Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Watching Messi behind enemy lines in Seville

The Cathedral - and I think this picture covers only one-eighth of itI did everything everyone asked me to do in Seville. I went inside the Alcazar. I stood disbelieving, stunned by the sheer size of the cathedral. I switched off my GPS and walked around the Barrio de Santa Cruz, marvelling at how narrow the streets were, at the granite pavements, at the coolness there despite the heat outside. (I never tired of the old quarters in Spain's cities, and Seville has the biggest of all the ones I saw.) I also saw a building shaped like a waffle; stuck out like a sore thumb, in this the most stately of all cities. Why didn't I think of going in and finding out what it was?

Torre del Oro - probably not made of gold, thoughI went to a flamenco show. I went to the tapas bars. I marvelled at how clean the Guadalquivir looked, despite flowing through the heart of such a big city. I clicked dozens of night-time photos of the river and the bridges across it and the tower of gold by it and the avenues and the walkways along it... and then deleted every last one of them, because none could do the sights justice. I checked the menus displayed outside on the riverside restaurants and decided that they were just a little bit out of my budget. (I wish they'd do this in India, too. Beats getting seated at a table and then, "I have to rush now... family emergency... got call... but lovely restaurant - I'll be here tomorrow, for sure.")

But really, my Seville trip was defined by this gigantic coincidence. I'd checked into the hotel and had gone for a walk in the neighbourhood. Wandering hither and thither, I chanced upon a stadium with this bus marked FC Barcelona parked outside. Weird, right? I mean, this was Seville; Camp Nou was at least a thousand kilometres away. I asked the girl sitting behind the ticket counter for the lowdown. She told me that Barcelona was in town for a game and that it was scheduled for the very same evening. You could've knocked me down with a feather. I was in Seville for the culture and the architecture, of course, but this was clearly a Sign. So I bought a ticket.

The tickets were not as expensive as the ones in the Camp Nou, so I could afford the covered seats near the half-way line. A good thing, too: it drizzled at the start. The chap next to me was the friendly sort and wanted to know whether I was a Barcelona fan. I didn't want to alienate him, so replied that because I was a tourist, I had no loyalties whatsoever. My reactions through the match would've given me away, though - besides, I don't think he bought it to begin with. He didn't speak much English, but talked to me through the match giving me some tidbits about the city and the stadium now and then. He was also the most fanatical of all the Sevilla supporters in the section - pretty loud and explicit with his swearing at the referee and the Barcelona players, when things went awry.

Much like the game at the Camp Nou, I got there well in time and was again treated to Messi warming up with Dani Alves. It's fun watching those two warm up. One stands near the goal line, the other near the half-way line. And they ping the ball between each other. Very, very accurately, too. Before the start of the match, a piano was carried on to the pitch and there was a rendition of the Sevilla anthem. Then, or maybe before that, the players were announced. It was the exact reverse of what happened in the Camp Nou a week earlier. Every Sevilla player's name was cheered, and with the exception of Xavi and Messi, every Barça player's whistled. Messi, though, got some grudging applause.

This match saw a much more active and sunnily-disposed Messi than the previous week. He was playing slightly deeper and I got to see first-hand some lightning-quick interplay between Xavi and Messi in the opening minutes. The passes between the two, running at full pelt while zigzagging unpredictably, were sometimes quicker than I could process. Generally, it's easier to follow football on TV, but the quick one-touch, on-the-move passes, I somehow found much more exhilarating watching live at the ground.

But for all of Barça's dominance, it was Sevilla who took a two-goal lead. Barça have been crippled by injury to their back four, and have of late been playing with a makeshift defence - and they've been paying for it. The Sevilla crowd were quite enjoying themselves and even sang the Barça anthem a couple of times - specifically the part that ends with "Barça, Barça, Barça"... with a pause tacked on and followed by a mieeeeeerda. There was much amusement and everyone was in good spirits.

Early on in the second half, Barça scored, but were still a goal behind. But like every match I saw of theirs, they got better and better as the game progressed and their opponents tired. They cranked the gears up a notch and tempers started to fray. Fabregas and a Sevilla chap had an altercation and the latter pushed his head (not quite a head-butt, but definitely a head-bump) into Fabregas. Fabregas made sure the referee noticed it and the Sevilla chap was promptly red-carded. My new friend to my right damn near had an apoplexy. He then shouted abuse at the referee for 5 minutes without so much as pausing for breath; a few folks around shot him an occasional worried glance.

From now on, Barça, already on the ascendancy, took a stranglehold on the match. And the crowd grew more and more hostile. Every Barça touch (which was a lot) was jeered and whistled and everyone had a thing or two to say of the referee. There were anti-Barça chants. There were slogans with arms raised against the referee. It was so unbelievably hostile that it was positively delicious. This was what I'd been looking forward to for all those weeks!  All of the baser emotions that were tut-tutted in my moral-science classes vented out in relative safetly, but multiplied amongst 40,000 people. I think that when George Orwell wrote of sport being war minus the shooting, he was spot on - but you really have to be at a football stadium, with the home crowd feeling particularly wronged to fully understand it - however, it is just possible that his words contained more grudging admiration than my staid school books conveyed. How could anyone not be moved, not have their pulses up, by being amongst tens of thousands of people, all spitting venom and baying for blood for 20 minutes straight? It was glorious.

And then, with Barça still losing by a goal, Messi laid a ball off to Fabregas in the 89th minute, and the latter didn't miss. And a couple of minutes later, in the very final minute of the game, Messi and Villa played another of those one-twos and Villa didn't miss either. The whole stadium went mierda. My friend let loose another tirade aimed at the referee, who was at that very moment being escorted off the pitch by a ring of security guards. I don't think they need have bothered. For all the hostility on display, it was clear that the fans at the match had a football mask over a very human face: when I walked out of the stadium, the mask was off and everyone was perfectly calm. Even the chap to my right, who was still shouting abuse as he turned toward the exit, interrupted his tirade to give me the widest smile and the warmest handshake when I clapped him on the back to say goodbye.

Plaza de España - another Lawrence of Arabia locationAn improved Messi performance from the previous week, Barça winning in the final minute after trailing by a goal until the 89th minute, and being witness to the most glorious sporting atmosphere anyone could ever hope for. What more could I have asked of the Gods in the city where a man once said, "Let us build a cathedral so large that future generations will think we were mad."

Inside the Casa de PilatosP.S. - I was there only for three days and didn't have the time to go inside the cathedral but, in order to appease the Gods, did go to the Casa de Pilatos  (all right, I'll admit it: I'd read that it was used as a location in Lawrence of Arabia, and I wanted to have a look) - so named because it was once believed to be a copy of Pilate's house. It had rooms very appropriately and religiously named - like Flagellation Chapel. Also contains a strange picture of a bearded woman breast-feeding a child, with her husband standing nearby wearing a disgusted look. Alone worth the price of admission.

The Trip


the_reluctant_leader said...

well written Rohan really enjoyed your writing though was never a big football fan but the way you wrote it i so wanted to pick a side to be part of what u experienced.

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