UD Lanzarote: Volcanic roots football.

Why volcanic roots? Well, there are three reasons. The first is pretty obvious. We were on holiday in Lanzarote, and the island was born through volcanic action, so that’s one reason. Usually, the wife and I take our holidays in early June. Unless there’s a World Cup or European Championships, there’s no football to miss. This year was different however and we jetted out in September for two weeks of summer sun.

As I mentioned, usually when we’re away, there’s no football on, so nothing to miss. Of course, there’s always Sky TV’s big satellite footprint, so we weren’t bereft of news. Fortunately, there was also the prospect of taking in a local game and we discovered that Union Deportiva Lanzarote play in the fourth tier of La Liga. While we were there, they played at home against Union Viera from Gran Canaria. It’s a ‘Canaria derby.’ For a football blogger, it was just too good a chance to miss.  

The wife did all the research and managed to contact an ex-pat who runs an English language website about the club. Ian Lane hails from Jersey and has a personal reason for remembering what was probably the club’s greatest moment. For all things UD Lanzarote, Ian Lane is the guy and www.lanzarotefoitball.com  is the website. The club is based in, Arrecife which, fortunately for us, was not too far from where we were staying. Ian gave us directions, mentioning the ground is right next to the Arrecife bus station. Not exactly like a journey on the old ‘football specials’ of yesteryear, but it sounded ideal. Or so we thought.

The rep at our hotel armed us with a bus timetable and we set off to walk to the local bus depot. I’m not one to moan, and the opportunity to lie by the pool with a mojito to hand in 31 degrees is high on my list of holiday priorities, but walking for 45 minutes in that same heat – with no mojito, and a bottle of water that was once cold, but soon felt warm enough to poach an egg – is an entirely different matter.

The charbroiled feeling didn’t improve when we arrived at the bus station. Apparently, our timetable was out of date, and the bus we were planning to catch now only ran on a Sunday. Not a lot of use on a Saturday. Deploying the pioneering spirit of Shackleton, Livingstone and other people whose bus didn’t turn up however, we resolved not to be beaten and lashed out on a taxi to the capital. 35 minutes, a pitiful smile from the driver when we told him where we were going and 50 euros later, we arrived.

As we had now journeyed to the ground by taxi, we were a fair bit ahead of schedule. The game was due to kick off at 4.30pm and as the already small fan base was likely to be further reduced on that particular day due to a local fiesta, we thought that rolling up five minutes ahead of kick off was fine. Planning ahead, we decided to be sure where the bus station was for the return journey – and of course, also check on the times. You don’t catch us out twice! That’s not what got Scott to the South Pole, was it? Actually, didn’t they all perish on the return journey? Well, I guess even more reason to be sure of the bus timings. Anyway, I digress. We now had over an hour to kill before the action started.

Fortunately we’d spotted a small bar on our recce of the bus station, we went in and found that the Barcelona v Athletic Bilbao game was being shown. Clearly the sensible thing to do was to order a couple of cold beers and take in a bit of the game. So, while we’re doing that, here’s a little of the history of UD Lanzarote…

The club was formed in 1970, and its first pitch was actually on picón – the volcanic granules common around the island – hence the second reason for the title – but this has now been replaced with an artificial grass surface. In their first season, they secured the title of the Segunda Regional Insular (regional 2nd division), then battled through various regional leagues before making it to the third division in 1980, finishing a creditable fifth. Fairly fallow league years followed until in 1999, they finished third, and were promoted to the Segunda Division B, the third tier of Spanish football. It was only a brief stay however.

2001 was however to be the most memorable in the club’s history. Back in Segunda Division B, they finished eighth and qualified for the Copa del Rey. Primera Liga side, Tenerife visited the island of volcanos, and 6,000 fans packed into the neat little stadium erupted as the Rojillos won 5-1. Better was to follow though, when the next round paired the Reds with the might of Real Madrid. This was the team of Zidane and Figo, the European Champions.

The stadium was packed for the arrival of the Galacticos and although Lanzarote held out for almost 30 minutes, Del Bosque’s team eventually went ahead. Cue floodgates? Well, not really. As the break, approached it was still 1-0. Then an extraordinary thing happened. Local boy and part time waiter Oscar Valdimar netted an equaliser. UD Lanzarote, the team from the small Canary island were looking Real Madrid squarely in the eye

A dozen years or so before, after travelling the world, Ian Lane was a tour guide on Lanzarote and was chatting to the owners of a restaurant there, who had a son signed to Lanzarote juniors. As the years went on, and Ian’s relationship with the club developed, so the restauranteurs’ son’s career progressed to the first team. Ahead of the Real Madrid game, Ian mentioned to him that, if his then pregnant wife gave birth to a boy, in the admittedly unlikely event that the player scored against Los Blancos, he would name him after him. Ian’s son was born six months later. Oscar is now 12. Of course it couldn’t last, Guti and Pavon scored to restore a measure of reality. The Rojillos’ fans however, like supporters the world over, had tasted glory and dared to dream.  Well, that little sojourn into history took about an hour, so now is about the right time to return to the bar in Arrecife, as I’ve just finished that cold beer, well, the second one actually.

We had watched from a few minutes past kick off and it was now into the second half. We’d been joined in the bar by three men donned in Lanzarote tops, with the sponsor’s name on them and ‘Lanzarote’ emblazoned in an offset font below. Fifteen minutes into the second half at the Camp Nou, we paid our bill, and crossed the road. The three Lanzarote supporters followed us.

After purchasing a ticket for 5 euros we walked into the ground. It was small, perhaps equivalent in capacity to a Conference club, but immaculately clean. Ian had mentioned that he could be found running the UD Lanzarote ‘megastore’ located by the club bar. With practised ease we located the bar and consequently Ian’s ‘megastore.’ It consisted of a single table from which he was selling club wares such as replica shirts, scarves and the like.

Strolling around the ground we fell into conversation with another couple of Brits. They mentioned having seen the team play six times, without winning. Ah, I told him, but as we were here, all that would change today. He wasn’t convinced. When we reached the far side of the ground, we made our acquaintance with Ian. To be fair, he was doing fairly brisk business and sold two shirts in the five minutes or so we were there – plus a scarf to my wife, although in 30-odd degrees of heat, I’m not sure it was going to get worn any time soon.

We also found out that there was more to Ian’s role at the club than selling shirts. Sometime ago, he had asked Oscar – the Lanzarote player that is, not his son – if he could have one of his shirts. He was told that it didn’t really work like that as he only had one for the entire season. This triggered Ian to agree a deal with the club, to design and produce shirts for the players and to sell replicas. The set up has run for eight years now, with talk of a further four year deal in the offing.

Taking our leave we took up seats in the stand and settled down to watch the game, with a couple of beers. I knew little about the Lanzarote players, other than being aware that a Colombian player, Mauri, had been signed, together with a couple of Brits. I guess there may have been two or three hundred in the ground to watch, and as skipper and striker Rosman headed an early chance over the bar, the resultant encouraging cheers told that few had made the ferry crossing to support the away team.

Rosman always looked threatening, and with 26 minutes gone, he broke the Union Viera offside ploy, after being played through. Striding into the box, he drew the goalkeeper before squaring the ball neatly for Echedy to tap home. 1-0 to Lanzarote.  The currency of a goal for your team is the same the world over, regardless of who you follow and the couple of hundred or so there made plenty of noise.

Half-time came with more decent opportunities for the home side. Mauri was always a threat down the left with deft footwork, but barely an attack worthy of the name from the visitors. During the break, being the perfect woman, the wife went to get refills of beer while I made a few hastily scribbled notes. Returning, she remarked how immaculately clean the Ladies’ toilets were, and that there were six of them for a stadium that had a capacity of 6,000, when the stand she sits in at Wolves’ stadium has only two for a much greater number.

Just three minutes had elapsed after the restart when the Rojillos doubled their lead. A weak clearance fell to one of the British players on the edge of the box. With aplomb, Brad brilliantly volleyed into the top left hand corner for a goal that would have graced any game at any stadium. 2-0, and it seemed victory was assured. In the 55th minute however, a header from striker Peraza reduced the arrears and seemingly created a measure of doubt. Things went from bad to worse when the referee missed an elbow into Rosman’s face, and after Brad exacted revenge by flooring the offender with a punch, red inevitably followed. With 20 minutes remaining on the clock, a backs to the wall battle ensued to see out the victory.

The crowd lacked little in passion. Throughout the last quarter of the game one fairly elderly man, clad all in Lanzarote red, with a cap to match, foreswore his seat, and stood against the pitch-side barrier, berating the referee for missing the assault on Rosman, demanding ‘Roja!’ for any offence the Union Viera players committed. It was a master-class in dedication to the cause and obsessive demands for retribution against perceived injustice.

Although now with numerical superiority, the visitors rarely threatened to score, and Lanzarote held out for the victory. It had been a thoroughly entertaining game. Unfortunately, we didn’t bump into the guy who had doubted our ability to influence the result of the game, but I contented myself with the thought that he knew the truth. At the end of the game, many fans took the short cut across the pitch towards the exit, so we followed suit. I was keen to get a glimpse of the artificial pitch the game had been played on, and here’s the hat-trick reason for the title. The plastic grass was interwoven with fine black Lanzarote volcanic sand – volcanic roots football indeed.

Watching football abroad is always an enticing prospect, but that shouldn’t only be in the Camp Nou or Allianz Arena. The game at its local level still has a certain magic of its own, and that’s as true in foreign fields as it is at home. In Lanzarote, we found out it was also true for volcanic roots football.

(This All Blue Daze article was originally produced for ‘The Football Pink’ magazine).

 

 

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