I don’t watch much football *SHOCK – HORROR – ORF WITH MY OWN HEAD*, so when I found myself on holiday in Spain, in a Spanish bar, with El Clasico about to start, I didn’t really know what to do with myself. To say my eyes were glued to the small telly in the corner would over romanticize the actual events somewhat, as I spent much of the first half surreptitiously scraping the beef stew we’d mistakenly ordered (travelling through Europe as a vegan provides these challenges) from my plate, into a paper hanky – so as not to look unappreciative (how very British); but it was nonetheless exciting. At half-time, I was asked who’d scored by a passer-by, who’d stuck their head in the door, and I replied in my best spanglish (something I’ve since learned to be the equivalent of): “I’m an ice-cream”! This pleased the passer-by and he gave a knowing nod. In hindsight he’d clearly noted and concurred that I indeed had a soft head.
Apart from the occasional post from William Abbs (@WilliamAbbs), I read through Twitter, I’m oblivious to much of the goings on in the Spanish leagues *ORF WITH THE REST OF MY HEAD (the bloody stump bit)*, but what I’ve found apparent (whilst visiting the country) – despite the cultural differences between Spain and England – is the ubiquity of fandom. The football fans in the bar, the barman, the groups of fans in the streets, the kids playing footy in the park, or on the beach throughout the holiday (and previous trips to Spain), all mirroring the gestures and behaviour of football fans back home – it’s almost identikit. The similarities aren’t exclusive to the fans either; the nature of how football plays out in the media also echoes our own. The ‘La Tristeza de Ronaldo’ (The Sadness of Ronaldo) story had just broken and the oppressive way that the TV channels, radio phone-ins and papers endlessly referenced (and endlessly repeated) the story to death was all too familiar. But we aren’t the same are we … Spanish and English football are definitely very different.
Much has been written on the schooling of Spanish football, on tiki-taka (and all that), and without question these things have a great influence on the output of their teams, but I’d argue that it’s also aspects of their wider culture that feed into their success. In Spain – without intending to generalise – there is ‘generally’ a much stronger sense of community. We are social beings by our nature, and while not suggesting we’re entirely introverted here, comparatively we very much are. The Spanish absolutely embrace the concept of sociability. They genuinely seem to enjoy being in other people’s company. I know – crazy isn’t it? For the majority of Spaniards, lunch (the main meal of the day) is spent, practically without exception, with a group of friends or family. The evening will start with a walk (el paseo) again with a group of family and friends, before heading somewhere, all together (a bar, restaurant or a neighbours’) until the early hours. This isn’t a once-in-a-while ‘little treat’, this is their joyous life. In addition to this, the Spanish government decree a public holiday throughout the WHOLE of August and they have seventeen bank holidays (with local variations equalling more), in comparison to our miserly nine. Now … who’s doing life right? And whadya know? I haven’t even mentioned the weather.
There are, without doubt, many reasons why Spanish football rules. And a lot of them I haven’t even thought of, or ever even contemplated, let alone mentioned here. However, I really do feel that if your national identity – which (as much as you might fight it) informs your learned personality – places emphasis on the truly important things like spending time with your loved ones and revelling in an attitude of work to live (not live to work), your mental well being will be so much the better for it, and in turn you will – with less mind pollution – have a greater potential to unlock your creativity.
There’s a scene in an episode of The Mighty Boosh (okay, not the most intellectual of reference point granted – but go with it) where Howard and Vince become shipwrecked on a desert island and Howard (the perpetual pessimist) accuses Vince (“The Sunshine Boy”), who’s treating their predicament like an extension of their holiday, of “falling into the trap”. The inference is that Vince’s enduring optimism has blinded him to the potential terrors that Howard himself is hyper aware of. Howard’s pessimism means he can’t fathom how this situation could be perceived as anything other than a torrid struggle. “What trap?” replies Vince, “The trap of enjoying your life”.