Normally I don’t publish groundhopping or game reports on this blog, I usually reserve those for my website. For only the second time I make an exception and publish this report on my blog. I attended this game as being a supporter of Mallorca, being a member of the local penya (fanclub) of Real Mallorca. So I apologise in advance if this report is somewhat biased, it is written from a black-and-red perspective 🙂
1st March, RCE Espanyol – RCD Mallorca : 1-2
venue: Estadi Cornellà-El Prat, Cornellà de Llobregat
Being a member of an official fan club of the team you support has advantages. OK, there is a membership fee to be paid. The money paid for that was already recovered when the penya members were invited to attend Barcelona-Mallorca for free, and we grasped a shock 1-1 draw in the Camp Nou. Being a Mallorca fan based on the mainland of Spain means that attending home games requires a boat or flight trip, and that the away games in your own area become specifically interesting. In my case this means Barcelona away and Espanyol away. I would have paid the entrance ticket happily to see my team live, but again the club (and with the help of another penya mallorquista) thought about our Catalan fanclub and we were again given free tickets. "Invitacion" it said on the ticket. I felt a bit like a VIP, but in the end it is great when your club rewards its fans. After all we could have become gloryhunters supporting Barça after ending up living in this city, but we followed our emotions and stuck to Real Mallorca. That deserves a reward, if only as compensation for the fact that being a Mallorca fan can be frustrating at times.
One of those times was the end of last season. Mallorca and Sevilla were battling for the 4th spot which gave entry to the Champions League qualifiers. A very important occasion, because the cash-stripped Mallorca could use the cash from the CL pretty well. Until the added time of the last game we were virtually 4th placed. Then, in the last minute of added time of the last game of the season, Sevilla scored the winner versus Almeria and grasped our 4th place. Shattered dreams in the last seconds of the season. It felt really bad and Sevilla FC has been put on my list of disliked clubs immediately that night. But OK, 5th place was an overall great result and there was the Europa League. Then the mala fide UEFA decided that the fact we voluntarely went into bankruptcy and administration was reason enough to strap us of our UEFA license and instead invite Villarreal to take our place in the Europa League. A whole season of great performances, zero reward. Villarreal and UEFA were added to the "dislike list" as well. The list meanwhile is quite long so I will spare you the other names on it.
With the club having to rebuild from scratch and without much money to spend on strengthening the squad, things looked gloomy. We could only buy some very cheap players or do free transfers. Michael Laudrup became the new coach, as he saw Mallorca as a stepping stone to a bigger Spanish club and thus was prepared to work for a salary very low compared to other coaches in La Liga. The squad was a question mark but in the end we managed to keep some important players on the island, such as Castro, Webo and –very important– my favourite player: Dudu Aouate, the goalkeeper. He was one of the several reasons why I chose to support Mallorca after arriving in Spain, and thus his signature extending his contract made me happy enough that I for once forgot about the frustrations of the end of last season.
So far Laudrup is doing very well with limited means. Mallorca is in mid table and we had some excellent results against the big teams. 0-0 at home vs Real Madrid on the opening game of the season, 1-1 in Camp Nou versus Barcelona, 1-2 wins versus both Valencia and Sevilla away. If it wasn’t for some losses against less good teams like Gijon, Zaragoza and Sociedad, we would be in the running for European football again. But given the circumstances, just being mid-table without much relegation worries was already a great accomplishment.
Espanyol was a bit in the same position as us last year. The second club of Barcelona is doing extremely well this season and is in 5th position, looking at a spot in the Europa League. The blauiblancos have especially built a great reputation of being hard to beat at home. Only the last couple of weeks they had several losses in a row, thereby the 4th place got out of sight. But they are still at 5th place and going for European football.
Espanyol is not a Spanish-nationalist club or so, despite the name. Maybe they were in the past, I don’t know. But right now, they are quite non-political and for sure not anti-Catalan. The club, originally from the classy Sarria district of Barcelona, even catalanised the name from RCD Español to RCD Espanyol with Catalan spelling, and Catalan flags are far from uncommon in their stadium. Note that the translation of "Real Club Deportivo" (Royal Sporting Club) into Catalan is actually Reial Club Esportiu. To maintain the initials RCDE they were creative with creating new words and changed it to the slightly incorrect Reial Club Deportiu Espanyol. Not very correct linguistically, but the RCDE initials remained intact this way.
The club left Sarria already quite a while ago. They spent several seasons on top of the Montjuic mountain, playing in the Olympic Stadium where I attended Catalunya-Honduras earlier this season. Two seasons ago the club moved away from the Montjuic which was not the best stadium in terms of atmosphere and which was not their own property. The club had finalised their own new stadium, which was located in Cornellà de Llobregat, a suburbian town connected to Barcelona proper by subway and train. The new stadium is without athletics track, has great acoustics and stands close to the pitch. Especially the type of football environment everyone missed while in the Olympic Stadium at the Montjuic. I had already had opportunities enough to attend a game here and see the stadium from the inside, but I opted to wait until Mallorca travelled to play Espanyol away. After all, supporting your team is still more intense than attending a game as a neutral, and we had free tickets for this one…
Cornellà is thus the location of the new stadium. The town is a suburb that gradually grew. It is quite an industrial one with a large industrial estate. The town, which is still expanding, is a typical "new town" or suburbian town. It has many companies and housing options, but little cultural life because of the proximity of the big metropolis Barcelona. However, it is not totally uninteresting to visit. The town has several squats and the many tiny alleys and streets are filled with relatively low apartment blocks (most of them not higher than 3 or 4 storeys) of which some are social housing built during the regime of Franco. The latter fact makes the town an interesting one for history fans. That said, you need to know that it was the former dictator who commanded the construction of these flats, because when his regime collapsed the plates and signs refering to Franco were all removed.
Cornellà is not a really gloomy or filthy town like many of those industrial new towns. But it is also not a town where I could imagine myself living day to day. For the simple reason that, while the housing is obviously cheaper than in the city, there is nothing to do. I can imagine many people were happy with Espanyol building a new stadium here, because at least this means there is something of significance happening every two weeks. Outside of match days, Cornellà has little to offer unless you consider a random tapas bar to be an attraction. The industrial estate at night looks quite desolate and with some squats next door I can imagine I would not really be at ease walking around alone here at night. People say the historic part of Barcelona is unsafe, but I would disagree with that. This type of residential towns where you don’t see many people in the streets at night usually give me an unsafer feeling.
Anyways, the expansion of the town did increase the number of restaurants, pubs and shops in the village. A second shopping center had been constructed recently, and next to that shopping center is the new stadium of Espanyol. A local train ride to the station Cornellà-Riera (Riera being a district of the town) took me to the Espanyol ground. In the streets it was packed with Espanyol fans, and the pubs were crowded too. Knowing that outside of match days this town can be quite desolate, the owners of those pubs are probably very happy too to see Espanyol as new neighbour. Because even today in a midweek game, when the stadium was far from packed, there was a quite large crowd and all pubs probably sold more beer and tapas tonight than they usually do on a whole weekend when there is no Espanyol home game. Some advised to hide the fact that you’re supporting the other team but seeing some Mallorca fans proudly waving the flags with the club logo in the streets made it clear that at least before the game, there was not much tension between the fans of both teams. I like it that way, even when the average "ultra" group probably prefers some tension and mild provocations between two sets of fans. I prefer it the other way: calm and in a friendly atmosphere. It seemed like I had what I was hoping for.
Once I met the other guys from the penya, it was time to get inside the stadium and there my idea of peacefully sitting down without separation of fans was ruined. We were searched at the entrance and we (the Mallorca fans) were allocated seats in a corner of the stadium, by the corner flag. Not the best seats, and on top of that we saw a glass wall on one side and a net on the other side to make the feeling of being in a cage complete. Also, despite explaining that I have OCD and need special soap to allow frequent hand washing, I was not allowed to take my handwashing cream inside the stadium. I don’t know what could possibly be dangerous about some lotion, but I had to leave it with the steward and collect it after the game. No, a nice welcome was not exactly how I could describe this night. Especially not compared to our game in Camp Nou, where Barça fans and Espanyol fans were mixed without any tension whatsoever. Here I felt like we were treated as dangerous hooligans, and that was while we were few and Mallorca doesn’t have a hooligan reputation at all neither.
All in all I think we were about 35 or 40 Mallorca fans in the stadium. Not that bad knowing this was a Tuesday night game, and after all Mallorca is and remains an island. In addition to our penya with fans from the mainland, a 25 or 30 fans managed to take time off to fly from the island to Barcelona to attend this game. Not bad given the fact the travel required an airplane and that this was a mid-week game. We were not many but with several flags and shouting the name "Mallorca" very frequently, I don’t think we remained unnoticed.
As I explained there are several reasons why I became a Mallorca fan after emigrating to Spain. The club was already amongst those I liked, but then there were several reasons why it became Mallorca: my best friends in Spain are mallorquistas, and the Mallorca goal is defended by my favourite player, Dudu Aouate. He already gained a hero status in his native Israel and in La Coruña (his previous club) until a conflict with the other goalkeeper and the then manager made him "persona non grata" in La Coruña. Very stupid when you know he is generally considered (and rightfully so) one of the best goalkeepers of the Spanish league. OK, he may not be Iker Casillas, but he is definitely amongst the best goalkeepers of the teams that are not traditionally top clubs in Spain. La Coruña’s loss, our gain. When he signed for Mallorca I started following the club. Then there was the friendship with some mallorquistas, the integration in the penya, … So that was how I fell for Real Mallorca. Dudu Aouate played a large part in it.
So while visiting a stadium I never visited before usually means taking a 5 to 10 pictures of each stand of the stadium. When Mallorca plays, it means taking a 5 to 10 (or sometimes more, depending on the look of the stadium) pictures of each stand, and taking at least as many pictures of Aouate himself. So once entering the ground I first made some pictures (some with and some without zooming in) of all corners of the stadium. Once the game started the zoom pointed right at Dudu Aouate and I think I made at least 15 pictures of him. Not fair maybe towards the rest of the team, but legends deserve a special treatment. Luckily I know well enough that I am straight, because with all the pictures of Aouate I can imagine some of the other Mallorca fans began to wonder what the heck I was doing.
OK, so there were pictures of Dudu Aouate. Lots of pictures of him. There were also more pictures of the stadium than I intended, a 50 or so in total. That was because this stadium is really a nice one. I usually prefer old authentic grounds instead of newly built stadiums, but Espanyol’s stadium is a nice example of how modern stadiums can still breathe the football atmosphere. It is an all-seater (but I don’t mind as I prefer to sit down rather than to stand up during a game) but the view on the pitch, even from our not very well located away section, is excellent. The acoustic is very good. The crowd is very close to the pitch. Yes, this is a nice stadium for sure, and the outside is also –at least for now– free of very wrong things such as offices, casinos and non-football-related commerce. So this was a very nice ground, hence I took more pictures than I planned. The nets and segregation of fans was the one downside. But overall, I liked this stadium. It looked more like a British stadium than a Spanish one really, being an all-seater with the stands very close to the pitch.
The game then was started already and Mallorca immediately started to attack. After 8 minutes, Pierre Webo got into the penalty box of the opposition and was brought down. Penalty! We were already getting ready to celebrate when "Chori" Castro saw his spot kick saved by Espanyol goalkeeper Carlos Kameni. This didn’t promise much, when you miss this opportunity in a stadium that is not easy to win in. Odd fact was that the stadium speaker shouted the name of Kameni in the same manner as when a goal was scored. I never heard that before when the goalkeeper saves a penalty.
Espanyol launched a quick counter-attack and hit the post. The start of the game for sure was exciting. Espanyol continued to attack and when Álvaro slipped through the defense and came face to face with Aouate, he did not miss and put Espanyol 1-0 ahead.
A missed penalty and then getting a goal against, this didn’t seem to be our night. Our luck was not on our side neither when Nunes scored a perfectly valid goal that the referee wrongly disallowed for offside. We were robbed, but decent fans as we were we decided to even encourage the red and blacks even louder rather than lamenting about the bad referee. Mallorca and Espanyol remained more or less in balance. Kameni prevented a goal scoring opportunity and threw the ball very far and very rapidly towards the other side of the field. A very rapid counter-strike from Espanyol saw one of their strikers come face to face with Aouate again. This time though, Dudu saved the shot and prevented the lethal 2-0. He again proved to be worth every picture I took of him!
The second half brought a change though. Maybe it was the presence of our penya that inspired the players, or was it a tactical masterplan from Laudrup?, but the second half Mallorca was all over Espanyol and dominated the game. There was pressing towards the ball already on mid-field, which meant Aouate was more or less a spectator with not much to do most of the second half. The players were rapid and physically winning the battle, creating mayhem several times in front of the Espanyol goal, launching multiple attacks in rapid tempo. The whole team became very dominant and started to really play one of its best games in a long time. Maybe our penya is a good omen or so, but the team was all over Espanyol. The biggest chance was from our Cameroon-born striker Webo, who headed over from short range at one of the many corners we got. I lost track of how many corners we got, but this indicated how dominant we were playing.
It was just a matter of time before the equaliser came. Tejera got a free kick from the right side and delivered the perfect cross, at the first post Webo headed in from close range again and this time his fellow countryman in the Espanyol game was chanceless. 1-1 ! Webo surely had noticed us in the corner and ran towards the Mallorca fans, holding his hand on the heart and the Mallorca logo. This was a great moment.
We sensed the victory was possible and kept on attacking. The stadium staff somehow put the 1-2 on the scoreboard while it was still 1-1. A hilarious moment for us, but at that point we did not know yet that it was in fact a prophecy. The stadium staff corrected their mistake and put the 1-1 back on the scoreboard. This was almost not even necessary as Kameni had to dive a shot in corner to prevent it from actually really becoming 1-2 for Mallorca!
At that moment Laudrup decided to put our latest new player on the pitch: Aki. A Japanese player who left the J League and chose Mallorca to be his first European club. In the previous games when he was given playing minutes he already impressed us with his conditional strength and fast runs. At the moment Aki came on pitch our penya bowed in honour of him, while shouting out loud "Aki! Aki! Aki!". Aki was apparently inspired and was a true torture for Espanyol. Not only he was fast like he proved before, he also showed to have great technique and dribbled past Espanyol players with ease. We became more and more impressed of our Japanese newcomer and I really doubt Laudrup can keep him out of the starting line-up much longer if he keeps impressing everytime he is given playing minutes. Today he was truly impressive and a constant threat for the opposition.
Mallorca started pushing for the second goal even more, and Pereira saw his shot stranded against the post. Who gave the assist? Aki!
With few minutes left to play, Tejera passed the ball towards Aki. He fired a brilliant shot towards the Espanyol goal but Kameni denied Aki a heroic night by stopping the shot. However, Emilio Nsue was followed well and from close range shot the ball behind a chanceless Kameni into the net.
1-2 and both the team and us (the fans) went into delirium. The entire team worked incredibly hard the entire game (and especially impressed in the second half), with hardly any weak link. To single out a player would be injustice to the rest of the team as this was a collective great performance (although no denying Aki was very impressive in the 15 minutes he was on the pitch). Espanyol never really came close to equalising, although they asked for a penalty in injury time. The referee correctly ignored the call and gave a goal kick to Dudu Aouate. Shortly afterwards the final whistle was blown and we were celebrating the 1-2 win. Given Espanyol’s home reputation we didn’t expect this, and the fact we won deservedly after a great collective performance made it all the sweeter. It was odd that the players did not come to our side to greet the fans, it was like they were ordered to go into the dressing room straight after the end of the game. But that could not ruin the great night we had.
A nice stadium added to the list, lots of Dudu Aouate pictures, a great performance of the team, and a 1-2 win. Life can be nice sometimes, and despite being not many in numbers, the Mallorca fans were not unnoticed as we constantly vocally encouraged the team. They rewarded us with a great win. I hope to soon take a boat towards Mallorca and visit a home game, because it would be a pity to have to wait for next season to see the team again live. As nice as TV images can be, being in the stadium adds extra spice to the whole experience.