As a feisty, some have said chippy, Scot I can freely admit that, much though I love my adopted country, there are dozens of people around Spain who to this day don’t know how close I came to chinning them when i first arrived to live here all those years ago.
Your average Spaniard, you see, has no understanding of the danger he’s flirting with when he raises his voice, barks condescendingly and then gesticulates disrespectfully in the close proximity of a normally pacific Scotsman who simply wants to get his electricity connected, a meal served within 65 minutes of arriving at a restaurant or, heaven forbid, cross the road without a driver treating the zebra crossing as an “optional” braking moment.
I’m glad to report that my cultural enlightenment in Barcelona was sufficiently rapid to save any of the pompous, irascible council functionaries or Captain Mainwaring equivalents taking a swift dab to the kisser.
Turns out that it’s all a code. A ritual.
And, without me intending the slightest disrespect, it’s a little like what posties learn about dogs.
Those who bark and raise hell are, usually, not the ones to whom you’ve to show a clean pair of heels. They’re just making noise for the sake of it. If ignored they’ll calm down.
Your average arm-flailing, heavenward-cursing, barge-in-front-of-you-in-the-queue Spaniard actually thinks that he’s engaging in a spot of minor foreplay after which will emerge some degree of understanding and compromise with whomever he’s roaring at.
I mention this because, in my opinion, it’s been a week of damned hypocrisy here in Spanish football. Many over here, it turns out, love to harangue, gesticulate and coruscate – but can’t take it when it’s given back.
It started, you’ll not be surprised, via Gerard Piqué’s outright enmity towards Barcelona’s “other” club – Espanyol.
Neither space nor indeed good taste allows me to go into the full depths of the mutual hatred Espanyol fans and “Geri” have for each other.
He grew up a fanatical Barça fan, born into a family where his grandfather was a club dignitary as Piqué’s terrific potential emerged.
I first gauged his “I could care less” attitude towards Los Pericos (the Budgies) when, a few years ago, he admitted he’d be delighted if they were relegated.
Throughout his relationship with Shakira (since 2010), the Espanyol fans have retaliated with the most disgusting chants and banners about him, her and their kids. Beyond any boundaries even in a hostile, adversarial sport.
Last week he’d provoked them by saying they came from Cornella, not Barcelona – a minor slight which Espanyol called “flirting dangerously with xenophobia”.
Just ridiculous – Espanyol are from the city of Barcelona but currently reside in the suburb of Cornella. The player’s jibe may have been provocative, perhaps infantile, but xenophobic! Honestly, I ask you.
Thanks to the Copa quarter-final, Sunday’s Catalan derby was the third in a couple of weeks.
Espanyol led 1-0 on a pitch so sodden you could have played water-polo – then Piqué equalised with a late header.
He shrugged off the celebrating team-mates who mobbed him so as to put a finger to his mouth and “shush” the stadium.
Fair play I think.
Admittedly, I grew up watching Willie Young (when being subbed off during a home defeat to Dundee United in 1975) furiously strip off his red-and-white-v-necked Dons strip and fling it into Jimmy Bonthrone’s face.
And I was also at our beloved Pittodrie in 1984 when, having been criticised for his finishing in the first leg of the Cup-Winners’ Cup quarter-final, Dirty Dingus McGhee scored a hat-trick for a comeback 3-2 win and then emulated Willie Young – but this time the Aberdeen shirt was thrown at Alex Ferguson.
When I worked at the Daily Mail in London and was, for a few months, the stand-in sports editor I recall the editor, Paul Dacre, puce with anger at David Beckham, England’s captain, giving “fans” who were abusing him, his wife and his son a particular rude salute.
My arguments that the abuse was criminal, that footballers are human and prone to reacting to extreme provocation, fell on deaf ears.
In a move which caused audible intakes of breath from other department heads at morning editorial conference I informed the often-bellicose, expletive-driven “boss” that we “wouldn’t be carrying condemnation” in the sport end of his newspaper – the place he often called The Toy Department.
Instead of sacking me he paid a hefty fee to Roy “I’ve got the opinion if you’ve got the fee” Hattersley to come up with some hypocritical self-serving tosh at the front of the paper.
I thought then, as I think now, that paying your ticket money allows a modicum of barracking but is never sufficient argument that you can shout just ANYTHING at a footballer.
We desire our football matches to be intense, dramatic – with tension crackling the air.
But the hypocrites also seem to demand that players show Ghandi-esque patience and restraint.
Not that Piqué was alone. The Atletico fans whistled and jeered Antoine Griezmann later that night when, late on and winning 1-0 against Valencia, he slowed a move down and played backwards in order to conserve Atleti’s trademark scoreline.
Suddenly, he lost patience with their impatience and, like Piqué, shushed them before waving his arm in admonition.
He was right, they were wrong. Valencia’s chase of Atleti for La Liga’s second place faded away in defeat, the game was in added time – the striker was being smart.
But, mentioning Atleti, it’s time to confess. Perhaps you were with me at their former stadium, the Calderón, when Jimmy Calderwood’s Dandies lost 2-0 in the 2007 Uefa Cup.
Locked in by the cops post match and gutted at our meek defeat, hundreds of us chanted: “what a waste of money!” at Diego Forlan during his warm-down, until the flaxen-haired Uruguayan turned in our direction and nobly delivered one Beckham-esque salute in the night air.
Dandies 1-1 Forlan. Honours even and the best result we got that night. Hypocrite? Me? You take that back.