CD Estepona v Juventud de Torremolinos
El Estadio Francisco Muñoz Pérez / Tercera División – División de Honor Andaluza Grupo 2 / 22nd September 2019
Where would you rather go? El Estadio Francisco Muñoz Pérez to watch semi-pro Spanish football or Disneyland Paris? Actually, I shouldn’t bother asking that, as I know plenty of groundhoppers read this stuff and, although the answer may appear obvious to many, I’m fairly sure a number of my friends would genuinely see the former as the more magical kingdom to the latter. Anyway, in some sort of alternate reality, you could maybe do both, as the coastal town of Estepona was originally pencilled in as the site for Euro Disney, when the project was announced in the early 90s.
There would be no Mickey Mouse or rollercoasters for me on this Sunday afternoon, as I headed for my first taste of Spanish fifth division football – a whole new world for me. I was half-expecting to find Mickey Mouse football, but what I found instead was certainly more Beauty than Beast. From this first taste of Spanish fourth division football, I can say this indeed was magical.
Less magical to me was the prospect of a midday kick-off. I’d opted to spend my Saturday in Marbella watching a Swansea/Malaga double header; it probably won’t surprise you to learn which one of my teams would let me down…So having stayed out drinking to forget about another Malaga loss, I woke up tired and groggy Sunday morning ready to make the short trip south down the coast to Estepona
Estepona’s popularity seems to be increasing, as unlike some of the other towns further north up to the Costa Del Sol, it remains fairly untouched by tourism; of course, this ultimately makes it more appealing to tourists seeking that traditional Spanish feel. Everyone seems to love Estepona it seems. Since moving over to Marbella, I’ve had countless people telling me to go visit the town; those same people were left rather bemused when I told them that I was going, but with local football being the the main purpose of my visit. However, you can certainly put my name down on the list of ‘People who love Estepona.’ We’ll focus on the football for now though and save a more detailed written exploration of Estepona on these pages for another day. Also, I’ll try to cut out the Disney puns now.
Having disembarked at Estepona’s Puerto Deportivo at 10.30am, I decided I’d save exploring the town until postmatch. For now, I was to head straight to the ground, hopefully finding a place for a bit of breakfast en route. From the beaches of Estepona, the ground is a mile north and sitting near the main road which leads down to Gibraltar.
As hectic as they can be, I love a traditional Spanish cafetería – even more so when they are Churreteria; essentially, these are cafeterías that specialise in churros. Churros have become one of my favourite Spanish snacks. It’s a basic concept: fried dough made into a sort of long curly rope-like shape with it being encouraged to dip it into your coffee. The Spanish love the stuff and so do I.
It seemed many of the Churreteria’s customers had the same plan as me, as many of the same faces headed down the small hill towards the home of CD Estepona. Initially, I was surprised by how big and shiny the stadium was for a fifth tier club, before realising that what I was actually looking at was the town’s brand spanking new, €6 million athletics stadium. Linked to the athletics stadium via a little bridge, you could find the home of CD Estepona: El Estadio Francisco Muñoz Pérez.
From outside, the stadium really isn’t much to look at and, weirdly, the main building, which makes up the most prominent stand, reminded me of a small school building for some reason. In another slightly unorthodox twist, the entrance to ground was found by climbing a ramp and entering via the midrift of the stand. A measly €5 and I was in. Now the fun was going to start.
I’d like to say I’d arrived at the ground with no real expectations, but it soon dawned on me that I clearly had. I think anyone who has read any of my previous Lost Boyos stuff will know how dearly I love non-league football back on British shores, so dropping down a few leagues is of no concern to me for football entertainment. Non-league football is wrongly stereotyped at times, yet I still feel some of those stereotypes can ring true too – generally the positive stereotypes: the pace and frantic nature of it; the no-nonsense-ness of it all; and those comedy moments, which I suppose add to the beautiful chaos of our beautiful game in the nether regions of British football. Ultimately, I realised I had arrived at Estepona just assuming that football in the basement leagues of Spanish football couldn’t possibly be like our blood and guts non-league football back home and that everything would be more tepid and tippy-tappy – on and off the pitch. You were wrong there Matt.
Firstly, the ground itself: it’s cool. Really cool actually. The large stand down one side of the pitch is the dominant feature with the rest of the ground consisting of two open seating terraces. The ground feels like its built into a sort of half-bowl at the foot of the rising hills giving it an almost ampitheatre-ish quality too. And if you like football ground backdrops, then you cannot fault the powerful image of the Sierra Bermeja standing proudly in the distance. It was just one of those grounds I immediately clicked with; even more so when I walked up to the small open bar at the top of the stand and found I could enjoy beers for €1 a pop. Perfection.
I’ve always been a lover of tiki-taka football and I certainly consider myself a Pep-aphile, as I fell in love with Pep’s Barca team of the late 00s; plus, my own team Swansea City, with its strong Spanish links, spent a large chunk between 2007-2013 playing a similar brand of football and excelling at it. For whatever reason – I’m still not really clear why – I had a feeling that the Spanish lower leagues would be a sort of slower, more ponderous version of tiki-taka, which would lead to slow, clumsy and dull games. How bloody wrong I was! Estepona v Juventud de Torremolinos is easily the most fun I’ve had watching lower league football in months. There was a lot of fun to take in on the pitch and in the stands.
With a second beer in hand, I headed around to the open side of the ground, intrigued by, but also keeping a distance from, the small, drum-banging, megaphone-blaring gang of Ultras dubbing themselves ‘Armada Red’. I got the impression that some of them were already well past their second beer before the midday kick-off. The crackly PA system was blaring over them as the teams prepared to enter the gladiatorial arena – and it really did feel gladiatorial thanks to the epic, slightly jingoistic anthem booming around the ground. Once this orchestral powerhouse was done, it was time for the more cheery club anthem and for the teams to walk out onto the pitch with the ref grabbing the ball from a ceremonial plinth as he walked out. I was further delighted by the fact that once lined up in the middle of the pitch, the players gave a wave to each side of the ground; a procession I had loved seeing when living and watching football in Slovakia, although I really only loved the wave ritual there, as more often than not the players would be waving to at least one empty stand much to my amusement.
This game really was fantastic viewing, even if it wasn’t a goal fest. It was fast, it was exciting, it was feisty – it was good! Good football was being played, but always with a tinge of jeopardy as the tackles weren’t held back either. Soaring, tumbling, freewheeling – there was action galore. And a full-blooded slide tackle is certainly something to be applauded even more so on a plastic pitch. I’m not a great lover of plastic pitches, but here it undoubtedly led to a faster game with the plastic proving almost devious as times, as it instilled a heavy dosage of unpredictable bounces to proceedings. Like I said, this was great!
The game boasted a series of one-on-ones being fluffed by both teams, especially the Torremolinos no.9, so it seemed obvious that the first goal would come from a deflected freekick in favour of the away team. But then, finally, after 75 minutes of wasted chances in front of both goals, the second goal eventually came courtesy of a one-on-one, as Torremolinos ensured they ended up 2-0 winners.
The final five minutes saw some fiery displays on the pitch, as the home team began kicking out in frustration with both benches getting involved with each other too. However, it was the enthusiastic crowd that I took most joy in. I was actually surprised how many people had shown up for the game – there was definitely a couple of hundred – a crowd that had gradually increased as locals meandered up to El Estadio as the first half action played out. I was equally delighted in the crowd’s attire of choice too. I had expected to see people wearing Barca, Real and Juventus shirts (everyone seems to own a ‘RONALDO 7’ shirt in this part of the word it sees), but no; wonderfully, from the kids to the old timers, the majority of attendees adorned themselves in the red of CD Estepona. Sadly, for them, they’d be going away sad on this Sunday afternoon.
Although I originally rued the early kick-off time, the plus side now made itself known, as I now had the rest of the day to explore Estepona with new horizons to pursue. The calm and quiet of the beautiful old town contrasted with the fiery, angry fans I had witnessed screaming at the ref, their team and other members of their own fanbase. I’m not sure any people do angry as impressively as the Spanish. More akin to the old men who sat down quietly throughout the game scoffing sunflower seeds, there was a more laid back vibe to the rest of my Sunday, as I explored the flower pot-centric old town, hung around the marina area and finished up in Siopa – a great (although rather expensive) craft beer pub in the heart of town.
If you are one of those tourists heading to Estepona, then lucky you; Estepona really is a wondrous place and I will certainly be back to explore some more on a non-footballing trip. As you’ve probably guessed, id recommend a visit to CD Estepona too. You won’t meet Goofy or Donald Duck, nor will you get to ride Space Mountain, but you will see some fun football in a cool ground with cheap beer. A fantastic new point of view on semi-pro Spanish football was established – not that I had really experienced it properly before and thus wasn’t really entitled to one.
(Well done to those saddos who spotted the few lyrics from Aladdin’s A Whole New World sprinkled throughout this. You are cool.)