My night in Madrid:
After being greeted at the airport by my friend Eva and her boyfriend Luismi (a celebrated poet in Colombia, believe it or not), it’s off to the Melacatin to sample some traditional fayre. The restuarant is perhaps unique in that an order of food for three people prompts the delivery of enough for ten. The main course is Cocido Madrileno, a type of stew which consists of chickpeas, cabbage, celery, carrots, turnips, chicken, beef and pork, lots of pork, more pork than I’ve even seen. I suspect that there’s an abattoir round the back of the kitchen where pigs are feverishly slaughtered in a desperate bid to keep up with demand. There are side-dishes of chorizo and plates laden with 2-inch cubes of lamb fat. It’s all a bit much, but I manfully eat as much as I can before being forced to give up without even reaching base-camp on the mountain of boiled grub piled high on the table.
Then it’s off to the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu to witness perhaps the greatest group of players ever assembled in one club side. First, the good bits:
And then reality checks in. There’s virtually no atmosphere, with the hardcore local support behind one goal conspiciously quiet throughtout the ninety minutes. The Partizan Belgrade fans have been coralled at the other end of the stadium under the rafters, so there’s no chance for the kind of combative chanting familiar to fans of British football to develop. I imagine this is what it’s like to see The Harlem Globetrotters play basketball, with the thrill of seeing some of the World’s best atheletes ply their trade somewhat diluted by the fact that this really doesn’t resemble a competitive fixture, with Patizan contributing to the entertainment dutifully but always aware that they’re not supposed to win. At one point Luis Figo places the ball for a free kick, then appears to argue with David Beckham about who’s going to take it. Beckham then re-spots the ball, and as he retreats to line up the shot Figo immediately takes over again, ramming the ball high over the bar. As tricks go it’s hardly the most subtle, but you end up half-expecting Zidane to hide the ball under his shirt as he sets off on yet another mazy run, before borrowing a handbag from a stooge in the crowd and playing head-tennis with it. The biggest reaction of the evening comes not when Raúl glances home a Figo header, but when the referee denies the team what looks like a cast-iron penalty, as if the home support are more upset at the temerity of an official preventing Figo from further humiliating the opposition than they are excited by their team actually scoring. It’s all a bit odd, less sport than entertainment, more pantomime than passion.
Another thing: at half-time we decide to buy drinks (non-alcoholic beer only), which turns out be be an incredibly labour-intensive process. First of all you queue up to buy coupons, then you queue up again to swap said coupons for the refreshments, which are carefully poured, once can at a time, into plastic glasses. Out on the pitch the players might be running circles around the opposition, but the staff at the Chicken Run bar beneath the East Stand at Upton Park would wipe the floor with this lot in any beer-pouring contest.
After the game Eva, Claudia and I head off to La Vía Láctea, a rock ‘n roll bar where I learn the Spanish for chocolate milk (I’ve already forgotten it), before retiring to the bar Eva owns, Madragoa (site still under construction). If you’re ever in the area, pop in and say Hi – and tell ‘em Fraser sent you.