It had been over a year since my last international groundhop. Now, I’m not saying I’m a keen international groundhopper, but after last years trip to Gibraltar v Portsmouth my appetite for the idea grew considerably.
We enjoyed our family holiday so much last summer, that we decided to go to the same place again; Puerto La Duquesa. Duquesa is a small modern marina found halfway between Malaga and Gibraltar. When we booked the holiday, I was hoping that Malaga would be playing one of the smaller teams in La Liga at home so that I could watch a match at La Rosaleda. Typically when the fixtures were released Malaga were to play Barcelona.
Automatically prices rose to 90 euros a ticket, meaning that option was out of the window. Oh well, I’m sure I can rely on Gibraltar to be staging a match again! Wrong. They’d already played their matches for the summer. Although, with recent developments with our friends from Spain I doubt I’d have got back into Spain from Gibraltar after the match. Probably best to give the rock a miss.
My only other option was Algeciras, and when I saw that they were playing away, my dream of another international match quickly vanished. That was until we travelled to Ronda one day for a typical tourists day out. On the way to Ronda I saw a small, nice little ground tucked away just off the carriageway.
Some research when I got back to the apartment seemed to show that Ronda were playing Estepona away in two days. Estepona was only a 10 minute journey. This was perfect! All I had to do now was tweet the clubs asking for details.
I’ll be the first to admit that my fact finding mission on Twitter could have gone better. After relying on Google Translate, I copied and pasted what had been suggested on the search engine to a group of unsuspecting Twitter users who had been tweeting about Union Estepona. One particular user replied “Can you use Spanish that actually exists” before the clubs official Twitter account rescued me.
It was 8 euros each for admission. I thought this was reasonable. I’d heard stories of some clubs in the division charging different prices for different genders along with the usual concessionary prices, so it came as a relief when I found out I wouldn’t have to start a sexism row on my blog.
That was the main part of research done. I knew where the ground was as I took some photographs of it last summer. I knew admission prices… all I needed now was the kick off time and we would be good to go! It took a lot of searching around, but eventually I found the 21:15 kick off time. A bit late for my liking… but we were in Spain! Could have been worse I suppose. I tried… and failed to persuade my Dad to take me to Real Betis. My Spanish team were playing Celta Vigo at 23:00 local time. We’d have been back late… but it would surely have been worth it?
So what about the two teams? Union Estepona were founded in 1995 and started off life in the lower regional divisions of Spanish football. Steady progress saw the club promoted in successive seasons between 2007 and 2009. The later promotion meant they were now in the Segunda B division (Spanish equivalent to League One). This allowed them to compete in the Copa Del Ray for the first time in their history. The first match saw them play away at Real Jaen, securing a 1-0 victory to take them into the second round with the likes of Real Betis and Rayo Vallecano. They lost 4-0 in the next round, but it was still a huge achievement for the club. Relegation back to the fourth level of the pyramid followed after just two seasons in the Segunda B.
Ronda CF were founded in 1931. Notably on the crest of Ronda CF is the infamous Puente Nuevo bridge. After walking across the bridge earlier on in the week, it certainly isn’t a place I’ll be forgetting in a hurry. The sheer size and height of the structure is breathtaking. It took 42 years to build and claimed the lives of 50 builders. Not a bad thing to be able to put on your club crest! In my opinion, Ronda should have really pulled the boat out and crammed a Bull Ring into the crest too. Afterall, Ronda is the birthplace of Bull Fighting. Oh, and Julius Caesar named the place.
I could bore you with historical facts about Ronda all day, but that’s not what my website is for!
So, the morning of the match had arrived. We headed down to the collection of bars and restaurants outside our apartment to find a place to watch Bolton v QPR. Everywhere had it advertised… but it soon became clear that the resort had been taken over by Arsenal and Fulham fans. I couldn’t find one single screen showing Bolton. Although, to be honest who would want to watch them whilst enjoying a holiday?
With hope slowly running out, I tried one last bar. There, on a stand with wheels stood a slightly battered screen which had the fortress Reebok Stadium on it. It seemed so strange watching Bolton on the TV and it took me a while to adjust. I could sense the regulars (who seemed to be Arsenal fans) weren’t too happy that little old Bolton were being shown. I really was in my element until somebody turned the TV over.
Off I stomped into the bar, in my full Bolton kit asking what on Earth they were playing at. I think everybody knew that life would be far easier if they let me watch the match, and so it resumed. A few pints and a defeat later we headed back up to the apartment. I headed to the pool where I would do a spot on sunbathing while following events on Twitter as Atherton Collieries took on league new boys Hanley Town.
I must admit, I was getting very giddy at the thought of my first Spanish match.
Finally the time arrived. We left the apartment at 20:15 and looked for the rental car which we had dumped at the top of the resort somewhere. Car located we were soon halted in our tracks before we had even set off. The local police had closed off some roads while the locals enjoyed a running event. All we could do was wait, and watch as group after group of runners stumble past us.
The journey to Estepona was a short and straight forward one. It was much like my regular journey to The Reebok. Up the motorway one junction and the ground presents itself to you. The view from the top of the hill allows a brief look into the brightly coloured Mediterranean stadium.
The area surrounding the ground is used for the local market every Thursday morning, meaning there was more than ample parking space available. After much deliberation and trying to translate parking restrictions, we dumped the car on the kerb outside the main entrance.
Stationed at the entrance to the ground was a small ticket office. Dad did the honours: “para dos, por favour” which translates to “for two, please”. It came to 16 euros which suggested we had been sold the correct thing, but for all we know he could have sold us 16 half time lottery draw tickets!
We were handed two blue tickets, which we then had to hand into another bloke who was stood within arms breadth of us. It all seemed a rather pointless exercise, but it didn’t bother me one bit as it meant I had a souvenir ticket of the event.
Once through the entrance, a large ramp leads up the top of the main stand on the right. Keeping to the left takes you to the club shop and players entrance. There were a few people milling about, notably an Estepona fan in a Brian Potter-esque electric wheelchair. He seemed to be enjoying himself, zooming around the concourse which runs around the ground.
As we reached the top of the ramp, the sunset illuminated the concrete floor which led into the ground itself. It was almost like the light was guiding us towards our destination. We walked into the venue through the middle of upper tier, giving us an extensive view over the whole of the ground.
The stadium is three sided, with three fully seated stands. The remaining end of the ground is constructed out of large rocks and sits behind the far goal. Built in 2007, the Estadio Francisco Muñoz Pérez is claimed to be amongst the best on the Costa Del Sol with a capacity of 4,500.
After walking around the ground, we opted to sit in the uncovered stand which lies opposite the Main Stand. We seemed to be the only tourists attending the match. Perhaps the Estepona Ultras put potential groundhoppers off?
As the players prepared to emerge on to the pitch, some interesting music began to blare out through the tannoy system. It sounded like marching music. Of course it came with the odd mention of Estepona, and a few shouts of “Ole!” for good measure.
The music petered out and the man of the moment Fernandez Arjona of Algeciras (the referee)led the two teams out. Estepona were in their home kit of red and blue, whilst Ronda were also in their traditional colour of white.
In the build up to the match, I was disappointed to find that Roberto Carlos was sidelined through injury. Misery was only shortlived though when I discovered that Raul was playing for Estepona. It seemed to me like these two sides had been subjected to the same advertising gimmick that Farnborough had recently been involved in…
Estepona were on top in the opening exchanges and that was to set the theme for the evening. The first opportunity of the match fell to the home side when Adri was fed through one on one with Ronda goalkeeper Salva. Adri was unable to keep his composure and placed his shot just wide of the left hand post.
It was the visitors though who opened the scoring, much against the run of play. A long hopeful ball was pumped forward to striker Bermu. The physical centre forward made space for himself before attempting to lob the goalkeeper who had rushed out in an attempt to intercept possession. As the ball hung in the air an Estepona defender sprinted back towards goal to cut out danger. The defensive clearance was poor to say the least, ultimately presenting Bermu with an open goal to score from close range.
The home side remained in complete control of the match and were unlucky not to be on level terms on the 21 minute mark. Winger Adri – who was impressive throughout the evening – floated a long ball out wide to Chupi. Chupi controlled the ball exquisitely with his chest, before knocking the ball up with his right knee to tee up a ferocious volley towards goal. Only a fine save from Salva prevented what would have been a wonder goal.
The referee had been fairly anonymous so far, which I’m sure you’d all agree is great. What was to follow though made the whole ground despair. It made me think about what the reaction would be if the following series of events were to occur at Atherton Collieries. Let’s just say, if this referee was the man in the middle at Alder House a few Racing Post newspapers may be getting thrown on the floor!
As the Ronda goalkeeper prepared to take a goal kick, the referee blew his whistle and stormed over to him. Much to the bemusement of everybody in the stadium he booked him for time wasting. This was in the 34th minute of the game. I’d never seen anything like it.
The Estepona fans were soon on the referees back too as a blatant penalty wasn’t given.
No surprise that at the half time interval the referee was subjected to all kinds of abuse as he walked off the pitch. If there was one positive that I had observed from the referee’s poor performance, it was that none of the players argued back. No matter how odd, or wrong the decision was, the players simply took it on the chin and continued with the match.
During the halftime interval we went for a wander into the Main Stand on the opposite side of the ground. I noticed that the vast majority of people were congregating at the very top of the stand, so we went for a closer look. It soon became apparent why everybody had piled up there. Beer was being sold for just 1 euro. I had to take a second look when I saw that water was in fact more expensive than beer at 1.50 euros.
The evening sunset had now long disappeared, as had the sight of spectacular mountains which formed a backdrop to the ground. The night sky had now taken over, as had the resident DJ who was playing a mix tape of popular songs from back home.
Ronda had never won at the Estadio Francisco Muñoz Pérez. Local media had labelled it “The Curse of the Muñoz Pérez” and they had just 45 minutes to hold on to break it.
Estepona began the second half playing attractive fast flowing, first touch football. Numerous opportunities went by before the home side somehow found themselves a man down. I’ll be honest, I missed the sending off and didn’t even know about it until I looked at match statistics on the internet! It was Tete who was sent for an early shower after being shown a second yellow card. I do recall seeing the Estepona manager go stomping down the tunnel at one stage, so it must have been then!
Despite all of the home side’s efforts, they conceded again in the 82nd minute. As all of the Estepona players bombed forward in search of an equaliser, Ronda broke. A strong shoulder charge from Bermu left Estepona defender Raul on the floor. Play was waved on as Bermu stormed into the penalty area. He rounded the keeper easily, passing the ball over the line before running off to celebrate in front of the home fans.
Bermu had been throwing himself around all evening. He wouldn’t have looked out of place in an Olympic diving competition or performing in an amateur dramatics society. It was only fitting that he went down holding his head after his celebration and needed some treatment off the physio.
With four minutes of the match remaining, Estepona were reduced to nine men after substitute Hormigo brought down Bermu as the last man. For once Estepona could have little complaint. However, the man in the wheelchair didn’t seem to think so, as he launched a verbal attack on the officials from the back of the stand. It would have been interesting to know what he was saying as the majority of Estepona fans began to laugh at him.
The result left Estepona in the relegation zone, and Ronda near the top. It was only the first match of the season though, and there is no way that it will stay that way. Estepona are a very good side, with Adri and Tete stand out performers. The two sides finished on the same points last season, so it will be interesting to see where they both finish this campaign.
It was time to get back into the car and drive back to La Duquesa for a few Coronita’s on the balcony.
Overall thoughts were that the ground was very clean and accessible. The quality of football was good at times, but I still prefer good old non-league at home. The fans all seemed fairly laid back and calm, apart from when abusing the referee. My favourite part of the evening though was to be able to walk around a football ground with no shoes or socks on, and for it to look quite normal. Small things please small minds.
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 1661 miles
- ADMISSION: €8
- PROGRAMME PRICE: N/A
- PIE: N/A