¡MADRID! IS BETTER THAN HULL
Mickey Blue Eyes
You'll like this opening short tale of football tribalism.
Recently I returned from Madrid, landed at John Lennon International Airport, and joined the queue at passport control. Immediately in front of me was a middle aged footy-brand tourist Spaniard dressed in full pinky kit, a manifestation of everything that has us sniggering at our loveable neighbours. When the tourist was called forward, the checker took one look and said in a Scouse voice you could have heard on Garston Road, "Yer not cummn in dressed like tha'!" The checker was, of course, One of Us. Startled, the Spaniard stopped dead in his tracks. But, protocol being what it is, the checker had to reassure him he was only joking and that he was welcome to our blue and pleasant land - even if the reassurance was delivered with a pained smile. The visitor was waved through and I was next. I muttered, "I wouldn't have let him in." And the checker grinned and said sotto voce, "I fuckn won't next time."
Which is one of the reasons I love my home city. You'll be lucky to get that kind of thing at, say, stiff-faced paranoid US passport control or, worse, Heathrow, Gatwick or Stansted.
Previously, Madrid was brilliant. It always is, even if all capital cities are corrupt. It cannot be otherwise, since they are the centre of government administration, patronage and finance; spivs, gangsters and conmen accumulate. But some capitals are more corrupt than others. England's capital, London, is third worst in the West behind Rome and Washington, though all three are disgusting in different ways. Madrid is way behind them all when it comes to outright across-the-board institutional rottenness, even after the Fuentes saga and Real Madrid shenanigans described below. Soap-opera neocon London "offers" the crooked media-manufactured compensation of economic "safety": in fact it is a nest of tenth rate domestic and foreign barrow boys and hoodlums, suited-up or otherwise, actually a bolt hole for the insecure and sometimes a coven of wannabe petit bourgeoisie. The place makes you shudder for our national future.
All things considered, those three other cities cannot compare to Madrid's relative (emphasis relative) social and cultural balance, some of which is due to freedom from World War 2, but also includes the past horror of civil war. It may be very far from ideal, but for all its current inflicted problems it has retained a civilised air most Britons would have a hard time recognising. It is the way we were once, but are no longer. Even now, serious regional disputes in the offing, Spaniards have retained a good deal of their sense of collective and individual pride and dignity, qualities long ago drained from British culture. Alas, in Spain we Brits are too often associated indelibly with gangs of thuggish drunks and drug dealers who infest their southern coast like bloated, tattooed, red-faced mosquitoes. We have a lot to live down.
Fortunately, Madrid is a low-rise city that has largely eschewed the miserable high-rise architecture of Canary Wharf and Westminster, though there are two sites which are exceptions which prove the rule. Typically, these include designs by the Brit vandal architect Norman Foster at Torre Caja. And the even worse cultural Yank thug, Philip Johnson with Puerta de Europa, the kind of shit that gives shit a bad name.
But for a sense of balance, check out the exploits of sports-cheating Madrid's señor Doctor Eufeminio Fuentes, found guilty in May of "endangering public health" by doping up elite cyclists. After the verdict, the judge, Julia Patricia Santamaria, ordered destruction of two hundred bags of blood samples that could have identified other drugs cheats treated by Fuentes. Plainly, Franco's Falangist version of patria won't go down without a fight.
Real Madrid, Franco's favourite, is one of four clubs in the Spanish Primera Liga to benefit from classification as "a not-for-profit sports club" owned by their members (the three others are Barcelona, Athletic Bilbao and Osasuna), which also means they are exempt from corporation and property tax laws. Real has annual revenues of about €500million. Meanwhile, there is a European Union ongoing inquiry into a land deal they did at Las Tablas with Madrid City Council in which the politicians sold them a plot of land for €420,000, then bought it back for €22.7million. The €22.7million was waived by the club in return for planning permission to build a roof on their stadium, as well as permission to build a hotel complex and shopping centre. Under European Commission rules this can be classified as "state aid" and therefore in breach. There were other questionable deals. On top of this, Spanish football is in even worse debt than English football, €4.1BILLION worth. Do you get a sense of déjà-vu about all this, West Ham's proposed occupation of the Olympic Stadium for one, Manchester United's gargantuan debt for another, Manchester City's Etihad Stadium for still another? Dig a little deeper and you will find neocon "globalisation" is the same scam whether it is in Shanghai, Seattle, Sydney or Southampton.
Despite all that, a visit to Madrid is always refreshing. We recently spent six days with friends in Aravaca, just outside the capital; it was a pretty, tiny village when they moved there over two decades ago, much given to civilised al fresco hospitality. Now it is a small town. Like Madrid, it has grown enormously since our first visit many years ago. The most recent typical capitalist "crisis" has slowed expansion, though from the incoming flight path you can still see everywhere newly laid out street patterns empty of buildings; doubtless they will appear once the transnational bankers have stolen enough of your money to achieve global "economic recovery" and restart the robbery all over again. We might even see work restart on abandoned building sites across Britain, but don't hold your breath. Profit-leeching comes before people, Madrid included.
Priority of our visit was to refresh lifelong friendships, but one of the highlights was the Real Madrid V Getafe match on Sunday, 22nd September, which was headlined as Gareth Bale's début; he came out for a kick around with the others......and was promptly buried under what looked like a scrum of the entire medical staff of Hospital Clinica Puerta de Hierro del Insalud. He had pulled a hamstring or something and didn't play. Not a good start.
We were in the North End first tier almost directly behind the goal, €60 worth per seat. The last time I was in the stadium was two hundred years ago when Di Stefano played at centre forward and it had two tiers of standing only on three sides. Now it has five tiers on three sides and four tiers in the main stand. All seated. The TV screens are out of the way up at the roof edge behind the goals, which is where they should be. The result is visually spectacular. Goodison Park it is not. Somehow, the visitors seem to be irrelevant sacrificial lambs.
So when Getafe got a breakaway, attacked the Ultras in the South End, and scored after five minutes I was more than a little chuffed. So was my friend, an Asturian who doesn't much like Madrid. Alas, that was the last we saw of the visitors. It ended 4-1 to Real and should have been nine or ten. Ronaldo scored their second from a penalty just before half time and promptly milked it with the crowd; he really does have the kind of face you would never want to stop pelting with decayed fruit, great player or not.
It was kind of appropriate my next match was Us V Hull City. In previous weeks there had been a minor furore over City's new owners wish to change the club name to Hull Tigers, or it might have been Hull Pussies, or Hull Something Else. Christ knows what these nutters will come up with next. In addition, apparently the Yank firm Red Bull have shown interest in buying an English football club and Everton's name has been mentioned. Which, of course, has kicked off a similar furore because the Yanks will undoubtedly want to do what they do to virtually everything they touch outside the American Nightmare: destroy it for money, see Gordon Gekko. Well, if Hull City can become Hull Tigers and get more dosh for it, we can become Everton Red Bull for more money......can't we?.........
It was easy to leave that tarradiddle aside for the actual football match. After all, footy is what we are really interested in....or supposed to be. And if rumours are to be believed Roberto Martinez has proved a breath of fresh air at Finch Farm. I haven't the faintest idea if the rumours are true or not but there's no question he has the team playing differently, though also more vulnerable in defence. So Hull was always going to be a real test, and so it proved in a rain showered Autumn game mostly controlled by Us. At times like this, the air clear, colours brighter, the smell of grass, you wonder why anybody wants to bother with TV/computers; real life is always best. There is no way a tenth rate commentator can get over the sound of the Street End shouting in unison, "TEERRRRRN!" when Ross Barkley gets the ball with his back to goal. At times it may not be the best advice but it sounds brilliant.
We played some good stuff in the opening spell, tight, well controlled, top class close passing, and a lot of determination. We had three booked, one of whom, Gareth Barry, should have seen red for two "tackles" that would have made it into a Hammer horror movie. Not that Hull were angels either. It was that kind game.
The opening goal after seven minutes seemed almost routine. A neat left side attack had Mirallas released on the left and room to run at them, which he did post haste and got to the goal line and forced a corner same side. Hull were being passed to death, couldn't get near any of it. From the corner, a small left side triangle formed at the edge of the penalty area, and the ball got fed back to Mirallas with again more room to go forward and shoot from twenty metres, a daisy cutter their 'keeper made no move to stop and it went in off the inside of the post.
If anyone expected Hull to lie down and die they were wrong. They came back and often attacked down their right, which is where Barry committed his two assaults, and made a couple of clear chances before they got a deserved smart equaliser after half an hour. Bainsey failed to close down a move to the goal line and the cross got pulled back to an unmarked Hull player beyond the right goal area angle and he simply poked it home. It was as routine as our opener.
So the game settled down either side of half time, where we had most possession and often looked threatening while Hull - for all their big, strong players - seemed to weaken slightly despite missing another clear opportunity just before the half time whistle. Our midfield had a good, promising match marred only by the understandable occasional inexperience of Jimmy McCarthy and Ross Barkley; nevertheless, these two look like they could be the business in a season or two, injuries notwithstanding. We certainly missed injured Darron Gibson in this kind of encounter, something that may be an injury too far for him.
With a half hour left Steven Pienaar came on for Leon Osman. Tim Howard took a long fly-kick down the centre, right on to Lukaku's head. He won the aerial duel and nodded it straight on to Barkley, who killed it quickly, turned and laid it right to McCarthy, he sent it on wider to Seamus Coleman, who made a ground cross to the centre. And there was Peanuts, cool as you like around the penalty spot, with a forward flick that went home past a defender and their 'keeper inside his right hand post. He had been on the field maybe twenty seconds. The substitution was crucial, though of course it took some minutes before he and Bainsey started to work their close passing magic on the left. Nor did it take long, as usual, before the opposition dumped the little South African on his back, the kind of treatment he gets every time he plays. The wonder is he isn't injured more often.
The remainder of the game was a stern midfield battle with occasional likely looking attacks from Our Boys which never really made the breakthrough. Hull looked goosed but never gave up. As I said, it was one of those games. Plainly, the crowd prefer El Bob's substitutions to Moyesy's - as long as they are successful; but they are a risk that is bound to come unstuck sooner or later. Nevertheless, our new manager has made an encouraging start that we hope will last through the rigours of an English winter. We are about to find out one way or the other.
So far, so good. Well done passport control too.