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Official Review by Chris Darwen, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
El Estadio La Condomina is a surprising stadium. Surprising mainly in the fact that a vast majority of people still assume the ground was bulldozed when Murcia’s senior club Real Murcia moved out in 2006. Murcia has built a new out-of-city facility in the cunningly-named Nueva Condomina and the natural assumption had been that the old ground had been sold to make way for flats or a supermarket. Not a bit of it; the old girl, albeit in the process of some repair, still stands to this day.
Real Murcia’s joint tenants since 1999, Ciudad de Murcia, remained in place for one further season before their own difficulties saw them vacate. It was only with the birth of the slightly less popular Murcian side UCAM that La Condomina finally had professional football gracing its turf once again. UCAM moved in five years after their inception and have been in residence since 2014. As a fan of the older stadium, it was not a problem to me that parts are clearly in need of repair - hence the capacity being significantly reduced as of May 2016 whilst work is carried out.
But what took me to the oldest ground in Murcia? The visit of the football team I am a shareholder in, and the second debut of one of the best Asturians ever to play the beautiful game. Yes, Michu was back in the colour of Real Oviedo on Dia del Asturias (Asturian Day). The match between the two Segunda sides was a Copa del Rey second round fixture, and boy did it live up to our own pre-match hype.
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If you want a pint inside a Spanish stadium, keep an eye over your shoulder. It's technically not allowed by law, but that is not to say it doesn't go on. I won't drop UCAM in it, but if you were to stumble across a beer and someone suggest money exchanges hands, I would guess you would be quite happy with the alleged cost of, maybe, under €1.50. In Spain you cannot watch a game without nuts, and the cantenas within the stadium have plenty. Genuinely, you can invest a mere €5 in the pleasure of eating and drinking and be very happy with the value you have had.
Oviedo, typically, have one of the larger away supports in Spanish football and even a Thursday night trip to the other end of the country didn't put everybody off. Admittedly, the Costa Calida is a destination where many Asturians have relocated to over time, so there were enough Oviedo shirts floating around to give me the confidence to don my own.
Unlike a previous visit to Real Murcia in the new stadium where I had felt positively unsafe at times, the UCAM fans were tremendously well behaved, vocal and really just a typical Spanish crowd. They even tolerated our somewhat jubilant behaviour at Michu's first goal, and managed to just about turn a blind eye when he netted an injury time equaliser to take the game to extra time.
Equally, they enjoyed reminding us of whose patch it was when UCAM won the game in the second period of injury time. The experience was great, and for a Thursday night match where either team probably weren't too fussed about the result considering the selections made, the fans made sure they were heard.
La Condomina is a proper old fashioned stadium. You walk along the street past the shops, bars and high rise flats and suddenly the home to a local football team emerges. For a first timer, it wasn't sign posted brilliantly but, equally, the location on Google Maps was 100% accurate and took me to the door. Murcia is a beautiful old city and, as you would expect, the capital of the Murcian region in South East Spain.
Considering the game was still being played at 11pm on a Thursday night, we were comfortably sitting in short sleeves and shorts enjoying the summer evening. Murcia is not just known for its 320 days of sunshine each year, its architecture is pretty stunning as well. If you ever find yourself in the city I would recommend the Cathedral and its adjacent plaza as being somewhere to spend some time, meaning you can tick off both culture, food and drink at the same time.
I've now seen all three Murcian teams play, and each set of fans are completely different. Real's were just not very nice, in the experience I had with what was admittedly a small minority. Ciudad's were brilliant - really gritty, real and "owned" the club and the players in every sense. UCAM's were nothing like either of their two local rivals. There was a very small group in the far left corner from the Tribuna that were giving it as much as they could with a loudhailer and drum. They would probably be the up and coming ultras, if anyone was to wear that cap.
Other than that, the main stand was full of everyday fans just going about watching their team fairly politely. No fuss, no nonsense, no disagreements and certainly no levels of song about their team. Whilst it was far from unpleasant at all, you can tell that the club has only been around seven years as I did not feel any UCAM fan had been through years of pain with their side.
Living an hour up the road from Murcia, this was a very easy ground for me to get to. Murcia, being the largest city, is signposted from 100km out at every angle. That said, be sure to check the exact location on sat nav when arriving by car because, like many a ground slap bang in the middle of the city, the roads get a little more tricky to understand the nearer you get to the ground.
Due to a potentially overheating car, I parked 1km away from the gates and walked the rest. Walking to the ground I spotted many free of charge parking spaces close enough to make it worth saving a few bucks. Equally, there is a car park of substantial size next to the ground, so at Segunda level it is unlikely parking would ever be a problem. Murcia has an airport, but do not be fooled to thinking it is near the stadium. If you are planning to fly in for a game, make sure you have arranged transport from the airport to the city or, at the very least, to a main road where most buses will take you into Murcia city itself.
I thought as it was Michu's second debut, and I was new to the stadium, I would treat myself to a Tribuna ticket at 15 euros. Tribuna is the main stand in Spain, and it was the right choice. We were able to sit in the front row, watching the game at pitch level which is not something I have been able to do too often. The game was slightly lacking in quality but high in drama, so the ticket price was a bargain.
Fifteen Euros? I'd have paid 100, especially considering you pay 10 to go and watch a Tercera (two levels lower) league game an hour up the road in Torrevieja. I feel this was excellent value for money, and you could have got in last night for a mere €5, if you had wanted that ticket.
When you watch football in Spain, certainly at a non-La Liga level, you are going to do just that: watch the football. If you want a match programme, you might get lucky. If you are lucky enough to be with someone in the press, as I was, then you can get a team sheet. The club has merchandise stalls scattered around, all of which are fairly reasonably priced, but other than that the event is very much the match, and the match alone.
La Condomina is a historic ground, and make no mistake. If you can look beyond the shabby edges and remember that some of the greatest players in Europe will have played on that turf at some point you start to feel the magic. There is a charm to the open-roofed sides, the high rise flats that overlook the pitch and even, in its current form, the huge Boca Juniors-inspired UCAM banner that adorns the far right stand at the ground. Again, putting the personal connection to the occasion to one side for a moment, I would have thoroughly enjoyed my evening even as a complete neutral.
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