‘Don’t it seem like a long time?’ That’s from a song written by Ted Anderson and performed by Rod Stewart in 1971, in the days when the latter was still good. And since he likes football, he’ll have been suffering too, and possibly singing that one in the shower. Don’t dwell too long on that one.
Back on March 10, when Real Sociedad beat Eibar 1-2 in an empty Ipurua, the only consoling thought, like the First World War being likely to last ‘at worst, a few weeks’, was that the lockdown wouldn’t last either. Now it’s been three whole months. The previous season finished on May 19th and started up again on Friday August 16th – a day Aritz Aduriz is unlikely to forget. Anyway, Aduriz aside, that was a three-month break but one that was scheduled.
To be honest, the first few weeks were the worst. I’m sure you had the same sensations. Football fulfils the worthy function of being a constant, always potentially there to pull you out from your work-induced rut, like a well-meaning but slightly persistent friend. When that rhythm is suddenly pulled, it’s most unnerving, rather like waking up the morning after a bereavement, and not quite adjusting to the weird new reality. And then of course, like the vicar tells you, you move on and start to cope, since you have no choice. After the gold rush, and everyone’s gone home. You need to find something else to do.
The oddest thing for me was to encounter LaLiga stars in the local supermarket, looking vaguely shifty and trying publicly not to buy too much loo paper. And when the pandemic was in full swing, when you could only go out to buy essential supplies (I had no dog to walk), the memory of seeing a lone Xabi Alonso, framed by the local flats on an empty street like Winston Smith in ‘1984’ and looking like a very ordinary bloke – depressed me somehow, as if the magic was draining away.
But hey – it’s back because the telly needs to extract its pound of flesh, and that’s fine by me. The gold is still in the rivers. The first game here wasn’t actually the Seville v Betis derby, but Rayo Vallecano v Albacete, the infamous game that had been called off back in December, when the Rayo fans decided to have a go at Zozulia. Luis Advíncula was the man who scored – a cracker as it turned out, and Rayo won the game to go 7th. In the division above, it was slightly odd that the ‘welcome back’ game last Thursday was the Seville derby, certainly one of the world’s noisiest games and not an occasion to greet the new configurations of mosaic-like supporters in the stands, a bit of background noise generated by the broadcaster Movistar, and the occasional sound of a player shouting ‘fuera!’ (it’s going out) picked up by the mics closest to the goal. I do like that swishy whoosh when the ball hits the net though. Very satisfying.
The notion that home advantage will not be so great (as evidenced by the Bundesliga), has not been entirely proved by this set of fixtures. Sevilla never looked like losing, with Betis back to that rather pointless possession that they practise, until Fekir or Canales get the ball and things get more direct. I watched the entire game – I felt it was my moral duty – and Sevilla looked a class above their neighbours, a fact reasonably demonstrated by their respective league positions. Or maybe it was just that Sevilla had Lucas Ocampos, who at times seemed to be playing the entire game on his own – as if he’d been let out of confinement with his testosterone bubbling and steaming. When he wasn’t kicking lumps out of stray Betis players he was scoring, or nearly doing so on several occasions. Another Argentine with whom you would go over the trenches. Betis couldn’t cope with him, and indeed, he scored the first goal (penalty) of the ‘new campaign’. It seemed fitting somehow. Sevilla looked strong, so maybe they really are going to make that third spot their own.
Celta lost at home to Villarreal, but that would probably have happened with or without spectators. It’s not proving a very happy season for them, and they were thankful for the favours done them by Barcelona, who pummelled poor Mallorca 0-4 at the San Moix. Mallorca have renamed their ground ‘Visit Mallorca Estadi’ which is an interesting mix of English, Spanish and Mallorquín – an interesting nod to multilingualism but about as catchy a name for a stadium as the Scottish Club Dumbarton’s ‘Cheaper Insurance Direct Stadium’ – in fact it’s worse. ‘Let’s visit the Visit Mallorca Estadi today. ‘Yes! Let’s visit!’ As an appropriate punishment, Vidal banged in a header in the 2nd minute and it was all downhill from there. The highlight for Mallorca was when an ‘espontaneo’ – just a teenage kid – ran onto the pitch and tried to get a selfie with Messi. He failed, but interviewed afterwards about how he’d got past security, he seemed more concerned about his mother. ‘Don’t tell my mum, or I’ll be in the shit’.
This result never seemed in much doubt, with Braithwaite also getting onto the scoresheet and playing well. Interestingly, he stayed on the pitch whilst Griezmann did not, and for a while formed an interesting tandem with the recovered Luis Suarez, who was looking lean and mean. The win obliged Real Madrid to think carefully about their ‘home’ game against Eibar, so as not to let the Catalans begin to pull away. The game was played at the Alfredo Di Stéfano stadium, which rather like Ipurua, holds 6,000 people in normal times. Would Eibar feel more at home? Real Madrid turned down the offer to play at the Wanda, but Eibar carried on where they left off pre-pandemic, looking rather sickly. With Hazard looking rested and Ramos in full war-cry mode, it didn’t take long to bring down Eibar’s rather weaker resolve these days. 3-0 at half-time, and time to bring on Bale and the boys in the 2nd half. Eibar got one back, but that was it. And take a look at Toni Kroos’ surgical opener. Goal of the week I reckon.
Eibar will also be happy that everyone below them lost, apart from Espanyol, who beat 10-man Alavés 2-0 after goalie Pachecho temporarily forgot the dimensions of his goal area. Well, it has been three months. Espanyol have Leganés and Eibar to play at home, during this intensive run-in. Hope springs eternal, although they won’t always play against 10 men.
On Friday night I visited a local hostelry for supper with some mates, all of whom were happy to do a bit of social distancing around the table. Before we went in, standing with a drink on the cobbles outside, with rather more folks than was strictly comfortable, the roar that accompanied Granada’s 2nd and winning goal was from those who were watching the telly from outside. Real Sociedad are likely to be going head-to-head with scary Getafe for that 4th Champs League place, and Friday night was thus a good start for the Basques.
The first week back is the stuff of anecdotes, I guess. Leaving the bar/restaurant at what seemed like an ungodly hour, I staggered homewards. As I left, Valencia were still 1-0 against Levante, in another derby evening. Approaching the lights of the final bar that marks my journey home, I noticed that the owner was outside, unscrewing a temporary ash-tray device from the wall. ‘Let me help you’ I offered, and as I held the device up so that he could unscrew it, I glanced up at the telly. 95th minute, and still 1-0. The bar was empty, and another barman was putting up chairs. Then a muffled sound, I look up, and eureka, it’s a penalty to Levante. Racing inside the empty bar, Levante score and I pump fists with the other barman. This is the second good result of the night, if you live in Real Sociedad land. Ah – I’ve missed this! The ludicrous ups and downs that football gifts us. And Sunday night, Real Sociedad blew the chance to put some light between them and Getafe by drawing 1-1 at home with Osasuna, the Pamplona side deserving the point, and perhaps all three.
Hang onto your corsets! Monday night it starts all over again. In fact, from June 15 to the 29th, there is not a single day without football. Will we get fed up? Nope.