It just struck me that I'm in breach of blog etiquette by failing to provide a self-indulgent me-fest masquering as an informative page about the blog.
Have you ever worked for a large multinational? Have you ever worked for a large multinational whose business model revolves around providing hotel rooms for tourists with more money than sense, or men in suits named Chuck and Brandon on expense accounts? Have you ever worked for a large multinational whose business model revolves around providing hotel rooms for tourists with more money than sense, or men in suits named Chuck and Brandon on expense accounts, while you are housed in a small office below a block of council flats in an ill-ventilated building with temporary builders' walls around the window for low pay while being charged with an antiquated computer and told to rewrite over four hundred hotels' websites in adherence to a style guide of stunning abstruseness, your completion of this task being met with a sad smile and a request to do it all again because standard rooms are now called guest rooms? If you have then you might understand why after six months I decided to see about an escape plan. This, perhaps unrealistically, was to combine my main hobby of football with my sole useful ability of writing. Understanding that prospective employers weren't likely to be beating down my door I started small: by day I continued my mole-like existence as hotel copywriter; in the evening I, at the invitation of an online friend of mine, wrote betting guides about Spanish football and tried not to think about going back to the office the next morning.
Like most other UK football fans with Sky TV and a pitiful social life I was no stranger to live Spanish football on Saturday and Sunday evenings, and had long since marveled at the country's great clubs, flirting briefly - at my younger brother's insistence (complete with scarf) - with following Barcelona. But by the winter of 2006 I had instead found myself captivated by a team named Getafe from the suburbs of Madrid. There was more to it than the simple small-town-underdog-made-good tale that attracted all manner of idiots to (say) Gretna in Scotland: here was a team that, a brief Wikipedia examination revealed, almost played in the literal shadow of Atlético Madrid, and definitely played in the figurative shadow of both Atleti and Real Madrid. Yet they had weathered bankruptcy and low support to find themselves not just in Spain's top flight but actively taking the piss out of it: winning at the Bernabéu and finishing in the top half just to show that they could. Getafe, indeed, didn't seem particularly bothered about making friends in high places: their website was (and remains) charmingly amateurish, and with the local players not endorsing Adidas or Nike but instead the local pizza restaurant, they were - at least for a time - mercifully free of the more prosaic trappings of modern football. The whole organisation gave the impression of being a local club for local people, a club screamed onwards on its path to the Primera by nobody but Getafe residents too stubborn to be lured to the city or too old to go so far in winter, preferring the crumbling Margaritas in the town centre or, in later days, the guffaw-inducing soullessness of the Coliseum Alfonso Pérez - named for a man that never played for Getafe and, to anyone's knowledge, never gave it a second thought. It was, in short, the perfect football club.
Getafe were at the tail end of another pleasant mid-table campaign - Bernd Schuster in the dugout, Pato Abbondanzieri in goal, 32 in the goals against column and a Zamora trophy in Pato's considerable hands - when I penned my betting preview ahead of the second leg of the Copa del Rey semi-final. Having lost 5-2 to Barcelona at Camp Nou the match seemed a formality; we were, as providers of team news and tactical updates, discouraged from writing actual result predictions, but it was all I could do not to write "BARCELONA ARE THROUGH, DO YOU REALLY NEED 200 WORDS AND A FORMATION?" and send it out to our faithful readers in Hong Kong and the like. Good thing I didn't, because, in front of a Sopcast feed of remarkable reliability I watched agog as Geta put four goals past the Blaugrana to reach their first ever Spanish Cup final. Javier Casquero, Dani Güiza, Vivar Dorado, Dani Güiza again. The most important goals in Geta's history since - long before I cared about the club - Sergio Pachón put five past Tenerife to secure promotion to the Primera. I might have missed that occasion: bollocks to missing the cup final as well.
Thus it was that in late May I found myself in Madrid, equipped with a rucksack, no Spanish, and a considerable reluctance to test my linguistic abilities on actual people, thus rendering my diet one largely based around vending machines. Fuelled by Aquarius and peanuts, and the fetid remains of a hostel breakfast buffet, I went out in search of a cup final ticket. I'd long since given up on the official avenues: I wasn't a Sevilla socio, and Getafe's allocation was going only to those who signed up for a season ticket for the following year. There were, however, no touts to be found the day before the game, or even the afternoon of, no matter how convincing my "yes, I'm buying" face.
The night before the final I'd done a recce in Getafe itself, and the city rewarded me by living up almost exactly to my expectations. A baking piece of light-industrial suburbia, Getafe segued beautifully from its gritty, narrow-street centre to its post-Franco northern suburbs of five-story apartment buildings, corner supermarkets, metro stations and, of course, the Coliseum Alfonso Pérez. But of particular note were the posters dotted around the main drag, the Calle Madrid, advertising the Copa del Rey final on a big screen in the city centre for those not attending the match. The Bernabéu was off-limits, but this would be the next best thing.
Spain is, of course, a country where the streets don't empty out in the evening. This is the land of the paseo, and on my initial trip to Getafe I was oddly touched by the throngs of people looking in the windows of gift stores selling random Taiwanese crap at 8 o'clock at night, dressed in their best casual wear. That all changed on the night of the cup final, though: it was shorts and t-shirts, boxes of wine and, in my case, four large cans of Mahou and my red Getafe away top.
I arrived in the town square early to stake out a decent spot, and though I couldn't grab a seat along the wall I at least had, for a time, an uninterrupted view of the screen. Youths in various states of drunkenness barged around, asserting their own personal space; eventually, one yelled something in my ear, obviously expecting a response. I put my finest Spanish to the test and told him, enunciating the H, that I didn't hablo Español. Cue uproarious laughter, and the appearance of a supporting cast behind the man whom I'd know only as Rico.
Rico, it labouriously transpired, was a janitor in a cemetery, and these were his friends. One of them had a few words of English: we established that, yes, I was Scottish, that, yes, I was here by myself, that, no, I was not a student in Madrid, that, yes, I had come over from Scotland for this, that, yes, I knew this was Getafe, and that, yes, I was here by myself. "Ahora, tu no estás solo," said Rico, and I knew what he meant.
I was asked - instructed - to try their drink of choice (beer apparently being the stuff of old men), namely a Rioja mixed with Coke, which was as good as it sounds; was repeatedly offered cigarettes; and even, charmingly, given the gift of gossip as one of the female circle of friends accused the others of being "small" and "silly", in halting English. All this while I was trying to watch the game. In the event a Fredi Kanouté goal in the first half was the only notable action after Getafe's early miss, and with Rico and the gang fast losing interest in the second period I stood, surrounded by smoke, spilled Rioja and gabbling voices, hungry for more vending machine sustenance, feet aching, back creaking, craning my neck to see a game that I knew we had already lost. It was, in short, the perfect evening.
As I lay wide awake in my hostel bunk that night, silently wondering how many decibels a Scandinavian snorer could manage without setting off a car alarm three stories below, I decided that this trip could well have been the best investment of my life. I'd fallen in love with a football team, and it felt like more than just a holiday romance. It was a love as strong as the one I felt for my hometown club. And it was to cost me sleepless nights - and plenty more in plane and train tickets and internet bills - in years to come.
This blog is my way of staying in touch with Getafe, first from Scotland and now from the United States. (There are no plans to change the blog's name to Peña Getafense Tio Sam Imperialista.) The coverage mainly focuses on match reports and the occasional previews but I'll add other items of interest if and when the mood takes me. On average I return to Getafe once a season or so: next time I'll be sure to add some photos and a travelog.
Oh: and despite the title this site doesn't represent a real peña. Twice I emailed the head of the supporters' federation and twice he didn't get back to me. In any case, it's just me. Just like this post. That's what this blog's about.
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