out “coins” non-stop. At 5 Euros a pop. Literally making money. He had a big selection of coin designs. All he had to do was place the blank “coin” between two stamps and hit with his sledgehammer. Hey presto artificial “money” made; real money paid.

 Dani went for Darth Vader on one side with Superman “S” on the other. While Susana chose Disney’s Elsa (Frozen). Hey. Boys and girls. They are different. No matter what the lunatics out there try to tell us. Dani’s coin went straight in his treasure chest when he got home.

Knocking out the money

Dark Knights to Dark Nights…

The clocks go back an hour this weekend. The weather is turning cooler. Much cooler. There will be few days as warm as this for a while. Dark nights and dark mornings to come. At least in the northern hemisphere.

Meanwhile Dani’s mum has gone to Australia again with work to try and win a contract. ‘Down-under’ winter is over and it will soon be summer. If his mum does well Dani could be learning to surf in Oz this time next year. Maybe… Just maybe…

Into the Valley – of the fallen

 Another weekend, another excursion. This time to a place closer to Madrid. Closer not just in miles (or kilometres) but in the minds of many Spaniards. We visited El Valle de los Caídos – The Valley of the Fallen.

The Site…

Located about 54 km from the centre of Madrid just off the A6 road that leads to Galicia this site can be visited in the same day as a trip to the picturesque nearby town of El Escorial. Set in a huge area of natural beauty construction started in 1940 and was completed in 1959. The most striking feature is the 15- metre high cross, the biggest in the world and clearly visible from 20 miles away. Entering the building is both eerie and spectacular. The long crypt tunnelled some 260 metres through the mountain leads to the main basilica and place of worship. Behind this and outside is a monastery (Benedictine abbey) and hotel.

Beneath the valley floor are the remains of thousands of people, both nationalist and republican, who died during the civil war. Numbers vary up to as much as 40,000. It is impossible to say exactly how many but there are many.

The Controversy…

This place is famous. It is also infamous. It all depends on which side of the political spectrum you stand. For this is where the body of Francisco Franco is laid to rest.

The biggest problem however is that the debate is not really about that. There are now people on the left of politics who want to re-write history. At least in as much as they can get away with.

 

There is no doubt it. This was; and still is, a vanity project by Franco. ‘To the victor belong the spoils’ as the saying goes ** It would have been no different had the other side won. What also cannot be denied is that it is a fantastic work of art. A magnificent feat of engineering. On any side of the argument nobody can deny it is impressive. It is also a working church and people are buried in such places. It is hard to see why some groups are so determined to exhume a 40 odd year corpse. Are there really so few problems at this moment in time that they have to dig up the past? (both literally and metaphorically).

The main reason given for opposing the place is that its construction used prison labour. Including prisoners who just happened to be on the other side in the civil war. Political prisoners no less. And on this the voices of dissent have a point. Some 10% of the workforce were convicts who, in exchange for a reduced sentence agreed to cooperate.

A Common Sense Approach?

The counter-argument is that the place was built to honour all those who lost their lives – from both sides. There are a couple of things inside which state as much (see photo). Not the best way to honour those who helped build the place though. Something larger and more visible would be better. Another important point is that such forced labour was also used to build huge infrastructure projects such as dams for the supply of fresh water to many large towns and cities. Should those be taken down also?

Surely the best and least disruptive thing would be to build a monument to those who actually constructed this magnificent site. Build it alongside the entrance. There are plenty of places lining the entrance where such a memorial could be located. Under those huge arches for example.

My advice to anyone – especially those who have not seen this place – is to visit before it is changed into a new and different political vanity project.

Dani and the 150 metre cross in context

** “To the victor belong the spoils” is a phrase famously used in a Congressional debate in 1831 by New York senator, William L. Marcy.