So you’ve been to Spain. You squeezed in a trip to watch Barcelona at the Nou Camp on a romantic ‘cultural’ weekend with your better half. Or maybe you blagged a trip to the Bernabeu when you were in Madrid on a work trip, you flash bastard. Or maybe, just maybe, your team fluked its way into some European competition and you ended up watching your heroes getting tonked in Valencia or somewhere equally exotic. At the very least, you’ve watched the Barcelona-Madrid highlights on Sky.
You still haven’t seen Spanish football.
You don’t believe me? OK, Let’s perform a little experiment. Close your eyes. Think of the Spanish football experience. Let your mind fill with images. What do you see? Roaring mentalists in packed, skyscraper stadiums? Swarthy hordes of hand-wringing, colourfully-blaspheming fans, with Desperate Dan stubble or daft moustaches, going OTT loco and perhaps throwing the occasional pig's head onto the pitch?
Probably. And that’s why you’ve never seen Spanish football, as the Spaniard sees it, until you’ve watched it with the nation in their national stadium – the bar.
Let there be no doubt; the bar is by far the most favoured location for watching football. I don’t care if the UEFA figures say that the telly audience is actually slightly less in Spain than in the UK: they’re counting televisions, not viewers. No-one in their right mind would want to watch football in the house. No, it must be the bar. And there are hundreds of thousands of them, all packed on match days.
There’s NO WAY your girlfriend will follow you in there to complain that you’re watching the football again...
Before we go on, it’s important to prevent a few natural, if incorrect, assumptions. A Spanish bar, in a residential city 'barrio' or small town, is not a pub. It’s not even similar. Nor is it a tourist haunt. There are no menus in English, and possibly no menus at all. There will be the majority, if not the full set, of the following things present:
Bright fluorescent lighting, shaded only by twenty five years of nicotine stains; a glass cabinet containing cold, unidentifiable food, much of it allegedly from the sea; a rancid-looking cured pig’s leg; sawdust-and-nutshell floor covering -- no-one knows what lies beneath; a giant, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-style “coffee” maker which produces only tar ( this tar is indescribably good, but is made better by the traditional addition of three parts strong brandy); the decorations will ALWAYS include a solitary football rosette of unknown age.
Then there are the customers. For the complete, boss-eyed hillbilly experience it is necessary to travel to the more remote small towns, where one suspects that there are probably more people than surnames. For our purposes, the typical neighbourhood bar will do. It is extremely important, if you want to remain inconspicuous, that you avoid shaving for at least 3 days. More if you’re a woman. Try to get some engine oil on your hands. You must also smoke, Ducados for preference. For the unenlightened, these are -- as far as I can tell -- a light blend of coal dust and dried sewage scraped and rolled into cigarettes; an acquired taste. Until Spain's recent, inhumane smoking ban forced its wheezing bar dwellers into phlegmatic scrums around the doors, the smoke served to dim the glare of the strip lights. Now you'll just have to squint and twitch in nicotine withdrawal like everyone else. You can have a beer, but don’t get drunk. Right: you’re now ready to watch the football.
If you’re lucky, the game will be a thrilling advertisement for the sport, with goals galore, passion, skill and verve. Failing that, you're at least fairly sure of having a crap referee to get everyone’s blood boiling. By half-time, you’ll be shouting excitedly and arguing with your new best mates. Unlike the bloodless crowds in the stadiums, the atmosphere in bars is usually fantastic.
At half time you must try the house special. My own local serves amazing-smelling plates of deliciousness which turned out to be, god help me, tripe. In a spicy sauce. And now I love it. Don't fight these things; resistance is futile.
Before you can dwell too long on what you’re eating, the game is on again. The football is top-quality, the beer is cheap, the people are having fun, the food, well… if the beer is cheap enough you’ll enjoy anything. And the best thing of all? There’s NO WAY your girlfriend will follow you in there to complain that you’re watching the football again...
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