Tuesday, 24 April 2012

El Clásico

There's nowhere better to watch a clásico (unless you've got a ticket) than our local bar. We book a table. Not to do so would result in a strained neck from having to peer over all the heads in the bar or (worse) looking in through the door or the windows. (We've done this in the past.)
The build-up to a clásico can last months. A couple of years ago, when the TV channel Sexta had the rights, they ran a countdown strap-line on the bottom of the screen. 'Faltan 55 días' (only 55 days to go) it warned viewers. And on and on. Faltan 54 días. Must've been hell if you didn't like football.
It's an 8 o'clock kick-off so we head over at about 7:30. The park outside our flats is heaving in the evening sunshine. Mothers and toddlers, kids on the swings and slide, bicycles and rollerskates, and an enormous game of football. Count the shirts on display as a prediction for the match and it'll be 5-3 to Barca, although Chelsea will also score, as will Manchester United. (Giggs.)

In the bar, if it wasn't set up with huge long trestle tables, knives and forks, napkins, the lot, we'd think we'd come on the wrong night. 25 minutes to kick-off and it's almost empty. Still, the big-screen is on, showing the build-up so we settle in and order some tapas. 
This bar is an 'asador' which means it prides itself on cooking meat. There's a wood-fire on the go in the paella oven but it's being used tonight to barbecue a herd of cattle and a flock of sheep. There's always a leg of ham on the bar in various stages of carving. In the chiller-cabinet there are patatas bravas, queso Manchego, croquetas de jamon, bacalao (cod) and jalepeño peppers and every possible variety of tortilla (omelette). If you can't find anything to tickle your buds here then you'll be hard pushed to find it in any other Spanish bar. 

I nip back out to the park just before 8 and notice that while everyone else still seems to be there, the footballers have all gone. I wonder where?

We're nearly full by 8, but stragglers arrive even as late as 10 past. The atmosphere's good. The shirt count in the bar is 6-4 to Madrid, although seeing as there are settings for about a hundred, it's not as openly 'partisan' as you might have expected. In fact, the conversation around the tables continues (almost) unchecked by the action on the screen. While there are a fair number of 'die-hard' fans watching every kick, there are an equal number of 'fair-weather' followers who are eating and chatting and barely taking notice.
Until Khedira scores for Madrid and half the place erupts.
Half-time comes without further scoring and the bar practically empties (nicotine-break). Spain adopted strict anti-smoking laws 16 months ago and (despite what we predicted) they're fully respected. 

The place seems to get fuller and fuller as the second half progresses and people arrive to catch the last 20 minutes. Alexis equalises igniting the azulgrana ('blues and reds' in Catalán) half of the crowd but almost immediately Ronaldo puts the merengues (meringues in Castillano) back in front.
We're all up on our feet (and straining our necks) for the last few minutes as more and more people squeeze in for the finale. Barca press but Madrid survive. Seven points clear with four to play. Everyone agrees it's done and dusted. The Madrid fans sing a quick 'Campeones, campeones, olé, olé, olé,' but the culés are pretty mellow and take their medicine graciously.

An enormous firecracker goes off in the street outside. If you didn't know better you'd fear you'd been caught in an ETA attack. But no, this is Valencia, so a firecracker is par for the course on a night such as this. Still, I imagine it's pretty tame compared with what's probably going on in Madrid right now.

The bar is close to empty long before we head off home at 10:30 after coffee. As the lift doors open, three lads tumble out and head for the park. They're 8 or 9 years old. The tallest has a ball tucked under his arm. As they skid and skitter down the corridor in their football boots, I read the names on their backs. The short lad is Ramos, dressed in white; Messi (the tall one, with the ball) is in scarlet and blue; the third? Number eleven, dressed in red. Who else? 
They think it's all over?

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