Disillusioned and downcast by the circus of modern football, writer and lover of the game, Laurence Rivers, throws in his lot with local hopefuls Union Esportiu Sants. A stone’s throw from the Camp Nou, the green and white hoops of the mighty and newly-promoted UE Sants are set to take on the Spanish football’s fourth-tier for the first time in years. In a new series of articles and reviews, Laurence is there to tell their story and maybe, just maybe, fall in love with the game again.
Losing your first two games isn’t everything, as is being aptly demonstrated across Europe by such luminaries as Manchester United, Schalke, Arsenal, Bayer Leverkusen, Lazio and of course the pride of the old industrial zone just off the Barcelona-Tarragona motorway, UE Sants.
The legendary Bobby Robson was once heard to say,
‘We didn’t lose, even though we lost’
Words, prosaic though they are, would be of little comfort to the boys of UE Sants, who definitively have lost two games of football. Football is a simple contest, one in which 22 guys run about trying to kick a ball in a net, or ‘score’ to defer to jargon. Generally, though it isn’t a blanket rule, if you don’t score, you don’t win. Sants haven’t scored and thus have yet to win.
The echoing throb of joy, heralded by the glory of promotion has dulled somewhat as bitter reality kicks in. Bottom of the league. Todays visitors, Granollers EC. This hipster-breakfasty sounding eleven play in yellow tops, blue shorts and white socks. Complete emulation of their lusophone lookalikes was never going to be easy, but they’re a slick outfit.
Football is a contact sport, but this is brutal stuff, an on-field battle of Naseby-esque proportions, officiated by someone who may conform to the partisan crowd’s opinion that not only is the referee blind, but he is also by terrace dictionary definition, a blind wanker.
As the grim thud of flesh on bone, continues, an elbow is thrown and a scream is heard. Claret slowly drips to the floor, before liberally flowing as our striker goes off sporting a visceral head wound, channeling Terry Butcher. In the meantime Sants get a corner, and perhaps preoccupied by thoughts pugilistic, Granollers switch off and the green-and-white machine go one up, scrambled in by Sergio Navarro. The place erupts as only 150 people can, fragile in its fervour and evaporating quickly as the game peters towards half-time.
The on-field battle turns inextricably to the terraces, a bout between the left-back’s gran and our local dogmatist, still reeling from the questionable decision making. She tries to hush facets of the Spanish tongue that, at best, could be described as offensive. Needless to say her lamentations fall upon deaf ears.
One of the joys of this level of football, a joy that detracts somewhat from the actual football itself, is the rapture of proximity. Whatever trials and tribulations the working week throws at you, however painful the boredom of retirement or the frustration of youth, all the rage that you carry can be readily directed at an arbitrary arbiter, or whoever is playing on the wing next to the only stand. As opposed to the industrial hatred and bigotry experienced at say Ibrox or the Stadio Olimpico, not only can the intended targets hear you, but their adjacency forces them to listen. The pallid, vacant faces of top-flight hatred, sculpted by years of xenophobic sectarianism aren’t on show here, replaced as they are by the smirking caricature of someone who could be someone’s granddad. Granted, a very abusive and angry granddad, but a patriarchal figure all the same.
Sants concede a late equalizer, the gutting feeling of loss is felt by all those who witness it. The granddad mutters the final unmentionable slur against the Virgin Mary to the unmistakable trinity of the final whistle.
Read part one of Laurence’s odyssey here.
Cover image courtesy of Matthew Wilkinson via Flickr