GGGOOOAAALLL!!! Football in Spain Part II: Copa del Rey in San Sebastian

Editor’s note: We’re going to do something a little different on ThePoeLog and declare this “Soccer Week.” Guest editor and soccer expert XFE has kindly written up a series of posts on the soccer games we went to in Spain. Part 1: UEFA in Bilbao is here.  

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The next game on our agenda was in San Sebastian, and was a contest scheduled as part of the Copa del Rey. The Copa is a tournament that allows teams from across Spain to compete for a title. The teams not only include those in the top tier of the league (La Liga), but other teams from lower divisions who are selected based on both competition and a lottery. The tournament starts in September with 83 teams and will work down to a single winner by the following May.

The game we attended was one in the round of 32 where teams play a home/away format to determine the winner. This means that each pair of teams plays twice to determine who will move on to the next round. Each team plays one game at home and one game away and the aggregate score of the two matches determines the winner.

The match we attended was the second leg between the home team Real Sociedad and Las Palmas, which is the team from the city with the same name that is the capital of Gran Canaria, one of Spain’s Canary Islands off northwestern Africa. Real Sociedad had lost the previous match 2-to-1 so they needed to score at least two goals in order to win the aggregate and move on to the next round.

Unlike our previous experience in Bilbao, we did not run into any traveling fans from Las Palmas, at least that we know of, and since the stadium is removed from the central city, it was tougher to identify fans that were out for pintxos before heading to the game.

Poe and I absolutely love the old part of San Sebastian and were perfectly happy grabbing vino and pintxos in the city center before grabbing a taxi for the 10 minute ride to the stadium.

Once on the stadium grounds, we saw fans streaming in from the neighborhood as well as what seemed like 50 different public buses that were convening near the front entrance. As is our custom, we quickly purchased a scarf with the colors of the home team and headed to our seats.

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The Anoeta Stadium opened in 1993, but appears to have used a 1970s design and left much to be desired aesthetically, especially after Bilbao’s shiny new San Mames stadium. But it was holding a good crowd that night as we took our seats in the second level at about midfield. The tickets, which our hotel concierge had helped us get, were really good and among some of the best in the stadium. It was clear that we were seated among several of the city’s diehard season ticket holders.

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As kickoff time neared, we did seem to notice some angst amongst the small group of locals next to us. They were particularly bothered by the heavy cigar smoke wafting up from a few rows in front of us. Poe and I also found the smoke to be annoying and on some level nauseating, but the woman next to us was frantically waiving her program to disperse the smoke, all while glaring at the group of smokers two rows ahead.

So as glaring continued and smoke rose through the stands, the game finally kicked off. It was clear almost immediately that these two Spanish teams were not quite on par with some of the other popular Spanish clubs or even the teams we had just watched five nights prior. The game took on a ragged sense and the fans sense of disappointment was clearly evident as each missed pass or bad shot was met with loud groans or halfhearted sighs of disappointment. The crowd became further disappointed when midway through the first half, Las Palmas scored meaning that on an aggregate basis, the home team was now trailing 2-0.

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Halftime was Poe’s favorite part because immediately every single person around us broke out their own bocadillos – sandwiches – to eat during the break.

Halftime became welcome relief for the fans as their hope for making it to the next round of tournament play seemed all but lost in the current score. So as the second half started and a fresh round of cigars were lit, Poe and I moved to some open seats at the end of our row for fresh air and the second half.

Things were underway and it was not long before Real Sociedad had their first goal of the match, which instantly injected the fans with a fresh dose of hope for a victory. The goal was almost a cruel treat for the fans surrounding us as it did not represent hope for a team struggling to come back against a perceived weaker opponent.

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One of the offending cigar smokers.

As the half continued, the cheers grew louder, the jeering at mistakes grew more vile, and the hand talking became more dangerous to those sitting nearby. Somewhere in this stretch of fans, Poe and I were able to pick out most of the foul Spanish language we learned as kids growing up in El Paso and southern California, respectively. It was around this time when the woman down the row from us pointed out that one of the player’s mothers was a woman of questionable morals, perhaps even accepting money in return for affection. Several more chances for the tying goal were missed until the crowd threw in the towel as the final whistle blew.

In the end, Real Sociedad was not able to overcome the deficit and the fans quickly filed out of the stadium to return and fight (ok cheer) another day.

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Check back later this week for my final post on a La Liga game in Bilboa.

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