Lost in…Irun

Real Union vs Getafe B

Stadium Gal, Segunda B (Group 2), February 21st 2015

Back in September, the first game I attended after arriving in Spain was Real Union versus Guadalajara. The blog post was written in my head- a morning in France, walking across the border into Spain, a terrific game to introduce me to Spanish lower league football- but never got published. The honeymoon period of making new friends in a new town had come to and end that week. It was time to buy bedding and furniture, so, instead of France, that Saturday morning was spent in the home shops of San Sebastián. I did make it to France and did walk across the border, but even though there was a weed conference going on next to the stadium, the day and the game- a 2-1home win- were deemed unworthy of these pages.

I always planned to return to Irun, the border town where Real Union play, but my second trip was under the duel threat of a nasty hangover and more home-shopping. Happily, the next-day effects of Friday night’s Basque funk, Irish rock and roll, and Scottish craft-beer weren’t too bad, plus my wife decided she was more in the mood for a trip to the French border rather than browsing stand-mixers in Media Markt. So, at 11am we were on the E27 bus heading for Hondarribia, the picturesque town neighboring Irun.

The Bidasoa opens into the Atlantic

The Bidasoa: Spain one-side, France the other, and the Atlantic Ocean in the middle

A glimpse of blue sky on a weird day

A glimpse of blue sky on a weird weather day

It had been a beautiful sunny day for my earlier visit, but the weather on this trip was at the more unpredictable end of the Basque meteorological scale. Our wet and windy stroll along the Bidasoa, the river that acts as the border between this part of France and Spain, was broken with intermittent blue skies. The rain held off as we wandered the cobbled streets of the Old Town, but after one more particularly heavy rain shower, we thought it was time to head into Irun.

Hondarrabia

Hondarrabia

There, we were meeting up with friends who were going to show us the drinking haunts of their town. We began with a few small beers in their local cafe-bar, before moving on to La Castaña for more beer and some food. I had some tasty- and very fashionable- beef cheeks and we shared a portion of British-inspired patatas bravas, complete with vinegar and faux-English newspaper. Next, it was on to Northern European-sized, Northern European beers at the Virginia Bierhaus. There wasn’t much football talk from my drinking companions, but I did get to watch the first half of Barcelona-Malaga and introduce Carmel to Lost Boyos, where she was saddened but unsurprised by Matt’s assertion that her hometown of Rotherham was one of the least welcoming for away supporters.

Beef cheeks and chips

Beef cheeks and chips

Chips in newspaper

Chips in newspaper

A delicious bola de carne picante

A delicious bola de carne picante

Apart from the exhibition centre that had housed the weed expo, there wasn’t much around the ground. As it was just a short walk from the town centre to the ground, I stayed with my group as long as possible, watching Barcelona struggle to find an equaliser. By the time, I did say my goodbyes, the rain had stopped, but the temperature had dropped enough for hats and gloves.

The Virginia Bierhaus

The Virginia Bierhaus

Our welcoming hosts

Our welcoming hosts

The 6,000-seat Stadium Gal is located on the Bidasoa, just a few hundred metres from France, which I would guess puts this stadium in the closest proximity to a national border of any in the world (feel free to google and prove me wrong). It was constructed originally in 1926 and opened with a fixture against Barcelona. Since reopening in 1997, the most famous fixture at the ground was a 2008/09 Copa del Rey victory over Real Madrid, the game that was also the unfortunate, premature end to the career of Euro 2008-winner, Ruben de la Red. The 3-2 home win was followed up with a 4-3 defeat at the Santiago Bernabeu, giving the Gipuzkoans a famous aggregate victory.

Heading the right way

Heading the right way

IMG_0471

I was quite tipsy from my four hours-ish of drinking when I got to the stadium, but, after picking up a €15 ticket, my first stop was the club bar. It’s a friendly little bar, with the fixtures and results of all the club’s teams marked on a chalk board. The closing minutes of the Barca-Malaga game was on TV and the Catalans still hadn’t scored. Outside, the last of the warm-up was taking place on a pitch that looked in much better condition than I’d have imagined given the weather. It was time to take my place in the far stand for the game.

The Main Stand

The Main Stand

Cloudy

Cloudy

Gal - Bidasoa - France

Gal – Bidasoa – France

The home team are celebrating their centenary in 2015. Despite being in the third-tier now, Real Union were part of the inaugural La Liga clubs in 1928. The majority of their history has taken place in the lower leagues, but they did spend one season in the Segunda Division as recently as the 2009/10 season. In the cup, the Real Madrid win may have been the highlight of recent times, but the txuribeltz were Copa del Rey winners four times before the start of La Liga. The third of those four wins came in 1924 under the management of Steve Bloomer, the former England striker whose 352 English league are bettered only by Jimmy Greaves and who scored 28 goals in 23 international appearances.

Among the familiar names in the current squad are Mikel Alonso, brother of Xabi and briefly of Bolton Wanderers but not playing today, and Jorge Galan, who had been a promising youngster at Osasuna during the year I spent living in Pamplona. Big things were expected of Galan after scoring a winner as a teenager on his debut, but that was to be his only league goal for the club. Scoring hasn’t been a problem for the Navarrese this year and his 12 goals propelled Real Union into the promotion mix; they began the day in second after Real Madrid Castilla’s win earlier in the day.

In the club bar

In the club bar

Real Union Club

Real Union Club

It wasn’t much of a first half. Real Union had the better of it, but despite Galan and winger Seguin causing problems, they couldn’t create any chances of note. Galan also had one decent penalty shout, which wasn’t given. The story of the first half was mainly the visitors’ organisation and strong defence. In fact, the only comments I’d put on my phone from the first half were to note that the hosts were clearly more used to the conditions with nine players in short sleeves- only Galan was covering up his arms- to the opposition’s three.

The other stand

The other stand and surprisingly good pitch

Silas is unhappy

Silas is unhappy

At half-time, I returned to the bar and had a brief chat to someone who’d noticed me taking pictures. I had had enough to drink to engage in conversation with my pitiful Spanish, but the buzzwords- centenario, Copa del Rey, Steve Bloomer, and others from my pre-visit research- seemed to impress him enough. I remained in the bar for the start of the second half and spent much of the second half stood nearby, either under the main stand or behind the goal. The second half was no more entertaining, so I spent most of it drinking beer and trying to take arty pictures with the filters on my phone. Unsurprisingly, the game ended 0-0 and, having gone 35 games without witnessing a scoreless draw, I had now seen two in a row.

After the game, my little group were still drinking and I joined them for more beers before Kathryn and I got the last train back to San Sebastián. There was a final quick birthday drink (not ours) and we called it a night. We had had more than our fill and I wanted to end this two-game 0-0 streak quickly, and the next chance was a 12 o’clock game between Real Sociedad and Sevilla the next morning.

Drunk and feeling arty

Drunk and feeling arty

Time to go

Time to go

Neither Moyes’ boys nor the team of Hondarribia native Unai Emery had been involved in a 0-0 in either of their last 13 games. I was hoping I hadn’t used up all my good luck of the day when I was approached in the ticket queue and an extremely kind gentleman offered me his ill grandson’s season ticket for the day.

Fortunately, Imanol Agirretxe opened the scoring for the home side, and Timothee Kolodziejczak equalised right on half-time. The second half turned out to be probably the most entertaining and craziest 45 minutes I’ve witnessed in the flesh. The score line went 2-1, 2-2, 2-3, 3-3, and then in the 90th minute, 4-3. Xabi Prieto was the hero, but things could have been very different had Dani Carriço’s 40-yard screamer not hit the post or if the referee had called back a definite Sevilla penalty after allowing advantage.

Xabi Prieto lines up a penalty for 2-1

Xabi Prieto lines up a penalty for 2-1

The high of Xabi Prieto’s winner and a Sod’s Law-esque tweet by journalist Sid Lowe saw me head straight for the bus station for an unplanned, last-minute trip to Bilbao. Alas, 14:30 was the only only hour without a scheduled bus and the 15:30 what have been cutting things very fine for the 17:00 kick-off. The weekend of football, I decided, was over. San Mames would have to wait.

During one of his many recent interviews with UK media, David Moyes was very complimentary about the standard of football at the Segunda B level in Spain. I’m not in his position to judge the technical quality, but the three games I’ve seen at this level have been the least entertaining of my season, yielding just three goals. Fortunately, the seven-goal thriller made up for the previous day’s dour affair and everything else about the day- Hondarrabia, drinking with friends in Irun, visiting the Stadium Gal again- was great fun.

GOOD: Hondarrabia’s pleasant Old Town; the hospitality of Carmel and Alex; the bola de carne picante in the Virginia Bierhaus; the bar in the Stadium Gal; the excellent pitch; Real Sociedad 4 Sevilla 3; Xabi Prieto

BAD: the unpredictable weather; another 0-0 draw in the Segunda B

One thought on “Lost in…Irun

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

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