The real-life tales of a football writer
I write this on the new 300km/hour AVE train from Madrid to Barcelona, returning from witnessing champions Real Madrid destroy Barca 4-1 and record their first league double over the Catalans in 24 years.
Barca were woeful and coach Frank Rijkaard looked like a man who knew his time was up when he faced the media after the game.
I settle down in a solitary seat, hoping for a bit of quiet while I type, but for some unknown reason everyone wants to ask me questions. I try to be helpful.
“This is seat 19a – 18a is that one.”
The 78,000 crowd created a party atmosphere and loved seeing Barca reel. I scanned the Bernabeu hoping to spot some away fans celebrating when an otherwise dire Thierry Henry finished superbly to record Barca’s consolation goal. I couldn’t see any. Not even a small pocket of a few hundred. Nothing. I asked a few questions and found out that there were just six Barca fans. Six. And they had flown with the team.
“I think the buffet’s in the next carriage.”
Man United fans in Rome. A few more than six
I’m sure there was the odd cule in the home end – I heard one elderly fan on the train to Madrid before the game winding up his Real supporting mate in what seemed like his first ever mobile phone call - but for one of the biggest clubs in the world to take six away fans for a league game against their biggest rivals is not only shameful, it shows the difference between the hard core support of British clubs and their Iberian counterparts.
“Those magazines are free, but I’m not the man to ask.”
There were mitigating factors. The prospect of Barca fans watching their hated rivals celebrate a 31st league title would have been as agreeable as swimming up the Mersey in winter. The game kicked off at 10.05pm midweek and given Barcelona is a six-hour drive to Madrid, the earliest any fan would have got home would have been 6am. But still…
“Yes, I think the next stop is Zaragoza.”
Barca should have taken 2,000 and every one of them should have sung for 90 minutes. And they should have got louder as Madrid’s goals flew in to counterbalance the deficiencies of their team. Barca fans have experienced enough highs, shouldn’t they be prepared to back their team through the lows?
Henry & co look on as Real celebrate goal number four
One of the most impressive sights I’ve witnessed in Spain came in a cup-tie between holders Espanyol at home to third division Real Vallecano. There were 6,000 in a stadium that holds 55,000 on a freezing November night when, 10 minutes into the game, a hundred Rayo fans entered the main stand.
They’d organised two buses from Madrid but were late due to heavy traffic. Startled Espanyol fans were woken from their slumber and didn’t realise what had hit them.
“I can hear the music from his headphones too, but it’s nothing to do with me.”
The Rayo team responded and pulled off a genuine cup shock, defeating the holders away from home. The away fans, a right bunch of scruffs who’d clearly spent their dough on watching their team rather than clothes, got louder and louder and the celebrations at the end cemented a bond between fan and player. The journey home would have flown by.
The penny finally drops about why my fellow passengers think I have all the answers. I may be sitting at the end of the carriage on my own but, as I point out to the next bloke with a query, I’m not the train guard.
FourFourTwo's blogger: Always happy to help fellow passengers
One of Manchester United’s greatest away supports came in adversity as we played at Liverpool in September 1990, back in the dark ages when the Scousers won league titles. Liverpool played superbly and scored four but, as the Scousers’ domination grew, the 3,000 United fans got louder. Reds left the ground with their heads held high because they’d done their bit, even if the performance hadn’t exactly merited such fervour.
It’s a different set of rules in Spain, but some of the expatriate fans I’ve met writing the book on derbies are bending them. Like the Tenerife fans who took two flights to support their side at Numancia in northern Spain.
You do wonder whether the Tenerife players were spurred on by Brits chanting for them 1,000 miles from their stadium. Or just confused.
Hey Andy, I've quite enjoyed reading your articles on derbies in FourFourTwo magazine, yes even the one about Mansfield & Chesterfield (Scad!Scad!Scad! - Hilarious). Anyways, the article about the Roman derby in the June 2008 was a dud, with little material on the recent history of derby. I hope you touch it up, as I'm looking forward to the book!!
English fans are the greatest fans in the world. Look at Sunderland, 8,000 away supporters were taken to Barnsley last season for an unimportant game. NOW THAT IS SUPPORT.
80 000 Celtic fans in Seville for UEFA Cup final against Porto 2003...And we Celtic fans travel in large numbers wherever we go...
I'm a newcommer. I don't know how to create a blog in fourfourtwo. Can you help me?
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