The real-life tales of a football writer
Ruud van Nistelrooy was in form on Thursday and our chat lasted twice the 20 minutes agreed.
Real Madrid were efficient and friendly to deal with, the AVE train was excellent and Ruud, aware that he was talking to the official magazine of a club he still clearly adores, spoke like a fan.
I returned to Barcelona thinking about Manchester la Fianna’s match against the league champions and cup winners from Georgia.
Positive news arrived before the game as we heard the current league leaders Celtic Cross had lost 4-1. Win and we would go top for the first time this season.
Much of what I like about our league is summed up by the Cross manager – a Leeds-supporting Yorkshireman called Steve Varley who named his fantasy football team ‘I hate Man U’. We all make mistakes. One of life’s givers, he kindly picked our Manchester United kits up from the launderette and dropped them at the stadium.
Burly Georgian fans scowled at us as we warmed up. Their team survived a vote over possible expulsion from the league due to persistent aggression, but they’ve always been fine when they played us, twice beating us 2-1.
Unbeknown to us, our largely female fan contingent were giving as good as they got in the stands matching the East European testosterone with some multi-national oestrogen.
One told a rum looking Georgian to ‘get to the gym you fatty!’ when he took his jumper off. Then they carried on, Argentinians, Brazilians, Mexicans, Spanish and English girls shouting ‘Manchester! Manchester!’ Bizarre, but brilliant.
Aside from them, everyone else in the stadium wanted us to lose – apart from a former Man United hooligan on a high after seeing his team beat Fulham 3-0.
I benched myself and could hear the Georgian bench making caustic comments about us in their language. They looked even more cocksure when they went a goal up after 40 minutes, less so when our former Belgian U18 international Hans equalised a minute later.
“We’ve got them on the fucking ropes,” I hollered at half-time, swearing unnecessarily, “they’re the champions and they’ve gone. Finish them off.”
Our second half performance was outstanding. We went 2-1 up, then 3-1, 4-1 and finally 5-1.
The Georgians bench emptied as the goals went in, their fans slunk off in the direction of the nearby beach. The buzz was so pure that I’m still on a high days later and I didn’t even get on the pitch.
Our fans went mad in the stands and the lads celebrated by singing Maggie May, which has become our unofficial dressing room anthem. I’m not sure why.
The celebrations were only tempered when the manager of a Spanish fifth division side approached one of our strikers after the game with a view to signing him up.
I can’t stand in his way and if he can make a living playing football we’ll wish him well. But unbeknown to the predatory manager, the striker ‘Dinho’ has been full-time professional all his life. And it was football which brought him from West Africa to Europe as he followed his dream, led by an unscrupulous agent.
But the story of how he ended up playing for us can wait until the end of the week. Like those Celtic fans currently filling Barcelona, we’ll enjoy our moment in the sun while it lasts.
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