Starting XI: Matt Harrison

Welcome to a continuation on the regular series on The 94th Minute, called “Starting XI”. This is where I ask various people, who are fans of football, a number of questions to get to know them better! The majority of the questions will differ for each person, but the final question will always be:

“Who would be in your all-time, favourite starting XI?”

This is a question where anyone can be put into their starting eleven, whether they are famous footballers, football legends, past or unknown players who had an impact on their childhood, or even players they have played with or coached. Anyone is acceptable in their XI providing they give a reason for their inclusion!

The thirtieth instalment of the series is with Marbella-based, Welsh groundhopper, and Swansea City supporter, Matt Harrison. Matt is well-known in the groundhopping community for his excellent blogsite, Lostboyos, which he ran with his brother Marc. The pair of them would write up superb groundhops from around the world, whether it be in a cold, rainy northern England lower league ground, a humid South East Asian stadium, or even a classic eastern European concrete bowl, they were always excellent reading. Plus the blogsite was one of the inspirations for why I started to blog about my groundhopping adventures.

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Since moving to Spain, Matt has created another blog, craftily titled Los Boyos. For his new blog, he naturally writes about groundhops that he does throughout Spanish football whilst following his adopted Spanish side, Málaga CF, as well as other cultural and social experiences that he encounters during his stay in Spain.

For this Starting XI interview, I wanted to know what his favourite groundhops were throughout his many footballing travels, the best and worst grounds he had been to, the present and future with both Los Boyos and Lostboyos, the season his beloved Swansea City and Málaga CF have had before the pausing of the season, and finally, his all-time favourite eleven players.

 

[NOTE: All pictures are courtesy of Matt]

Q. Thanks very much for being part of the Starting XI series! Firstly, what has been your favourite groundhop so far in your various journeys?

Well that is a big question to start with. Hard to give a true definitive answer so I’ll just have to spout out some of my favourites.

The first one that usually enters my mind is me and my pal Gibbo’s trip to Belgium a few years ago – it was a belter! We went to games at Oostende and Ghent games, but the highlight was the Bruges Derby on the Friday night when the Club Brugge fans really took us in (even though Gibbo had accidentally worn a jacket with a dash of evil purple on it – the devil colour of Anderlecht to Brugge fans). The game was pretty average, but the atmosphere during the game and particularly before the game was immense. We got invited on the march from the city to the ground with the Brugge Ultras; a tradition on derby to show Cercle ‘who’s boss’. A photo of me and Gibbo that day even got used by Club Brugge’s social media team a few years later as a rallying call asking their fans to ‘tag a real Club Brugge fan‘. The irony.

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A few others that spring to mind quickly: watching Swansea City play away in Malmö in our first Europa League game was lots of (drunken) fun; getting taken in with the Ultras at Red Star Belgrade as a huge storm battered the stadium was certainly memorable; Celtic 3-3 Inter in the Europa League when Celtic scored a last minute equaliser was utter chaos (probably the best game I’ve ever been to – Celtic Park under the floodlights on a European night is special); and more recently Ittihad Tangiers in Morocco was bonkers and undoubtedly the loudest I’ve ever heard a fanbase – the noise was relentless for 90 minutes. I realise now I could probably reel off loads more and I’ll inevitably think of something later and think ‘Ah damn, that was definitely the best one‘ but I suppose the fact that I have so much to draw upon can only be a good thing. I’d say 90% of my happiest memories have centred around football trips of some sort.

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Q. Do you collect anything from your groundhops? What is your most prized possession gained from groundhopping?

Not really. I’ve never been a programme or a badge collector. I’d say the only thing really was scarves every time I went to an overseas ground, but since I’ve pretty much spent the last few years living overseas, that tradition has become more sporadic too. I always make sure to take a few photos of where I’m visiting, so I’ll be really cheesy and say I like to collect memories.

Collecting a Dynamo Dresden scarf, with Putin looking on in approval.

 

Q. What places you have visited have been surprisingly brilliant, and which have been surprising poor?

The Pancho Aréna is definitely the oddest and maybe most brilliant place I’ve ever watched football. It’s a stadium in the tiny home village of Hungarian Prime Minister, the football-obsessed Viktor Orbán, and it is as much like a palace as it is a football ground. Puskás Akadémia FC play there who virtually have no fans, so it really is a bizarre experience. There’s virtually no public transport there either so to get there involved a hike from the nearest train station through the countryside for miles. It was all round weird, but great. Seem to remember the game being particularly good too.

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Not sure any have truly let me down really. FK Vozdovac was maybe a bit of a let down. It’s infamous in groundhopping circles as ‘that stadium in Belgrade that’s built on top of a shopping centre‘. That novelty in itself is really cool and for the first ten minutes I loved it. However, once that quirk had worn off, I realised there was no bar or any refreshments and Belgrade was being hit by a heatwave dubbed ‘Lucifer‘, so this was far from ideal. Vozdovac are a top flight club, but there were hardly any fans, the game was crap and the experience slowly dulled and it occurred to me that I was really just in a bang average football stadium with a plastic pitch – I was just a bit higher up than usual. Even though it was a letdown, I’d still weirdly recommend it, just for the ‘I once watched football on top of a shopping centre‘ badge of honour.

 

Q. Is there any ground or club that you would love to visit in the near future?

I would still love to do some of the real big hitters like the San Siro, Westfalenstadion, Bernabeu etc. and I’ve always had a real thing for Sporting Lisbon (it’s the shirts) so hoping to go there soon. The ultimate bucket-lister for me and I imagine for many – is going to Buenos Aires for a big football trip. Of course Boca Juniors would be the dream but I’d be happy with whatever was on offer there as there seems to be so many amazing football clubs and stadiums within the city.

Estadio Jose Alvalade
The Estádio José Alvalade Século XXI, home of Sporting CP.

 

Q. As a Swans fan, how do you think Swansea City’s season is going, and what would be considered a good season?

Swansea CityAs well as can be expected I suppose. I think some Swans fans are a tad harsh towards Steve Cooper and I think he’s done a good job overall, even though I do agree that the football could be a bit more exciting at times. He’s a young coach in his first job and I think we should stick with him for a bit and see what else he has to offer. Next season will be a big season for him, as he’ll need to demonstrate what he has learned during his debut managerial season – and I think he’ll have to start delivering more expansive football too to keep a Swansea fanbase, who are used to passing football, on side.

EFL Championship - Prior to Covid19 Break
The 2019-20 EFL Championship table prior to the break due to the Covid-19 outbreak. Swansea situated in 11th position, and just 3 points outside of the playoffs. [IMAGE: Wikipedia]

I’d consider mid-table a decent season, but we have flirted with the playoffs at times this season – if we got in that top 6 I think you’d have to consider that an excellent season. Rhian Brewster and Conor Gallagher have proved brilliant loan signings and I really think Gallagher is going to go on to have a great career.

 

Q. Likewise, how do you think Málaga’s season is going? Why did you choose Málaga as your Spanish club?

Malaga CFBloody hell, where do I even start with Málaga? They are just bonkers! Every day there is a news story about some sort of madness going on at the club. Corrupt owners, court cases, threats of expulsion from the league, Shinji Okazaki signing and then leaving straight away, the manager’s dick getting him the sack and I really could go on. It’s mental! They have been dire for the majority of the season but have a good defence and thus gathered a lot of draws. All of a sudden, they’ve started winning games and now they are in a weird limbo between chasing the playoffs and looking over their shoulder too (just 8 points separate the relegation places from the playoff spots. It’s not been dull for a single second (apart from some of the football on the pitch at times).

2019-20 Segunda Division - Prior to Covid19 Break
The 2019-20 Segunda División table prior to the break due to the Covid-19 outbreak. Málaga situated in 15th position, just three points away from the relegation zone. [IMAGE: Wikipedia]

A successful season would probably still be just surviving as a football club, after the devastating mismanagement of the club by Sheikh owner, Al Thani. Fortunately, the court has just stopped him running the club (at least temporarily) and there is a suddenly a great vibe around the whole club with a court appointed administrator trying to sort out the mess and new manager Sergio Pellicer seemingly boosting team morale. At the first game post-Al Thani, against Racing Santander, the atmosphere was electric with the team winning 2-0 and everyone just celebrating the start of a new, more stable era for the club. The stadium was literally shaking at times.

La Rosaleda, home of Málaga CF

I’m still not sure why I chose to get a season ticket other than I’ve always quite liked Málaga. With Spain being such a huge country, I figured I’d be groundhopping less and so I thought I’d buy a season ticket somewhere and I rocked up one day in Málaga and just sort of decided there and then that I’d go buy a season ticket (and a shirt and scarf too). They are my local ‘big club’, about 45 minutes away from my adopted home of Marbella. It took a few months of watching them play some awful football, but I realised I’d stupidly gone and fallen in love with the incompetent bastards! Why? Lots of reasons really. I tried to explain in detail in this article for The Culture Division.

https://theculturedivision.com/falling-for-a-falling-malaga

 

Q. Could you provide some details on the creation of your new blogsite,’Los Boyos‘, and what it’s all about?

Well, I could, but it is pretty much on hold now. As soon as it became clear that Málaga were an utter basket case of a football club, the idea of writing a book about following them started sprouting in my mind. And as the season has gone on, it just became more and more obvious that I had to try do this book. So that’s the focus for now and the foreseeable future. I’ve pitched the book to people as ‘Think Fever Pitch…but about Málaga…and shitter writing.‘ I’m definitely no Nick Hornby. That man is a genius.

The Rock of Gibraltar in the background.

 

Q. What would you say are the biggest differences between watching football in the UK and Spain?

flag-ESPSpain is a mad football country. Spanish TV and radio is ultimately dominated by football and the locals are as passionate about their local football club as anything. And it’s the local aspect of it which has jumped out at me. Like anywhere I suppose, fans are loyal to their local club, but due to the sheer size of Spain I’ve found there is a more intense identity to the fanbase. For example, a fan of Athletic in Bilbao is going to be a very different sort of fan to say someone who lives down by me on the Costa del Sol. The obvious reason for this is because the people are so very different in each of Spain’s autonomous regions. Of course, the geography factor also explains the general lack of away fans at each ground, an ‘away day’ is just not as much of a thing in Spain unless you are playing a club in the same region (such as Málaga taking big numbers away to Cádiz, Granada and Almería)

On the pitch, I’ve found little different to back home really. Spain now has this reputation of ‘tiki-taka‘ but just like anywhere the club game incorporates a whole host of different styles, having watched a lot of La Liga this season, I’d even argue that Spain has a richer range of styles on show than most leagues actually. I’ve always enjoyed Spanish football, but living amongst it has made me love it – something probably helped by an intriguing and topsy-turvy Primera season.

RFEF LogoMatchday is the same as most places I suppose too. People drink in the bars before the game, just like back home, and, also just like back home, you can’t drink alcohol in the ground (at least in the top two tiers anyway). Expect to find a lot of sunflower seed shells at your feet by an end of a game though.

My favourite thing about Spanish football compared to back home – and this is a bit of a quirky preference – is the noise of a goal. I love it when a goal goes in here, as I prefer the passionate, guttural, “OOOOOOOOOOOOHHHHH!!!” sound that booms around a stadium compared to the shrilly “YEEEEEESSSS!!!” sort of sound of UK shores. This is just a weird personal preference though. I’ve also debated with myself whether I feel this way because Málaga don’t score many and so the sound is more welcome.

Matt at the Camp Nou

 

Q. What are your future plans for ‘Los Boyos‘ and will we see a return of the excellent ‘Lost Boyos‘ one day?

I don’t think so. It was fun while it lasted, but towards the end it just began to feel like a chore. After 5-6 years of describing match day experiences and football grounds, I just felt like I was running out of things to say. Even with the new blog, I tried to put a new spin on things, but still never felt truly satisfied with it. I would like to continue writing in some capacity, but I think (book effort aside) it’ll be helping out other sites. I have thought of other blog ideas, which aren’t just a rebooted Lost Boyos, but I’m going to leave them on hold for now.

One of the many Lostboyos stickers dotted around Europe.

 

Q. Finally, who are in your all-time favourite eleven and the reasons for your picks?

I’m only to go use players I’ve seen live here with a mix of best performances and just personal favourites. I’ve tried to fit in players from my all parts of my life) Wales, Manchester, Slovakia, Málaga) to make it more of a personal XI. Thus expect a really bizarre mix of players here…

Formation: 4-3-3

Starting XI - Matt Harrison
Matt’s all-time, favourite eleven players.

 

Goalkeeper: David DE GEA

David De GeaGot to watch him at his peak quite a lot and he was immense. Always particularly enjoyed his gangly-style shot stopping (apart from when it was against Swansea). He also once stopped me in the street in Manchester city centre to ask did I know where Selfridge’s was (I did). Clearly, of everyone he walked past, he felt that I looked like the kind of guy who shops in Selfridge’s.

Right back: Phillip LAHM

One of those players you know is brilliant but just don’t realise how brilliant until you see them live. I’ve sort of cheated putting him at RB here as I saw him play centre-mid for Bayern v Manchester City. It’s probably the best team performance I’ve ever seen and he ran the show.

Left back: JUANKAR

JuankarMy quest to squeeze in one Málaga player proved a difficult one, but Juankar seemed the obvious choice. Yes, he has a funny name and yes it is funny hearing people shout “VAMOS JUANKAR!“, but he’s a joy of a left back, although he is rarely found ‘back’. A proper flying wing-back who can be lethal further up the pitch. Think a poor man’s Jordi Alba – and I mean that in the most positive way possible.

Centre back: Rio FERDINAND

Just utter class and, for me, the best centre back the Premier League has ever had. Seemed just so natural and cool and could do everything. Even witnessed remember him walloping in a last minute volley at Old Trafford against the Swans in Sir Alex Ferguson’s last ever home game.

Centre back: Milan ŠKRINIAR

Milan SkriniarI spent two years living in Trnava, Slovakia, and was lucky enough to live 5 minutes down the road from the national stadium. This meant I went to every international qualifier and friendly game at the stadium between 2016-2018 and so I wanted some Slovak representation in my team. Škriniar, I was adamant, would be a star in the future – and he’s certainly still heading that way. He’s currently in the heart of defence at Inter, but lots of reports here in Spain link him to Real and Barca. An awesome mix of brute force and elegance.

Cental midfield: Ferrie BODDE

Ferrie BoddeSimply my favourite football player ever, so he had to get in this really didn’t he?. He was the fulcrum of the Swansea team that excelled in League One under Roberto Martínez and then helped us build up momentum in Championship. I’ve genuinely not seen many better long range passers of a football and by golly could he hit a football hard (search his goal versus Preston on YouTube – cor blimey!). Dubbed by our fans the ‘Evil Genius’ as he had a bit of a nasty side to him too – arguably something Swansea have missed in their midfield since his career ended. Sadly, an innocuous fall on the pitch destroyed his knee and he never recovered and retired by the time he was 30. Ask any Swans fan about him though and their eyes will light up. One of the best to ever play for the club, but it was sadly too short a time.

Central midfield: David SILVA

David SilvaI moved to Manchester at the the same time that the new golden era of Manchester City was getting started. In fact, I conveniently moved to Manchester the weekend of Swansea’s first ever Premier league away game, which happened to be an away game at Manchester City. We held out well for most of the game before they turned the screw and smashed four past us. That night was also Agüero’s debut and he scored two giving the Argentinian all the headlines. However, for me, Silva was easily MOTM that night. Beforehand, I knew he was good, but I honestly couldn’t believe quite how good he was. He made me think that Swansea were in way over their heads with this premier League malarkey. Fortunately, I would go to the Etihad many times over my 5 years in Manchester and a lot of the time I’d go just to watch David Silva. Between 2011-2016, the years when I watched a lot of Premier League football live, I didn’t see a better payer than David Silva and dare I say, outside of Eastlands, where I know he is rightly reverred, I think he’s a little bit underrated; he really should be heralded as one of the best ever to play in the Premier League.

Central midfield: Jari LITMANEN

One of the best and most incredible performances I’ve ever seen came against Wales from a true footballing legend. Litmanen absolutely bossed Wales from the first to last minute in a 2-0 win at the Millennium Stadium. The amazing thing was that Litmanen was 38-years-old by then and I don’t think he broke into any sort of run for the whole game. An absolute master and a joy to watch (apart from the fact that he was dismantling Wales before my eyes).

Left wing: Gareth BALE

The best player to ever put on a Wales shirt. Simple as that. Genuinely superhuman at times in a Wales shirt. Seen him absolutely dismantle Swansea on a few occasions for Tottenham too.

Right wing (or whether he wants to play really): Lionel MESSI

He’s the best of all-time – I just can’t see an argument otherwise. I’ve been lucky to see him play live 3 times but the last time was probably one of the best experiences I’ve had watching football…actually just one of the best experiences I’ve had regarding anything. I went to Camp Nou for Barcelona versus Valladolid, and Messi was breathtaking. A women in front of me was bowing to him and crying all game over him – that good! He buried a 30 yard free kick and a beautiful volleyed finish, but it was the dribbles, the nutmegs, the touch…HIS TOUCH! It just looks supernatural the way he controls it and the ball sticks to him. I remember trying to relay on the phone to my dad the next day quite how good he was and I genuinely couldn’t think of suitable words and I just ended up stuttering for about 30 seconds

Centre forward: MICHU

MichuI think many Swans fans would argue that probably the best striker the Swans have ever had is Wifried Bony (or Lee Trundle maybe). At his peak, Bony was unplayable and I really should put him here. However…I love Michu – who doesn’t? We still literally call the 2012/13 season ‘the Michu season‘. He was just so brilliant and I get all misty-eyed every time I think about him (which is a lot). He could do everything and was the absolute boss in our 2012/13 season when we were beating big clubs regularly. I was at his first game for us at QPR away. We won 5-0 and he scored 2, and I remember everyone just be like “How the hell have we signed this guy for £2m?” He just seemed to ‘get’ the club and fans too. He’ll be talked about for a long, long time to come.

 

Honourable mentions for my bench:

Lukasz FABIANSKI – the most consistent goalie I’ve ever seen. Shrugged off his error prone tag at Arsenal to become a colossus at Swansea. Assured, great shot stopper and genuinely cared for the club, as shown by his tears on the pitch the day we got relegated. Still remarkably underrated outside of Swansea I feel.

Jack GREALISH – saw him play for Notts County versus Crawley years ago and I remember watching 5 minutes of the game and just thinking “Who the fuck is that guy?” He was genuinely incredible and I’d never really seen a player quite like him. Such arrogance for a kid with his socks rolled down. I had absolutely no doubt he was going to be a star.

Duncan WATMORE – Best player I’ve ever seen play in non-league. Saw him play for Altrincham a few times and with he played like a non-league Messi, twinkling toeing past everyone. Shame injuries curtailed his career at Sunderland.

Joe ALLEN – God. Not in the XI purely because I didn’t want to over-Swansea it.

Stanislav LobotkaStanislav LOBOTKA – my favourite Slovak footballer during my two years living in Slovakia, but just no place in midfield for him in my XI. I christened him the ‘Slovak Joe Allen‘ which is a hell of a tag considering how much I love Joe Allen. Just moved to Napoli from Celta and I’m sure he’ll continue to excel.

Gylfi SIGURÐSSON – my 2nd favourite Swansea player ever. Again, Ferrie Bodde took his place in my XI as he’s my number one. Sigurðsson carried Swansea so many times before relegation with his beautiful passes and superb eye for goal. Incredible work rate too.

AntoninANTOÑIN – My favourite Málaga player to date. Unfortunately, he’s already been sold. At the start of the season, the 19-year-old Antoñin was playing in the B team, but a rapid rise within a month saw him rise up to be christened as Málaga’s star player. A local boy with a Romani background, he was the poster boy Málaga needed. He’d only play 16 games for Málaga and score just 3 goals, but his game was more than just goals. A relentless runner, who played up front and on the wing, and with a bag of skills and stepovers to cut open any defence. During a time when there was little joy in Málaga’s play, he was mesmerising to watch at times. Granada are very lucky to have got him for a pittance (the financial issues at Málaga pushed through the deal) and he’s undoubtedly going to move to a bigger club in the future.

 

A massive thank you to Matt for answering my questions on Spanish football, as well as his numerous groundhops he has done over the years. He was one of the people I really wanted to interview for this Starting XI series, so I am glad he managed to answer my questions and provide his all-time, favourite eleven. There are some excellent picks, especially Jari Litmanen, who is one of my favourite players also. Plus I would have been disappointed if he hadn’t have picked Michu…

To find out more about Matt and his superb blogsites Los Boyos and Lostboyos, the links to them, as well as his social media accounts can be found below:

 

To read or catch up on the previous Starting XI episodes, they can all be found at the following link HERE.

If there you have any feedback, comments or suggestions who I should interview next in the series, let me know either below in the comments box, tweet me @The94thMin or email me at the94thminute@gmail.com! It would be good to hear what you think about the series, and what have been your favourite episodes so far!

Finally, I am nearly into the fourth month of doing a charity challenge of staying sober for the entirety of 2020! It’s not been easy (especially considering what has happened recently with COVID-19) but I am hoping to raise a lot of money for the mental health charity, MIND. So if you would like to see how I am progressing in my challenge, or even be kind enough to add a donation, the link is here:

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/the94thmin2020 

Diolch!

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