As a child in the 1970s, cup semi-final day was always a favourite for me. Villa Park, Old Trafford, Hillsborough, they all held a certain magic when the draw was made and the 'neutral ground' was chosen to play host. It was always a TV occasion, I never had an option to actually attend. And while the 'sudden-death' nature of the match was exciting, a replay (live on a Wednesday night) was always an extra treat. 'Why don't they make them home and away ties?' my friends and I often lamented.
Imagine my surprise (and childish delight) when in 2012 I bagged a couple of tickets for Valencia's King's Cup semi-final first leg against Barcelona (see blogpost la Magia de la Copa).
Cup semi-finals are two-legged affairs here in Spain. Great idea, I thought.
Valencia against Barça again this year. And this time up, the second leg at Mestalla! What could be more exciting? Could I possibly get another ticket? Well, yes...
Here's the map of Mestalla an hour before kick-off. Thousands of seats available. I paid 60 euros for my ticket last time. Here's the 30 euro section for tonight. Green spots are 'available'.
So what's going on? This is a cup semi-final! Well, what's going on is a mass boycott by Valencia's fans. The notoriously noisy 'Curva Nord' have promised to make their voices heard tonight, but from outside the ground. They've asked other ticket-holders to stay away. The club has been accused of 'obliging' all the canteranos (youth players) to attend, and of giving away tickets to local schools, in an attempt to hide the boycott.
|The Curva Nord on cup semi-final night.|
|The Curva Nord in happier times, against Athletico Madrid, October 2014.|
The reason for all of this? There are two. Firstly, Valencia's 'new' manager is the untried Gary Neville, ex-Man United, ex-Sky-Sports. 'His' Valencia has failed to win any of their first 12 la Liga matches with him in charge. The team has fallen to within 4 points of the 'drop-zone'.
The second reason is, in effect, a last straw, namely the first leg result:
So, with the match 'decided', and Barça set to show up with a second (or even third) eleven, even I ended up watching on the box. The result, in front of an estimated 10,000 fans inside Mestalla (capacity 55,000) was an unexciting 1-1.
If only Spain played their cup semi-finals over one leg at a neutral ground...
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