Call us opportunists if you may, but we had to devote the fall 2010 issue of más+menos to soccer. Spain, at long last, won the World Cup and we will never be the same. From now on, at times of special need (such as the present is,) Spaniards will be able to say: “We’ll always have Johannesburg.”
The Diario de Sevilla journalist Francisco Correal, who’s been an essential collaborator of this issue of más+menos, tells us that the somewhat-numbing capacity that soccer has over the masses, ourselves included, finds its redemption in its enormous contribution to the recording of our emotional past. It provides many average (and not so average) people with an array of both happy and unhappy recollections from which to construct their own biopic: “How old were you when Spain beat Malta 12-1?” “Where did you celebrate the first UEFA Cup victory of Sevilla FC? and the second?” “Do you remember when Betis got relegated to Second Division?” Wait a minute… which of the times are you talking about?
I am indeed a Betis fan, which is not Real Madrid or FC Barcelona. So I have no choice but to illustrate you with some facts, which aren’t either of your interest or your concern. In 1977, I witnessed how the most irregular team in the history of soccer, Betis of course, defeated AC Milan 2-0 at Benito Villamarín stadium to make it to the Quarterfinals of the European Cup of National Cup Winners. My uncle Enrique took me to see it and my mom made me a big sausage bocadillo to eat at half-time. I know that the following day I had a math exam in which I did not do well. Months before, in one hot night of June, I saw the same team win the first Spanish King’s Cup of our democracy against Athletic Club de Bilbao, in a little black and white TV. It was one of the most griping matches of all times (according to Betis fans.) Though fatality always has it, and that same season Betis got relegated to Second Division, or to the bowels of Hell, as sports journalists like to refer here to any place where Real Madrid or FC Barcelona don’t play. I remember a very young Rafael Gordillo, who then played for Betis and who would later become the best left-winger of the world and one of the greatest players in the history of Real Madrid and Spain’s national team, leaving the stadium in tears that day. In spite of having grown up (I guess) I’ve never quite managed to put those sour memories away. And since these are, once again, times of difficulty for Béticos, the fact that our beloved fellow soccer supporters of the city, the Sevillistas or ‘Palanganas’ as we refer to them with affection, are enjoying the most successful period in their history, only contributes to make matters worse. Our Sevillista friend and professor of Contrastive Grammar, Antonio Rodríguez, always tells the story of a young boy who kept asking his father: “Dad, why are we Béticos?” Though Sevillistas already know that their victorious stretch won’t last forever.
All happy and unhappy matters considered, it’s a great satisfaction to have worked on a magazine in which we’ve managed to interview some soccer players who did their best, every day of their professional careers, to make people’s lives more memorable. We’ve realised that, beyond their professionalism, they were as amazed to have been there as their supporters were and still are. Rafael Gordillo himself did not hesitate to devote an hour of his time, now that he’s about to become Real Betis’ President, to tell us his emotions about a match, 33 years ago, that he didn’t even play.
We’ve learnt working on más+manos 15 that beyond the ball there is a lot. It is his undisputed status as one of the world’s top players that allows as fierce a striker as gentle a human being, Seville FC’s Malian player and UNICEF Ambassador Frédéric Oumar Kanouté, to found near Bamako, in his father’s country, the Children’s Village of Sakina. Much like him, though with quite different means and with the bluntness of a veteran player, the present day Quixote, Betis fanatic and Jesus follower, Jorge Morillo, runs a project created 25 years ago to reach children of all deprived areas around Seville.
We’ve also made the big effort of trying to understand the awkward do’s and don’ts of soccer-supporting behaviour and have visited several of the oldest clubhouses in Seville. We wanted to know what it’s like to have two major soccer teams in a medium sized city like this one and to what extend that rivalry shapes the life of its inhabitants (even, or particularly, if they hate soccer).
We’ve also studied one the most naturally weird combinations of modern times, soccer and politics, in a country which is puzzled by the permanent, though largely imaginary, thread of territorial division. Is FC Barcelona the Trojan horse that will eventually bring Catalonia to its secession? They probably are. Last night they defeated their archrival, Real Madrid, 5-0!
Given the dramatic nature of soccer, we now know why goalkeepers are probably the sports professional with the largest percentage of work-related suicides. Though to a group of loyal friends and amateur soccer players who keep at it every Sunday since 1980, soccer is one of the greatest sources of family bonding and joy. For them, and unlike in the US, it is the children who sit in the stands and cheer their parents… or even their grandparents.
And please do not dare put this magazine down until you learn who a rather short and very shy boyish-looking guy named Andrés Iniesta is.
Thanks for being there and let’s hope next time I can write this Editor’s Note as a the fan of a First Division team.