Chris Williams continues his tour diary from Spain
The media crew have been dispatched to the hills above the team hotel and are living a life of unaccustomed luxury in a beautiful marble floored house with its own pool and optional two mile walk up a ridiculously steep incline in 40 degree heat. Last night we shared a pleasant meal and a bottle of wine with Derek Fazackerley and an army of mosquitos who mostly dined on my legs.
However Tuesday does not start so well. Readers, I flooded the house. Without me realising, a lack of sealant means that every second that I am in the walk-in shower the water is oozing under the shower screen and across the floor, flooding not just the bathroom but the hall and the entire top floor of the house. EVERYTHING is soaked. Hmm. What to do. I splosh about, turn on the air con and go out, hoping for the best.
I potter down the ridiculously steep incline in 40 degree heat and do a little work before Chris Allen and I stroll down a different ridiculously steep incline in 40 degree heat to reach the training pitch. It’s a lighter session today because of the game tonight. Worryingly Alex MacDonald has been reading my tour diary. He suggests I add some jokes and interesting bits into the next one. Sam Long offers similar advice. I stand under a tree and watch them run around in the sun for an hour. I think I won that argument.
Back at the hotel news reaches us that Chris Maguire and Joe Rothwell have completed their medicals and are heading for the airport. Secretary Mick Brown sorts the paperwork back in the UK and by 1pm we have told the world of their imminent arrival. All is well. Just time to check the water levels in my bedroom where, somewhat miraculously, my trick with the air con has worked. Then it’s on to the bus and off to the game. Josh Ashby and Jack Stevens have read my diary and suggest I put some jokes in next time.
Tonight the U’s take on Alhaurin de la Torre of the Spanish fourth division. It’s a half hour drive to the neat little stadium where the Yellow Army are already out in force. The Ultras were in at 2 and have befriended the Spanish club staff. Flags are hung, the queue for the bar runs the length of the stand and the mayor of Alhaurin is here to greet everyone and give the club a very attractive ceramic vase to mark the occasion.
The press box is corrugated iron and has been cooking nicely through the day. I plant the laptop on a ledge outside and work through the only open window while the rest of the press swelter. The queue for the bar is right in front of me and never stops all night. Astonishingly the club takes more money tonight than the whole of last season.
The game is played on a 3G surface and at a terrific tempo. There are a few knocks and niggles from training so no risks are taken and that allows some of the young guns to have their day in the sun. They take the lead through a fine strike from Josh Ashby and then seal things when James Roberts wriggles past two defenders and finishes with typical precision. A 2-0 win and an excellent work out.
But in reality it’s all about the fans, who are magnificent. They gather behind one of the goals at the final whistle and the players rightly go to applaud them. Joe Skarz has his own flag – Sun, Sea, Sex and Skarz- and he sheepishly poses with the fans who made it. It’s his birthday on Wednesday so he is offered the flag as a present.
I photograph the players but it’s the faces behind them that I focus on. The fans from the 80s are joined by fresh faced youngsters who are combining their holidays with these games. Whole families are here, including the Bradbury brothers who helped organise the trip to Austria last year. People are having the time of their lives. That concept of football and a week away with the fans has blossomed. To my eyes there are probably twice as many fans here as last year and the togetherness that became such a feature last season has begun again, baked in under a setting Spanish sun...
Photography on tour is thanks to two fans: Terry Winter and Simon Hathaway. Our thanks to both for the Gallery attached to this story