Football’s Fiesta may be over but FIFA’s debasement of The Beautiful Game continues unabated. I caught Infantino’s cringeworthy comments on love, death and human rights. It reinforced my decision not to watch any Qatar World Cup games. Months before, my World Cup plans were… Chile, 7 hours behind Qatar, daylight games, galleries to visit, sights to see. Sadly post COVID times, fuel costs, testing fears, pent up demand all contrived to kibosh that plan, too damned expensive, Andalucía would have to do.
Jerez in torrential rain, late galleries to fill the time, eats in a no TV restaurant. The cafés, Moroccan fan filled. Spain out, plaza filled with yells and cheers or jeers. Me, deep into local tapas, fish, ham, salad and olives, a great football diversion.
On the day of the final, I made it to Malaga. Once broken, on its knees, but now a hip happening delight. Galleries on every corner, museums in every plaza, there’s always a World Cup escape.
Sadly by kick-off time, I was all galleried out, Picassoed off, and hungry. Why can’t those footballers get out of bed earlier and get on with the game? A restaurant with a window seat, iced tea, berenjanas fritas… Window opposite, shutters ajar, waves of blue and white.
Couldn’t see the TV, nor hear the commentary, the reactions of the fans told a story, a real live blog in Malaga’s old town backstreets. Whoops, screams, hands to head, leaps of joy, screams, delight, fear, flag stuffed into mouth, hugs… A VAR review? Fists waved, leaps, tables swayed, then silence, that stilled moment ‘the goal keepers fear of the penalty kick’. Fans, steady nerves, hands over mouth, heads on shoulders. Sharp intake of breath, silence, anticipation, and then, explosion, roars, hugs, table standing, flags, leaps, shirts off, ecstasy.
Argentina 1 France 0.
Who scored? no idea, was it really a penalty? didn’t really care, just captivated by watching this mix of old and young, united as one, drinking, eating, cheering, swaying.
Screams, anger, disbelief. It’s a close game? Is it a close game? No real sense of a team running away with it, the Azure y Blanco quieted, long passages of patient play? Slender lead, too little excitement. Tapas eaten, a sherry, a roar, tension, nodding reassurance,a second Argentine goal, more joy, more hugs, more celebrations.
2 - 0 up, it looked like game over. Time ticked away.
Game over? Someone forgot to tell the French, from somewhere, a street away, a yell, a squeal “OOOOuuuuiieee” “Ceeee, eeeeee”.
The French had pulled one back? 2 – 1 - heard an earworm… “Don’t stop believing”. Yeah a French theme song, was there a VAR review. In the window, fear, anguish, hugged lovers, friends, faces strained, hands to heads, eyes covered, away from the screen. Watch checked, 10 minutes to go, what was happening, what the fuck. Heads down, breath held. “NOOOOOOOO”, seated, collapsed, faces down, flags hugged, blue and white shirts sucked and kissed. Shaking heads, shoulders cried on.
Then seconds later “Ouiiiiiiii”, from a bar somewhere in the sun shaded distance.
Around me faces ashen in anguish, in shock and disbelief. There were tears.
A call and a VAR review. French penalty! Taken, buried and an Argentine wave of despair.
I really had no clue, I sensed there’d been a French goal. Know that losing look from Deepdale. I knew that waning of hope, fear of victory slipping through grasping fingers.
I settled, the mood across the alley, palpably subdued. Were the Argentines starting to doubt, to anguish, to fear?
Through the windows there were anxious faces.
Around me staff were stacking tables, chairs, and sweeping up, closing time.
I zigzagged through Malaga’s hidden alleys. Empty. Bars threw smokers out,excited machine gun Spanish filled the air, not a great Spanish speaker, odd the word gave a clue, extra time.
Some Faces showed despair, others elation, but extra time, how, why, what. Temptation to pop in sip a fino, catch up, yeah there was there. I’d avoided all the games so far, but this was too much. I Found a quiet square, and rested up to the sound of more whoops and yells, “Gooooooooaaaaaaallllllllaaaaaa”, you only need to hear that from a radio, bar, car, to it was 3 –2 Passion told, Argentina scored. Jesus it was tense, what had happened , what was going on, struggling to cope, back to the hotel to hide.
20 minutes later, darkened room, yelling voices outside, honking horns, songs. Elation battering the windows, wot the fucking fuck, I checked the TV, 3-3 and penalties, Two French goals in a minute, so that’s what happened.
Dazed and confused, sad I’d missed what must have been a great game.
Having a real live “Gogglebox” experience, was one that I’ll never be able to repeat, and one that was in it’s own way magical, and unique.
After all, unique is the part of a real trip experience that’ll live for years.