Horta, a black-and-white attired institution hailing from the eponymous suburb, a suburb that formerly was its own town before being engulfed by the tide of Barcelona’s rapid urbanisation. They have a strong sense of regional identity these alabaster and obsidian clad cavaliers, a sort of Catalan St. Mirren, but maybe with more fans.
Who’d be a referee? It’s not a rhetorical question, more of a ‘desperately seeking’ sort of advert, you know, the kind that used to adorn the little card noticeboard in Asda or the Post Office back in the 90s. As the inevitable penalty was given, the punters, blood-boiling from the unseasonal 24 degree October heat roared their disapproval. The arbiter cut a lonely figure.
Without them, the game would become an affront to the rule of law, with them it becomes tied to the whims of some unimaginative jobsworth, bound by a rulebook that simultaneously makes him the enemy to all while endearing him to no-one.
From a global perspective, living in a world in which absolutely nobody seems to be able to agree on anything, it is in fact quite reassuring that one thing in life remains unilaterally recognised. I’m not referring to the the Geneva Convention or the Unilateral Declaration of Human Rights, fated as these are by the capriciousness of feckless dictators and ardent populists. No, the world can tear itself to bits, yet one thing will remain constant, from Santiago to Sydney, that being that the referee is, and has always been, a wanker.
A penalty is poetry, a complete upset of the odds, the lonely keeper treads the line of the vast goal while a mere 12 yards away, the striker presents, aims and fires. The crowd silent, expectant, helpless as the drama unfolds. However, here in the tercera division, we see a strange role-reversal, one that affects lower leagues worldwide. There’s a foul in the box, blatant as Horta’s striker is hauled down, the ball goes free and the scramble begins. Desperately, the referee waits, practically willing the ball into the net. Ignorant of the baying of the crowd he will do anything not to award a spot kick. However, the follow up fluffs his lines, and the arbiter reluctantly points to the spot. To say that the decision isn’t taken well by the visitors would be an understatement. For a good few minutes the language is rustic, cards are brandished and many a mother’s fidelity is called into question.
No-one is happy, a generalisation I don’t make lightly as not even the team awarded the kick seems particularly enthused by the prospect, and here we have the juxtaposition of a non-league penalty. This is due to the unwritten rule of lower-league footy that reads, ‘getting a penalty is anything BUT a guarantee of scoring’. With a grim sense on inevitability the two teams traipse to to the ‘D’ as a dubiously expectant crowd falls silent. The whistle blows, the sound of foot on ball echoes around the ground right up until the moment that the keeper collects what could be at best described as a tame effort.
The opposition today is Europa, the fallen giant of Catalan football who actually played in the top-tier of Spanish football…back in 1928. In an age of fascist dictatorships abounding around the continent, Europa counted themselves as one of the big boys. Nowadays, the political situation hasn’t really changed, but the club now plies its trade in Spain’s fourth-tier. Anyway, they don’t go out to seize the game, seemingly content to grind out a 0-0 draw.
‘These guys are never gonnae score’, says one chap to his missus
‘Aye, they are pure shite.’ She replies*.
*Approximate translation of original conversation in Catalan.
Indeed it seems extremely unlikely that Europa will score, so few are their sorties out of their own half. Such negativity is never rewarded with anything but scorn and harsh words from someone like Alan Shearer or Danny Murphy. No, if you don’t ‘make chances’ you’ll never score. But then they do, a total screamer, from miles away. 0-1.
Most teams at this level play on plastic pitches. The botanist in me leads me to believe that this is something to do with real grass needing rain to live. As it never rains here, grass isn’t an option. Plastic pitches, the lamentation of every middling talent that doesn’t want to spend the international break in Kazakhstan or San Marino, are dangerous and conducive to the kind of injuries that keep such middling talents on the bench at clubs in The Championship and stuff. Anyway, Scotland national team aside, the controversy surrounding 4G pitches seems very one-dimensional to me, it being essential that you keep the ball on the ground, rather than hoof it upfield at any given opportunity. This concept wouldn’t go down particularly well on naturally irrigated pitches of say, East Fife or Buckie Thistle
Anyway the game potters on, Horta have about 80% of the possession yet 0% of the goals, a monument to the meaningless of statistics. I am about to leave when Horta get a last corner, the keeper even comes up, possibly to add some drama to a match that whose moments of excitement have been confined to a lamentable penalty and a great sandwich. The delivery is good and the striker, newly brought on from the doldrums of the subs’ bench nods in. The not insignificant crowd goes wild.
Goals win games, except this time, when it’s a draw. See you next time.
Read more about non-league Spanish footy here.
Photos courtesy of author.