Lost in…San Sebastian

Real Sociedad vs Real Oviedo

Estadio Anoeta, Copa de Rey (Last 32, Second-Leg), December 17th 2014

…and others

It is easy to sympathize with the the modern travel writer. If a picture tells a thousand words, how can they compete when everywhere can now be seen in other people’s Facebook and Instagram accounts. Take the Lonely Planet’s cliched introduction to its pages on San Sebastián as a case in point; “They say nothing is impossible,” …no, sorry, I can’t even bring myself to finish the quote.

La Concha Bay, San Sebastian

La Concha Bay, San Sebastian

Zurriola Beach, San Sebastian

Zurriola Beach, San Sebastian

If the words of one of the world’s most venerable series of guide books can’t quite do the city justice , it’s probably best that I don’t even bother trying. San Sebastián- or Donostia to give it its Basque name- has been my home since September 1st. A few lows aside- I damaged a rental car before I’d even got it out of the car park and have had a bicycle seat and a bag stolen- it has mostly been a very enjoyable three-and-a-half months. The sun has shone and life has been good.

Winter is coming

Winter is coming

Waves lash Peine del Viento

Waves hit the famous Peine del Viento

For Real Sociedad, the city’s football team, the autumn has been the reverse; a difficult few months with occasional peaks. On August 31st, the day before I arrived, Wales’ Gareth Bale scored his first goal of the season in San Sebastián to give Real Madrid a 2-0 lead. Real Sociedad, however, scored four and gave the European champions an early defeat (one of only two they’ve suffered all season). It was, however, nine matches and more than two months later before they got their next three points.

My first visit to Anoeta, the home of La Real, was a 2-1 loss to Almeria. I’d arrived late after having trouble returning the damaged rental car and missed the first 20 minutes or so. While I tried to park,  a Scottish mate had gone ahead to get the tickets. Like the start of some bad joke, we ended up randomly sat next to a Northern Irishman. A Sunday midday kick-off, our seats were directly in the scorching sun. How the visiting Irishman- whose motorbike had died and left him stranded in the city- coped in his biking leathers, I’ll never know. Perhaps the chilled, non-alcoholic beers helped.

The track (vs. Almeria)

A lovely view of the track and the sun (vs. Almeria)

Next for me was the visit of Valencia, and the home team put in another good performance against one of the league’s famous names. Sergio Canales, who I personally had the highest expectations for, was a bit lucky to equalise Carles Gil’s opening goal, but Valencia’s goalkeeper Diego Alves was much busier than opposite number Enaut Zubikarai and made some great saves to ensure his team a share of the points.

Plenty of txuri-urdin in the crowd (vs. Valencia)

Plenty of txuriurdin in the crowd (vs. Valencia)

By the time Atletico Madrid arrived on November 9th, the poor league results and an early Europa League exit had seen time called on Jagoba Arrasate’s reign as manager. We- another Celtic trident of Welsh, Scottish, and (different) Irish origins- were sat in the second row behind a lively Mexican Atletico supporter. He managed a smile when compatriot Carlos Vela, easily Real Sociedad’s team’s best attacker, scored a long-range opener, but was less happy when Imanol Agirretxe powered in a late headed winner, cancelling out Mario Mandzukic’s equaliser.

Lights on (vs. Atletico Madrid)

Lights on (vs. Atletico Madrid)

The genius Carlos Vela harshly gets harshly booked for diving

The genius Carlos Vela harshly gets harshly booked for diving

Two days later came the announcement that David Moyes was to be the club’s new manager. Here on this blog, we clearly endorse that kind of move, and even as a Manchester United, I was happy to see the Scot take on the job. He began with an away 0-0 draw- La Real’s first clean sheet of the season- and I was again in Anoeta for his first home game in charge. Carlos Vela was the stand-out performer and this time he scored a hat-trick, including an excellent toe-poked third. The team played excellently and it was the first time I’d really felt inside the stadium, the passion for the club that is clear around the city. On match days, shirts and flags of blue and white- the colours that give the club its Basque nickname, txuriurdin– are ubiquitous. Against Elche, there were finally some ‘Ole’s, and singing, and, during a particularly dominant second-half period, the bizarre sight of thousands of mobile phone torches being lit like lighters at a rock concert.

Moyes get the mobile phone seal of approval

Moyes get the mobile phone seal of approval

My latest visit was the Copa del Rey second leg against Real Oviedo. Work finished at 19:30 and kick-off wasn’t until 22:00, so I headed into the narrow streets of the city’s Old Town for pre-game cañas and pintxos, the delicious, varied, local delicacies that have made the city so popular with foodies. There were the usual Japanese tourists sampling the food, but tonight football supporters were also singing away in the bars. They were from Oviedo, and even further afield as the club’s well-documented fall from top-flight regulars to near extinction attracted a global following. I even bought two shares myself.

La Parte Vieja

La Parte Vieja

I enjoyed some txistorra (spicy local sausage) in one bar and a bola de carne, my personal favourite pintxo, in another. Finally, I headed to what has become known to football-watching pals and I as the scarf bar (for reasons obvious in the picture below). Usually they are showing football and I was hoping to catch some of the San Lorenzo-Auckland City game before taking the bus to Anoeta. Tonight, however, it was a small crowd of locals voicing their opinions on the evening news. I drank my caña and left.

Cana and a bola de carne

Cana and a bola de carne

The Scarf Bar

The Scarf Bar

Some rowdy Oviedo fans were on my bus. They were in excellent voice and, although their ‘Puta Sporting‘ did not sit well on the ears of San Sebastián’s older bus travellers, spirited as opposed to badly-behaved.

I got off the bus and headed for Arkupe, a bar I’ve chosen for my pre-game beers for no particular reason , while the Oviedo gang joined a larger throng of theirs at a another bar. As I headed over to the stadium to pick up my ticket, the Ovideo crowd was by far the largest away following I’ve seen in my limited Spanish football experience. Oviedo to San Sebastián is close to a 400km drive. Add in the kick-off time and the crap Basque weather, and it’s no surprise that the fans sing of their return- ‘Volveremos otra vez’- with such confidence (they currently top their section of the Segunda B, Spain’s third tier).

A quick word, then, on Anoeta. Well, it’s big. Unfortunately, its size owes much to that most despised of stadium features, a running track. Real Sociedad first moved there in 1993 after it had hosted the European Junior Athletics Championships. The first league game was a 2-2 draw with la Real managed by Toshack (current Wales manager Chris Coleman also managed there in 2007-08 while the club were making a rare appearance in the Segunda Division). Plans have recently been unveiled to remove the track and expand the capacity from 32,000 to over 40,000. This seems optimistic as the stadium didn’t even fill for the recent Basque derby with Athletic de Bilbao, but maybe the improved views will bring in new punters.

Real Ovideo's excellent fans

Real Ovideo’s excellent fans

Bus Porn, Ovideo-style

Bus Porn, Oviedo-style

Inside the ground, the official 442 away ticket holders sat in the south stand, with further numbers dotted around (the initial allocation ended up looking oddly small considering the official attendance was given as less than 10,000. At least everyone got in, I suppose). They all sang throughout. Sadly for them, their team never looked like breaching, to use proper cup football-speak, the 28-place gap in league positions.

Lashings of rain

Lashings of rain

Fun with panorama

Fun with panorama

For Moyes, it was the night two summer signings (not his) came good. Young Argentinian goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli looked solid in keeping his second clean-sheet (the first having coming in the 0-0 game in Oviedo), while Alfred Finnbogason finally opened his scoring account for La Real. The Icelandic striker arrived in the summer following two 20+-goal seasons with Heerenveen. So far, injuries and form meant his career in Spain hadn’t really got going yet. Against Real Oviedo, though, he got two.

It’s hard to imagine David Moyes learned a great deal from a not-unexpected win against an inferior team, who had also rested some of their regular starters. Rulli looks like a keeper with a good future and Finnbogason’s busy, goal-scoring performance showed it’s probably too early to write him off as another Ereedivisie flop. I, on the other hand, learned something, chiefly that I’ve become quite fond of my new local team.

I’ve got a key ring and even paid €70 for this season’s home shirt, but it was the presence of a large, vocal invading party that made me realise I may be in danger of becoming a ‘fan.’ Despite my small financial stake in the visiting team, I wanted nothing more than a home win and was very happy when it was delivered. I may never learn the Basque lyrics to the club hymn, but I’ll certainly be back in the New Year- hopefully starting with Barcelona’s visit in January- and hoping for better fortunes than the end of 2014.

HIGHS: The genius of Carlos Vela; the one-club city mentality; the arrival of David Moyes; Alfred Finnbogasson finally breaking his duck; discovering new players like Markel Bergara and Carlos Martinez, who I hadn’t really heard of; beating Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid; the weather until November

LOWS: The weather since November; the poor form; the running track; the non-alcoholic beer; the price of tickets (as much €80-90 for the Basque derby against Athletic Bilbao, which is why I didn’t attend)

3 thoughts on “Lost in…San Sebastian

  1. Pingback: Lost in…Bayonne | Lost Boyos

  2. Pingback: Lost in…Madrid | Lost Boyos

  3. Pingback: Lost in…The Basque Country (and beyond): A 2014/15 Review | Lost Boyos

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