Saturday 19th June 2010....a day I will never forget. The alarm rang at 4.30 a.m., although I was already awake - time to shower, dress, have a mug of tea, and generally get my stuff together. Short trip into town to our meeting place at the Palacio de Deportes. In the end there were 5 buses in total, number 5 being our allocated vehicle. The convoy departed at around 6 a.m., and made slow and steady progress. Despite it being early, it didn't take long before the ice boxes were opened, and the first few ice cold Estrella Levante beers were on the breakfast menu.
I found the time went quickly, thanks to Yayo - he had brought the Marca guide to the 95/96 season with him, and we had a quiz. Name me the Racing Santander full back? Who was the Rumanian who signed from Dynamo Bucharest for Sporting Gijon? Who had played most seasons at Compostela? These type of questions.....and I was amazed at the capacity of Milpitas and Elenzo to find the answers to the most obscure of questions. "For 500 Points, name the Badajoz manager.......and Englishman?". I knew this one....Colin Addison! The only one I answered!
Mid morning snack on the bus......dried sausage, lomo, salchichon, cheese, bread, more beer. Then the vino came out.....and the stories, and the singing. Then the ham. A whole leg.....with a very blunt knife. Before we knew it, it was 2.30 p.m., and we were passing Barcelona. Then the nerves. The closeness. Only 80 kilometers to go....70....60....30....15.....Girona. Police escort to a small parking place. Tickets were distributed....and then, with no opportunity to go anywhere due to Police cordon, into the ground at 5 p.m., 11 hours after leaving Murcia. The then rain came down. I was totally ill prepared.
Despite the fact Girona were also playing for survival (although their chance of getting relegated was only 1 out of 100) the ground was only half full. Approximately 400 Peppermen had made the trip, with a 0,5% English contingent (Steve and yours truly). The game started with Girona looking very relaxed, and Real Murcia took advantage of some generous defending to take the lead, Jose Luis Capdevila taking the chance. Then news started leaking through......Cartagena were as expected capitulating at home to Albacete (not even attempting to cover up, they were 4 nil down by half time). Rayo were winning. Las Palmas also. And Huesca. And Cadiz.....the impossible was happening, and if things stayed the same, Girona were taking their 1% chance of relegation, and Real Murcia were staying up.
The second half, and the hosts became desperate, but didn't really threaten until the last 15 minutes, where some heroic defending was needed. Time stood still...the hands on my watch in slow motion. Finally the assistant ref raised the board...I thought it would be 5 extra minutes, but no, only 3!
Then tragedy....Miguel Albiol judged very harshly to have fouled in the box. Oh no.....surely not....it took about 2 minutes to organize the taking of the penalty, time for many of us to completely lose it. But there was worse to come.....it was a poor spot kick, Alberto dived correctly, we all thought we were saved....but by some twist of fate the ball span and rebounded off his heel and rolled agonizingly into the net. This being Murcia, it couldn't have happened in the 80th minute when you still have time to do something, no, now 94 minutes were gone....
The final whistle only confirmed the inevitable. I have not lived scenes like it....Girona fans invaded the pitch in celebration, some very cruelly baiting us. I have not cried over football since the 1979 F.A. cup final when Man Utd equalized against Arsenal (I was only 10) and had always seen the blubbers on telly as being soft. But this was so so cruel....seeing your mates distraught, sobbing, others just staring blankly, some hugging each other, an older lad and his little brother streaming with tears....Alberto, also visibly distressed, came over with hands together asking for forgiveness. NO need Alberto, you saved it. It welled up, a massive lump in the throat.....but I held it together...but only just. And it never stopped raining on us.....
After a few moments a lot of the older Girona fans came over and were decent enough to try and console some of the away fans who were laid out on the pitch. Scarves were swapped. We trudged the 300 yards or so back to the buses. It was bleak. 10 hours minimum of bus ahead of us. I think it was about 9.30 p.m. once we set off in the pissing rain.
The mood was as expected. Grim. Soaked and relegated and 710 long kilometers from home. Some of the younger fans were still in shock....there were more tears. At the first of four stops, we just milled about, not knowing what to do. But here is where Pepo from the Ultras came alive. Gin, Rum, tonic, cola and ice. And from then on he had us all in better spirits, not letting anyone get upset, going round the bus making sure everyone had a drink, and using his very quick wit to bring smiles to our faces. He had me and a few others in stitches! And this made us all start looking ahead.....which segunda B group will we be in, that it was only one season, we would be back. After the last stop he had a big 5 litre container of wine, and another bag of ice, and a load of empty coca cola paper beakers.....1908 vintage (Real Murcia's year of foundation), and everyone had a drink. More laughs, more jokes......it was great therapy.
We arrived back in Murcia at 6.30 a.m. We lost a division. But I gained 7 or 8 new brothers. Sharing such an experience.....you can say it was only a game, but it was powerful. Those who shed tears in Girona, at our lowest time, these are the people I will look for the next time there are 30,000 celebrating promotion at the Redonda in Murcia town centre. The Girona Band of Brothers.
Photo : Jokin, his brother, Yayo and Javi.....no explanation required.