Sunday, April 03, 2005

I like soccer, and I'm a fan of FC Barcelona (yes, I was really pissed off at them when they had the team come out with the "Barça for Peace" banner and when they rented the team to Qaddaffi's kid for a "friendly" match, price half a million bucks, and when their fans threw pig's heads and whiskey bottles at Luis Figo and when they racially baited Madrid's black players and when they hired Serbian fascist Radomir Antic as coach, but they did get rid of the board of directors that did all that crap and elected some people who seem to know what they're doing and hire Frank Rijkaard, Mr. Class, to run the team), so of course I went down to the bar with Remei and Murph to watch Barcelona play Betis at 5 PM. Big game. Barcelona came in leading the league by 11 points, they play Madrid on Sunday the 10th in the last showdown, and they needed at least a point at home against the third-place team, Betis of Seville.

Betis looks really good this year, though I'm afraid they'll disappoint next year in European play because they're going to lose a couple or three of their best players. They've got a comparatively small budget, and when the big money comes knocking on the door for one of their good players they take it. They're a club known for a potent youth squad, and this year they've got several young guys, including left winger Joaquin and central defender Juanito, who are on the Spanish national team, and three Brazilians. Damned good players, all of them. Rumor has it Madrid will buy Joaquin and Barça will buy Juanito. Betis is also a popular team, the team everybody likes. They've traditionally been Seville's working-class team (the other city team, Sevilla CF, is the richie club), and their following is known as never-say-die but nonviolent unless the game's with Seville. Caen simpatico.

So we get to the bar, which I will call Bar X, about ten minutes after five and they can't figure out how to get the pay-TV to work. Finally turns out that they were supposed to hit the "OK" button on their remote control and they were hitting first the O and then the K keys and so it wouldn't work. I am not making this up. Takes about ten more minutes before this gets figured out, and by then Joaquin has scored one for Betis and Etoo's equalized for Barça on a penalty. We can see the game now, they're off the phone with the pay-TV people. Betis backs up in their area and plays for the fast break, especially since they're down to ten players after somebody gets red-carded, and they catch Barça's defense with their pants down, Oliveira puts it in, and it's 1-2. Halftime comes along. We get more beer. Remei wants potato chips. Hell of a ballgame we got going so far. Barcelona's had about eight shots on goal and Betis has had three or four (very good for any team in any game and damned good for anyone playing in Barça's stadium) and scored on two of them. Barça's also had like six corner kicks, and they can't get anything to go in.

Barcelona comes back after halftime and they throw everything but the kitchen sink at Betis. They put in young Maxi Lopez, the 20-year-old star they got from River Plate for six million bucks, and he's all over the place but can't drive it home, and they pulled alleged defensive midfielder Gerard, who was stinking up the field. Their defense is even weaker, though, because stalwart central defender Carles "Clydesdale" Puyol got hurt on Wednesday playing with the national team against Serbia, and regular defensive midfielder Rafael "The Beast" Marquez, Mexico's best player, had to sit out because he'd piled up five yellow cards. Xavi and Deco had to be careful because they had four cards each, and didn't want to get one in this match and have to miss Madrid next week; Deco was unsuccessful and so will sit out.

Anyway, this is fun, Barça is banging on the door over and over, Betis has only ten men, and then, wouldn't you know it, Betis gets the ball to Joaquin on another fast break and he beats goalie Victor Valdes and it's 1-3 and it looks like it's all over, but these guys don't give up. They bang on the door about four more times, and on every single one either Deco is trying to blast it in from twenty meters or Maxi muffs it in the area. Then Belletti gets the ball (I thought this guy was like 31, but he's 26. No wonder he never seems to get tired) in the area and gets fouled, and he embellishes it just a bit and it's a penalty and Etoo drives it to the right and it's 2-3 with about eight minutes left. I actually believe it's going to happen and it does. The ref does not blow the whistle and about five minutes into extra time left-footed Giovanni van Bronckhorst gets the ball at the top of the area and bingo, tie score and game over. Barcelona 3-Betis 3. Barça gets out with a tie that tastes like a win, and the fans sure the hell got their money's worth.

We got home from the bar and I did tonight's translating for the Spain Herald, which is of course all about the Pope for obvious reasons. Then Remei was watching this silly program on TV, a Spanish sitcom, and I wandered in and watched it with her for about five minutes. The sitcom took place in a neighborhood bar-café, superficially a lot like the one we'd just been in. I did, however, note a few differences.

1) On TV, nobody was drunk. This was not true at Bar X.

2) On TV, no one was shouting "¡Penalti, coño, me cago en la leche!" This was not true at Bar X.

3) On TV, bar patrons made witty comments to one another. This was not true at Bar X.

4) On TV, there were attractive women patrons at the bar. This was only true at Bar X because Remei was there.

5) On TV, people spoke in complete sentences. This was not true at Bar X.

6) On TV, one of the characters was stereotypically gay. This was not true at Bar X. Fortunately. Most of the stereotypically gay people I have met would not enter Bar X under any circumstances.

7) On TV, no one yelled that Barça's Cameroonian forward Samuel Etoo "had put on a lot of shoe polish." This was not true at Bar X.

8) On TV, nobody ever pays the bill at the bar. This was most distinctly not true at Bar X. I'm not complaining, though, fourteen bucks for seven beers, a Coke, and a bag of potato chips is not out of line at all, especially when you're watching football illegally, since the bar's not allowed to show the game to an audience. Uh-huh, sure. On TV nobody breaks the law. This is probably never true at Bar X, since I figure at least one person in that place is up to something, even if it's as semi-innocuous as dealing hash, which I freely admit I've seen no signs of.

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