2015 IN PICTURES – FEBRUARY

The start of February usually sees me head away somewhere, and this year saw me head to Barcelona for a short break.

While there, I toured the city, did a tour of the Nou Camp, got lots of Street Art pictures and went to two football matches

Upon my return from Barcelona, it was straight into Irish League action, to see Linfield take on Cliftonville at Windsor Park.

Four days later, I was headed to Stangmore Park, on my birthday, to see Linfield take on Dungannon Swifts, with Linfield giving me some birthday cheer by winning 3-0.

Three days later I was headed to Mandela Hall for the first time since 2011, for my first gig of 2015 – Echo and the Bunnymen.

A further three days after that, I was back at Windsor Park to see Linfield lose to Portadown.

The final day of the month saw me see Linfield take on Portadown again, this time in the Irish Cup, and at Shamrock Park. It was the same result though.

Barcelona

Barcelona Photo Album

Nou Camp Photo Album

Barcelona Street Art

Barcelona Street Art Photo Album 1

Barcelona Street Art Photo Album 2

Barcelona Street Art Photo Album 3

CE Europa v Masnau

CE Europa v Masnau Photo Album

Espanyol v Valencia

Espanyol v Valencia Photo Album

Linfield v Cliftonville

Dungannon Swifts v Linfield

Echo and the Bunnymen Live At Mandela Hall

Echo and the Bunnymen Live At Mandela Hall Photo Album

Linfield v Portadown

Portadown v Linfield

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PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : FEBRUARY

February’s football watching began in Barcelona, where I went for a weekend break, going on the Nou Camp tour, going to a lower league game (CE Europa v Masnoua in the 4th tier) then the La Liga match between Espanyol and Valencia.

Upon my return from Barcelona, it was straight into Irish League action, to see Linfield take on Cliftonville.

The following Saturday, I was at Stangmore Park to see Linfield get a 3-0 win on my birthday, which was nice.

The next two weekends were all about seeing Linfield take on Portadown, first at Windsor Park, then at Shamrock Park, with two damaging defeats for Linfield.

CE Europa v Masnoua

CE Europa v Masnou Photo Album

Espanyol v Valencia

Espanyol v Valencia Photo Album

Linfield v Cliftonville

Dungannon Swifts v Linfield

Linfield v Portadown

Portadown v Linfield

ESPANYOL 1-2 VALENCIA 8.2.2014

After taking in a Tercera Division game at lunchtime, by the evening, it was time for some La Liga action, as Espanyol took on Valencia.

The last time I went to Barcelona, I went to a match at the Nou Camp and a tour of Espanyol’s ground. I promised myself if I ever went to Barcelona again, I would do it the other way around. So, when I went to Barcelona recently, I kept my promise, taking in Espanyol’s match against Valencia.

This was a good choice of match for me, as both clubs are on the UEFA 101 Club list.

Getting a ticket for this match was easy, purchasing from a tourist office in the city on the Thursday beforehand. The number of empty seats in the stadium suggests I could have just turned up on the day with no problems.

For those who have watched a match at the Power8 stadium, I was along the side of the pitch, where the TV cameras were situated.

One new addition to the stadium since I last visit was a statue of Dani Jarque, an Espanyol player who died during the summer of 2009, soon after captaining the club in their opening game at the ground.

The quality of attacking was poor, both teams looked short of ideas going forward. Both team’s defending wasn’t that impressive either, gifting chances which weren’t taken.

Espanyol’s best moment came when Felipe Caicedo burst through but fired straight at the keeper.

It was a game that had the look of a 0-0 draw about it, until Pablo Piatti got a touch onto a cross to put Valencia 1-0 up. The Valencia fans in the corner of that goal celebrated, as did pockets of fans sat in the home end.

It looked as though Valencia were going to smother the game and hold on for a 1-0 win. Espanyol had one big attacking moment when Christian Stuani looked certain to score, until a Valencia defender managed to get a block on the line.

Dani Parejo’s free-kick gave Valencia a 2-0 lead, which sparked an exodus of home fans.

Those that left missed an immediate response, when Sergio Garcia took advantage of some poor defending to fire home.

Espanyol now had hope, and the game became end to end, with both teams immediately counter-attacking every time they won the ball. As injury time approached, the game got niggly with players squaring up to each other.

Valencia were able to hang on, and climb into 4th, as they aim to qualify for the Champions League.

Espanyol can’t qualify through the league, but they can still reach Europe, as they have a Copa Del Rey Semi-Final against Athletic Bilbao to look forward to.

Photo Album

CE EUROPA 1-0 MASNAU 8.2.2015

While in Barcelona, I decided to take in some lower league football. I didn’t do it the last time I was in Barcelona, simply because I didn’t know much about Spain’s lower league structure. Before this trip, I did some research, and decided to go to CE Europa, as they were in contention for promotion from Tercera Division.

Anyone with a basic grasp of Spanish would think I went to a third tier game, but it was in fact a 4th tier game. Spain’s divisional structure is : Primera Division (commonly known as La Liga), Segunda Division, Segunda Division B, Tercera Division.

The leagues are all regionalised and winning it doesn’t guarantee promotion – it’s just endless play-offs, but it is still worth winning your league going into these games.

I’d done a bit of research with regards to the location of the stadium, but even when I arrived there, it seemed a bit curious that I had to do a double take. The stadium just blended into the background, with children’s playpark and a gym meeting you when you arrive, with the stadium backing onto them.

The match took place on a Sunday lunchtime. CE Europa like to have a “Day of football” where underage teams, senior mens teams and womens team all playing on the same day. The pitch is synthetic, so can accommodate all these games. When I arrived at the ground, there was an underage game taking place.

The stadium itself has a main stand similar to the one at Seaview, and three smaller terraces, mainly due to the fact that there are apartments on those sides.

There wasn’t a programme culture in Spain, but CE Europa had a free newspaper available for fans. The club even handed out teamsheets. Refreshingly, both teams lined-up 1 to 11.

Within a minute, CE Europa had a penalty turned down, and a gentleman beside me screamed “PUTA!!!! HABRON!!!”. You’re probably advised not to translate that.

Europa had a lot of early pressure but no clear chances. Masnau also had their moments. I was secretly hoping they would score just to see if they had any fans in the ground. The game did look like being a 0-0 sort of game.

Towards the end of the first-half, a nice piece of skill in the box saw Europa get a penalty. After a delay waiting for it to be taken, it was missed.

There was a brief flurry from Europa immediately after that, with a header from the resulting corner going just wide.

The game had the same pattern in the second-half. Europa had a good chance saved, while Masnau had a half-chance fired just wide.

It looked like being a 0-0 sort of game, but a moment of quality saw a defence splitting pass fired home to give Europa a 1-0 lead. They were on top for the rest of the game and never looked like losing the lead, despite having a player sent-off in injury time.

Photo Album

BARCELONA STREET ART

Having been in Barcelona, I took the opportunity to get some Street Art photos. The last time I was there, I got some Street Art photos, noticing that wherever there were shutters, there would be Street Art.

There turned out to be a reason for that, as the city has put a clampdown on Street Art on walls, but can’t do anything about shutters.

I did the tour, but also stumbled upon some pieces. Enjoy.

Photo Album 1

Photo Album 2

Photo Album 3

BARCELONA

As February begins, I usually go away for a weekend somewhere. This year, I chose Barcelona.

Why? Well, I hadn’t been to Mainland Europe for two and a half years, and I just had an inkling for Barcelona. I had been before, four years ago, so I felt the time was right for a return visit.

So set was I on Barcelona, that I travelled from Dublin, with flights from Belfast not available at this time of year. It wasn’t an ideal option, but needs must. I flew out on Wednesday and flew back on Monday. Realistically, the trip was Thursday to Sunday, with the late flight on Wednesday and early flight on Monday making those days a write-off.

Wednesday wasn’t a complete write-off, as I headed for a short walk to the Arc De Triomf, before heading to bed, ahead of a busy day on the Thursday.

I woke up on Thursday morning and headed for a walk around Placa Catalunya, spotted some Street Art to photo, and had a walk around the shops. I had planned to go on the Street Art tour properly, rather than just spotting stuff.

At lunchtime, I headed to Arc De Triomf, the meeting point for the Street Art tour, but I was to be disappointed as it wasn’t on that day.

With a change of plan, I headed for a walk around Barcelona, before heading to the Nou Camp. It was too late to do the tour, so I had a look around the shop, before heading back into the City Centre to get a bite to eat.

After that, I had a walk around Las Ramblas, one of the main squares in Barcelona.

Friday morning began with me heading to the Nou Camp to do the tour. Last time I was in Barcelona, I went to a Barcelona match and did a tour of Espanyol’s ground. I always promised myself I would do a tour of the Nou Camp and go to an Espanyol match.

On Thursday morning, i’d sorted myself out for a ticket for Espanyol’s match against Valencia from the tourist office, one of many outlets in the City Centre selling them.

At the Nou Camp, I did the tour, beginning in the museum giving a chronological timeline of the club’s history, containing memorabilia and trophies from throughout the club’s history.

From there, it was a case of following the arrows which led you into the stands, then into the dressing room, the tunnel, to the side of the pitch (but not on the pitch)

The only downside was the pitch being covered. Not sure what the technical term was, but it was the things that are used to heat a pitch from above. Apologies for my lack of pitch management knowledge. IT ruined any chance of getting decent photos of the stadium.

As you followed the tour, the tour ended on the top floor of the club shop. Barcelona certainly aren’t slow in trying to make money.

As I exited the Nou Camp, I walked past Mini Estadi, which translates as The Mini Stadium, which is used by Barcelona’s reserve team, and sometimes by Andorra’s national team. Disappointingly, there was no match on that weekend, as Barcelona B (who play in Spain’s version of The Championship) were away to Real Zaragoza.

That afternoon, I was back at the Arc De Triomf to try my luck with the Street Art Tour. I soon discovered the reason why there was not tour on the Thursday – The Tour Guide had suffered a broken ankle a few weeks ago and was still recovering. Obviously such an injury is inconvenient when yo do something that involves a lot of walking

The tour is split into two – a tour of the El Borne beginning at 2pm, and a tour of Raval beginning at 4.45pm. I planned to do both on the same day but was advised to do them seperately. It was wise advice, due to the amount of walking.

The tour was very enjoyable, with the guide very knowledgeable. It also exposed me to the El Borne area in Barcelona, which I was previously unaware of. A very nice area of the city indeed. At the end of that tour, I had the later tour, earmarked for Saturday. My poor feet were worn out from all the walking.

From there, I headed to Las Rambles, onto the Marina for a walkaround. I wanted to do the cable car over the city, but I missed out …… by minutes.

I had hoped to take in a concert but the listings weren’t kind to me. The week after I visited, George Ezra was performing, which would have been nice to go to, even though I saw him at The Limelight in October.

On Saturday, I headed to Las Ramblas, the marina, the beach and El Borne.

Late afternoon, I headed to the Raval to do the Street art tour. I met my guide outside Macba (Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art). The area around MACBA is a beautiful area with lots of activity, it was a pity I only stumbled onto it to go somewhere else.

The Street Art tour of Raval was enjoyable as the one yesterday. The only complaint was that it wasn’t earlier in the day, as it began to get dark, meaning the quality of some photos wasn’t what I hoped it would be.

Sunday would be my “Day Of Football” with not one, but two matches in my plans. I went to Nou Sardenya for the lunchtime kick-off in Tercera Division (Spain’s version of League Two) between CE Europa and Masnau, which the home side won 1-0.

I then headed to Cornella, on the outskirts of the city for Espanyol v Valencia. I’d planned on going to the shopping centre beside the ground, but I ended up with too much time on my hands. I probably should have went to the City Centre for a while before heading on.

The match itself wasn’t very good in terms of quality, but was a brilliant atmosphere despite the stadium being nowhere near full.

Valencia won the game 2-1.

As I headed back into the City Centre for a bite to eat, my Barcelona adventure was almost over, as an early morning flight on the Monday would mean I wouldn’t be doing much in the city that day.

If you go to Barcelona, brace yourself for a lot of walking. Or you could be lazy and buy a pass for the Metro. I got a 10 journeys for €10, which was money well spent as I made 11 journeys (I bought the 11th as a single for €2.35)

You never had to wait a long time for a train as well, and all the stations I visited were very clean.

One thing about the Metro is that you are guaranteed to get a musical performance wether you want it or not. In Barcelona, buskers travel on the trains and give performances in packed carriages.

One down side of Barcelona is the volume of smokers, it was almost like an obstacle course at times. A blight on an otherwise beautiful city.

Despite that, I enjoyed my visit. I saw so much, and there was still so much I wanted to see.

I HAD THIS PERFECT DREAM ……

As work colleagues and Twitter followers will have been long aware, I was in Barcelona the past weekend on a short break.

Last year, I took a short break over the first weekend in February in Manchester, and wanted to do the same this year, as something exciting to look forward to over the winter months.

I decided that I didn’t want to go to mainland UK, but instead to go to mainland Europe, and then I had the idea of going somewhere with a top class football team, and try to get to a match, but not to make a football match the focal point of the trip.

I narrowed the options down to Munich and Barcelona, before eventually settling on Barcelona, to be in the city for a few days around the time they play Atletico Madrid.

The airline I booked with cancelled their flights from Belfast during the winter months, but did give me the option of changing my departure of Dublin, which I took, despite the fact I would leaving Belfast in the wee small hours ahead of an early morning flight.

Having done some prior research, I headed to the Tourist Information Office in the airport to get a ticket for the match, which was one less thing to worry about, as I set about getting checked in.

As soon as I checked in and left my bags in the room, I set about exploring the city, blindly, with no tourist maps.

I find that the best way to get lost in a city is to, erm, get lost in a city.

What struck me most was how much love there is for Street Art in Barcelona. Where there was free wallspace, or a shutter, there would be something drawn or spraypainted on to it.

Regular readers will know how much I love Street Art.

I checked out the Marina on the Thursday. Beautiful place and very photographable, or just good if you want to laze about and watch the world pass by.

I managed to find the Nou Camp by fluke, partly because I got the wrong metro stop to the one I was staying at.

Despite it being teatime on a Thursday and a non-matchday, it was rammed with tourists and people just wanting to see one of the world’s most iconic football stadiums.

After a double-digit sleep on Thursday night, I headed to Estadi Cornella-El Prat, home of the city’s other La Liga side Espanyol, where I got a guided tour of the stadium, taking in the stands, press room and changing rooms, where a symbolic space is left for former player Dani Jarque, who died in 2009.

A memorial of shirts and flowers is place in one of the stands, and plans are in place to place the shirt Andres Iniesta wore after scoring in the 2010 World Cup Final, and he subsequently donated to the club.

The remainder of Friday, and early on Saturday was spent exploring the lively Las Ramblas area of the city centre, full of life and activity.

At about 5pm on the Saturday, I decided to head over to Nou Camp for the game between Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, which kicked-off at 10pm local time.

There was me thinking that Linfield playing Setanta Cup matches at 5.30pm on a Saturday was odd.

I headed into the stadium and checked out my seat, three rows back in the second tier, unbelievable. It was great for amateur photography of portrait shots, rather than actual match action.

Barcelona won the match 3-0 with a hat-trick from Lionel Messi. Stating the obvious, but he is rather good. He was playing for fun at times, showing off as if was having a kickabout in the street.

Sunday was a lazy day, mostly spent watching football on TV and lazing at the marina before heading home on the Monday morning.

An excellent weekend well spent, and was well worth having as February’s STLFTEM.

Farewell Barcelona. If God is willing, we will meet again ……….. someday.

Photo Album

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