June 21st, 2011
Another Spanish city was celebrating promotion to the big league of Spanish football last weekend. Granada CF will now play in the top flight of Spanish football, La Liga.
It comes as a surprise to some people, but the fact is, football tourism is big business in Spain.
So which cities should you visit and, if you are lucky, take in a game while you are there?
Barcelona is Champion
The obvious starting point is with the Spanish and European Champions, FC Barcelona – the greatest football team of my lifetime. Getting a ticket to see them play in Camp Nou is very difficult.
For games in which they are playing teams that are not very good, or when they play clubs that are located a long way from Catalonia, you may be able to pick up a ticket at a reasonable price online, or in the city. But you will likely be ‘up in the gods.’ The players will look like ants and it is unlikely you will recognise the stars like Lionel Messi, David Villa and Xavi from a height more normally associated with a jet plane.
But, hey, you are there for the atmosphere as much as watching the football. And the atmosphere inside the ground is electric. You can say that you’ve seen (especially if you take some binoculars) what is quite possibly the best club football team ever. To get a good seat in the Barcelona ground, you will need to either spend a small fortune or know someone close to the club. Football is, after all, a contact sport!
If you can’t get to a game, then you can still visit the ground during the week and take in an organised tour of the dressing rooms and trophy room. Allow plenty of time for the latter. Barcelona have won many trophies in recent years.
You will know that, away from football, there is much to see in the beautiful city of Barcelona. There are the buildings and a vast park with a Gaudi connection, there’s the very popular contemporary art to experience and, of course, there are so many atmospheric bars to visit. After you’ve enjoyed the superb beach, of course. When it comes to renting in Barcelona, you are spoilt for choice.
Dropping in to Madrid
Madrid doesn’t currently having a winning football team, nor a beach. But it’s a great city nevertheless. Real Madrid football club is steeped in history and their team of the 1950’s were, I am assured, every bit as good as the Barcelona of today. If not better.
Real Madrid did have one success this past season. They beat Barcelona in the domestic Copa del Rey, but this trophy does not have the significance in Spain of its equivalent in the UK (the FA Cup).
When Real Madrid paraded their one trophy through the streets of the city unfortunately, but comicly, one player dropped the cup from the open topped bus. The bus driver then ran over the cup.
If you take the tour of the trophy room at the Bernabéu Stadium you can see the rather flattened trophy, which now more resembles a plate. The intact replacement version is also on display.
Getting tickets for a Real Madrid game is probably more difficult than the same challenge in Barcelona. Demand is high. If shopping for tickets to see the big matches in La Liga, be careful. There are some websites out there promising the earth and delivering nothing. Best to try and make contacts in the city of choice itself.
Madrid has so many sites to see that you have to spend a few days in the city. In truth, you could spend an entire football season exploring the place. There is something for everyone in the capital of mainland Spain. You might be into art, in which case a visit to the famous Prado Museum is a must. Don’t rush this one. There is much to see.
Or you might want to eat Madrid. What else would you expect here other than some of the finest Spanish food to be savoured anywhere?
Valencia in poll position
It’s a few years since Valencia won La Liga but they still have a football team worth watching. Valencia is a sporting city. It has in past years attracted sailing enthusiasts as it staged the America’s Cup. In recent years the city built a track for Formula 1 racing. Parts of it cut through the port and alongside the sea. I saw it being constructed a few years ago. I take my hat off to the authorities in Valencia who have spent fortunes to attract big sporting events to the city.
But if footballers and racing drivers are not for you, then be sure to see the sights of Valencia itself. Including the City of Arts and Sciences, which is a must to visit in Valencia. There are many splendid and differing locations in the city that are ideal for that weekend break or longer holiday.
Seville has a decent football team but they are probably not the premier reason to visit the city. You need time to see Seville. Even a weekend is not really long enough to take in all it has to offer, including the famous Alcazar. Seville is but, of course, just one superb location to enjoy in Andalucia.
Another is Malaga. They have a football club where the new, wealthy owner is spending a fortune to buy some of the best players anywhere in the world. Malaga is set to have a football club every bit as successful and underrated as the city itself.
It is lost on me why more people don’t take time to discover Malaga. It has great restaurants and beaches, especially just outside the city at El Palo. The city itself has so many excellent places to visit, including the delightful Picasso Museum. It even has a pretty unique monthly market located right by the sea.
Premier League Granada
Now for the newest member of the La Liga football division. Granada CF are the new kids on the block. They are back in the big time for the first time in 35 years. The city celebrated in style. The club may be in financial difficulties, its team may be mainly made up of players from the Italian side Udinese; but the fans don’t care about all that. All they care about is that, next season, the big boys such as Barcelona and Real Madrid will be coming to the Estadio de los Cármenes ground.
Five years ago I was watching Granada CF there. I could arrive five minutes before kick off and pretty much sit where I liked. That’s all changed now. The limited 28.000 seater stadium will be sold out for every home game next season. Getting a ticket will either require you to buy a season ticket, so allowing you to go to every home game, or you will need to know someone who knows someone!
But make no mistake about what a successful football team can mean to a city. Granada, already a popular Spanish destination, is sure to receive a financial and tourism boost for having a club in La Liga.
For the football matches alone, many more Spaniards will be visiting the city. And they might like what they see so much that they come back for another visit – this time to see the Alhambra Palace or to sit in a plaza with a great view. The palace is still the most visited tourist attraction in all of Spain. The city is made up of some every distinctive barrios in which to stay.
And football tourists from all over Europe, who seem to find a way of getting to the games they want to see; will be furiously shopping around online to try an buy a ticket to a Granada game. Just in case they are a one season wonder in the top flight of Spanish football. It never ceases to amaze me how determined football fans get to see ‘sell out’ matches in Spain.
Time for Tapas
Of course, Granada has many reasons to visit it. If you are going there for a football match that is played, as is the norm, on a Sunday; then that allows you to stay for a weekend in Granada and go on a bar crawl on the Saturday. In the nicest possible sense sense. A tapas tour on a Saturday is a splendid way of seeing Granada and experiencing the free tapas on offer in the authentic bars of the city.
Football is a game, usually, of ninety minutes. You need much longer to see some of the best cities in Spain. But if your partner wants to see Miro, when you only have eyes for Messi; or she wants to drool over Van Nistlerooy when you want to admire some work by Picasso ; then going to a Spanish city that boasts not only museums, but also a top football team, is a good way of truly experiencing the culture of a place.
Football, sorry Fútbol, is more than a passion in Spain.
For many Spaniards you are defined by whether or not you live in a city with a football team in the Premier division.
Visiting such cities is, for the person who wants to get to know Spain that little bit better, a win-win situation.