Madrid – Part three – October 2017

Those who have been following this series will know from part one and part two that I loved Madrid. However let’s be honest, I was here for one reason only: football!

Long-time readers will know football is my biggest love. I’ve loved football and specifically Tottenham Hotspur for as long as I can remember. It is a huge part of who I am and has been since childhood.

As a child you get wrapped up in idolising these stars. There are some names which were genuinely exciting players such as David Ginola that any child would mimic in the playground and there were others that, with the benefit of hindsight, just makes me laugh that I reflect back on with fond memories. They were my idols, like many English kids I dreamt of playing football professionally and would be kicking a ball around daily.

The reality is though Spurs weren’t actually very good growing up. My dreams were big. Running down the left wing, a bit of trickery to come inside and BANG – the ball curls in to the top corner of the underpass that performed as our goal in the square we lived in. I could hear and see the crowd celebrating in my head – last minute winning goal in the FA Cup final for Spurs – just imagine it!

Sadly my playing career didn’t really take off, probably because I wasn’t very good, and my idols were just as hopeless in reality. Tottenham’s last FA Cup success was in 1991, as an 88 baby it is my lifelong wish to see Spurs win the FA Cup. Another childhood dream was to see Tottenham play in Europe.

Whilst I considered the World Cup to be the pinnacle of football, at club level it was all about European football. Whether that was the European Cup (Champions League) or UEFA Cup (Europa League) I didn’t care but Spurs competing in Europe, in my eyes at least, meant we’d made it.

Sadly growing up Tottenham were starved of European football. I’ve rambled enough times about this in various social media and blog posts but my sole memory of European football was experiencing us crash out to German side Kaiserlautern in just the second round of the UEFA Cup in November 1999. For some reason I don’t remember the first round but I’ve held a bitter resentment against Kaiserlautern ever since for crushing an 11 year old Jason’s dreams.

I waited and waited but my only experience of Tottenham competing in Europe was via video games such as Fifa or Championship Manager. Step aside Gerry Francis – I’m taking Spurs in to Europe!

At 18 my dreams finally came true. I became a superstar footballer! Wait, no.. wrong dream! However Spurs did qualify for Europe and would be participating in Europe’s “second-rate” competition – the UEFA Cup. I had tickets to watch us on a “glory glory night” under the lights at White Hart Lane in London – magical!

It was a drab 1-0 win, little excitement but Spurs in Europe! Pinch me! Since that fateful night in 2006 Spurs have actually been what you might call European regulars and over the next few years I frequented White Hart Lane for many a European night against a number of European clubs.

Whilst I’d finally experienced some of those special European nights, I was now desperate to experience a European away game. Between 2006 and 2013 I had plenty of opportunities but no confidence for a solo trip and no realistic companions to join me. In 2013 I went to Sydney on my first ever solo trip and everything changed for me as far as travel was concerned – it was now a priority.

So at the next possible opportunity I was going to watch Tottenham away in Europe and in March 2014 I did just that as Spurs played Benfica out in Lisbon in the UEFA Cup (Europa League). The next couple of years I ticked off a few more away trips and football grounds and then 2017 came along with Tottenham playing in Europe’s elite competition – the Champions League! PINCH ME!

This is where you compete amongst the very best in Europe and Spurs were part of that. Imposter syndrome is a phrase you occasionally hear on platforms or outlets such as blogging and I can only liken it to that, Tottenham playing Champions League football felt out of place. It was only our 4th participation in the competition in our (at the time) 135 year history. I was excited to be there but there’s definitely a part of you that feels like you don’t belong.

So in anticipation I wrote THIS post as I was desperate to do at least one Champions League away tie if not two. I asked you to play along with me but in my head I had my own dream trip. More than anything I wanted one of the Spanish giants, I didn’t really have much preference between Barcelona and Real Madrid but if we got either of those that would be perfect and here we are.. part three!

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Real Madrid v Tottenham Hotspur

Part three because Tottenham Hotspur were playing Real Madrid in the Santiago Bernabeu in the Champions League! Ahhhh! Real Madrid – Europe’s most successful football team – does it get any bigger than this? No, no it does not!

So I rounded off part two having spent my Tuesday morning exploring Madrid and some of the sights. I grabbed some lunch and then the rest of the day was reserved for football. The game was in the evening but with thousands of Spurs fans in town the afternoon was just about soaking up the atmosphere.

One of the best places for large numbers to congregate was Plaza Mayor: a decent sized square with a few restaurants making an absolute fortune in beer sales. The atmosphere was quickly building with local media companies all out giving us the “celebrity” welcome with their cameras filming our fans singing. In fact, my parents actually ended up seeing a clip online back home and just happened to spot their son on camera! Haha.

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Plaza Mayor like you’ve never seen it!

Over the course of the next few hours the beers continued flowing, songs continued to be sung until it was eventually time to hop on the metro to the Santiago Bernabeu. The atmosphere on the metro was equally enjoyable and soon enough we’d arrived at one of Europe’s most famous football stadiums.

The stadium is impressive. The away fans were placed “up in the gods” so you end up feeling miles away from the pitch. Additionally we were outnumbered something like 75,000 to 5,000 so an overwhelming majority of home fans trying to make it intimidating. This was Real Madrid’s home but more importantly this was “their” competition too – the one that mattered most to the Madrid faithful so the atmosphere was that little bit more pumped up.

Nevertheless, this was a special Spurs team here without fear. There was a lot of respect for Real but also a lot of belief within ourselves that we weren’t imposters and actually belonged at this level. For the fans this was a write off, it wasn’t a game we actually needed to win and certainly wasn’t one we expected to so the whole day was just about enjoying it really. However the players hadn’t received the script and weren’t here to just roll over for Europe’s finest.

For me personally it was still a case of pinching myself that I was actually here as an away fan, I always figured I’d visit the Santiago Bernabeu as a neutral but with my own team in a competitive fixture? Unbelievable!

Then Spurs took the lead – bedlam! Tottenham are 1-0 up in the f**king Bernabeu! Our fans celebrations were wild, those of disbelief more than anything. I still think there was an element of imposter syndrome for our fans and although we’d taken the lead, it was relatively early in the game and still a long way to go. You’d be foolish to think this was going to stay at 1-0.

With that said, the players were standing up on a big occasion and I think it built belief in the pocket of away fans. The players were doing their part and so were the fans in silencing Madrid’s 75,000. You could clearly hear our fans pushing the team on to a result. Unfortunately Real Madrid got their customary goal but it was just the one as the game finished 1-1.

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Real Madrid 1-1 Tottenham Hotspur, Oct 2017

We’d come here with a “que sera” type attitude with little concern for the result and walked out with a “what if” question mark over the game. There was definitely a feeling we should have won the game with the chances we had and as the final whistle went our fans let the players know how proud they were of the performance they’d just produced. Our manager, Pochettino, took a good chunk of the praise too for masterminding another incredible result away to a European giant in football. It’s probably my favourite away game I’ve been to despite failing to see out the win.

Heading back in to the centre of Madrid myself and Daniel thought we’d go find somewhere to have a celebratory drink but the city was surprisingly quiet. We thought there’d be a good number of Spurs fans out and about but we didn’t really have much luck finding anywhere. I think we grabbed a drink somewhere but called it a night – what a night though! Tottenham getting a result away at the best team in Europe – Real Madrid went on to win the competition for the third year in a row.

The following day (Wednesday) was my last full day in Madrid so I wanted to make the most of it. I woke up and got myself ready for the day in my windowless hostel dorm. An important thing to note because I don’t think you appreciate the luxury of a window until you’re without one.

For one, it’s dark throughout which means potentially being an inconvenience to your hostel roommates (luckily only sharing with one person). Secondly because you dress for Spain don’t you? T-shirt and shorts at the ready, I step outside and I find grey skies and puddles greeting me. It wasn’t actually raining but it recently had and it didn’t look promising above me.

Not that I’d brought a jacket with me but I’d probably have worn jeans instead of shorts had I been prepared for the weather. It wasn’t particularly cold and didn’t seem worthwhile going back up to my room so I just braved it. I did however figure it might be a good day for indoor activities so I made the walk over to Madrid’s famous Museo Del Prado.

The weather had been alright on route but typically the queue for tickets is outdoors and it absolutely chucked it down whilst in the queue – it was a relatively lengthy queue too so everyone else had had the same idea as me – albeit presumably with windowed accommodation as they were well equipped with coats and umbrellas whilst I got drenched.

The museum is well worth a visit though. I spent a good couple of hours looking around and enjoying the various exhibits. I could have undoubtedly spent a little longer there too but eventually called it a day. Fortunately the rain had disappeared by the time I came out of the museum. Just next to the museum is the impressive looking San Jeronimo el Real but unfortunately it looked like it was closed on this particular day so I had to give it a miss on this occasion.

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The San Jeronimo el Real. Pretty but closed!

If you’re already in this area your next stop should quite possibly be the Parque de El Retiro which is a beautiful park that seems to frequently appear in various Madrid blog posts or Instagram photos. Given its proximity to the museum it’s a mystery to me that I missed this, however my next stop was the equally pretty botanical gardens in Madrid.

It probably helped with the miserable weather and largely being outdoors but I found the botanical gardens to be really peaceful and I largely had it for myself to enjoy. It’s really pretty too. I’d definitely recommend this as something to do and it’s quite a large botanical gardens too. I spent a good amount of time just wandering through and taking a few photos. I expect it’d be busier on a nicer day but for me it was a perfectly relaxed place and a nice escape from the busyness of Madrid.

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Madrid’s botanical gardens

Following on from the botanical gardens I wandered back through the streets of Madrid and found myself a really nice little Tapas bar. I couldn’t tell you the name of it but I think that’s part of the beauty in Madrid, you can just wander and you’ll find countless places like this to just stop in on. I practiced a little Spanish with my waitress, enjoyed some good food and then said my adios’ before heading back towards my hostel.

I freshened up a little and then arranged to meet Daniel and Natalie for some beers on our last night in Madrid. We were all leaving at various times on Thursday so didn’t make it a particularly late night but it was a great way to end our time in this incredible city.

I woke up the next day, wandered a little and reluctantly made my way back to Madrid’s airport. For a city I wasn’t all that bothered about visiting to begin with I can only reiterate my thoughts in part one when I say that it’s arguably Europe’s best city. Obviously the only one I can say betters it is London but I don’t really see what Madrid is lacking.

It is one of those cities that has something to offer for everyone regardless of what your interests are. History, food, architecture, culture, sport, weather, museums, night life and I could go on and on and on. I left knowing it’s a city I’d definitely return to (I have and for the bizarrest of reasons) and equally I know it’s a city I’d quite easily live in too. If Madrid isn’t on your list that needs to change!

Anyway, time to wrap this up. Whilst I was sad to be leaving Madrid behind, it was only a few weeks until I’d next be on my travels and visiting another new city: Bremen in Germany.

Stay tuned!

Jason

European uncertainty!

I’ve been slacking a little lately and haven’t got around to posting part two of my Georgia series, I promise that will follow shortly but I thought I’d break things up to talk about my next trip!

Long-time readers of the blog should know by now that I’m a huge football fan and some of you may recall a blog post from last year titled ‘Left to fate’.
You can give that a read here (Read me!) but the point behind that post was that the choice of my next destination was out of my hands and left up to a higher power.

The football gods, fate, luck of the draw, whatever you want to call it. My beloved Tottenham were going to three unknown European cities and I had to wait upon the outcome to decide if I wanted to go or not.
I used that post as an opportunity for you all to play along and pick 3 destinations that you’d personally be hoping for.

On Monday I’ll discover who Tottenham’s next European opposition are and therefore I find myself in a similar position where there’s uncertainty as to where my next trip will be. On Monday afternoon I’ll be booking flights to somewhere in Europe but right now I couldn’t tell you where. I could get you to play along again but I thought I’d actually switch it up a little and go in to a little more depth about what my thought process is behind why some trips are more appealing than others. For instance in my Florence posts I talked about being nervous about visiting Italy for football and that may have surprised some of you.

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Football in Florence

I’d drafted this blog post under the assumption that Spurs would be participating in the Europa League and rather ironically, as delighted as I was to be proven wrong, it was probably a more interesting blog post on that basis. The Europa League offered a few “no-go destinations” such as Rome or Istanbul and also offered a bit more variety in terms of countries I could visit such as Croatia or Switzerland or Ukraine or.. you get the point.

Tottenham produced an incredible performance in Barcelona on Tuesday night to confirm our status in Europe’s elite competition, the Champions League, but ironically it’s all a bit dull. Opposed to the 16 potential destinations spread across the continent that the Europa League offered, I’m left with just 6 destinations (Dortmund, Paris, Porto, Munich, Madrid and Turin). All of which are countries I’ve been to, four of which are cities I’ve been to and three of which at stadiums I’ve already seen Tottenham play at. How bloody boring!

So in explaining my reasoning from least desirable to “dream trip”, here goes:

Dortmund, Germany
Do I need to say anything else? Germany is the pinnacle of European football for me, Dortmund is a football fan’s wet dream and should be on anyone’s “football bucketlist”. I dreamt of visiting Dortmund for a game, irrespective of who the opposition were. Experiencing that famous atmosphere and yellow wall is rightly considered a rite of passage in football.

In March 2016 the unthinkable happened! Not only was that dream trip about to become a reality but even better, Tottenham were the team visiting. Rather than attend a random game as a neutral I could visit with my own team as an away fan – wow! It was a “once in a lifetime” opportunity and I’d only just come back from Georgia and I was booking flights for three weeks later. I couldn’t miss this game!

In November 2017 Tottenham returned to Dortmund. I was hesitant to return. “Once in a lifetime” scenarios aren’t supposed to come around again so soon. The reality is Dortmund had little appeal to me as a destination other than football so I’d stayed in Köln on my previous visit, which was a sickener when later in 2016 we played Leverkusen (just outside of Köln) and I found myself back in West Germany. A third trip to West Germany seemed excessive but nevertheless I went back – splitting my time between Bremen and Düsseldorf around the match itself.

Dortmund is a fun away trip but I’m not looking for a third return in three years. Please, please, please avoid Dortmund in Monday’s draw!

Turin, Italy
Of six destinations, Dortmund was bottom by a long long way. I will go to Dortmund if that’s what fate determines but I know a part of me will be disappointed. I have my preferred destination too but the other four are split so marginally, I’ve opted to put Turin 5th on my list which might be a little harsh.

There are pros and cons to a Turin trip. It’s a city I’ve never visited which adds some excitement, Juventus are a massive name in European football which adds some prestige to the football, there’s an element of revenge too after Juventus knocked us out of Europe last season and of course it’s Italy which means all of the pizza, pasta and gelato!

On the flipside it’s football in Italy. I loved Florence but from a footballing perspective it wasn’t a dream trip. Turin would be closer to the scale of Florence in terms of safety, opposed to getting stabbed in Rome or Naples but I can’t say Florence was ‘fun’. Aspects of it were but curfews, police escorts, separation from opposition fans, over-the-top security and more just spoil it for football fans. It’s not what the game is about.

I want to go back and see all of Italy, Rome and Naples included, but I didn’t find it enjoyable for football. Florence was incredible for many reasons but the football wasn’t really one of them. My favourite day in Italy was on the Friday once the football was over and the police had relaxed with the knowledge most Brits were heading home. I’ll go to Turin but it’s not top of my list.

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A return to Paris?

Paris, France
From here on in I’m not sure if there’s really a bad draw. I loved Paris when I visited in December (2016) and I feel like I’ve got a lot of “unfinished business” with the city. There’s so many reasons to return and irrespective of the football it’s somewhere I’ll return to.
Additionally I’ve never watched football here and it’s a country I’ve yet to watch a live game of football in so would take my tally up to twelve countries that I’ve seen a game in. It’d also be a simple trip and I probably wouldn’t even bother flying which is a bonus.

However it ‘only’ reaches fourth on my list because, as a bit of a football snob, I don’t feel like French football has that same glamour about it. Paris St Germain are France’s biggest football club for instance and I was amazed to discover quite recently that they were only founded in 1970. I’ve held this opinion of French football for a long time and that revelation kind of cemented that belief, France’s biggest club are younger than my parents! PSG are a global name now but they’re still short of Europe’s elite.

With that said, I visited Lille this year on the day of the France v Argentina game and it surprised me a little in experiencing the atmosphere in the city. Similarly it made me fall in love with France a little more so perhaps a Paris football trip might win me over fully.

Madrid, Spain
I feel like I’m doing this a disservice by placing it third on my list. Madrid is flawless. Nowhere is ever likely to displace my love of London so, excluding London, Madrid is my favourite European city. It’s a city I’d overlooked visiting before last year, I figured I’d visit someday but I was in no real rush to visit the Spanish capital. However in 2017 Tottenham were scheduled to face Real Madrid and I couldn’t miss it.

Tottenham taking on the biggest name in football? Sign me up! It was such a prestigious occasion and huge opportunity and it was enough to rush a trip to Madrid. I’ve spoken about this on the blog before but a Spurs European away game was a childhood dream of mine and these are the places you’d dream of coming to.

The biggest surprise for me was that away from the football I LOVED Madrid. As much as a capital city can be, it’s an underrated city. It blew me away. I couldn’t rate it any higher and I’d love to go back.

The only thing that stops this being top of the pile is the fact I’ve been to see Tottenham there once already. It’d be hard to top the last trip to the Santiago Bernabeu too. I won’t be disappointed if I go back though.

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Watching Tottenham in Munich

Munich, Germany
Not only have I been to this city but I’ve watched Tottenham here too so there was a temptation to put this further down the list. With that said, despite Tottenham playing in their stadium I haven’t actually seen us play Bayern Munich there (or anywhere) so it’d be a novelty factor in seeing us play one of the biggest names in European football.

Additionally I speak decent German and I love Bavaria. I’ve already mentioned German football is the pinnacle of European football in my eyes, the Germans are great hosts when it comes to football and it’d be a popular trip amongst our fans making for a good atmosphere.

It’s a city I feel I could see a little more of and there’s the additional opportunity to visit my favourite German and Austrian in nearby cities. It’d make for a great trip!

Munich, Madrid, Paris or Turin could have been placed in any order really but I’m just giving this the edge for a multitude of reasons.

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Tottenham in Lisbon, Portugal

Porto, Portugal
Lastly we have the dream trip – Porto!

Portugal was where my first European away trip with Spurs occurred and I fell in love with the country. Where Italy tries their best to suck all of the fun out of the experience, Portugal were incredible hosts. The locals of Lisbon accommodated us in to their city, made us feel welcome, had buskers playing Tottenham songs and were happily sharing beers with us.

It’s a travesty that if this is to be the trip in March (2019) that it’ll be five years since my only visit to Portugal. Five years since I’ve visited this beautiful and incredible country.

Porto ticks all of the boxes. It’s a city I’ve never been to, it’s a country I want to see more of, they’re a big enough name in European football to make it interesting, it’s the most winnable game (on paper) of our potential opposition and I already know how hospitable the Portuguese are. It’s easy to get to, thousands of Spurs fans would likely travel creating a great atmosphere in the city. I could go on and on.

It’s a city I’ve been tempted to visit for a while and it’s our best chance of progressing in the competition. A no brainer really!

Anyway, that wraps things up. Unfortunately the Champions League, for all of its glory, is actually relatively boring and favours the Western European nations. UEFA continue to balance the scales in favour of England, Spain, Germany and Italy which whilst exciting places to visit, actually add a dose of repetitiveness to the trips you enjoy.

You want to see your team compete at the highest level but rather ironically a post on potential Europa League opposition would have made for a far more interesting blog-post. I hope you enjoyed it anyway!

I’ll keep you posted on where I book flights to on Monday! Where would you personally be hoping for? Dortmund, Paris, Porto, Munich, Madrid or Turin?

I might follow this up with a Europa League edition, just as a comparison, but next up on the blog will probably be Georgia part two!

Stay tuned!

Jason