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An English day out in Mallorca

It was the perfect English day out.

Transport on a coach to the game, a smiling and witty MC (Seamus, from Donegal), well-behaved English families, a Rory McGrath 'Own Goals and Gaffs' DVD on the telly, followed by a violence-free match in perfect weather. Then, in the evening, a beer and a chicken Madras to finish things off. What more could a soccer correspondent ask for?

Nothing, of course, except that the day out was in Spain, Mallorca to be precise. The game was Mallorca v Getafe (2-0) and the curry was in the 'Indian Palace' in Pollença. Excellent fare, should ever you pass by that way.

Ah, globalisation - where would we be without it? I had, as befits a Soccernet correspondent, contemplated spending the afternoon in the press box, up in the gods, but my young son fancied coming along too (we're on a week's holiday, a rare thing these days) and I didn't know the press chappy at the Ono Estadi, or San Moix to you.

Never have I sat in such a quiet stadium in Spain. The decision to play the important Spain v Iceland qualifier there recently was a baffling one. I've seen more atmosphere at a post-funeral tea.
An underwhelmed Phil
It was my debut at this ground, and if you don't know the jefe de prensa (press officer), they sometimes get a little shirty when you ask if you can bring your son in to the hallowed zone. I didn't expect the Getafe match to be a massive occasion, but since it was Easter Sunday there was a chance of a decent crowd, if not too many travelling journos. But anyway, I decided to opt for the authentic experience. The hotel was offering transport to Palma and admission for 30 euros (adults) and 20 for kids, so it seemed a decent enough offer.

Of course, the bus trip was fine. Everyone was on holiday from the UK, and I don't expect the company to be catering for weirdos like me, who live in Spain but in a different part, on the mainland. But it was still a little strange, watching a DVD based on the English Premiership and listening to Seamus' gentle Irish patter about the game as the beautiful countryside of northern Mallorca passed us by as if it were somehow an irrelevance. Seamus had tried hard, however, to give us some local news by dictating the news on the game from one of the island's English-language dailies, but no-one seemed to understand the references apart from my son and me.

Strike me down for being a pain, but would it have been asking too much for some of the enterprising young bucks who have flooded the island's service industry to have put together a little video on RCD Mallorca, a few things to say in Mallorquin, the local lingo (such as 'goal', 'good shot sir!'), or anything at all which indicated which country we were in? Nah - I'm being a grumpy old expatriate. Let's keep things simple.

The only time I got slightly unnerved was when Jesualdo, the sexagenarian bus-driver, began to explain to me as we stood in the shadow of the stadium that we would have to return to exactly the same place after the game to get back on the bus. 'Match! Finish! Heeeer!' he explained, hissing through his dentures in best Tarzan-Jane speak. 'Está bien' I assured him. 'Te entendemos perfectamente' to which he replied 'Hostia! Pero te apuesto que no hablas mallorquin!' (Holy Host! But I bet you don't speak Mallorquin). He had me there.

Seamus, for want of anything better to do, came into the stadium with us and sat beside us for the duration. He proved a charming host, but the first half was akin to watching paint dry. There's something strange about Mallorca. It's such a tranquil place, to which the presence of Robert Graves, George Sands Michael Douglas, Chopin et al attests, that football seems an aberration somehow, an unnecessarily noisy distraction that can only detract from the principal charms and wiles of the place.

Never have I sat in such a quiet stadium in Spain. The decision to play the important Spain v Iceland qualifier there recently was a baffling one. I've seen more atmosphere at a post-funeral tea. Neither is the population a particularly flag-waving one, such as one can depend on in the heartlands like Seville. In fact it's difficult to decide on just who does support Mallorca.

There was a decent crowd (18,000), courtesy of the fiesta and the mild weather, but apart from a smattering of the Mallorquin dialect around me, it was difficult to detect any real passion for the cause.

Across from the open terracing where we sat, a desultory bunch of 'ultras' were bunched together in a small cage-like enclosure, from where they waved Mallorcan flags and sang a few half-hearted ditties. But as the game trundled on they snapped silent, as the rest of the crowd appeared to doze under the weak Easter sun.

Getafe, the visitors from the suburbs of Madrid, had brought a few supporters along - although Jesualdo, the bus-driver, had assured me in the café earlier that they probably lived on the islands. 'Funny place this' he explained, happy to talk. 'Loads of Madrileños, so it's like a home game when Real Madrid come. Some don't like them, but they're the Catalanistas' he frowned, by which I understood that he wasn't too keen on them.

'When Barça come there's no problem either', he added, helpfully. 'In fact, there's no problem when anyone comes!' he concluded, as if he hadn't really considered this point before.

'Pah! It's not like it used to be anyway' he spits, chewing his cud slightly. 'Used to be called San Moix, now it's the Ono Estadi. What the bloody hell's that then?' he asks, rhetorically.

'It's all about this' he insists, leaning towards me conspiratorially and making the back-hander gesture that indicates illicit payment. 'You can call it what you like if you pay for it. You could call it the Arsehole Stadium if you wanted. Here they accept anything. What was that you wanted to call it? How much you paying? Fine' and he twiddles his fingers behind his back.

'Apart from me, that is' he grins. 'I keep trying to retire, but the buggers won't let me. Oh well'.

Getafe have come in their pea-green away kit, and they seem to blend in with the bright Mallorcan grass. They play with little enthusiasm, mirroring their recent run of five straight defeats. I ask Seamus which adjective he would apply to the green of their shirts, pea or lime? 'Snot' he replies, with some conviction.

The half-time whistle blows. Like one of those weirder Beckett plays, absolutely nothing has happened. It would be philosophically impossible for the second half to be worse. The game has not been helped by the Ono Estadi being one of those unfortunate ones that has decided to ring its pitch with a running track that no-one ever runs on. The pitch, like at Espanyol and Real Sociedad, is cut off from the terracing, like a distant green sea on which subbuteo players float.

Managers Manzano and Schuster obviously have a little chat at half-time to their respective players, Getafe's whiz-kid Güiza comes on, and things hot up a little. It looks as if Getafe might win the game as they gradually take control, but against the run of play the home side score, the tiny Ibagaza floating a free-kick across the box for Nunes to loop in a header. The crowd wakes from its collective slumber and something like an atmosphere appears to develop. The match programmes ( a rare sight in Spain) are now turned into confetti or paper aeroplanes, and everyone begins to watch the game.

Getafe are forced to come out of their shells, leaving space for Ibagaza and Arango to exploit, opening the game up considerably. Suddenly Mallorca look half-decent, as befits a side about to win their fifth consecutive home game and more or less guarantee safety for another season. The second goal arrives with the last kick of the game, scored by the substitute Trejo after a nifty little dribble, and the home crowd, whoever they are, go home mumbling and chattering in a happy sort of tone.

This is their 20th season in the top flight, and will be the eleventh consecutive year of their present run. Founded in 1916, the club were, curiously enough, called Real Sociedad Alfonso XIII until 1931, when they decided to change to avoid confusion with the Basque club. It took them until 1960 to first taste the flavour of the First Division, a league in which their best finish was in 1999, when they came third. That was also the season that they reached the final edition of the Cup Winners Cup, losing to Lazio in the final at Villa Park.

In today's programme, there is a homily to the squad that won the King's Cup in 2003, when they beat Recreativo 3-0 in Elche. It remains their only major trophy, but just staying among the elite seems to keep them happy. The win lifts them to 13th, nine points clear of Celta in third-from-bottom relegation place.

Getafe troop off heads down, knowing that they're unlikely to compete now for a UEFA place. An excellent-looking season has suddenly gone rather flat. Will it mucky their manager's ticket, said to be the favourite to take over from Capello in the summer? Or have the talking heads at the Bernabéu decided that Mourinho might be their man after all?

Whatever, it was pleasant enough to take in the Mallorca experience, semi-soporific though it was a times. After all the violence of the previous week, you could have been forgiven for thinking that you were attending another sport entirely. Back to football next week.

  • Phil is a published author of some repute and we're very lucky to have him here on Soccernet. If you want to own a real-life Phil Ball book, you can purchase either An Englishman Abroad, Beckham's Spanish Adventure on that bloke with the ever-changing hairstyle, White Storm, Phil's book on the history and culture of Real Madrid and his splendid and acclaimed story of Spanish football, Morbo.

  • If you've any comments for Phil, email the newsdesk