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La Mestalla
"Lo lo lo lo"
By Ian Freshwater

Despite finding themselves eight points behind Real Madrid, the fans of Valencia are in a good mood before the match. The famous 'Fallas' festival is beginning and those who have partaken of the local beer at various street cafes are enjoying themselves, watching Real struggling to a draw against Racing Santander on the telly and avoiding the small children playing with (very loud) bangers as they are prone to do during the festivities!

We take a seat outside Museo Pub la Bomba. Basically, it's a bar full of drums assembled by an extremely large gentleman whose drumming at Spanish international matches Europewide is stuff of legend; certainly Mario Kempes (a local resident now apparently) seemed to be enjoying the mix of tapas, beer and atmosphere!

Surprisingly large numbers of ex-pats, long travelled Valencia fans and various one match wonders made up the English speaking contingent on entering the ground. It's at this point we're accosted by a guy in a Chelsea hat who susses our nationality instantly and insists we join him in the 'true' fans' end where they stand and sing all game long! Spanish stadiums may generally be in a state of disrepair but a lot do seem to have a handy concourse running the entire length of the stadium behind the stands - this makes our journey towards the building crescendo of singing that can be heard a simple and quick one.

On entering the aforementioned 'verdad' home fans section, we're met by a wall of noise, flags and banners held aloft, flares turning the sky red.... suddenly, silence and the guy at the very front turns to the crowd, puts a megaphone to his mouth and the chants start again. This guy doesn't face the pitch once during the game (!), instead remaining perched on a barrier, orchestrating the singing, imploring the fans to sing louder, start again, mock their rivals.... And, yes, it's also true that a lot of lyrics are just made up of 'lo lo lo lo lo' as you often suspect when watching European football on the TV!

As for the game, both teams start edgily, Valencia knowing they have a great chance to close the gap on Real. Five minutes in, though, and Vicente goes down under a heavy challenge from Mauro Silva... somehow it's a penalty but it looked miles out of the box. Perhaps Aimar thinks so too and plants a weak shot into Jose Molina's arms. Only two minutes later, though, and another penalty is given for a blatant lunge by Silva (again) on Mista. Silva is shown red and Vicente this time takes responsibility for the penalty... It's at this point that I recall our 'host' for the game has reminded us to run forward on the backs of the seats if a goal goes in. Vicente steps up, keeper goes the wrong way, 1-0. I run forward - as does the rest of the stand! As I retake my standing position amongst the melee, I decide to opt for a place a little more out of the way of the action!

The fans around us seem to think that ten-man Depor are there for the taking but injury forces Pablo Aimar off early. He's clearly the guy who pulls the strings in midfield and Sissoko who replaces him just isn't the same (will we be feeling this about Hyde next season, I wonder?!). Strangely, at this point Valencia take the decision to sit back and hold out against the ten men. Canizares excels himself in goal in one on ones against both Diego Tristan and Valeron and the crowd become restless (sound familiar?). Suddenly, though, a breakaway is on and Vicente is off down the wing. He cuts inside from the left, beats his man and rifles a great shoot into the far top right corner of the net.

The Mestalla comes alive again, fans running forward and bundling on top of each other and the cry of 'Vi-cen-te, Vi-cen-te' hailing the twenty-two year old local lad. Barely have the celebrations died down when Vicente again gets down the wing, hitting a measured cross across the box for Rufete to head in the third and final goal unopposed....

So why I am writing at length about a Primera Liga match that took place back in March and is long assigned to the archives? Well, Valencia were crowned, deserved, league Champions for only the second time in the last thirty years last Sunday, beating Sevilla 2-0 whilst Real Madrid lost their third home game on the spin. And looking back now on Valencia's mix of team spirit and hard graft, a true footballing family atmosphere, exciting wing play and getting to where they have with little money and few star players...well, they couldn't help remind me of life following Watford...where you really appreciate the good times after many seasons of the indifferent, mundane or downright abysmal and where the spirit and hardwork of the team can count for so much. In fact, as they say in Valencian on the Mediterranean coast....

Amunt Valencia!
Amunt Watford!