CD Olimpic de Xàtiva 4 Novelda CF 3 (16th September 2018)
With my trip to Valencia arranged, the next step was to find some other games to go to during my nine-day trip. With Valencia playing on the Saturday, this meant finding a game being played on the Sunday that a) wasn’t too far from Valencia, b) was being played in a half-decent ground, c) where the ground could be reached without too much difficulty from the train station, d) where train times made it a feasible option, and e) where the town would be worth visiting to make something of a day (or afternoon) of it.
The Spanish League’s infuriating slow confirmation of fixture dates and times made this a painful process, but with a week to go, it had pretty much been narrowed down to two options, and both of those required dropping down to Spain’s 4th tier. The two options were Alzira or Xativa, both in the same division, both on the same train line, with similar grounds, but Xativa won out on virtue of the town being more interesting. It even had a hilltop castle, which made spending a whole afternoon there a option.
True, unless they are in the Valencia region for an extended time, Xativa isn’t going to make it onto many tourists’ “must see” lists, but it does possess a pleasant, and empty, old town, although it is quite a hike to the castle – not so much in distance as in the uphill climb. The castle is probably the main reason tourists come here, but the views from the top of the hill really make all that uphill walking worthwhile.
With the game kicking off at 6.30, my plan had been to come down from the castle soon after four, then maybe find a restaurant in the old town, and stop for a meal before heading to the ground. The old town seemed quite a lively place on this Sunday afternoon if you lived there – several streets seemed to be having some kind of communal meal – but other than that the place was resolutely shut. Even the new town, just a but further on, wasn’t too kind. There were restaurants, but these either looked very expensive, or offering food I didn’t fancy, or were shut. Plenty of places offering ice-cream, but that’s hardly a meal. I dismissed signs for KFC and McDonalds, and headed in the direction of the ground, confident I’d find something en route.
Quickly I was starting to think KFC wouldn’t have been such a bad option. There was nothing. I was even hoping to see a petrol station, of the kind that had a mini-Gregg’s inside, but there really was nothing. To my delight though, when I reached the ground, I found not one, but two places calling themselves a bar/restaurant in the next street. Sadly, neither of them seemed to be offering anything resembling cooked food, which is how I came to have a Sunday dinner of two packets of crisps.
Given that Spain’s 4th tier is regionalised into no fewer then eighteen regional divisions – and those are located beneath four third divisions – standards can probably vary a fair bit, both on an off the pitch. Xativa’s ground hinted at a spell of success somewhere along the line, with a modern main stand holding over 2000 people, with terracing for supposedly (and optimistically) around 7000 on the other three sides, yet the club has never risen above the third tier. Their last spell at that level a few years back, saw the ground full – in fact with a temporary stand added down one side – for a 0-0 draw with the full Real Madrid team in the Copa del Rey. The crowd would be a tad smaller this evening.
People often talk about how football is overpriced in England, but I was charged €15 to get in here (for a seat, €10 to stand) and a full €1 for a programme that not only could I not read, but was also just a folded sheet of A4 paper.
The only food in the ground was also crisps, but I declined a third packet. You can have too much of a good thing.
I didn’t mind though, as I liked the ground. The modern main stand, with its curved and angled roof looking somewhat like an aircraft wing, holds more than many grounds at this level do in total. The terracing, really just large steps more like seats, was high enough to provide a decent view. One end offered a clear view of the hill rising up and its castle, although it was still two ugly apartment blocks away from being perfect. Another side offered views of hills in the other direction, with the odd palm tree poking over for novelty. The other end was backed by houses, some of whom’s residents would pop out to watch the match for free from their balconies.
And what a match they, and those of us that actually paid to get in, saw. Pre-match I’d noticed the visiting Novelda forwards looking particularly hopeless in the warm up, and thought they wouldn’t be troubling the Xativa defence too much this evening. It took just six minutes before they did.
A free kick wasn’t properly cleared, and it was chipped back into the Xativa box from the byline, to be simply headed in from six yards. A smattering of applause, rather than a cheer, greeted the away goal. If there were any away fans present, they weren’t making themselves too well known.
Within four minutes the home side were level. A shot from the edge of the box took a big deflection and lifted over the stranded keeper, on the ground and helpless as it sailed into the net. Naturally the scorer ran off celebrating as if the deflection was his intention all along. A crowd of probably around 700 made rather more noise for this goal than was made for the first.
Xativa looked to be kicking on now and pushing for the lead, but Novelda were a threat on the break. Another break, about 20 minutes in, resulted in another free kick, and again this was the home sides undoing. This time it was a first time shot, up and over the wall, into the bottom corner.
This one seemed to knock Xativa a bit. They were still on top, but a degree of belief had clearly gone from their play, and when a Novelda break on the stroke of half-time was slid past the keeper for 3-1, it did look rather terminal.
Unfortunately for Novelda, they made the tactical decision to just sit on their lead in the second half, and it handed the initiative back to the home side. For a fair amount of the second half, this didn’t seem a bad ploy, but in the 67th minute it started to unravel.
A rather clumsy attempt to win the ball resulted in a penalty for the home side. It was well saved, but not cleared at all, and as it pinged around in the box near the keeper, it seemed to hit a Novelda player on the arm. It may well have been another penalty, had this contact not dragged the ball into the net. 2-3 now, game on!
From the very next attack the home side were level. A Novelda defender actually broke the attack up on the right, but then played a suicidal ball back to the keeper. This was easily picked off by to Xativa forwards, who had the simple task of clipping it past the keeper and the ball watching defenders to make the game 3-3.
The script now surely dictated a winner for the home side, but Novelda had come back to life, and there was the potential for a sting in the tail. It was to be Xativa’s day though. In the 88th minute a deep free kick from the right was lifted into the box. It deceived everybody, with nobody getting a touch as it bounced into the box, then up an over the equally deceived Novelda keeper into the top corner. Again the Xativa player celebrated like he’d meant it all along.
There was still time for Xativa to nearly make the game safe at 5-3, with a shot fired across the keeper before bouncing to safety off the post. But they’d earned their win. A youthful pitch invasion followed, and chants of “O-lim-pic…O-lim-pic” rang out. For fans of Xativa, football down in the depths of the 4th tier may lack the glamour of games at the Mestalla, forty minutes up the road, but games like this are what makes it all worthwhile.