Making his second appearance on Lost Boyos, Matthew ‘Matt the Jack’ Phillips tells us about his recent trip to Andorra to watch Wales take on the mighty Andorra.
Andorra was the location for Wales’s first qualifying match for the Euro 2016 tournament in France; as soon as the draw was made I wanted to visit Andorra. I do much prefer going to the more obscure places if I can. It would be my 18th away match with Wales.
There is no international airport in the small principality of Andorra, so most fans chose to fly to Barcelona or Toulouse and take a coach for 3 hours into Andorra la Vella. In the lead up to the game there was a lot of concern about the new 3G pitch which had been laid in the newly built stadium (across the road from their old one). I blame UEFA mainly for not sorting out the situation sooner, as I do think that had it been a bigger nation involved then a bigger stance would’ve been taken on it. In the end, UEFA confirmed the game would go ahead as planned in Andorra. I was personally glad as I, as well as others, had already booked travel and accommodation and wanted to visit Andorra.
So in the early hours of Saturday morning I travelled to Gatwick and flew to Barcelona on the 7am flight, checked into my hotel and still bleary-eyed I went exploring the city as I only had a day and a half there and I don’t like wasting time. I went to Casa Batllo, botanical gardens, the Nou Camp tour for when Swans get Champions League next season and saw the impressive Magic Fountains in the evening. Phew! I personally found it very easy to get around the city on the metro system, though my pre-installed phone app helped a little!
Another day of sightseeing was the plan on Sunday and through speaking to people before I went I was recommended to go to Park Guell, where you can see a great view of Barcelona. I found the escalators outside on the street unusual buy very handy (and I live at the top of Kilvey Hill myself) and after that went to Sagrada Familia, a church designed by the famous architect Antoni Gaudi, which is still incomplete. I’m not a fan of museums, so avoided all those, I just like a good photo opportunity.
In the evening Barcelona B were playing Real Zaragoza in the Segunda Division (Championship equivalent). It was only by chance that I saw they were playing, but it’s not like me to not watch football and it would be another ‘new’ ground to tick off the ever growing list. The Mini Estadi is right opposite the Nou Camp. Swans fans who went to the pre-season friendly a few years ago would know it well.
It holds over 15,000 and ironically has hosted a few Andorran International games against the bigger Nations in Europe. I paid 9 Euros to go behind the goal, but what did amuse me were the ticket touts outside when there were plenty on sale, but I am told they do get the odd sell out.
It was a decent game in fairness and both teams just wanted to get the ball down and play. Barcelona B ran out 4-1 winners in the match between Andrea Orlandi’s old club and Roberto Martinez’s old club – I’m sure I heard both sets of fans chanting both of their names….. I didn’t recognise any of the players for Barcelona B but Jean Marie Dongou stood out. It was just a very good game on a very pleasant evening.
The odd thing was that at half time I had to go out of ground and across the road to buy refreshments as there were none on sale in the ground. The attendance was 4500 but you would think they would want to maximise profits by having them on sale in the ground. It was good that the stewards let us in and out and bring the drinks in. This finished my short trip to Barcelona – there were too many tourists there but I did enjoy the Spanish city. It’s just a shame I didn’t have more time to look around.
On the Monday I had yet another early start at 8:15 for the coach trip to Andorra. The trip took around 3 hours but it’s difficult to get bored, as it’s definitely one of the most scenic journeys I have been on. It was a National Holiday in Andorra on this day, so as I was arriving everyone was leaving (I don’t think the Andorrans were leaving because I was arriving……).
Again, as I arrived at my hotel I went straight out for some sightseeing. Thankfully, the predicted rain did not appear and it was a very nice 26 degrees. I walked the short distance to the ground to see where it was and take photos. whilst in the main part of town everything was shut due to the National holiday. I then saw a Wales fan, Andy, who I’d met in Skopje, Macedonia last year. He said him and his friend Mike were going up to the mountain in Andorra, so I tagged along.
I am glad I did. The cable car journey took 20 minutes to get up to the top of one of the mountains where people go skiing in the winter. The views were fabulous from up there, though it was deceivingly cold. When I go on Wales away games I like to visit the touristy things and take as many photos as I can, as I may not ever get to visit Andorra again – I can’t ski, so doubt I ever would!
Game day had arrived and I could relax slightly as I had done everything there was to do and see in Andorra twice over – but at least the shops were open! I met up with Ralph (a Swans fans who lives in the Czech Republic) and Glen (a Doncaster Wales fan). Ralph was predicting a 6-0 win, mine was 1-0. We chatted about all things Wales and went for a visit to the old Andorra Stadium – at least this one had grass! Ralph took a penalty against some Andorran kids. And had it saved – hopefully it wouldn’t be an omen for later on!
After meeting up with other Wales away regulars, I decided to make my way to the ground and obviously I was early! This was the first game to be played at the ground and it had a scenic backdrop. It was possible to watch the game for free on higher ground and many local people were out on their balconies ready to watch Andy King in action.
The ground itself wasn’t anything special; it had 3 sides, but looked quite bland with the concrete, although it did have some very impressive floodlights. This was actually a rare occasion where the Wales fans would outnumber the home crowd. We were situated behind the goal and others in the more expensive £32 seats were in the stand to the left. For some reason the Welsh stewards there were asking people to sit in their designated seats, but being the rebel I am, I ignored them and stood where I wanted.
Andorra’s record in international football is, to put in mildly, awful. Just 3 wins in 188 matches, with just one competitive win against Macedonia. They are 199th in the FIFA Rankings and before the game with Wales hadn’t scored a competitive goal for 44 games. Though at least I didn’t hear anyone from the Wales camp say my favourite cliché ‘There are no easy games in International football’ This is one!
Wales being Wales decided to be generous and give Andorra rare penalty. The additional assistant gave it as the referee had initially waved play on. I have to admit I am still not convinced and all the replays seem inconclusive. Andorra scored and now they had something to hold onto. I then became one of those rare people who have seen a San Marino and an Andorran goal live.
Thankfully Gareth Bale equalised in the first half from a superb Ben Davies cross. It wasn’t the best of first halves, though I do think the pitch played a major part in this. I thought the 2nd half was much better, but I was annoyed with the Andorran players going down at the slightest touch, delaying the restart and I did think they were quite dirty too. The referee was quite fussy, but in the end his fussiness helped Wales as he ordered a re-take on our free kick.
Bale’s 2nd effort curled into the bottom right hand corner and sent the Wales fans behind the goal crazy. Cue pitch invasion! Only Wales fans could invade a pitch against the mighty Andorra! I suppose it’s not that often Wales win away from home against anyone!
Chris Coleman had some stick, as he invariably does. I won’t personally judge him until after the two home matches. The 3G pitch was definitely a leveller and it will be interesting to see how the other teams in our group get on there. Cyprus beating Bosnia-Herzegovnia in Zenica was a very surprisingly result and throws the group open slightly – though it looked as if Bosnia-Herzegovina were the more dominant team and lost on the counter-attack.
Coleman may not be the best of managers, but I can’t see who else would take it on the money the FAW would pay. It’s unfortunate we haven’t got a quality striker, although Sam Vokes will hopefully be back soon (but I don’t really rate him that highly). Hopefully Bale can win games on his own for us to fulfil my lifetime dream of seeing Wales qualify for a major tournament. One day.
This was my 8th away win with Wales (out of 18) and probably one of my favourites. I would recommend visiting Andorra to anyone if you like nice scenery, mountains, that type of thing. Roll on Belgium in November, the road to France is still on!