On our road trip around the Iberian peninsula I took in my first football match – and it was beautiful

I expected gangs of thugs hurling plastic furniture. I couldn't have been more wrong

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It’s nearly over. Our road trip around the Iberian peninsula is coming to a rainy end on the northern coast of Spain after an unforgettable 19 days of family arguments, laughs and wonder.

We are in Santiago de Compostela, the town to which thousands of pilgrims travel the camino on foot to visit the tomb of St James. Unlike the pilgrims, we arrived in a spanking new Range Rover (loaned to us for the trip). We felt something of a fraud as we cruised into town and parked outside the monastery that was to be our home for the night. We tried to scruff up a bit and look tired as we entered so that we could hang with the pilgrims, but we clearly had the stench of motorists about us, as we got some rather non-Christian looks.

This is not the first time on the trip that we have paid a visit to a man called James in his cathedral. Despite my loathing for football I did the decent dad thing and got some tickets so that my football-loving boy could see Real Madrid (and his favourite player, James Rodriguez) play Granada at the Bernabeu, the team’s imposing stadium in the Spanish capital. Quite apart from my long-standing opposition to the “beautiful” game, I had never actually been to a football match. This had rather become my “never seen Star Wars” schtick and I was loathe to give it up. But the deed was done. The crazily expensive tickets were bought and we headed off.

Upon arrival, I expected mass scenes of violence outside, with me having to shield my family from gangs of thugs hurling plastic furniture at each other. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The crowds were happy, polite and uber-excited. We took our seats just above the halfway line. My boy was physically shaking with anticipation.

I quickly realised that we had made a schoolboy error. Most of the stadium was in shade, but we were in the full glare of the Spanish sun, and had brought no hats or sun cream. My albinoesque wife and daughter were quickly in trouble and this was clearly going to be a huge problem. Friendly Spanish neighbours in the crowd came to the rescue. They offered us their sun cream and even helped us fashion rudimentary hats from the programme for the kids. We were back in business and, on cue, out came the teams. The stadium went mental and I sat next to a little boy in ecstasy.  

Granada is not a terrible team, mid-ranking in La Liga (listen to me… I’m already an expert) and they really didn’t deserve the kicking they got from Ronaldo and his mates. When the whistle blew at full-time, the score was a brutal 9-1. It had been a goal-fest, and kindly followers on Twitter told me that I couldn’t have chosen a better first game for my boy and me.

I admit to loving the whole experience. The skill level on display was beyond belief. Nobody rolled around on the floor like a beached salmon and I didn’t get a dart in the back of my head. Result… back of the net, as they say…. Now, home please James....

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