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Feeling good Spanish to

part 3
Luc Ciotkowski concludes his three part series, which looks at how Spain has viewed itself through
history on the way to finding out if recent sporting triumphs have had a uniting effect on the Spanish.

WORDS by Luc Ciotkowski

ne, Great and place like Spain) suddenly seemed a county or even to a city like 1982 World Cup. Despite home
Free.” This motto rather empty without the filter Madrid. As well as in the soil, advantage and high expectations,
was adopted by of the Francoist censorship and it’s in the bones of its people, its the national team, La Selección,
Franco and used propaganda machine; it was easy traditions and fiestas, and also its suffered a disastrous draw against
to round off most to see the rest of the world didn’t sports clubs. When two Spaniards World Cup debutants Honduras
formal speeches necessarily think much of their meet for the first time, the answer and a humiliating defeat against
in Spain from the end of the Civil country. It could be likened to to the question, “Where are you a Northern Ireland side who
War in 1939 until after the death of the painful, “Well, I think I look from?” yields about half of all the played almost half the match with
Franco in 1975. The speaker would cool” of arriving at work with a information they think they need ten men. Only victory against
call out, “¡España!” three times to new hairstyle to the sniggering to judge the other’s character. The Yugoslavia scraped them past
the audience’s interposing replies and derision of colleagues, or diverse customs of each pueblo the first round and tempered
of “¡UNA!” “¡GRANDE!” and after the initial pride followed by make for easily recognisable their misery, but it had become
the third España, “¡LIBRE!” before inevitable ridicule of a 15-year- ‘identities’, and, whether close to clear that Spain wouldn’t win
the speaker’s final rally of, “¡Arriba old boy sporting a sparse, downy the mark or not, every Spaniard the tournament. A defeat and a
España!” and their public’s counter, moustache. carries around a little book of draw against West Germany and
“¡ARRIBA!” stereotypes in their head – them England respectively
Despite the often forced repetition Spain and its symbols had been from Valencia are like this, them sealed what Spanish
of the “Una, Grande y Libre” expropriated by the right wing from Leon are like that, in Cadiz football fans called
rhetoric for the duration of the since the war. The Rojigualda they think like this, in Santiago de the gran fracaso
dictatorship, even before the (Spain’s red and yellow flag) had Compostela they do the other, etc, (great failure) and
transition to democracy was been officially adopted in the etc… Competitive sports in Spain the Naranjito (the
complete, it was clear that the democratic constitution of 1978, have always tended to reinforce tournament’s official
message had only reached those but this represented for many regional rivalries as a way to mascot) t-shirts were
who wanted to hear it. Now that the old monarchy and the Franco express how one’s pueblo is better folded up and put
the people truly were libre, or regime. Caídos por Dios y por than another whether we’re talking away.
free, some began to raise long- España (Fallen for God and Spain) about two tiny neighbouring Two years later, an
suppressed objections about was the inscription on all war villages or Barcelona and Madrid. unfancied Spanish
the country being una, one memorials and was unambiguously Sporting victories could make the team got to the final of the
indivisible whole, and few except referring to those who had fallen Spanish feel good about being from European Championship, where
the self-delusional could help on Franco’s side. While it was their pueblo, but anything achieved they gave hosts France an almighty
but realise that the ‘great’ Spain transparent who Spain was being by Spanish sportsmen and women scare, but succumbed after a
was in fact the most backward defined by, anyone who didn’t representing the country as a spectacular and uncharacteristic
(after Portugal, also emerging want to be defined by Spain had an whole would not automatically blunder by their usually impressive
from a dictatorship) country in escape: the pueblo. provoke the same sensation of well goalkeeper Luis Arconada.
Western Europe. As much as being.
many might have felt optimistic This concept of pueblo goes 1992 was a special year for Spain –
about the future, an inferiority further than the simple translation The first big chance sport had to it was celebrating the 500-year
complex was beginning to bubble of village or town; it can be help the Spanish feel good about anniversary of Columbus’ arrival
in the Spanish psyche. ‘Como en applied to an area as small as their newly democratised country in the Americas, and it was doing
España, ningún sitio’ (there’s no a neighbourhood, as large as was at the hosting of football’s it in style. Seville hosted Expo ’92,

30 april 09
Madrid was the European Capital This impressive list of achievements chewed-off fingernails until Cesc it to Plaza Colón after, but one hell
of Culture and Barcelona held surely gave Spanish sport fans a Fàbregas fired the ball into the net of a party got going in that barrio
the XXV Summer Olympics. glow of pride in their chests, but and the fans into elation. bar I was in, one that I imagine and
The Games were a huge success; realistically, only football could truly like to think was being repeated
first and foremost a success for transcend into the wider public That was the turning point in my in similar bars up and down the
Barcelona, especially in the opinion consciousness. opinion. Not so much that Spain country.
of green-eyed madrileños, but the had been a better team against the
whole of Spain could share the The examples of 1982 and 1984 world champions, but that they had Everyone was in a good mood
buzz. One of the great highlights have characterised the national got the bit of luck necessary to win over the next few days. There were
that helped it to be seen as Spain’s team’s exploits ever since, i.e. either on penalties, and against a giant some sobering things I heard in
as well as Barcelona’s Olympics a great team that disappoints of world football. Everyone had the aftermath, however. The friend
was the football team’s gold medal. miserably or one that loses in adopted the podemos buzzword of a friend, who lives in Barcelona,
Kiko scored the last-minute unfortunate circumstances. Last now, and everyone believed it. said how excited she had been to
winning goal to beat Poland in year’s European Championship watch the team’s return to Spain
front of 95,000 fans, among them started similarly to previous I went to Plaza Colón to drown in and their presentation of the
an ecstatic King Juan Carlos. tournaments with plenty of the Red Sea like a Moses-chasing trophy to the crowd in Madrid’s
foreign pundits tipping Spain Egyptian for the semi final against Plaza Colón. She thought how
Cycling superhuman to win but the La Selección’s Russia. Here I found more Spain great it would be if they could do
Miguel Indurain’s long-suffering supporters shirts and more Rojigualda flags that in Barcelona, especially with
five consecutive Tour making rather more cautious than I could have imagined. A so many Catalans in the team, but
de France titles from predictions. lot of the t-shirts were unofficial that it would never be allowed to
1991 to 1995 set Spain matches were televised without the Spanish royal coat of happen. The other story I heard
Spanish hearts racing by the channel Cuatro, and arms and many of the flags featured was much worse. A good friend of
probably more than they picked podemos (‘Yes, we the Osborne Sherry bull instead of mine, from Vitoria in the Basque
his own (‘Big Mig’ had can’ in English - interestingly the shield and crown. The reasons Country, was punched in the face
a resting heartbeat of the same as successful might have been practical (vendors twice by a colleague at the factory
28 beats per minute, American presidential getting fast deliveries from a Costa where he works for celebrating
one of the lowest recorded in a candidate Barack Obama used del Sol souvenir warehouse?) or Spain’s victory. My friend wasn’t
human). Really, though, it was after later in the year) as the slogan to ideological (the fans believed in born in the Basque Country, but
the millennium that Spanish sport accompany their coverage. One less monarchy and more alcohol, or has lived there almost all his life
was turning into a rich source of impressive win and two shakier bulls?), but they were wearing and and thought being both Basque
pride for its followers. The 2000 ones saw Spain through as winner waving the colours. I saw one girl I and Spanish were compatible. His
UEFA Champions League final was of their group. Nevertheless, the guessed was a student wearing a red colleague obviously didn’t. My
contested by two Spanish clubs, podemos mantra felt more like an Che Guevara t-shirt, Spain flag tied friend decided against making an
Real Madrid and Valencia; the first interrogation than an affirmation around her neck and a little Spain official complaint.
time any country had provided until La Marea Roja (The Red Tide) flag painted on each cheek. I didn’t
both of the finalists. By the time dispatched Italy in the quarter final. any time to think about it though – Since last summer, I’ve been to
of Madrid’s third Champions I watched the game in a Madrid Spain were busy beating Russia 2-0. concerts where people in the
League title in five years, they had bar packed to the rafters, and much crowd have taken to chanting,
become the richest sports club in about the atmosphere reminded I was back in the bar for the “Yo soy español, español,
the world. Pau Gasol me of the World Cup 2006 second final, where I started español” before the
was NBA Rookie of round match which Spain lost to off several Fernando performances started. I
the Year in 2002 and France. I recognised the cloud of Torres chants. It was don’t presume to know what
would later go on to self-doubt that rises from Spanish a predominantly Real that means, but I had never
be Spanish basketball’s football fans when they are faced Madrid supporters’ bar, heard it before in the four
first NBA All-Star. With with a more illustrious rival, and but that didn’t matter to years I have lived here.
the Spanish national it didn’t help that the Italians anyone: Torres had scored
team he won the silver were reigning world champions. for Spain in the 33rd The conclusion I draw for
medal in the European Different this time was that the minute and they never my own understanding
Championships in Spanish team was considerably really let Germany have is that there are those in
2003. In the FIBA better and more balanced than the the ball after that. Being Spain who feel Spanish
World Championship three years one that went to Germany in 2006. a Scotland fan and knowing this and those who don’t. Over the
later, Spain beat Greece to become I also noticed a lot more Rojigualda kind of moment will always be out last few months, the economic
basketball world champions for flags and replica Spain shirts than of reach for my team, I shamelessly crisis has given people plenty to
the first time and at last year’s I had ever noticed before while joined in the wild celebrations. A feel down about. What I would
Olympics, a powerful United States watching a match in a bar – it man who’d been waving an España suggest though, for those who
team had to pull out all the stops to seemed the crown on the Spanish 82 t-shirt with Naranjito on it (he at least feel vaguely Spanish and
beat them to the gold. kit’s coat of arms hadn’t proven as looked a bit like a human Naranjito, have an interest in sport, if they
Formula One had never enjoyed much of a turn off as it had in the with glasses) embraced me and think back to some of the recent
much attention in Spain until past. sobbed with joy into my shoulder, Spanish sporting achievements,
Fernando Alonso was on The match went to a penalty said something indistinguishable, they will feel pretty good about
the road to winning two shootout and nerves mounted up as and moved onto the next person being Spanish, even if it’s only for a
consecutive Drivers’ much the sunflower seed shells and to repeat the routine. I didn’t make moment.
Championships in 2005.
Also in 2005, a 19-
year-old from Majorca
by the name of Rafael
Nadal came to be the
youngest men’s tennis
Grand Slam champion
since Pete Sampras.
Since then, Rafa has won six Grand
Slam titles, he won the gold medal
at the Beijing Olympics, he is the
current world number one and
his rivalry with Roger Federer
since that year has been dubbed Since last summer, I’ve been to concerts where people
the greatest in history. Back in
cycling, since Lance Armstrong’s in the crowd have taken to chanting, “Yo soy español,
domination of the sport (which
surpassed even Indurain’s
español, español” before the performances started. I don’t
achievements), the Tour de France
has been won exclusively by
presume to know what that means, but I had never heard
Spanish cyclists, Pereiro, Contador it before in the four years I have lived here.
and Sastre being the three winners. april 09 31