The last time United lost at home in Europe was under Fergie against Madrid 4 years ago, and we’ve won all 5 matches at Old Trafford this season. After a late goal away at Anderlecht there was a lot to do to make it through to the semi-finals; the return leg treated us to yet another draw before a relieving late winner in extra time from Rashford. It’s not been an entirely convincing Europa League run but we’re just two games away from the final now with our next opponents Celta Vigo.
The trip to Spain was the first since United faced Real Sociedad in the 2013/14 Champions League group stage, whilst my last visit was to the Bernabeu earlier that year (a great moment celebrating a Danny Welbeck goal). Celta Vigo, our ninth opponents from Spain, would represent a brand new team and destination, a Maytime trip to the sunny northwest coast.
The planning for the trip to Spain started some time before the quarter final had been won, with 6 potential opponents still in the mix and 2 dates the away leg could fall on – just 12 journeys in total to research. The included; Genk – the cheapest option with a £37 flight to nearby Brussels; Istanbul for Besiktas, the furthest city with options between £150-180; and the rest, including Dusseldorf for Schalke, all sitting around 100 quid. All reasonable options and all ready to go once the draw was made, the 3 that made it into the hat being Ajax (Amsterdam), Lyon and Celta Vigo.
The most complicated of these was Celta Vigo and so naturally this was the tie we were dealt. The original plan was to travel to Porto, around 90 miles further down the coast, with a train journey from there, but despite being ready to go with the flights the best times had already shot up to £140. Not wanting to hang around I quickly booked onto a backup option of Madrid, £69 return seeming a good deal and given it’s the capital I was confident there’d be a decent train connection.
I was right, there was a direct route from Madrid to Vigo, just over 5 and half hours. I’ve done a few long train journeys over the last year and it’s certainly a more affordable way to travel in Europe, an 800 round trip taking in a few cities in the northwest of Spain for just over €100. A few hours in the 25 degree Madrid sun was a great pitstop after the flight over, even if it was spent in the quiet Charmartin area, north of the city. Time for a Mahou or two, always better in Spain where beer is regularly accompanied with a free side (from hot chick peas and meat, to bread and mushrooms).
The train took us through Ourense, possibly the tip of Portugal too if Vodafone’s signal is to be believed. It was fairly slow, certainly no bullet train, but this was due to the hills and rocky landscape of the north of Spain. The tracks didn’t look like they were built for high speed but more for ambling through the country; train beers were of course key.
Santiago de Compostela
My time in Vigo was sandwiched between Madrid and a detour an hour north to the capital of the Galicia region, Santiago de Compostela. This is the destination for many Catholics who pilgrimage across the north of Spain to visit the resting place of Saint James. Unfortunately for me the grand Cathedral was mid-repair; I looked around most of the city but it was also chucking it down with rain and poncho wearing pilgrims. Perhaps I’ll visit again in the future after a 500 mile hike, hopefully to see it in a little more glory. Instead it was another 5 hour trip back to Madrid.
With 4 days of travelling between 3 cities in Spain it was down to hostels for accommodation; the Kaps in Vigo and Las Musas in Madrid. Both were central, Kaps a mile or so walk up from the train station and Las Musas close to the Sol metro. At €19 a night for both there were no complaints as ever, even if I spent less than 10 hours in the Madrid digs. Even better was that I finally got round to using one of my accrued free nights from Hotels.com rewards. Given this was worth the average value of my previous 10 trips it didn’t amount to much, but enough for one of the nights at least!
The City of Vigo
Whilst the old town area of Vigo is close to the port and fairly flat, the rest of the centre is built on a big hill, my hostel being about as close as you could get to the top – not ideal arriving late in the evening having been sat drinking on the train. It did however work to my advantage as I spent the next morning taking in the views of the city and various castle ruins at the top. Being a port on the Atlantic it was a very industrial looking town, especially on the waterfront, but still full of bits of old ruins, steep winding side streets and plenty of latin crosses.
The bars in the old town were full of United all day, but the locals were friendly and Celta’s blue shirts were everywhere – even on half of the statues around the place. We took some time out to sample the local tapas (next door to the suspect bar ISIS) and ordered a bit too much of the local delicacy polpo – chewy, part baked octopus. Thankfully there was enough good red wine to wash this down.
The 29k capacity Balaídos ground was a short bus ride out of the city centre, and given the hospitable nature of the locals during the day there was no over the top policing. We actually managed to get into one of the home supporters bars right outside the ground to enjoy a few final pre match pints and an attempt to predict the scoreline with our hosts.
Although there was roof over some of the stands it was still a fairly open ground, with views of the residential blocks outside as well as a winding spiral staircase up to the sections of the away end. The 1,500 United fans squeezed in, some worse for wear after a day on the beer in the sun, and sung all game, probably one of the best Euro away atmospheres all season. The home end was largely a city-esque sky blue but with dots of red as all of their fans had been given a half and half scarf for the occasion.
Celta have had a good season but were fairly cagey, whilst United were again looking a little jaded. Thankfully that boy Rashford stepped up again and got the winner, this time from a direct free kick. We managed to see the game out and, despite tacking a whack on the legs from a police baton for trying to get into the upper tier of our end, there was nothing much else to report. We were soon out of the ground and back drinking with the same Celta fans in the pub close to the ground, everyone still in good spirits.
The Europa league has given us such a range of destinations, the coast of Spain in the sun being one of the more enjoyable, especially when stretching the trip out to 4 days! I’m glad I did my homework this time round and got a decent and well-priced trip; being able to take in a good bit of 3 Spanish cities was great, as was my first trip to the captivating Galicia region. The upcoming 2nd leg has a lot riding on it but we’re so close to that Stockholm final now. Hopefully our next game in the Europa league is one to treasure.
Total travel costs: £169
Miles travelled: 2,610
Accommodation: £16/night (shared dorm)
Match ticket: £48 (€55)
Average cost of pint: £3.20 (€3.70)
United allocation: 1,500
Result: Celta Vigo 0: United 1
Match played 04/05/17