Beasain K.E. 2-1 Durango
Loinaz Futbol Zelaia, Tercera División, April 11th
Here’s a number puzzle for you, football fans. What is the significance of the following series of numbers: 20, 24, 24, 24? Okay, that one is easy and I’m sure most of you got that it’s the number of teams playing in the top four divisions of the English football pyramid. Well, how about this one: 20, 22, 80, 361?
Those are the number of teams playing at the equivalent levels in Spain. So, how does that work? 361 teams in a single division! Well, of course, it’s not a single division. Spain’s fourth tier, confusingly called the Tercera División (then again, England’s fourth tier is called League Two?) is comprised of 18 separate leagues of roughly 20 teams. The top four from all 18 leagues enter a mammoth promotion play-off system that goes deep into June, although league winners are given a one-off, fast-track chance. And that is all before things get further complicated by the B or even C teams of clubs higher up the pyramid.
The play-off section of the leagues is fast approaching, but, even with all those teams to choose from, it’s taken me until now to get to a Tercera División game. My first attempt had actually come two weeks earlier, but I missed a bus and my wife convinced me that, rather than wait an hour for the next one, we should spend the afternoon drinking and eating pintxos. Given that we ended up in one of my favourite bars watching Wales’ magnificent 3-0 win in Israel- which overlapped with game I was intending on watching and would have meant me spending most of the second half staring at my phone- I was very happy she had.
Since then, however, we have accepted new jobs that will take us far from the Basque Country. The two or more years I thought I had to get across the region has become just the weeks between now and the end of the season. With that in mind, I got the train from Gros- the little corner of San Sebastian where I live- inland to the town of Beasain.
It didn’t take me long to stroll from one end of the small town of Beasain to the other, but there was enough to entertain me. It is typical of many inland Basque towns, sitting in a valley, surrounded by green hills and white farmhouses. One of the first things I noticed was the number of colourful and creative wall murals painted around the town. I can’t begin to imagine what, if anything, some of them signified, but they were nice to look at.
Given my walk was taking place during Saturday afternoon siesta-time, there wasn’t much going on in Beasain. I began walking in the direction of the ground, hoping there would be some distractions and a bar where I could watch the first half of Real Madrid-Eibar. Fortunately, I found both. The distractions came in the shape of Igartza, a monument harking back to feudal times comprising a manor house, mill, foundry and inn, and a pleasant little church set a short off the main road in homage to the same man who the football ground is named after. The bar was conveniently located directly opposite the ground. I had a couple of beers and saw Cristiano and Chicharito put Real two goals to the good by half-time. It was time to head over to the game.
Entry to the ground came at a reasonable €10, although that was quickly €11 when it became clear I was also required to buy a €1 raffle ticket. Loinaz, a single-stand stadium with views of apartment buildings and those pleasant green hills, is named after Saint Martin de la Asuncion, a 16th century missionary who was among the 26 Christians executed by crucifixion in Nagasaki. I took a seat near the halfway line and hoped it didn’t belong to any of the older, cigar-wielding gentleman who had know doubt been watching the club for decades.
Beasain KE (KE being Kirol Elkartea, the Basque for Sports Club) are in their 110th year of existence. The club’s football arm has spent many of those years in regional football, but most of its recent history has seen them play in the Segunda B and Tercera Divisións. This season they are well-placed for a place in the promotion play-offs, among a group of four teams in contention for the fourth and final slot.
Another of those teams is Cultural de Durango. Before kick-off, Durango sat one place and one point ahead of Beasain in sixth. The all-orange visitors looked like they would be extending that lead when their right-back burst forward, skilfully beat a couple of players, and put in a low cross that was cleverly finished at the far post. It was a rare bit of skill in an opening few minutes that consisted mainly of long balls and aerial duels. I decided to keep an eye on the right back after that, but it was to be a quite a torrid afternoon for him after that and ended with in his early-ish substitution.
Beasain began to play the better football with their #6-#8-#10 midfield trio taking control of the game and finally keeping the ball on the deck. A clever shimmy in the box by #8 won a penalty for the home team, which he duly converted. 1-1 at half-time.
I followed the signs for the taberna and joined the locals in a half-time San Miguel, complete with actual alcohol! The sun was coming out after a grey afternoon and I enjoyed my beer in what was a new first for me: a stadium beer garden. The open green space, complete with swimming pool and archery field, was part of a wider sports complex, but with nothing else going on it was acting simply as a beer garden.
For the second half, I sat near the taberna, but didn’t return. The second 45 minutes was a more entertaining affair with Beasain going hard for the win. In contrast to his opposite number, Beasain’s right back recovered from a shaky start to end as one of the game’s top performers. Two speedy bursts forward brought another chance for #8 and a Durango yellow card, as the away team failed to stop his charging runs. My Man of the Match, though, was Beasain’s #9. He played brilliantly as the lone striker, holding up the ball and bringing others into play. On 80 minutes, he earned a free-kick 20 yards out and curled a perfect left-footed shot over the wall and into the corner. The keeper didn’t move.
Beasain had a touch of luck as their keeper spilled a tame shot onto the post, but held on for the win. The three points took them up two places to fifth, just one point behind Berio in fourth. There was still time for drama, though, as Durango’s #8 received a second yellow card after the final whistle, as a few of their players hounded the bearded referee. It was odd to see because, even though both Beasain goals came from set pieces, there had been little controversy or harassment of the referee during the 90 minutes.
The game flew by, which means it must have been fun. It certainly felt that way. Life in the Basque Country often reminds me of life in Wales- the green hills and the rain, generally- and my visit to Beasain felt much like Saturday afternoon in the rugby club: the men waiting inside the gate to immediately sell you raffle tickets; the young kids- maybe of current or ex-players- being allowed to play on the field before and after kick-off; the town’s old boys coming out in force, as much as for the social side as the football, and watching with eyes that are never impartial but always fair (in contrast to the angry teenage boys intent on heckling the Durango keeper after the winning goal).
I may have arrived late to the Tercera División, but its exhaustive play-off system means there’s still plenty of football to be played. Hopefully there’ll be Basque involvement right until the end.
GOOD: Good little ground with a nice setting; Fantastic winning goal; Beer with alcohol
BAD: Wish I’d got along to a Tercera game earlier