TDR Photography: Musician in El Retiro

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Photographs by Matthias Krug

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Life at the other end

By Matthias Krug

Midweek in Spain was El Clasico time once again, and although the match at the Santiago Bernabeu lived up to expectations and was a thrilling exchange of blows by two of the best teams in the world, the there following media scrimmage was rather pathetic. The words that Messi supposedly found for Mourinho’s assistant (‘Mou’s puppet’) or the amount of saliva that the Argentine may or may not have sent in one of many directions (and the associated hundreds of television replays of unidentified flying objects) seem unworthy of all the media attention. Life at the top of the league can be so much fun; babies with pop stars and golden ball awards, glitzy sports cars and constantly flashing cameras.

But what about life at the other end of the table?

This weekend I went to Getafe to see the ‘Azulones’ (dark blues), struggling to move out of mid-table mediocrity after a run of bad results, take on the ‘colista’ (literally meaning tail of the table), bottom side Deportivo la Coruna.

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In almost four years of living in Spain, I’d been fortunate enough to witness some weighty encounters like the famous Champions League semi-final between Real Madrid and Barcelona (0-2), the Copa del Rey final between the same sides in Valencia (1-0), the visits of both those sides to the legendary Mestalla in enticing and high-scoring La Liga encounters, a number of Madrid derbies in the ‘Calderon’ of Atletico Madrid, a league-winning last day fixture at the mythic Camp Nou in Barcelona, and a host of games at the Bernabeu in Madrid, culminating even in a Champions League final in 2010 between Bayern Munich and Inter Milan. Jose Mourninho won the title with his Italian team that year, leading to his much media-frenzied move to Real Madrid.

But in all those years I’d never been to see a ‘colista’ take on a modest mid-table outfit. I was genuinely intrigued. How would football feel at the ‘other end’, away from all the media attention?

Arriving at the train station El Casar, there was no other fan getting off with me; signs of a mainly local support base. Situated in the community of Madrid, to the South of the capital, the club was founded after the end of World War II as Club Getafe Deportivo and slowly rose through the ranks of Spanish lower leagues until the club failed to pay salaries at the end of the 1981/82 season and were declared bankrupt. They were subsequently relegated and re-formed in 1983 as Getafe Club de Futbol. Their current name and year of foundation featured prominently on the scarves of the few supporters who I saw near the train station and who served as my GPS system to take me to the stadium.

In the distance the lights of the Coliseum Alfonso Perez became visible as we marched up the ‘Avenida Teresa de Calcuta’. Where but at the other end of the league would you have a stadium situated on a ‘Mother Theresa’ street? What peaceful surroundings were these?

As we neared the stadium the numbers of fans increased slowly but steadily, keeping as in bigger venues like the Santiago Bernabeu or the Camp Nou to the tradition of arriving hurriedly and settling into seats in the nick of time. There were, as in those larger and more renowned pilgrimage sites of world football, many small boys wearing Getafe FC hats or scarves, and football shoes to match. As everywhere, they had pre-game magic and excitement written across their young faces. The game was about to begin. Excitement, although not exactly palpable, was certainly building.

In front of the stadium, a single merchandising booth talked of somewhat smaller marketing ambitions, although the Getafe brand is said to have followers around the world after a surprising run to the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup where they lost to Bayern Munich in a last-gasp 2008 extra-time loss. That day the Coliseum was sold out. On this day against Deportivo, the side who also once tasted European glory in the Champions League but who were now struggling to stave off another relegation, the stadium was half-full. Getafe is one of the clubs with the lowest number of ‘socios’ or club members in La Liga, somewhere around 12,000.

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Walking up into the Coliseum is obviously not as awe-inspiring as doing the same in the Camp Nou, where the steep stands seem to reach all the way up to football heaven. But it is still an interesting construction in Getafe, where some scrubs and bushes near the corners of the new stadium, inaugurated in 1998, add local flavor and color.

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The game itself easily outdid the lack of expectations placed in it; Deportivo moved into a vital early lead in the 10th minute, as Getafe keeper Moya was sent off (much too harshly) for bringing down ‘Depor’ striker Riki in the penalty area. Yellow should have been sufficient in order not to ruin the next 80 minutes of play. Pizzi easily converted the spot-kick for 1-0. The eruption of joy from a couple of hundred visiting fans from up North showed just how badly Deportivo needed a win on this cold February night. Down here there is much passion too.

But the visitors did not take advantage of their numerical superiority. On 25 minutes Barrada was brought down at the other end after a defensive mix-up, and the home supporters were infuriated when the referee this time only produced a yellow card. It was indeed not exactly an example of consistency.

Diego Castro stepped up and slotted home for 1-1. The quality and passion of the insults towards the referee where certainly equivalent to any of those produced at the top of the table. The father to my right prudently advised his daughter to wear the ear mufflers ‘porque hace mucho frio’ (because it is very cold), but it may well have been to keep out the insults that rained down on referee Paradas Romero at half-time for supposed double standards.

As I looked for the toilets at half-time, I caught up with a Getafe-scarf-wearing fan, Juan Jose, who was adamant that life as a ‘Geta’ fan could be just as much fun: “we might be a small club, and we might even have a second team like Real Madrid who we support on the side, but there is plenty of heart in this club too. With this coach (Luis Garcia), we are a good side, we’ll beat them still, even with ten men.”

I thought about this prediction as I used an absolutely empty bathroom – an undoubted privilege at the other end, given the scenes of mayhem and sardine-like circumstances of toilets at the top of the table.

Getafe CF did just as Juan Jose had predicted, showing plenty of heart to turn the match around after Abel Aguilar was shown the red card on 70 minutes. With just the same tenacity and determination which has seen ‘Geta’ (the chant which regularly echoed through the grounds) rise miraculously through the ranks of Spanish football since 1983, and which has seen them in the top league for ‘nine years and counting’ (as their website proudly proclaims), Alvaro Vasquez scored a scorching volley for 2-1 on 81 minutes. Two minutes later Colunga wrapped up the unlikely 3-1 final score-line and piled more misery on the ‘colista’ from the North. Just for one day, it was good to be a Getafe supporter in the community of Madrid. Real Madrid lost 1-0 later that night against another team from the ‘other end’, Andalusian minnows Granada, who climbed out of relegation spots thanks to those 3 points. TV commentators managed again to mention Messi’s saliva that night. The following day Valencia hosted Barcelona, but I’d seen all that before. Getafe indeed visit Barcelona next week in the Camp Nou. But that is nothing compared to the tranquil, rustic, relaxing and yet strangely exciting life at the other end of the table.

A Letter to Lamees, who is two days old

By Imran Garda

My Dear Lamees,

In the tradition of my friend Matthias, who wrote A Letter to our Newborn Baby so eloquently and sincerely, as if his words to his daughter were from a heart within his heart, I too would like to take this chance to make the most of this moment to write something, in this magical window where my smile is permanent and my joy infinite.

When you are old enough to read this I might ask you to clasp my finger with your hand as tightly as you are holding it now, as I write this. You have a strong grip despite your extreme fragility. You are barely a couple of days old and already well prepared for at least some of the roller-coaster encounters ahead: you exude gentleness, but you have strength when you need it.

Your sisters are awestruck by you, as if your arrival triggered the romantic and elegant collision of Andromeda and The Milky Way. They look at you as if seeing the stars dance in orbit before their own eyes. Already, their love for you is immense.

Their features are etched on your face: you have bits of one’s smile, one’s frown, one’s pout. You also have one’s lung busting cry (but I won’t tell you which one so as not to get into trouble). Soon you will also chip off some of their other characteristics too: mischievousness, sensitivity, curiosity and adaptability.

Soon you will show us your own personality in all its wonder, as trial and error, laughs and cries, first crawls, first steps, first sentences, first bloody knee…as all these things shape you in the years leading up to the moment you read this.

You are so gentle, so soft to touch, one of the reasons we named you Lamees.

I keep staring at your unusually pink and perfectly symmetrical lips. The rolling of your eyes behind closed lids while you’re deep in sleep begs the question…what do you see? What do you dream of, so soon after leaving the world of the womb for the world of…what is this a world of? A world of order, at times. A world of randomness, often. A world that makes sense, sporadically. A world of fright, regularly.

Just as I want to know what is going on in that newborn mind, perhaps you would like to know what thoughts are swimming around this thirty-year-old adult’s mind? The man you will call your Father, your Dad, maybe your Papa. Today you were held by your Great Grandmother, more than eight decades your senior. Eldest and youngest in one place, making a single, silent connection. At times I feel it is only you extremists from among us that know the reality of things, the ones too young to be anything but lucid and the ones too old to be anything but wise. It is those of us in the in-between phase that need the pampering, that need someone to save us from ourselves.

Just hours after you were born you were lined up next to other babies that share your birthday in the hospital nursery. There were nine, maybe ten of you. You all had cheeks of pinkish-yellow hues, womb-drenched hair, bodies with tiny limbs that could fit in a shoebox.

I mentioned to the nurse who diligently saw to your health and levels of comfort, that from where I stood, I couldn’t see Black or White or Indian babies; I couldn’t see Liberal or Conservative babies; I could only see babies.

She replied as if she ponders this thought every day: “Ja…You know, then we take them and fill their heads with all that stuff. Maybe we are the real problem,” she said.

My darling Lamees, when you are old enough to make up your mind, I say, belong where you want to belong.

Choose one path or many paths. If one hurts you, betrays you, disappoints you, be courageous and choose another one. Trust your instincts, and trust your intellect. Combine the two at every moment. Choose evidence over convenient truths, no matter how uncomfortable it is to do so. When you find answers that satisfy you, never close yourself off to the possibility of better answers.

You will find love once, twice and more. You will lose love once, twice and more…

You will meet those who say they love you and then prove they don’t. They will hurt you so badly that you will question whether you can carry on without them, or whether you can trust anyone ever again. You too will hurt others and give them the same feelings. Love is hard.

It is never too late to ask for forgiveness from those you hurt. As for those who hurt you, freeze them in time and never turn back.

Question everything. Question what they teach you, question what you have seen with your own eyes…question even me. If you find me, your father, at odds with you, never forget to trust your instincts and your intellect. I too am capable of the irrational. Shove a mirror in my face and prove me wrong. Do not obey us because of our authority, but because we can clearly demonstrate that what we are advocating for you is what is best for you.

This planet can be a vast wilderness of ideologies and -isms, competing interests and claims, of myriad levels of power and pompousness, showing the worst of man’s inhumanity to man.

It is also a place of wonder where kind, exceptional people live.

It is the only place we can call home. There are people who destroy it through their actions. There are those who cherish and want to preserve it. Side with the latter.

As for your home within a home, remember that home is where you’re from, where you live, where you love, but home is also belonging, home is where they love you in return. If those homes are not the same, always choose the last one for yourself.

Your mother is a woman of mighty strength and endless love, look to her as an example of how to ride all storms and never lose dignity in the process. You have no better example.

Right now we live in a world where women lead, women vote, women choose who they want to marry, women who go to space…

But we also live in a cauldron where women live in fear of rape and all levels of abuse. You have my permission to go to war with these Cavemen.

And when you do, they may say you’re not a real woman; they may call you cocky, arrogant and full of yourself, wear it as a badge of honour. It is always better than false humility.

You will find humility will scurry towards and wash over you when circumstances require it. You don’t need to look for it or project it. Seek it, and the menacing trappings that lie beneath it will be your true motive.

You will encounter the relevant and irrelevant as often as you will come across happiness and pain. To straddle between these polar opposites is not to be unlucky or cursed, it is to be human. How to have more happiness and less pain? I’m not sure, but I do know you and your sisters give me a feeling of happiness so otherworldly I will never trade it for anything.

When you encounter unfairness be extra fair.

When you encounter injustice be ultra just.

You will meet people who tell lies about others, you will meet people who tell painful lies about you. You will lie and be lied to. Try to be as honest as you can be.

When you see others suffering, you are hardwired to feel inexplicable sympathy deep in your gut for them, never conquer that feeling. Never become indifferent to it.

Try to learn something new everyday.

I am a flawed, fumbling type of father who wishes he could live up to even half of the points in the advice listed above.

I am also a father who loves you.

Imran

TDR Sports Corner: Messi’s Magical 2012

After a year 2012 filled with spectacular Messi moments, and a record-breaking 91 goals by the mercurial Argentine, The Doha Review reprints here an article published after witnessing one of those goals in the Vicente Calderon Stadium in Madrid last year. With the first La Liga match of 2013 just days away, more Messi magic awaits us all this year.

Leo’s Lover

Leo, lavish lover, light in my blindness; L. You call me B. I call you L.
They say I stick to you. To your feet; mainly to your left one. To your chest, on that memorable trip to Arabia. To your head, your hair, on that sensual other night in Rome. We meet in different locations, but the outcome is always the same.
We embrace.
Never do we merely stick.
How little they know.
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All I know is that you always want to be with me. You never let me go. Except when you have to, when there is so much density, beauty, feeling in our perpetual embrace, that the only thing you can do is push me away for a while; only for me to return desperately to your feet, begging to be touched again in that way. The way in which no one else can ever touch me.
You never kick me. You stroke me. You caress my firm body. You propel me forwards. When you release me it is just to celebrate (life). But there is always the return to you.
Will it last forever? No, because nothing does. But while it lasts, it is the most eternal thing that there is.
Our passion makes men question their sexual preferences. Wives question husbands. Husbands question wives. Wives questions wives. And so forth. Everything becomes questionable. Limits are tossed aside. Arms fly skywards. Heads shake in awe. Not possible? You make it possible.
Leo, lover, L. You call me B. I call you L.

Messi with small boy at Aspire
There is no one like you. To me you are not the best. You are the only. Size matters not. In this it is not a matter of size. You are not the biggest. Others may be more beautiful. But others are not you.
Last night in Madrid you were wonderful; wondrous; mesmerizing; how little mere words seem in comparison to you. I am always looking up to you, blindly. Never do we speak. You who are not one of words anyhow.
There we were. Embracing in front of thousands of people. In private it is a pleasure, but with these masses of people chanting so passionately for us to be apart, there is something touching in the balmy night air. Ours becomes a forbidden love.
When you touched me there, for once, with your hand, it was punishable. They only want you to touch me with your feet. No matter, I prefer it that way.
Towards the end of our seeing each other, you lay me down. Then you touch me. Briefly. Delicately. Understandingly. Dashingly. And so rapidly. Is it legal?
Yes.
From that angle, it is impossible for me to enter. Seemingly impossible. The watching journalist in the stands looks down for an instant, and when he looks up I am already inside. He’s missed the moment.
You are celebrating. The journalist thinks it must have been X who touched me. From that angle it must have been X, the other little genius at understanding me, whose right foot I enjoy so much.
But it was you.
You who have known me since you were so small. When I was not this perfect yet either. We who have only ever had each other. Seen each other mature. Will you ever get bored of me? As we grow older? You’d think so.
Yet you always need me. You come looking for me. Running to me. And then after we have played, you leave me there, wanting more. Only rarely do you take me home, whisking me past the flashing cameras and the waiting reporters.
If only not so many eyes were always placed on you.
Some fall in sight. Others in smell. Lacking these senses, I fell in touch.
They all want to keep us apart. You are always running away. From them. With me by your side. Ours is a romance on the run. We are constantly under pressure. Results. Trophies. Records. What do they all mean to me?
Nothing.
There is one question only on my mind; can there be another, whom you touch like this? I don’t think so. You were made just for me. And yet this weekend, you will not touch me. You will watch from the stands. Others will. You have been kept apart from me for a weekend. So I will be stroked by I, by X, by the new boy C.
But don’t let any of that fool you. I was made for you. One stitch at a time.
Will we survive without the other? No, that is a rhetorical question; a circle coming back upon itself. What I really want to know is this, even if I may sound a little obsessive as a result;
What will our baby look like?