People often ask me why it is that I live in Spain, a constant curiosity that my Iberian ‘adventure’ has inexplicably gone on so long as to render me something more than a transient expat. It could be the beer, or it could be the relatively relaxed attitude to life, but the truth is much simpler than that, it’s football…and the beer and lethargy.
“Your not a city, your just a suburb.”
In a league where football is regionally divided, meaning that in effect every game is a derby, it requires a degree of improvisation and no shortage of imagination to find a chant that is both at the same time insulting and factionalising. In layman’s terms, this means that it’s difficult to label the area that is the other side of a zebra crossing, a shithole, without casting aspersions on one’s own neighbourhood.
Despite the war cries of the Sants faithful, Hospitalet is indeed a city in its own right. Famous for little, apart from one of the highest population densities in Western Europe, the football team flatter to deceive despite hailing from the 17th biggest city in Spain. Given its proximity to Barcelona, Hospitalet grew as workers from all over Spain and later the world flocked to new-build housing, seeking opportunities in the metropolis of Barcelona. What you have now is one of the most ethnically diverse of all Spain’s cities, with every continent of the world represented at some level. You’d think a heady mix of Brazilians, Columbians, to name but a couple of the footballing paradises that make up this cultural milieu would be really good. Well, it isn’t always that simple.
Since the last entry, the boys of UE Sants have gone through something of a revelatory experience. What I mean by this is that they have won, twice in fact, including a comeback 4-3 victory against the adorably monikered Poble Mafumet, a performance reminiscent of the 2005 Champion’s League Final, or so said some throaty drunk bloke.
This is the issue today as the apostrophe-ridden Centre d’Esports L’Hospitalet come to do battle. Take a derby like the Merseyside, where the grounds practically touch. Clichéd analogies of ‘touching distance’ and ‘stone’s throw’ abound in highly packaged Sky TV reels. However, Sants vs Hospitalet beats them hands down as a misguided goal kick that clears the back fence would end up in Catalunya’s second city, no problem.
Going back ten years, four lagers and a fish supper in, as Match of the Day draws to an inevitable conclusion. Games featuring Sam Allardyce and teams like Stoke take precedence toward the end of the programme. A combination of carbohydrates mixed with some of the finest exponents of defensive football usually led to a waning of interest about six games into the famous old highlights show as the inevitability of a gritty 0-0 draw reared its head. Sitting here in the barely credible September heat, the same sneaking feeling abounds throughout the stadium.
This hasn’t been a good game, by any stretch of the imagination, you can tell by the queue for the bar as punters begin to drift a little aimlessly. A perspiration soaked 0-0 as we go into stoppage time, not even the introduction of the mysteriously denominated Sergio “The Sheriff” Navarro, the Sants goal machine, appears to break the forgettable deadlock. However, as we move toward the exit, and the bittersweet freedom afforded to us by Sunday’s 12:15 kick off, a clumsy tackle in the box gives the visitors a penalty which they dutifully convert.
Silence abounds as the red and blue mass from way over yonder go berserk. Sants 0-1 Hospitalet. That zebra crossing has never looked so wide.
Cover image courtesy of Giusi Palomba
Read Laurence’s last match chronicle here