I used to love Saturdays when I was a wee kid, before I’d ever trodden the wooden stands of a professional football team. On Saturday afternoons I used to go with my dad to watch his works team play, to the Findus Clubhouse in Grimsby. We would go every Saturday, to watch either the first or the second team, depending on which one was at home. They were actually called ‘Eskimo’, which was the name of the company before it became the better-known ‘Findus’. Both teams played in the local Grimsby leagues, but they were gods to me. The pitches were enormous and wind-blown, but the whole scene turned me onto football – not necessarily because of the football itself but because of the accompaniments. I didn’t see my old man too much during the week, and so Saturday was ‘dad day’. He seemed a different person at the clubhouse, convivial and more confident than he was at home. The kids of some of the players would go too, and we would play our own games away from the pitches, but at some point I would always want to watch the football.
In the depths of winter, in the frozen north of England, the warm haven of the clubhouse after the match with the animated murmur of men’s voices and the bubble-fizz of a lemonade made the whole week somehow worthwhile, but at 5 o’clock it got even better when the football results were read out on the old black and white telly at the back of the club. The post-match chatter would suddenly reduce as the national scores were announced by the rather plummy BBC tones of Tim Gudgin, I think it was. The whole ritual fascinated me – the names of the teams, the announcer’s intonation (rising tone when the away team won) and the exotic names from the depths of the Scottish Second Division, always the last to be read out. I particularly liked ‘Hamilton Academicals’ and ‘Stenhousemuir’, and if some wind-blown whisper had told me back then that fifty years later my own son would turn out against the latter team, I’d have smiled at the unlikely poetry. It was the discourse of football as much as the game itself that hooked me up to the sport, but also the intensity of the Saturday-only experience.
You’ll know where this is leading, because I have to confess that the television-dictated-Tebas-supported four-day stretch of LaLiga games from Friday night to midnight Monday is beginning to hack me off – and I’m not the only one. Back in the Eskimo club days, every local and national game was played at 3 p.m. on a Saturday. There were occasional midweek fixtures, but they were few and far between. The empty week ahead seemed unbearable, or as Einstein might have remarked, time was an inconvenience between football matches. Nowadays, with the smorgasbord of football excess fulfilling the football nerd’s sofa-nestling to an almost wilful degree, I would contend that the intensity of the experience of having the entire circus packed into a two-hour period on a Saturday afternoon might be worth re-considering, at least in a milder form.
Of course, the new generation that has been suckled on the milk of this excess would find it hard to dig deep for a week’s fasting in the wild, but they might come to appreciate the experience. Besides, the entire scene in Spain is now so linked to TV convenience that the live spectator has been entirely removed from the equation – which is never a good idea because you never know when the media bonanza might dry up. Indeed, the warning signs are there. The fans of the clubs who habitually occupy the Friday or Monday slots are now singing ‘Tebas vete ya!’ (Tebas go now!) with increasing gusto.
The Friday fixture that kicks off the LaLiga programme is kind of acceptable, because Friday night trumpets in the weekend and people are out on the town anyway. The game coincides with the time that folks drink socially before they sit down for a meal, and in Spain the TV is always on in the background, even in good restaurants.
It’s become part of the new ritual, and it might pass more muster if only the games were more distributed around the 20 teams, but of course this is not the case. The sides involved in European competition are spared the rod for good reason, but it limits the pool (down to twelve some seasons) of the teams that can fulfil the Friday-nighter. This is also true of the awful Monday-night fixture, a ludicrous event on a workday night which children should be banned from attending (particularly if the game involves travel), made doubly absurd by being broadcast on free-open TV that further encourages folks to stay at home, particularly in the depths of winter. It’s a no-brainer, and if the pampered supporters of Barça or Real Madrid were forced to do it, the lobby would soon reach Tebas’ pearly gates and take effect.
This Friday saw Celta and Leganés kick off the week with a bland 0-0 draw, followed by Getafe v Real Sociedad at 1300 on Saturday. I watched the game in a bar with my son, and although it’s not the worst time to watch, it still cuts the morning too short and interferes with the sacred Spanish ritual of tapas and pre-lunch drinks, at least for those who were forced to turn up at the Coliseum for the game. And so it rolls on, a single game followed by another single game throughout the weekend, as if two parallel games would be too strenuously multi-tasking for modern supporters’ cognitive machinery to cope with.
This temporal dilution of the sport kills its intensity and the surprise factor that you always felt when walking home on a Saturday afternoon, taking in the collective results and desperately assessing where you were in the standings. Excuse the nostalgia, but it’s real. There was stuff that was bad-ass back then too, of course, once I grew out of Eskimo and into the scene around the local professional club – with its threat of violence, the pitiful conditions for the spectators, the awful catering, the numbing discomfort of standing hemmed-in like a tinned sardine for 90 minutes, the piss-poor football.
All this would have been true of Spain too, back then in the dark days of Franco, but one cannot help but think that the post-modern game is beginning to lack the potency that comes in the wake of a rest, of a weekly fast. And it’s just basically nicer to play at the weekend. Ask Athletic Bilbao, who have now played seven fixtures on a Monday night and who this Monday are expected to play their derby at Alavés. It’s kind of insulting to the clubs, the spectators and the whole idea of football. It can’t go on like this.
That was also the phrase that several Bernabéu attendees used when leaving the scene of their 1-0 win over neighbours Rayo before the final whistle. Marca led with the headline ‘El Bernabéu se aburre’ (The Bernabéu is getting bored) but you can afford to be bored when you’re still winning. One journalist wrote last week that with Lopetegui, you wondered when his bad run would come to an end, but with Solari you wondered when his good luck would run out. Be that as it may, there is a certain grumbling now that under the previous incumbent, there was at least a semblance of decent football and a defined style. But hey, that’s three league wins on the trot since the Eibar debacle, and if the CSKA nightmare can be swept under the carpet and Isco maybe brought back in from the cold, the show might go on for a little longer at least.
Meanwhile, Barça continue to look impressive, stuffing Levante 0-5 with another hat-trick from Mr Messi, whose run and assist for the first goal (by Suarez) is simply inhuman. Even Piqué joined in the fiesta, with a goal that looked like a decent piece of centre-forward play. All smiles for the leader at the moment, pursued nevertheless by the healthy-looking Atlético and Sevilla, both of whom won their games convincingly. Betis moved up to 5th with a cracking 1-3 win at Espanyol who have now lost their last five games. Hard times at the Cornella, hard times. Next week they visit Atlético, so not much Christmas joy for them. Barça will finish for the Xmas break as leaders now, come what may, but they shouldn’t be too worried about the visit of Celta. Likewise, Sevilla should fancy keeping up the challenge with an away trip to Leganés. No Monday game either. Hooray!
21 thoughts on “Monday Monday”
Lovely cultural context, history and evocative visuals as usual Phil.
I have 2 questions for you, if you’re willing to answer them:
1) I’m always interested to learn more about the Franco era of Spain, and I feel certain this is a topic you’ve covered at some time during your writing, I may have just happened to miss the piece(s). Any links to any of your articles touching on Franco that you would recommend I read?
2) As we near Christmas break, what are your feelings about Liga standings ? Do you expect any meteoric rises or precipitous falls in 2019 ? This question is for Ed too, if he sees this.
Happy Holidays to you both! Please keep up the good work, we aficionados thank heavens for this blog.
Hi – thanks for the q’s. Most of the stuff I wrote on Franco (and era) was in ‘Morbo’ and ‘White Storm’, but more in the former. I’ll have a look at the old ESPN pieces and see if I dedicated one to the fascist brotherhood. I suspect I did at some point over those 13 years. As for the standings, one can only speculate, but I think that both Villarreal and Athletic will recover, Espanyol will continue to fall, Alavés will be found out (a little anyway) and Valladolid will finish strongly. They were one of the best sides I’ve seen this season, if only for their sense of organisation. Not quite convinced about Seville. Expect Real Madrid to go into free-fall with Mourinho (insert smiley)
Hi Phil you’ve mentioned Morbo in these pages before but I never looked into it until now. Gifted myself an e-copy for Christmas – thanks ^_^
Also, thanks for your takes on the standings. I’d typed my response last night with my thoughts on those teams, but the comment got lost somewhere in the Internet ethers.
Summary: Athletic takes the drop, Villareal continues in solid mediocrity. Valencia and Atleti improve – although I think Atleti has plateaued under Simeone
Lastly, the thought of Mou redux in Marid should disgust Madridistas at least as much as it disgusts me.
Read Javier Marias, “Thus bad Begins” set in 1980 Madrid, five years after Franco’s death, Really good insight into the Franco and post Franco era and the Spanish mindset, No football but after decades of Franco’s rule scores are and are not necessarily settled, Marias is a wonderful writer, As for football the pass by Messi to Suarez is the reason I watch, Reminds me of a goal he scored against Real Sociedad (sorry Phil) where he similary dribbled from one side of the penalty area to the other chased by 4 or 5 defenders before sliding into the far post, BRILLIANT
Thanks Larry – I’ll look into that. Rings a bell.
Hard to relate as I’ve grown up in the States, where there are professional league games of some major national sport(s) almost every day, year round. The NFL has a popular Monday Night Game, that many teams, fans, and advertisers prefer over the main time on Sundays. However, the NFL teams don’t have a continental tournament or competition with lower league clubs, and their season is only 16 games (plus playoffs) long. So again, it’s hard for me to relate. I am very aligned with “less-is-more” and would support a reduction in the amount of games every season–probably not the league home and away format, but all the cups, preseason appearances, and international friendlies could be restructured. For example, the Champions League group stage was scrapped, it was all knockout based, and somehow it didn’t start, at least for the largest leagues participating, until the New Year. Let the teams that are top of the table half-way through the season qualify. Not a preceding year’s champion that was broken up over the summer (Monaco a few years ago) and not of the same quality they were when they won their league.
Anyhow, this week’s read was excellent. Grimsby Town has made it into the weekly pieces over the years, but this is the most detail I recall. Much, much more interesting than a match report.
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Tapas and drinks before lunch…..Spain is a gastronome’s delight I guess! You made me finally look up the exotic place https://www.grimsby-townfc.co.uk…..
Phil, somehow I always pictured you as Scottish and talking in the vein of Steve Nicol or Craig Burley! So, no relations with Sir Alex then?
As always, I relate to your childhood visits to the playgrounds and getting hooked to chatter/discussion more than playing! I was nutter for cricket(my name should give away) and given draconian laws in my family I was not supposed to be within a mile of Radio to listen to the commentary forget about playing any sport. What did I do….I used to listen to the ‘English News’ at 9 PM with my dad and desperately wait for the last min or 2 for the score in the distant lands of West Indies. Upon getting my prize I used to conspiratorially smile to myself of getting one up on my parents and all brothers/sisters who had lifetime license to whip me for the smallest transgression! Another fav was getting up really early(4.30 am) and listen to Tony Cozier at 0 volume on the trusty Philips radio…..trust me I could hear quite clearly…..was all the more exciting with all the tension of getting beat-up! More later n Merry Christmas….
Nice – and I also recall my desperation when living in South America in the 80s, trying to get a decent signal on the World Service to get the 5 pm results on a Saturday (which were much earlier in the day, of course). The signal would always fade just as Grimsby’s result came on. There was no other way of staying in touch.
Bala, i’m another Stateside Indian soccer fan. I think we’ve had similar experiences growing-up in traditional Indian families. About the only TV I could watch growing up was soccer games, and I was a Man U fan from the mid 80s. I visited Spain twice in the last year and spent every night in July watching the World Cup with my sons in Valencia. We would find quaint neighborhood bars, cheap Chinese restaurants, almost any place with a TV. We also stayed in small towns and developed a real fondness for Menu del Dia and late night tapas accompanied by Estrella Damm. Since we’ve been back, La Liga has been my connection to Spain and this blog has really improved my understanding of the teams and the players. I imagine this blog is a labor of love for Phil and Eduardo. Mi vida es mas rica cuando leo tu blog!
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SC-Is there a way for us to connect and gab? I am in Charlotte, NC
I hadnt watched the entire game, but after seeing “messi scored 3 and assists 2” i watched a fairly long highlights reel. While the Man did indeed score 3 and assist 2, i thought the goals were as much a credit to his team as to himself. Barca are so slick and ruthless.
What i was really amazed by was the quality on offer by Levante. They had good class, posession and good opportunities and were taking the game to barca in the (un)expected manner of the homeside. In first 30 they had the better attempts on goal and could have been ahead.
Pleasant comparison to the PL Spurs-Burnley match i watched as well where the lesser team was abject.
Good point sir, and one I should have mentioned. Levante didn’t deserve to lose 0-5, as you say. It’s just that Barça were in ruthless mood, as if Messi’s pissed off about coming 5th or something. Indeed – Levante would kill Burnley (and would give Spurs a run for their money)
Great piece Phil. Thanks so much for this column! It’s a necessary diet for some of us.
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Phil-One more request……I will pay for this;-)
Last wk Ed wrote about ‘The Two Messis’ and like most I always pondered/agonized about this aspect given my absolute love for Leo! I plainly think he’s gift to humanity……but more seriously I want your considered take on this dichotomy….that Leo is fantastic for club but sucks for the country. This is the easy generalization that lazy pundits like Thomas Rongen on BeIn Sports makes…..one day he calls him the greatest and without batting an eyelid he says Messi is poor for the country. Most of the critics’ compelling(in their own minds) argument is based on the postulations that Digeo single handedly carried the team to 86 glory and Argentina ‘team’ that Messi plays in is infinitely more talented and easily should win more world cups/copas/solve world hunger et al. I’ve seen enough football to say both assertions are wrong or only partially true. Methinks actually Leo carrying the team in 2014 to the final is really a far greater achievement given how psyched out the rest of the players are bar Masche! And that 86 team was really a team and had excellent quality….Valdano to begin with. I also want your view on the dogma of not performing on the highest/biggest of stages……Messi’s underperformance for Argentina is only ‘relative’ to his really stratospheric levels otherwise as witnessed for the last dozen years or so. (I wrote a small essay myself;-))
Should we all beat up the guy since he’s so gooooood? I deeply respect your views so even if those do not align with mine I will grin n bear it! Plsssssssssssss Phil
I don’t want to contradict Ed’s view, but I think he was talking more about the ‘person’ than the player, or the persona that appears (lately) in the Argentine shirt as opposed to the free-ranging dominant persona of the Barça shirt. But I agree with you, in that it’s a press-fulled dichotomy and that to a large extent Messi is victim of his own club-related success. Note that Pele and Maradona cannot compete on the club level and are viewed as national team protagonists. Messi has achieved his status where it hurts most, in the day-to-day bread and butter. Di Stéfano suffers the same comparisons due to his World Cup absences (not his fault).
But the other thing is that Messi has scored 65 goals for Argentina in 128 appearances. That sucks obviously. He’s their all-time top scorer. He was instrumental in getting them to the 2014 final appearance, and won the Copa America with them in 2015 and 2016. The 1986 side was not only a good one, it was also coked-up on the political fuel of the Malvinas, and a massive national surge of patriotism, like 1978. The context helped Maradona, who was overrated anyway (IMHO). It’s a pity that Messi won’t have the laurels won by Pele and Maradona, but in my view it doesn’t diminish him. The German side of 2014 were on a roll and Argentina had the misfortune to come across them in the 2010 quarters too.
The odd thing about Messi is that he still sounds like he’s just walked off the Pampas, and yet to all extents and purposes he’s a Catalan, brought up in Barcelona. His kids were born there and it’s his home. There persists this idea about him being a bit culturally schizo, but I don’t think so. I think he finds the Argentine scene both alien and increasingly irrelevant to him as a man and a father. I don’t know what Andy West’s take is on this one, in his new book, but I’ll try to read it over Xmas.
In short – if he’s ‘failed’ with Argentina then ok. But there are limits to his possibilities. In the end, he’s one from eleven. I don’t think he’s done so badly as folks make out -and don’t forget the list of grey men and clowns who have coached Argentina during Messi’s time.
As Phil said, I referred to his persona, rather than the player. You can see it in his body language. It’s uncanny.
And well, he arrived in Barcelona as a 13 year old if i’m not wrong, so his accent would hardly change at that point. It’s true that he’s kept all the argentinean habits (food, friends, routine outside the pitch), and I don’t quite agree that he finds Argentina as alien. I’m pretty sure he’ll go back to Rosario when his contract is over.
HUGE thanks for entertaining the request of an internet stranger. If you are on the Stateside, be my guest as long as you want….I will happily chaperone!
Thanks Ed. I dint include you in the Messi critics category…..and I do agree that Messi might go back to Argentina after Barca career!
Late here, but he didn’t win the Copa America in 2015 and 2016. They lost to Chile in the Finals twice.
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Napier – I was just testing you.