Spain march on: with or without Catalan support

It’s a strange one watching Spain’s Euro 2008 games in Catalonia, because Catalans are divided on the fortunes of the national side.

Mariano, one of the Manchester La Fianna players, is a Catalan who watches Spain. He was in Austria for one of their group games last week, but he estimates that while 70% of his Catalan mates want Spain to win, 30% of them would rather Louis Aragones' side lost – despite several Barcelona players being in the side.

A lot of friends are in Austria and Switzerland – fans from Manchester who have gone for a bit of a beano and who will drift without a fixed itinerary and doubtless get where water wouldn’t – which in this tournament is almost nowhere.

Journalist friends who are there for work and who call at midnight from a bar to say a) what a great time they are having without the England fans throwing plastic chairs at each other or b) ask obscure trivia questions that I can’t answer in the hope of settling a drunken argument.

I’ve stayed at home. I need to recharge the batteries and read through all the proofs and libel reports of my next book, which comes out on August 4. After the sorties with Man United and for the book, I’ve done enough travelling this year.

Besides, in less than a month’s time next season starts with a trip to South Africa to see United. That’s after a quick hop to Marseille to see King Eric, who has been in Manchester filming for much of the last month.

Spain’s King was in the stands in Vienna on Sunday night with his wife Sophia, while back in Barcelona almost every bar - and there are 700 in my ultra Catalan neighbourhood alone - advertised ‘Espana v Italia’. I’d do that little squiggle over the ‘n’, but it always comes out wrong.

I once had a full-page article printed in The Independent, which frequently mentioned a club called ‘Baria’. That was The Indy’s system not picking up the squiggle (a cedilla to those who need to know these things) under the ‘co’ of Barca.

Around 45% of Catalans watched Spain’s group games, the lowest of any region in Spain, with 56% of people watching in Madrid. Much of that 45% will be immigrants who moved to Catalonia from other regions, but the bars are still full for the matches.

When Barca play away, you can hear the shouts of fans in my neighbourhood as they celebrate a goal they have seen on television. Population density is much higher than in Britain as people live on narrow streets in apartments, so it can be quite a racket.

If it’s a big result, the streets are soon filled with cars beeping their horns to the accompaniment of fireworks. It didn’t reach the same level on Sunday, but I heard cheers and saw fireworks when Spain went through. They were louder because it was a Catalan, Cesc Fabregas, who scored Spain’s final penalty.

With Xavi, Iniesta and Puyol in the starting line up, there are more Barca than Madrid players. Madrid, for those who don’t know, are a team from the Spanish capital who were outplayed by Roma in the last 16 of the European Cup. Roma were then outplayed by Manchester United, the champions of England, who then beat Barcelona and Chelsea to be crowned Champions of Europe. Just in case anyone needs reminding of Madrid’s current status in European football.

People in my neighbourhood have less time for Madrid than Sir Alex Ferguson - the finest football manager in the world - but there appeared to be relief and surprise that Spain managed to get beyond a quarter-final, as if the country’s famous inferiority complex had been (temporarily) laid to rest. 

Spain play Russia in Thursday’s semi-final, but I’ve got a slight problem. I bought a smart Russia football t-shirt in Moscow when I was there for the Champions League final – which Madrid came nowhere near reaching. They were probably too busy working out how to sack their 30th manager in three years. But if I wear the shirt this week then people will think I’m an ultra nationalist Catalan who hates Spain so much that I support the opposition.

Or a Russian.

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