The real-life tales of a football writer
“There’s an exhibition of football photos on in town, shall we go on Sunday?”
I thought my girlfriend was blagging. She might be Brazilian and claims to be an Internacionale fan, but the closest she’s been to seeing her team was watching Lenny Kravitz perform at their stadium in Porto Alegre.
Or going up to a tourist wearing an Internacionale scarf outside Big Ben and talking about how good Pato was. Internacional, as she frequently reminds, were world champions when we met - after they beat Barcelona in Tokyo.
Still, she’s been to a few matches with me. At Barca, where she likes Ronaldinho because he’s from her hometown. I hope it’s that rather than her fancying him. She came to Old Trafford and kept shouting what my brother taught her. Which was “*** off Everton.” That wasn’t ideal as we were sat by the 3,000 Evertonians. And she came to Rome, unaware that she was my decoy so I could infiltrate the Roma Ultras.
The exhibition, in the Caja Madrid building on the main Plaza Catalunya, was shocking. I half expected familiar arty photos of Cruyff in brilliant oranje, or Maradona beating the entire Belgium team. Of Giggs evading a tackle from Jason McAteer and Phil Babb in an image so improbable it looks Photoshopped.
Instead, we were greeted by two by four metre image of a Scouser being chased by four pole wielding Italians at Heysel. Some of the images were well known, the white horse at Wembley in 1923, Scotland fans hanging off the Wembley crossbar and the four-year-old Feyenoord fan sat on his dad’s shoulder giving the finger.
There are several photos of Arsenal and Galatasaray fans clashing in Copenhagen, when they seemed to throw bicycles and wicker chairs no further than their own Reebok Classics.
Others are less familiar, like the Leeds fan dead or dying on a hospital stretcher in Istanbul. Spanish media coverage of death differs from Britain, with photos of dead bodies of car crash victims printed in newspapers.
There are not just wall mounted images, but seized coshes, sprays, bats, homemade catapults and a Berretta pistol. There’s the battered mo-ped with the Bergamo number plate which pushed from the second tier of San Siro by Internazionale’s Ultras during a game with Atalanta in 2004.
The pig’s head thrown at former idol Luis Figo when he returned to Barcelona with Real Madrid. The CCTV images of the Ajax and Feyenoord fans re-enacting a scene from Braveheart as they clashed on the field by a motorway intersection at Beverwijk in 1997 is in all its haunting, grainy detail. The dark object lay prostrate in the mud is dead Ajax fan Carlos Picornie.
There are more positive impressions, like a packed Monumental, the home of River Plate in Buenos Aires, with thousands of Boca fans raising their arms under a beautiful sky coloured like Argentina’s flag. But not many and it’s not for the faint hearted. Perhaps that why we didn’t see one other visitor at the exhibition.‘Passion in the Stands’ is at the Espai Cultural Caja Madrid, Plaza de Catalunya, 9, Barcelona until 20th April. Admission is free.
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