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The Iberian Horseshoe — A Journey

Part III. South East

A Relegation Battle

Steve Porter
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Pedro, Mick and I went to see Elche play Compostela in a second division relegation decider. The Martínez Valero is a two tier concrete structure that was built for the 1982 World Cup. It holds around forty thousand but it was just over half full for this match—a good crowd by local standards. Some fans bought pillows on the way in. I soon found out why, as we went without, and had to sit on large slabs of concrete. It cost more for a plastic seat in another area of the ground.

“What do you think of the stadium?” Pedro asked.

“Well, it’ll be nice when it’s finished,” joked Mick.

I could hear some bagpipes somewhere way off in the distance. A small group of Galicians were singing and dancing in the top tier. The teams came onto the field. The Elche drummer warmed up with a powerful thump or two on his instrument.

The ilicitanos were proud people and expected quality and success in every field. After all, modern football was a business, and they were good at that. But early season hopes of promotion to the first division were a distant memory. There was always next season, provided the team could avoid the decent into the obscurity of Segunda B, where their great rivals—Hércules of Alicante—were currently rotting.

By half time the stadium had gone very quiet with the visitors two goals to the good. Elche needed at least a draw to stay up. Early in the second half the crowd came back to life as Elche got a goal back. The fans joined the drummer in a few chants and stamped along. The sun was sinking below the skyline. With only a couple of minutes to go I consoled Pedro. If nothing else, he would have a local derby against the Hércules to look forward to next season. Suddenly, the big Brazilian, Iván Rocha, who had been taking pelters for a poor performance, cracked a volley into the top corner of the net.

The full-time whistle went soon after and Elche were safe. Fans climbed over the moat, which separated them from the pitch. Manusevic, a player who had come on as a substitute and had barely touched the ball, had his shorts ripped off by several male fans. He threw his shirt and boots into the crowd. Green and white fireworks rocketed over the stadium.

Mick turned to me and said, “Am I seeing things? They’ve just avoided relegation on goal difference, they’ve massively underachieved, and this is how they react. I don’t understand this place. The sooner I’m off to my new job in the Middle East the better.”

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Copyright ©Steve Porter, 2004
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Date of publicationApril 2007
Collection RSSGlobal Fiction
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