First of all, an apology to Ken Buckley for stealing his regular headline but I'm sure he won't mind on this occasion, and anyway, I'm trying to provide some light relief from our current situation where the search for our new manager seems to change by the hour.
The trip to Northern Spain was prompted by my birthday treat to myself, a journey I have being trying to make for the last 10 years if the truth be known, because I have heard so much about the Basque region and San Sebastian in particular. So it was then, that myself and five mates (all male), a mixture of guys from the village I live in, and a couple of long standing friends who I have kept in touch with from various jobs I have had over the last 20 years.
A one-hour fifty minute flight, costing around Â£90.00 return, from Manchester Airport direct to Bilbao, saw us land into a sunny and warm Northern Spain, then an hour on the bus direct from the airport to the city of San Sebastian or Donostia in Basque. We were able to walk to our seafront apartment which was about 20 minutes from the bus station through a busy town centre that had a high proportion of visiting cars with french number plates on.
I since found out that the french border is around 30 km away and the city has always had a large influx of french visitors from Biarritz who come for the superb food and drink on offer, more on that later.
Forgive me if I digress a bit from the football element of the trip, but San Sebastian is a truly remarkable city on the sea, with a fantastic 'old town' famous for it's pintxo (tapas bars) offering small dishes at between 3-4 each. Each bar specialises in seafood or local aged ham at really reasonable prices
On that particular Sunday, all the La Liga games kicked off at 4pm, and we decided to take an early morning walk along Playa De La Concha, a massive white sandy stretch of flat beach stretching the length of the city from end to end. Five junior football matches were taking place (while the tide was out I guess), regular league games according to a local.
We decided not to buy any match tickets in advance, the game versus Rayo Vallecano, more important to the away team on this occasion, as they simply had to win to avoid relegation, the home team happily settled in mid-table safety.
As we followed the modest crowd through the streets of the old town (no fat vans Ken), we allowed ourselves enough time to head to El Nido, a bar we found and liked which also had a framed and signed Everton shirt of 'the best little spaniard we know' Mikel Arteta, it was only then I remembered he was from this neck of the woods.
I wonder what OFM made of San Sebastian during his brief 12 month stay here? It's probably the most 'unfootball' like city or town I've ever visited really, and given the size of the place. I often wonder why British managers are tempted over here, because a team like 'La Real', can never compete with the big boys of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Valencia etc, and so they will be financially restricted from the start, even though the strict policy on 'basque' only players was lifted in 1989. What's 'knife to a gunfight' in Spanish?
We arrived at the ground around 3pm, an hour before KO, and both sets of supporter's were mingling freely in local bars, in what was largely a residential area on the edge of town, and you just knew that there would be NO trouble whatsover, simply because both sets of supporters, were happily having a drink, without going over the top.I have to profess my ignorance here, I didn't know what part of Spain Rayo Vallecano were from, and was surprised to discover they were from Madrid. Prior to that, I thought Madrid just hosted two teams, Real and Atletico. Hats off to the Vallecano fans who had travelled in good numbers from Madrid of a Sunday, to try and cheer their team on, and hoped for a miracle.
The Sociedad ground was more impressive on the inside than out, the exterior of the stadium was largely plain grey concrete slabs, but the inside was very much along the lines of the Macron stadium at Bolton Wanderers, with pale blue seats on two tiers, and certainly good value seats on the upper tier on the side, for 30 each.
In truth, the match itself was an ordinary affair in front of 18,000 spectators, livened up by the noisy away fans who were giving their team great support, certainly not going down without a fight. Ironically, much of the football was similar to what we have witnessed at Goodison for much of this season, slow, slow, quick quick slow, without the quality in the final third.
Sociedad went ahead against the run of play after 12 minutes through Oyarzabal after a well worked goal, and that was the score at halftime. They went further ahead after 50 minutes through Bautista, a low shot from the edge of the box. Vallecano, were a little unfortunate to be 2-0 down at this stage, and a curling shot from Guerra after 69 minutes eventually got them back in the game. In the 76th minute, Granero received a straight red card for Sociedad after a stupidly high tackle on a Vallecano player. The expected onslaught from the away team never materialised though, and the game fizzled out.
Both teams stayed on the pitch at the end for a 'lap of appreciation' but we crept away into the bright sunshine and let the local fans and players acknowledge each other's efforts.
All in all, a 'footy' trip with a difference, I guess all of us believe we are the 'most passionate' of supporters in the land, but spare a thought for Madrid's 'third' team Rayo Vallenco, and their fans (around 1,500 of them at a guess) who made the long journey from Madrid in the forlorn hope they could grab the win that would keep them in the top flight.
Anyone wanting to experience a footballing weekend with a 'difference', try San Sebastian, even the wife would enjoy it.