El Camino de La Liga

Welcome to El Camino de La Liga

The challenge: to visit every club in La Liga and see a match in their stadium in one season. That means 20 teams in 38 weeks.

The reason: to see more of Spain, to learn more about Spain, to meet new people and to see some good football.

Bienvenido al Camino de La Liga

El desafío: visitar cada club de fútbol de La Liga española y ver un partido en su campo en una sola temporada. Eso significa 2o equipos en 32 semanas.

La razon: ver más de España, aprender más sobre España, conocer gente nueva y ver buen fútbol.

View Spanish football stadiums in a larger map

Red = Visited Blue = Still to visit

Monday, 19 October 2009

Not so black and white

I am no stranger to Valencia or to Valencian people. I have visited the city on several occasions and I knew a lot of Valencian people from my time spent working in Catalonia. Therefore I travelled to Valencia this weekend with some pretty well founded ideas of what to expect from the city. However, it once again took football to show me a side of Valencia and Spanish politics I hadn´t yet seen.
I arrived in Valencia early on Saturday morning after taking the 35 minute flight from Madrid. There is something special about walking around a city very early in the morning so I took advantage of the chance to appreciate some of the views you don´t have time to notice when you are dodging traffic and pedestrians during the day. After the obligatory Spanish coffee (the one thing that never changes throughout Spain is the quality of the coffee); I managed to catch a midmorning football match between two local boys´ clubs. For a while it brought me back to my football playing days as a child in Scotland albeit with far superior facilities and ball control. Anyone who is in any doubt about why Spain is so good and Scotland so poor at football only needs to attend a boys´ club match in both countries and everything will become clear.
After sampling more of the sites of Valencia I headed back to the hostel where I was staying and that is where I ran into Pedro. In terms of profile, Pedro doesn´t fit what you would imagine a typical Valencia fan to be like. Pedro isn´t from Valencia, he is from Mallorca. Nor are his parents from Valencia. His father is from Albacete and his mother is English. In fact, Pedro isn´t really sure himself how he came to be a Valencia fan but one thing is clear, he is a Valencia fan. As a matter of fact you would be hard pressed to find a bigger one. As he lives in Mallorca, he must attend every home match by either plane or ferry. It reminds of the Shetland Tartan Army whose motto is “every game is an away game”. Pedro has been a Valencia fan for as long as he can remember and will happily speak about Valencia past and present all day. As he goes to most matches alone, we agreed to go to the game together and a better guide I couldn´t have asked for.
I have to admit that I arrived in Valencia with some rather naïve ideas of what a Valencia vs Barcelona fixture might look like. Valencia and Catalonia are neighbours on the Mediterranean coast and both communities speak the same language. When I lived in Catalonia I knew just as many Valencians as Catalans; many people from Valencia come to work in Catalonia due to their knowledge of Catalan. So although I knew it was a derby of sorts I expected a derby between likeminded cousins, maybe something similar to a Scotland vs Ireland match. However, once again, Spanish politics and football proved much more complicated than I had anticipated.
The first hint that my rosy picture was far from the truth was when Pedro got ready for the match. Pedro wore two scarves to this match, one with Valencia CF and the other with España written on it. When I asked him why he was wearing the second scarf he told me straight that it was to wind up the Catalans. When I asked him if there was some morbo, an almost untranslatable Spanish football term which means bitter rivalry, between Valencia and Barcelona, he told me there was a lot and not only between the football clubs but also between the communities. The problem, as always, is political. There are some in Catalonia who speak of the Països Catalans which can be literally translated as the Catalan Countries but might be better translated as Greater Catalonia. This is a political idea of an independent Catalonia which encompasses all the areas where Catalan is spoken and for the adherents of the Països Catalans this includes the community of Valencia, The Balearic Islands, Andorra, part of Aragon, part of Murcia part of Northern France and even part of Sardinia. The idea of Greater Catalonia, while appealing to some in Catalonia, has very little support in Valencia and is in fact actively opposed by many. Valencians may speak a language almost identical to Catalan but for them it´s not Catalan, it´s Valencian. What is more, many Valencians while proud of their community are also supportive of Spain and in fact the community of Valencia is governed by the Popular Party, the conservative party who also govern the community of Madrid. In Valencia you are just as likely if not more likely to hear Spanish being spoken in the street than hear Valencian. Therefore, you might describe the feelings of many Valencians towards Catalonia as similar to those of many Catalans towards Madrid, i.e. resentment and opposition towards a political and linguistic idea they feel is being imposed on them.
Pedro is one of those football fans who like to get to the stadium early, to soak up the pre match atmosphere. The closer we got to the stadium, the more apparent the antipathy towards Barcelona became. Even two hours before kick-off the area around the stadium was buzzing and the atmosphere was cranked up a few more notches when the Barcelona team bus arrived. I have seen opposition team buses arrive at stadiums in Spain before and there is always someone on hand to hurl a few insults but the scene which greeted Barcelona was something new to me. The team bus, escorted by several police vans and riot police was met by perhaps 1000 Valencia supporters chanting “puta Barça y puta Cataluña!” which is difficult to translate but is along the lines of “f**king Barça and f**king Catalonia”. The atmosphere inside the stadium was equally as hostile with the Valencia ultras making frequent remarks to Joan Laporta, the President of Barcelona, who is an open supporter of the Països Catalans. The Valencia ultras also engaged in some singing of Viva España and carried on with “puta Barça y puta Cataluña” chant throughout the match.
The game itself, in terms of action, didn´t live up to the pre-match hype and ended goalless but this match was all about the atmosphere. After the game I met with Pedro who was quite satisfied with the result and happy not be facing the trip back to Mallorca on a downer.
The next day Valencia was enjoying a calm Sunday afternoon with none of the chaos of the previous night. I headed down to the beach to have some paella, Valencia´s most famous dish. As I sat eating my paella, I reflected on a lesson learned in Spanish football. Nothing in Valencia, except the colours of the football team, is black and white.