Covering La Liga from far away as we’ve been doing for the past 6 months like we have on forza futbol, we tend to see things antiseptically, second hand or translated and repackaged to fit another culture or another way of seeing things, whether it’s to reach the ex-pat Spaniard, the curious Brit or the nonsensical American like myself. Sure, I speak the language and I can read the websites that As or Marca provides as a service, but it has never seemed to fit together, it has never seemed to make sense, until you come here like I did and you cover the league first hand, you read the ragsheets, you talk to the people on the street, and you sit in the seats and see the competition for yourself.
What have I learned? The place is old, it has a history that goes back generations in football terms, but there are Roman ruins here, there are events hardwired to people’s genes here that we have no clue about, even if we speak the language, so I’m going to even try to make sense of the place in one sitting or in one two week holiday, but I do know more about it’s football.
- Football is king. Sure, they have something called futsala which is what Ronaldinho played I guess in those Nike commercials, and another weird invention that looks like water-polo but without the water, or even the swimming, the NBA and basketball in general is popular, and Formula 1 is always on, but football is front and center.
- Spanish television, real over the air television, is stranger than I had thought, as there are hours upon hours of telebasura (or literally garbage tv), and while one could get spoiled by the one hour football pregame shows on free over-the-air tv like the one laSexta had, some games are changed and rescheduled or not run at all (like the Real Madrid game from last week) on a moments’ notice, so fans needs or wants are secondary. Oh, and the announcers talk over the action just as much as the English broadcasters do on Gol TV, so it really wouldn’t be that much of a difference. I even heard Ray Hudson’s voice on that Madrid pregame show, weird huh?
- Spanish newspapers. To get any real sense as to what is really happening in La Liga you have to play the, “let’s buy all the papers in Madrid(As and Marca) and Barcelona(Sport and Mundo Deportivo) and try to find the truth somewhere in between. When 8-10 pages are given in Madrid to Real Madrid and the other teams are given anywhere from half a page to a full page of coverage, then bias is inherant in the system. It’s the same for Barcelona in the Catalan press as well, but it is nice to get a better look at the players, their tendencies, what formations clubs have been playing, and all number of useless statistical data to wet the appetite. Yes, the sports dailies have their uses as well.
- FC Barcelona. Barcelona is a city of monuments, the AgBar Tower which looks like a blaugrana cucumber in the night sky, the Sagrada Familia which is probably the strangest looking psychedelic Church in the world, but I can see why Barca is one of the biggest clubs in the world just by looking at their own monument to their city. Yes, they’re planning on a new facade for the exterior (shown here) and a brand new coat of paint for the interior, but the club while very modern is all about its links to the past and making its members or socios feel part of the process of running the football club. For a measly 16 euros, I got the chance to tour the visiting training rooms, the media center and even the President’s box, I took a picture with cardboard cutouts of Leo Messi and Ronaldinho, I saw the FC Barcelona Megastore and I even took a picture at field level with Mes Que un Club in the background. I came, I saw and I was looking for Walt Disney’s hand in prepackaging the Barca experience. I must say that it did seem just a little phony to me, but it could just be me, the deluded, cynical American who is conditioned to it.
- Espanyol were another story. The gritty club of overachievers that almost beat mighty Sevilla are actually situated on some nice property. Their stadium situated in the Montjuic area, a park and conventions area just south of their more popular cousins, is actually in a nice part of town, or at least as nice for different reasons as Barca, but the stadium while it was renovated for the Barcelona Olympics looks much worse for wear. The Espanyol supporters I talked to pretty much agreed that they were counting the days until their new stadium was built. I don’t know though, maybe it’s different on match days at Barca, but I got a better vibe at Espanyol. As one of the supporters told me, “It’s easy to be a Barcelona fan, their stadium is beautiful, they win, you expect them to, but here at Espanyol you suffer, sometimes waiting for that goal that might keep you from being relegated on the last day of the season.” And I told him, yeah but when you get one goal away from winning the UEFA Cup it seems all the sweeter no? He said he’d rather have won than had any moral victories.
I guess there’s a story in there somewhere, that the League is as vibrant at ground level as we see on television, and that maybe you need to get out of your comfort zone and travel, see the sights for yourself and not just be spoon fed team or a league.