Geta life

There are two things I like most about visiting a new ground - the sensation you first get when you see it close up from the outside, particularly at night, with people scurrying to and fro, and the experience of emerging from the labyrinth of tunnels and stairs into the stadium itself, with the shock of colour and sound.

When you do this at one of the famous grounds, a sort of wonderment accompanies the moment, making you feel sorry for people who don't like or understand football. But when you emerge into the very different space of a ground like the Coliseum Alfonso Perez at Getafe, it's worth the entrance fee for different reasons.

At Saturday's match against bottom club Deportivo, I use a press pass but sit to one side of the press area in order to get a better feel for the place. There are plenty of empty seats for the taking, and the first impression on taking in the scene is the pitiful-looking attendance, confirmed on Sunday morning as a mere 5,000. There are about 200 from Coruna in a corner behind the goal - but more about them later.

The overall vibration of Getafe's ground, huddled close to the motorway that snakes out of Madrid, is one of a cold blue. The seats are light blue, the team's shirts are a darker hue, and there is a huge cold blue sky above the largely unprotected stadium. It looks like one of those 'mini-estadi' concepts built for the reserve sides of the bigger clubs. Opened in 1998, it has Portakabin chic and doesn't quite look as though it intends to stay.

I get in slightly late because the metro ride from central Madrid takes longer than expected. The line south to Getafe was opened in 2003, but the city itself - if that is what it is - began to grow in the first half of the 20th century, when Spain's late-coming industrialisation began to take effect and companies looked for land on the outer edges of Madrid.

Getafe grew from a small town almost overnight, with a population now of 170,000. The metro route map shows the names of the other satellite teams Leganes and Alcorcon - neighbours in the slightly anonymous sprawl of Madrid's concrete outskirts. I don't have time to visit Cerro de Los Angeles, just south of the ground and considered the true geographical centre of the Iberian Peninsula.

Getafe, 600 metres above sea level, is very cold. It doesn't take long to start feeling uncomfortable, but things begin to warm up after 11 minutes when Getafe's keeper, Miguel Angel Moya, upends Riki close to the goal-line and Paradas Romero awards a penalty and sends Moya for a hot shower. It seems a bit harsh, but part of the latest La Liga fashion for sending players off at a moment's notice. Pizzi scores and the Getafe fans come to life, directing colourful abuse at the referee.

Deportivo knock the ball around confidently for a while, but seem predictable and one-paced. Although Riki and Pizzi are good players, the midfield lacks imagination and the attacking strategy seems based on getting full-back Manuel Pablo forward to pick open Getafe's depleted ranks.

But Pablo, everybody's favourite uncle and a player who seems to have been around for ever, is now beginning to look more like everyone's favourite grandpa. Instead of riding off into the Galician sunset with some dignity, he has decided to go ungentle into that good night, and he is at fault for Getafe's equaliser 15 minutes later when he allows Adrian Colunga to escape.

Abdelaziz Barrada brings Colunga down and Diego Castro converts the penalty, but the crowd hollers for the referee's blood when he only shows a yellow to Barrada. The decision lacks consistency, but you know what is coming. Getafe decide to take the game to Deportivo in the sure knowledge that Paradas Romero will 'compensar' (compensate for) his decision to send off one player and not another, and thus anyone with a yellow card will be hunted down by Getafe's forwards and provoked into a foul. It is getting like this every week - this has become the major tactical strategy in La Liga.

At half-time, I speak to the middle-aged gentleman, two rows behind me, who has been entertaining the section with some interesting observations on the referee ("Ref! You're shameless! Even your mother's disowned you. Get down to the confessional, you son of a bitch!"). He has come prepared and has a blanket over his knees, lovingly knitted in Getafe's club colours. His scarf says, in English, 'Since 1983'. I ask him why it is in English and what it means.

"Ah - it's because the club folded in 1982, sir," he says, suddenly more formal. He consults his neighbour - "What were we called?" – and is reminded that they were called Club Getafe Deportivo. "The players weren't paid. Everything went to the dogs. The club disappeared. They founded the new one - this one - in 1983." He points to his scarf. I ask him why it is in English, and he looks suddenly bemused. "Oh crap! So it is," he replies, startled. "I hadn't noticed. No idea, sir. There are things that are hard to explain," he concludes, philosophically. But I've found the right guy. Call it instinct.

Deciding to dig slightly deeper, since the gentleman appears happy to talk, I ask him which of the bigger Madrid clubs the Getafe fans adhere to. "Real Madrid," he says, without hesitation. "Some of them support Atletico, but not many." I ask him if he also goes to the Bernabeu. "Wouldn't be seen dead there, sir," he smiles. "But we go sometimes to Atletico," he adds, pointing to his neighbour, who might also be his son.

And then, in response to the key question about the identity of the hardcore Getafe fans, the ones who only support their local cause, he shrugs. "You're looking at the last one," he says. "I'm the last one left. I was born and bred here. It used to make a difference, but hey - now you can be in Madrid in half an hour. It used to be a faraway place, I'm telling you. But now half of the town are season-ticket holders of Real Madrid. Pah!

"The problem is that the kids here don't realise how fantastic it is to have a team in the top division. For me, it's amazing that we're still here. We got to the UEFA. About five years ago, we played Bayern Munich. We scared them, we did!"

But things now seem a long way from that wonderful quarter-final, when Getafe almost beat Bayern in an epic second leg and became everyone's favourite cause, and they are a strange side for the Spanish general public - in that no-man's land of being difficult to either like or dislike.

But it is clear in the second half that they are much better than Deportivo, despite the fact that they come into this game on the back of a nine-match winless run in league and cup. Despite being a man down, they try to play football, and their passing is more decisive. They look like a top-flight outfit. Deportivo are terrible - far worse than when I saw them recently at Anoeta.

Their supporters begin to chant: "Echad más huevos!" ("Put more effort in!"), and when Depor player Andre Santos goes to collect a ball close to the travelling fans they appear to criticise him, running down to the perimeter fence and making some 'tactical' suggestions.

They are dressed in Depor shirts and jeans: they must breed 'em tough up in Galicia. I am wearing a skiing jacket, thermal trousers and several layers, but am still shivering. It must be the coldest match I've been to for some time, since bygone days on the bleak terraces at Grimsby Town.

The Getafe fans sense a comeback and begin to chorus "Geta, Geta" (it sounds like "heta, heta"). Something approaching an atmosphere descends on the floodlit scene. The home players single out Depor's Abel Aguilar as the man to provoke, and the inevitable happens on 70 minutes when a perfectly reasonable challenge sees him yellow-carded for the second time.

There is no way back for Deportivo, fully exposed in the ten versus ten situation and wholly incapable of controlling Geta's speedy forwards, particularly the excellent Colunga. Alvaro Vazquez scores after 81, Colunga makes it 3-1 two minutes later and the locals go wild - about as wild as they ever get in Getafe. Despite their poor run, they can still aspire to something more than mid-table comfort and are six points off the Europa places when the whistle blows on Saturday.

Elsewhere, with Spain in the grip of a fresh political scandal, with its government implicated in dodgy financial dealings, the mood in Madrid is hardly lightened by the 1-0 defeat at Granada, courtesy of a rare own goal from Cristiano Ronaldo. Now there's a collector's piece.

That also makes a full four out of four in Andalucia this season, Madrid already having lost at Betis, Sevilla and Malaga. Granada, refreshed by the spirit inculcated by new manager Lucas Alcaraz, move up to 16th, but nobody really seems to focus on them, the press preferring to highlight Jose Mourinho's statement that he couldn't understand why his players were tired given that several of them had not been involved in the midweek clásico.

Rather more bitingly, he adds: "When we win now, the players are doing it by themselves. When we lose, it's my fault." Touché! The truth, though, is probably more mundane. Madrid can still win the Copa del Rey and the Champions League, whereas a defence of their league title has been long dismissed - according, that is, to the collective wisdom of the Madrid press. Saving their efforts for something more motivating, or a good performance by Granada? Perish the latter thought!

Deportivo host Granada next week and, by the look of things, will struggle to beat them. Meanwhile, Getafe travel to Barcelona. You never know, that assault on the Europa League places might just have to wait for another week.