Pasaia KE 0-0 Bermeo FT
Campo Don Bosco, Tercera División (Group 4), May 9th 2015
As the end of the season and the end of my time in Spain fast approach, it is time to begin to reflect on the goings-on of the last eight months. As with the beautiful game everywhere, Spanish football has its pros and cons. There will be time to discuss them all over the coming weeks, but let’s begin what has been the biggest drawback to groundhopping here: notification of kick-off times.
Spain is a big country and getting around can be expensive. Trains and planes tend to be cheaper when booked in advance, but booking in advance for football matches is difficult when kick-off times are often confirmed just two or three weeks before matches take place.
Take this past weekend. Real Sociedad were playing an Camp Nou. I wanted to go. After all who wouldn’t want to watch Barcelona at the moment, but the day and time of kick-off were only confirmed two weeks before the game. It was always likely Barcelona would be playing a Champions League semi-final the following week and that that would mean a Saturday match. However, with a match ticket, train fare, and even cheap accommodation likely to come in at well over €100, it was a risk I wasn’t willing to take when there are plenty of cheap alternatives nearby.
With Barcelona ruled out, I scoured the fixture lists for some alternative Saturday afternoon entertainment and, after my enjoyable visit to Beasain, that meant dropping down again into the fourth tier. It didn’t take me long to settle on Pasaia. The port town is only a few miles from San Sebastian, with regular bus and train links. That was too easy, though. Back in the autumn, some friends and I made the two-and-a-bit hour hike over Ulia, San Sebastian’s eastern-most mountain, and down into the Port of Pasaia. I had been planning to do the walk again and here was the perfect opportunity for it.
After a hearty lunch of pasta, I set off at 1pm confident of making the 5pm kick-off. It was a mild, overcast afternoon, perfect conditions for the hike. The walk began on Zurriola beach, before a long, steep climb up the side of Ulia. The tough start is made worthwhile by the stunning views afforded hikers when they reach the top. The path winds its way along the rugged coastline and finishes spectacularly with a steep, stony staircase that takes you down a cliff-face and into the port.
This somewhat unusual way of reaching a game was also to include what I think is a Lost Boyo first: a boat trip. Thirsty from my hike, I thought I would have the first beer of the afternoon in the pretty fishing village of San Juan in east Pasaia. That meant taking the short €0.70 ferry across the bay from San Pedro, in west Pasaia.
Pasaia is not a football, but a rowing town and there is a strong rivalry between the purples of Pasaia Donibane (San Juan) and the pinks of Pasaia San Pedro. Even now, before the rowing season has really begun here, the pride both villages take in their respective teams can be seen by the many pink and purple flags hanging from balconies on both sides of the port. Both teams were out on the water practicing as I made the two-minute crossing.
I had the ferry to myself and after disembarking decided I would continue my walk and save the beer until I got closer to the ground. It was a good job I did. Away from its pretty entrance, Pasaia remains a working port, and a big one at that. The walk around it took close to another hour, but eventually I was stood below Don Bosco University where the field was located.
Pasaia is town of steep hills and high-rise apartment buildings, and the walk up to the university seemed to involve endless steps, which were especially unwelcome after the earlier hike. Finally, I was stood above the Campo Don Bosco, but I was fenced off and there was no way in. Circling the university’s perimeter, all entrances were locked. Google maps told me to take a path that seemed to involve cutting through someone’s garden, but I did as the internet told me and eventually ended up on a dodgy-looking, graffitied path that led me to the university’s main entrance.
Just under four hours after setting off and with only ten minutes to go until kick-off, I completed the journey that would probably have taken 15-20 minutes had I taken the bus. Entry to the match came at €12 plus an extra few Euros for raffle tickets that seem compulsory at this level. I didn’t mind. The prizes included wine and a big txueleta (a Basque steak) and I have often been lucky in raffles; I fancied my chances here with four numbers and a crowd of probably less than a hundred.
It is about this time in our posts that we like to give you a bit of information about the club we have gone to see, but there isn’t much I can tell you about Pasaia. There is a WordPress account that has not been updated since the end of the 2012/13 season. The club has a Twitter account that is updated occasionally and a Facebook page that receiving greater attention, but still hasn’t been updated in several weeks and whose cover photo wishes readers ‘happy New Year’ in Basque. I did manage to learn that the club was founded in 1941 and that this is their third consecutive season in the Tercera División, having gained promotion from the regional league the previous season.
With two games of the season remaining, there was still a chance of that run coming to an end. Pasaia lay in 17th place, just outside the relegation places, and five points clear of Erandio. Their opponents for matchday 37 were Bermeo, another Basque coastal town along the coast, who were already safe in mid-table.
Bermeo, in dark blue, kicked off and immediately launched a long ball towards their tall strikers, wearing #9 and #11. It was a common tactic throughout the game, but Pasaia’s even taller #4 and their Fabricio Coloccini look-a-like #5 were equal to the threat all afternoon. Whether the long balls were planned, or a result of Pasaia’s pressing, I don’t know, but they made for an ugly, high-tempo half. ‘Fuera!’, ‘Venga!’ and ‘Sigue!’ were among the most common shouts from the players, none of which particularly encourage slow, controlled play.
The closest either team came to a goal in the first half was a defensive mix-up between the Bermeo keeper and left-back, but one of the covering defenders reacted just quick enough to prevent a Pasaia tap-in. The crowd had probably reached triple figures by now and they were very a friendly, animated bunch; although the disgust at some of the Bermeo players’ choice language was probably tongue-in-cheek, there was genuine frustration as the visitors continually pinched yards at free-kicks and throw-ins without punishment.
At half-time I joined the small gathering at the bar and had the day’s first beer, a cold €2 Heineken. Whereas British grounds don’t allow you drink in view of the playing surface, here some of the crowd were actually drinking their half-time beers on the artificial pitch. They even stayed there, huddled near the corner flag for the second half probably because they could watch both this game and the Barcelona-Real Sociedad match which, once it had finally been decided, kicked off at 6pm.
The second half was played at the same frenetic pace as the first. Pasaia had most of the play and even, through their two wide men wearing #11 and especially #7, managed to get some football going on the ground. It was Bermeo’s goalkeeper who perhaps had the most interesting half. In, I assume, an effort to prevent the ball bouncing uncontrollably, he was attempting to drop-kick the ball low and hard. A clever ploy, except they were all being sliced into touch. He eventually switched to punting, but his kicks were so high they usually bounced out of touch or to his opposite number.
His saves were equally unconvincing. He palmed one free-kick out for a corner and spilled one simple-looking shot, but no Pasaia player was following up. He did have one excellent orthodox save, diving low and pushing a strong drive well clear of his goal. However he did it, the man between the Bermeo sticks managed to keep the home team out for the 90 minutes. His own team had created almost nothing- the closest they had come to scoring was a cheeky 40-yard free-kick that home keeper was wise to- and the game ended 0-0. Relegation in Spain’s lower leagues is complicated by the leagues’ regional nature and the presence of B teams, but the point practically guaranteed Pasaia their position in the Tercera for 2015/16.
I headed quickly for the exit without even discovering if I had won anything in the raffle. I was continuing eastwards for a cider festival in Irun and hoped to make the 7pm train. Meeting up with my wife and our friends Alex and Carmel, we had the unexpected sensation in Spain of being late for an event. We did manage to find a few bottles of cider for some late-spring, outdoor drinking. Alex and Carmel also happily told me how their previous appearance on Lost Boyos has since resulted in them getting free food after I’d praised the bola de carne at their local pub during my last visit to Irun.
It was a good end to a long day. Strange things are afoot in Spanish football and there are threats of strikes and closures as various interested parties argue over the restructuring of TV deals. This may even have been the last game I see in Spain if some threats are to be taken seriously. Hopefully, negotiations will be able to wait for the end of the season because there are several weeks of play-off football that I’m looking forward to watching!
GOOD: great coastal hike; the lovely village of San Juan; an ugly, frenetic game of football; Pasaia’s #5 resemblance of Coloccini and their #8’s hipster beard.
BAD: the wasted time time walking around the port (there were buses) and all those bloody steps; team’s continual desire to play long balls on bouncy artificial surfaces.