this would be the first time in the history of football that a team had done such a thing IT IS NOT THE FIRST TIME MY ENGLISH CHARACTER HAS BEEN QUESTIONED
Regular readers will be aware that I do not address the weightier issues of the world in this column, but rather strive to provide light-hearted reflections on what it’s like being a foreigner who has settled here in Catalonia. You will forgive me then if during these difficult times I recount a rather trivial matter that once again left me scratching my head in incredulity at the mysterious and unfathomable contradictions of human nature.
Regular readers will also know of my passion for football and lifelong relationship with the game. Even at my age I am still playing in a competitive league, and to my great pride and joy, I am now lucky enough to share a pitch with my son, who plays in my seven a-side team on Monday nights in Barcelona. The team is made up of mainly veterans, which in Catalonia means aged over 35 when it comes to football, although we do have a few youngsters. We also have a couple of “locals” in our squad too, but the team is mainly comprised of English and Irish men, aka “guiris”.
On this particular occasion, we were taking on a new team whose name had the word University in its title… immediately a concern for a group of men in their 50s and even older. However, we comfortably outplayed our opponents, eventually running out 10-0 winners, so not so competitive after all.
The incident I wanted to share with you occurred halfway through the first half, when the opposing team were still playing with a modicum of belief that they could win the game. In one of their rare forays into our penalty area, the ball struck the arm of one of our players, but no penalty was given. This led to the opposition complaining vociferously to the referee, who simply said he hadn’t seen it. At that point, the only senior member of the opposition, a man in his fifties - the rest were all 20-somethings - began to lambast us for our lack of “fair play”, claiming that as Englishmen (ignorant of the fact that some of the team are Irish) we should have done the decent thing and awarded the penalty against ourselves. I made the point to the gentleman in question that this would be the first time in the history of football that a team had done such a thing, fair play or not. He then proceeded to suggest that we were not being true to our English nature, and spent the rest of the half criticising our character.
I have witnessed the best and worst of human nature on the football field over 25 years of playing football in this country, but one thing I learnt very early on is that, unlike the football I knew when I was growing up on the muddy fields of Manchester, players here will do anything possible to gain an advantage or get their opponent into trouble – witness the imaginary card waving at the referee, which certainly did not begin in England, I can tell you. As for cultural considerations, it is not the first time my English character has been questioned in my dealings with locals, but it is certainly the most ridiculous. Hypocrisy is one of the human weaknesses I find most irritating, but it is a universal human flaw, regardless of culture.
Anyway, I hope these somewhat banal reflections may serve as a momentary relief from the devastating events taking place not so far away from us.