Monkey trouble, sex bans and the return of Lev Yashin

Saturday meant league leaders Manchester La Fianna against Strollers, the team we displaced a week earlier.

Despite their anglicised name, Strollers are almost exclusively Catalan, save for a Lancastrian and a Chelsea born Chelsea fan (proudly from a rough enclave as opposed to SW6’s swank) who was once chased down a road in Kenya following a dispute with a local. By a monkey.

I encouraged everyone to arrive early, bought 16 ripening bananas from the supermarket and six bottles of cold water. After downloading uplifting tunes onto my ipod to play in the dressing room and printing the words to the Italian national anthem - singing it has become a team tradition in respect for two Italian players from last season. They haven’t died or anything, but the momentum is unstoppable - I got a metro to the stadium.

I did everything I could to lift the boys, starting by putting myself on the bench. I told them of a phone call to our striker on Thursday from a Manchester United first teamer who will be in Ibiza when we play our friendly in June.

He’ll be there with two team mates, who would otherwise have been in Euro 2008 and they want to watch us, but explained that “We won’t be allowed to play.” Just imagine the faces of the opposition if they agree to sit on the bench? But that’s in June.

"Manchester La Fianna: Fans in high places."

It wasn’t just the players who were up for it on Saturday. The wife of the Belizian Jorge  - now known as ‘The Pigeon’ - emailed to say that she’d imposed a sex ban on him until after the game so that he could concentrate. I’d arranged for the sister of ‘Toni Gols’, one of our two Catalan players, to watch him for the first time in years, but then forget to tell her about a late change of venue. In a gesture to spread goodwill, I sort the elderly groundsman to give him a banana.

After repeating lines gleaned from Busby and Ferguson in the pre-match warm up, I watched as other players helped out by organising drills and encouraging. We were united, and with the sun setting over the mountain of Tibidabo, everyone was raring to go.

"Barcelona from Tibidabo. The stadium's down there somewhere." 

I would annoy and upset other players by leaving them out because over 20 players don’t fit into a squad of 16, but the game was soon underway and Manchester played some great football.

There was no need to make any changes at the break and the fans in the stand looked on approvingly. The mum of one player who had flown from Portland, Oregon. The girlfriend of another who had journeyed from Sicily. The other wives, girlfriends and friends, who would rather have been in many other places than the back of a cold concrete stand in a distant Barcelona barrio.

If not quite beatific, it felt good. Strollers played deep and played well, somehow bringing Lev Yashin back to life in goal. Changes were made, fresh legs introduced. I bit nails, urged patience, cursed and hollered before coming on for the last 14 minutes. I couldn’t believe how much space there was before I over hit two crosses.

Nor could I believe that we lost 1-0.

Avenge against those Catalans, Cristiano. Avenge.

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