As part of a brand new series called ‘On Stranger Shores,’ Dan Parry seeks to find out more about the footballers playing lower league football in foreign countries. The first interview in this series is with Alec Fiddes, a fan favourite at SD Amorebieta.
This is Alec’s story in his own words…
Tell me a bit about yourself as a footballer? What position do you play?
I’m predominantly an out and out winger that likes to dribble and get at defences, get balls in the box, create chances and chip in with the odd goal! I can also play behind the striker, in the number 10 role. But at SD Amorebieta, I was utilised mainly as a winger.
How long have you been playing football? What clubs have you played for both in England and in Spain?
Ever since I could walk I’ve been kicking a ball about! I came up through the youth teams at Balham before doing my youth team scholarship at various pro clubs. I then headed off to Spain to play for Lleida Esportiu, spending a year with their reserves side. The following year, I started university at Bristol, so I spent some time at Weston Supermare, Weymouth and Chippenham whilst living down in the South West. My graduation was promptly followed by a trial in the Basque Country and a great year at Amorebieta in the Segunda B. I moved back to London at the end of the season and I spent most the current season at Kingstonian up until recently, but I’ve just signed for Met Police FC today, literally right now as I’m responding to these questions!
How about your life outside of football? Where do you come from? What other interests do you have?
I’m a Balham boy born to a Spanish mother from Catalunya and English father. I went to school at Dulwich College and university at the University of Bristol where I studied philosophy! Away from football I love playing some golf and going on the odd holiday.
How did you end up in The Basque Country?
I ended up in Euskadi (Basque Country) through a contact at Amorebieta FC. He got me a week’s trial which got extended to two weeks before then manager Aitor Larrazabal (the legendary Athletic Bilbao Left-Back) and his management team decided to offer me a season-long contract! I agreed to sign and it ended up being the best decision I’ve ever made.
What are the most noticeable differences between the different leagues you have played in?In terms of style, quality, the fans, the atmosphere and coaching methods?
What stands out between the English non-league and Segunda B in Spain is the difference in technique and physicality. Non-league is extremely competitive and physical and the atmosphere is difficult to match as the people that go to games are proper fans supporting their local club.
However, Segunda B has its special features too. For example, the standard and quality of players is much higher and I suppose it could be argued that they play a purer form of football.
I was lucky enough to experience some atmospheres that I’ll never forget, such as: playing in front of crowds of twenty odd thousand in El Sardinero away at Racing Santander and El Estadio Carlos Belmonte against Albacete!
In terms of coaching, in Spain it’s much more ball orientated, ‘if you dominate the ball, you’ll dominate the match is a constant theme in training sessions. Whereas, I feel like non- league consists more of trying to put the ball in the right areas.
Why did you leave Amorebieta in the end?
The million dollar question! At the end of the season, there was a managerial changeover and a new director of football also came in. They told me they would let me know within a month if they wanted me and if they were going to offer me a new contract, but I couldn’t wait that long as we were already a month into pre-season. They didn’t really seem that interested and my agents at the time told me I would have more options but I ended up back in the UK.
Would you have preferred to remain in Spain?
Ideally, yes. At the beginning of my time with Amorebieta I was starting every game, playing well and, at just 22 years old, I had a lot of other Segunda B clubs interested in me. But in January, Amorebieta signed another winger and I never really got another look in after that. The other clubs saw I wasn’t playing and I didn’t get the move that, perhaps, I would have got in January. Even in the lower leagues football is absolutely ruthless in this sense; one minute you’re in and the next you’re out. The world of football can be crazy. For my football, I would have loved to have stayed in Spain, but it wasn’t to be. But that being said, I am very happy with my life here in the UK right now, it’s also nice being back home!
I always find it difficult to explain the Spanish Segunda B to people, it’s an odd league with tiny clubs like Amorebieta FC playing huge ones like Racing Santander… Bilbao Athletic beat QPR in a pre-season friendly. How would you describe it, maybe giving a comparison to an English league in terms of quality?
That’s the crazy thing about the Segunda B! In terms of standard, it can be anywhere between league 1 to conference during any given match, with moments of either non-league or la Liga type quality thrown in for good measure. That’s the best way I can sum it up!
Who is the best player you played against during your time there, and the best you played with?
‘Against’ would be Aleix Febas when we played Castilla (Real Madrid’s second team), I’ve known him since my days with Lleida, where we used to play together there, he’s a very talented player with a bright future. As for ‘with’, it has to be my old housemate Adrien Goñi, he’s an unreal player, easily the best.
Were there any culture shocks or difficulties? And do you have any stand out memories of the region both as a footballer and in general?
Not as many as you’d think. As my mum is Spanish and I’ve been coming to Spain for years, I was generally quite used to the lifestyle and didn’t have to do too much adapting. In terms of football, the biggest shock was just getting used to the very late Sunday night kick-offs!
My favourite footballing memory has to be playing in The Copa Del Rey run when we got to the 3rd Round and playing against Racing Santander!
As for the region, The Basque Country is a great place to be in the summer. It’s so vibrant and full of life. I went to a lot of the Jaiak (Town Fiestas) and they were pretty special. Overall, living in Euskadi was a fantastic experience; I ate some amazing food, met some incredible genuine people and was fortunate enough to see some of the most beautiful landscapes the world has to offer.
But the best memories I have of my time there has to be all of the great people I got to meet.
Apart from your family and friends, what did you miss most about the UK whilst you were here?
Food, although I did love the food in the Basque Country. I missed English TV quite a bit too. I also missed being intellectually stimulated away from football, apart from travelling there wasn’t much for me to do outside football. I tried to teach some English, but it just wasn’t for me. Most of all, I missed London life, you can take the boy out of London but you can’t take London out of the boy…
In his 12 month period at Amorebieta, Alec played 36 times, scored once and got 12 assists.