Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Spain's World Cup victory, near hysteria and the goalie's cheekbones

6pm on Sunday 11 July 2010 and the streets of Madrid were already filling with flag-wielding folks dressed in red and yellow, excitedly chanting 'Yo soy español, español, español' in anticipation of the World Cup final match that evening: Spain versus Holland.

7pm and the metro was packed with screaming girls and sweaty bodies. Our aim to watch the match in an Irish bar near Cibeles, the major scene of football victory celebrations in Madrid (well, unless you're an Atlético fan), was quickly abandoned when we saw the crowds. Heading to the calmer - but still lively - calles of Chueca instead, we found a suitable bar and settled in to watch the match.

And what a match it was, marred by dirty tactics and dragging on into extra time. Concentration was starting to flag and the smoky atmosphere was taking its toll on our band of Brits plus an enthusiastic Swede. But then Iniesta scored and the bar was open-mouthed: finally, goooooool!! Vuvuzelas sounded, strangers embraced, I was lifted into the air. A few minutes later it was official: Spain were the world champions for the first time.

The streets rang with cries of 'Campeones, campeones'; men inexplicably took their shirts off (guys, you didn't score the goal, it's really not necessary); revellers sailed down Gran Via perched on office chairs and wheelie bins. The scene around Cibeles was a sea of red and yellow; police vans restraining would-be fountain jumpers. Taking the sensible option given that I had to work the next day, I made my way home, surrounded by happy faces and over-exuberant Spaniards.

The next day, the victory parade route was announced. Shameless glory-supporters K and I headed to Moncloa, at the beginning of the route, where the team's bus would begin its tour of Madrid. Half an hour before the scheduled departure, we took our places: one and a half hours later, standing in something that vaguely resembled a flowerbed (not an actual one, Mum, in case you're reading), we were still waiting. There's a reason the Spanish aren't famed for punctuality. Finally, the bus swept by us and cameras flashed, but we were surprised by the lacklustre crowds and matching responses from the players. As we watched, the proceedings burst into life further down the street: we took one look at each other and decided to follow the boys down Calle Princesa to get closer to the action.

Dashing down a series of sidestreets, we emerged just as the bus was passing again. The Spanish national team was now on form, with Casillas and Torres waving flags, Ramos larking about and a couple of players sipping cans of Mahou. The crowd was overjoyed; chanting, singing, frantically photographing. Although my Swedish partner in crime and I can't claim to be remotely español, there was something about the atmosphere and the sense of being a part of history (and Casillas's cheekbones - incredibly chiselled close up) that turned us two sensible young women into something reminiscent of a pair of teenage groupies at a boyband concert. We still hadn't had enough: we took to our heels again and raced down back streets to emerge on the other side of the bus. With a little help from our elbows (and K's tall, blonde good looks), we were somehow in the front row. Never a Torres fan until now, I was almost reduced to dribbling as he grinned down at us. It's amazing the effect a few sportsmen wielding a trophy can have on a girl. But my finest moment was yet to come: in true teenage style, I screamed at Ramos 'I'm your future wife!' Oh dear. Fortunately I wasn't the worst though: a minor TV presenter standing in front of me pulled down her T-shirt to reveal breasts painted with footballs. Classy.

An estimated 1 million took to the streets of Madrid last night to celebrate and welcome la selección home. Of course, some think this public outporing of joy is ridiculous and excessive: after all, the boys just scored a goal, they didn't broker world peace. However, coming at an uncertain time for Spain, with 20% unemployment and a troubled economy, the victory arguably meant much more to the population. Of course, winning the World Cup is no small thing, and this was Spain's first taste of such glory, but their success also gave the country something to celebrate, a reason to be happy and to feel proud. Some have even analysed the effects on regionalism, observing the attitudes and celebrations in the Basque country and Cataluña, but many believe that football can't even begin to solve the issues of separatism. Still, there seems to be no doubt that the victory has caught the national imagination and united the population behind something, if only temporarily. Let's just hope this feeling lasts longer than my teenage behaviour... Better leave it there, I'm off to pore over photos of my beloved. Did I mention Jesús Navas's blue eyes?

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