The Estadio Pinilla hosted another partido amistoso the day immediately following CD Teruel’s pre-season friendly against Atlético Levante. The boys from CD Castellón on the Valencian coast travelled all the way up to the medieval provincial capital a full kilometre into the clouds where they took on SD Huesca, the club recently relegated from La Primera and who are used to playing at altitude.
Let’s be honest. Some places in the world just speak to us and we don’t know why. It could be entire nations, obscure cities or very specific buildings, corners or points on a street. During this year’s pre-season season, I got the chance to visit one of mine. That place is Teruel, provincial capital of the region of the same name and the most southerly city in semi-autonomous Aragón in Spain’s north-west.
10am on a Friday morning may be an unusual time for a Football match, but it doesn’t make it any less enjoyable – particularly when you’ve been able to go for so long. But with restrictions easing slightly and pre-season friendlies now underway, we did not miss the opportunity to get our groundhopping kicks once again in the home of a semi-professional outfit in Spain.
Needless to say that in the past 15 months it has been tough to find live Football games to attend, enjoy and subsequently write about. Travel has been limited, entry requirements into stadia have been very strict and – let’s be honest – in the grander scheme of things writing about Football fan culture has not been a high priority in the world recently. Since early March we have been to just one live Football match; a heavily regulated Tercera Group X league fixture between Xerez Deportivo and Rota. This weekend however that changes.
The time would have been around 6pm. The final spots of daylight were fading quickly into the surrounding buildings. The sun had been kissing the horizon when we left the guest stadium in Bornos, but that had changed quickly in the bus ride back through the foothills of the Cordilleras Béticas. In the shadow of the Chapín, my two interviewees led me to an innocuous family bar.
Between inflated transfer fees, relentless top-down engineering and the acutely politicised nature of the sport in the country, China and the Chinese Super League offer little for Football traditionalists. Yet an inquisitive Football enthusiast can still chance upon an oasis of culture even in this expansive wilderness.
To my surprise, fans were freely walking back out of the stadium. The vast security team that had so diligently monitored the actions of the crowd inside the ground now seemed entirely ambivalent to their temporary exit. With fifteen minutes to kill, I followed many fans out to find a soft drink. Having completed my purchase from a vendor making his living in the shadow of the stadium named in honour of the city’s proletariat, I turned to face the Beijing Workers’ Stadium and bumped into three young men in identical green t-shirts featuring bold designs. Given the impenetrable language barrier, I made a friendly motion to demonstrate my wish to take a photograph. Their passive demeanour evaporated.
There was a time when we were wondering if we would ever see live professional Football again. The necessary measures put in place to contain the terrifying transnational spread of Covid-19 in spring forced an immediate and indefinite halt to all organised sporting events. Caught between a rock and a hard place, broadcasters and governing sports bodies pursued a wide array of alternatives in order to keep television viewing figures high and to fulfill their contractual obligations, from repeats of classic Football matches to a first ever gaming 24 Hours of Le Mans race in June.