The real-life tales of a football writer
I write from Beirut. Banish any wartorn image you have of the Lebanese capital because it’s nothing like it.
Known as the Paris of the East before the civil war which killed 200,000 and seriously injured 400,000 between 1975 and 1990, the city of 1.5 million was destroyed in a manner which residents of Mostar or Grozny could relate.
Terry Waite, John McCarthy and Brian Keenan were names of hostages captured by Islamic Jihad who became synonymous with Beirut.
On his release, television images showed a joyous Keenan saying that he wanted to make love to every woman in the world. He was no Brad Pitt, so that was unlikely, but we understood him completely.
Beirut’s towering former Holiday Inn is still scarred by mortar and bullet holes, but it’s in a minority of battered buildings. A book shows pictures of hundreds of Beirut streets then and now, and the transformation is staggering.
The city has been virtually rebuilt to an exceptionally high standard. With the best nightlife in the Middle East, it’s well worth a visit.
Construction continues to rebuild Beirut
Beirut even has a shop selling the current edition of FourFourTwo, albeit for £11 after air freight charges. I saw my piece on Cardiff vs Swansea, though I’d already heard that someone had lifted it and typed it out on a Swansea message board. Thanks for that - we were only talking about pirates two weeks ago.
I didn’t write about one of the players I met in Swansea in the piece. I’ve known Andrea Orlandi for five years after meeting him when he played at Barcelona.
I did a Spanish-English language exchange with his team-mate Arnau Riera and we all became friends. I made them agree never to join Liverpool or Manchester City.
Both footballers were set on becoming Barca first-teamers. They both made it into the first-team and have proudly kept the pictures to show it, but never came close to establishing themselves.
After rooming with Samuel Eto’o and selling United We Stand outside Old Trafford, Arnau moved to Sunderland on a three year contract in 2006, received man of the match in his first game at Southend and was sent off after three minutes in his second.
He was bombed out by Roy Keane and has been on loan at Falkirk for two seasons.
Andrea is at Swansea City, where he lives with his Catalan girlfriend Laura. Her sister lives with Swansea’s Jordi Gomez. Laura and Andrea looked after me when I stayed in Swansea last September.
Orlandi fends off Fulham in the FA Cup
She went to Tesco’s at 11.30pm to buy some food and cooked me a meal at midnight. Andrea was concerned at his lack of first-team opportunities but determined to get into Roberto Martinez’s side.
I spoke to Andrea and Arnau last weekend, two Spaniards who have ended up playing in Britain. Both are making a good living as professional footballers. And they are ultra professional. Show either a beer and they look like a slug faced with a salt mountain, except for a four-week spell post season, when they put the P in Pacha.
Andrea was delighted because Swansea are close to the play-offs and he’s in the team. Arnau wasn’t because Falkirk are struggling in the SPL.
He hadn’t been a regular, a fact which annoyed Falkirk fans so much that they recently sang his name constantly at Kilmarnock. Many rate him as their best midfielder. He described it as “very emotional”. And it must be.
Imagine you’re a kid from a small town in Mallorca (albeit one which has produced a disproportion number of athletes including Rafa Nadal) and hundreds of men in a foreign country sing your name non-stop?
Imagine how proud his parents Esteban and Barbara felt, even though they were disappointed that he wasn’t playing.
Did they go into work on Monday morning and tell their peers; Barbara in the clothes shop and Esteban as he organised the bin men?
Riera makes his parents proud
Arnau played for 90 minutes in a 0-0 draw against Hearts and threw his shirt into the crowd. I hope he got man of the match in the Scottish Cup semi and goes on to win the cup with the Bairns.
And that Barbara gets a new outfit and Esteban has a rare day off to see their son play at the same stadium where Real Madrid beat Eintract Frankfurt - a game Esteban considers the best ever.
It’s great that football transcends boundaries, that people in Mallorca now know about Falkirk and two friendly young couples from Catalonia about Dylan Thomas and the Swansea Jack.
I knew another player called Riera too. Albert. He’s equally professional and also from Manacor. Except he joined City and then Liverpool didn’t he?
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Arnau got booked in the semi. He's banned for the final.
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