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.

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