Published: March 18th 2012March 18th 2012
Picking a foreign football team to support is always a bit weird. If you’ve followed football, either through a team or just the game in general for long enough, you will have certain pre-conceptions and fixed ideas about particular clubs which are as illogical and ridiculous as the ideas people have about people’s names – the ones based on past experiences where you have the unshakeable belief that all men called Jamie are loud and rude, whereas James’ are kind and Lucy’s are fun, and irrespective of how many times you are proved wrong with these, you never change your thoughts. The football team thing is the same. Often based on one half-true newspaper story, or a 2 minute clip of an obscure cup game, you will take against a team about whom you have no knowledge at all.
My own pre-requisites for liking foreign clubs are actually quite strict. They must fit into at least one of the following categories – be in the shadow of their major rivals, be bottlers or under-achievers or ideally, both or, and this is most important, they must play, at least some of the time, in pink or, at a push, purple. It
also helps if they’ve played and beaten a team I don’t like in a European Competition, but that’s not essential.
Coincidentally, Everton fit into all of these categories but we’ll leave them out of it for now.
For me, it’s always been Fiorentina and Palermo in Italy, 1860 Munich and Kaiserslautern in Germany, Lyon in France and in Spain, Athletico and Celta Vigo – I do, however, militantly reserve the right to add in any team I happen to see playing in pink. That’s just the rule I’m afraid.
I’ve said before that Celta were one of the things that swayed me towards taking the job here, and having never been to a foreign game thanks to numerous cancellations in Costa Rica, being 5 hours from the nearest team in China and just being too lazy in Hungary (although I did have a kick-about in Hertha Berlin’s Olympic Stadium years ago but that’s for another day), I was going to go at the first opportunity here. That opportunity presented itself when the club offered 3 extra tickets for 10 Euros each to every season ticket holder in an effort to fill the stadium as they push for
promotion on the basis that the rewards would be infinitely greater than a few extra quid on the gate receipts in the 2nd
division. A novel idea of the club encouraging the fans to feel part of their club and more than that, to almost feel a responsibility for it (maybe an idea there, Mr Bates?)
The game was Celta v Almeria, who are both fighting for promotion back to the Primera Liga. The crowd was about 16,000, which as you may be able to see from the photos, still left the place (Balaidos, if you’re interested) looking on the empty side, but with about 6,000 more people there than usual you’d still say that it was a worthwhile experiment I’d have thought.
One of the best parts of going to a different version of something you’re so used to going to is feeling like a wide-eyed kid again, trying to take it all in as quickly as possible. From the people watching the game from the overlooking flats (very reminiscent of the good folks of Leeds who used to rent their roof space out when the Ashes came to Headingley) to the mad scarf spinning thing that
you see lots on Channel Five’s Europa League coverage, right up to the music they played when Celta scored which seemed to be an instrumental version of ‘I Will Survive’. Even the sounds that the crowd make during the game are different. There’s no reason why a collective, instinctive noise that occurs when a chance is missed should vary between countries, but it does. Here it’s more of an “ooooo” than the “ohhhhhh” that you hear in England.
Then, of course, there’s the so called ‘Ultras’. I remember hearing the stories of the Spanish and Italian Ultras when I was younger, they were always the ones who set off fireworks in the stands, mid-game, caused any trouble that was going and were always reported in the papers as being violent mobs – because as we all know every English football supporter is a cultured, God-fearing, pacifist. The difference it seems between the ones here and their English equivalents (because they do seem to have fairly equal levels of violence/passion depending on you how you view it) is that here, at least on the surface, you can see a political side to it, as they wave their Che Guevara flags and hang banners with Socialist slogans over the hoardings. Of course, this is all still peppered with chants about fans of Deportivo (La Coruñ
a) being whores – I guess just to lighten the mood more than anything else.
The game itself was fantastic with Celta coming from 2-1 down at halftime to win 4-3, meaning that walking out of the ground I was hooked. Until the weekend after, however, when they played and beat Valladolid, whose goalkeeper had a nightmare but was resplendent in pink, understandably causing me to feel all manner of mixed emotions.