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Friday, March 21, 2008

Valencia 3, Barcelona 2

After five very long days and even longer nights of Fallas, the last thing I wanted to do was go out the day after it had ended. I had made plans almost a week earlier to watch the deciding game of the Valencia-Barcelona Copa del Rey showdown but I was sure that everyone else had come down with the same acute agoraphobia I had developed after five days of fighting enormous crowds. Certainly no on could be thinking of going out yet again for an evening of hordes and beer. The game was to be televised and I was planning on watching it in the comfort of my living room. After five days of warm weather and sunshine, the day had been cold and mostly overcast. This was definitely a good night to stay home. I even thought about turning on the heat. Oh yeah, nothing like a nice, comfortable night at home.

So as I was riding my bike towards the stadium and I wished that I had worn a warmer jacket because it was fucking freezing—not literally freezing but Valencia freezing which is probably about 65° or so. The usually bustling streets in my neighborhood were deserted on this particular Friday evening. The post-Fallas cleanup was still in process and the city looked even less recovered from the festival than I felt. A lot of bars and restaurants were closed and those remaining open were completely empty. After all, this was the night after five nights of unbridled revelry; I understood why there was no one out. I wished that I were one of those lucky folks sitting under a blanket on a sofa in front of a television. I didn’t even bother with the bike path as there were no cars on the streets. All the scene lacked was a few tumble weeds blowing across the vacant plazas. I passed a father and son wearing Valencia CF scarves on an empty street which was about the only sign of life I had seen since leaving my apartment. Who the hell would be out on a cold night after Fallas?

When I reached the Avenida Aragón everything changed abruptly. It looked like a science fiction movie where everyone is fleeing the city in panic before the aliens destroy everything except no one was carrying luggage and lots of people were singing football chants and drinking cans of beer. Not only were the streets packed with cars but the bike path was full of pedestrians, all moving towards Mestalla for the game. By the time I reached the metro stop in front of the stadium I had to take a detour to a back street. Not only was it impossible to ride a bike in the crowd but even walking with it would have been impossible. As I fought my way to the Plaza Valencia CF I almost wanted to ask someone if this was the final game of the World Cup or if it was just a Copa del Rey qualifying match. I lived near the stadium all last season and had never seen anything approaching the crowd on this night—not even in the heat of the Champions League quarter finals last year. I locked up my bike and tried to reach my friends on my cell phone.

We were planning on buying a ticket from someone before that game as the rules for season ticket holders had changed mid-week and could possibly loosen the strangle hold on the cherished admissions. One look at this mob and you just knew that getting inside the stadium wasn’t going to happen. When I finally was able to send a garbled cell phone transmission through the jammed airwaves we decided to meet at Manolo el del Bombo, a game-night institution in the plaza.

If ever a team needed, desperately needed, to win a game, it was Valencia during this hapless season. Advancing in the Copa del Rey was the only chance they had of maintaining a bit of dignity in a season of bitter losses, infighting, and even a fear at one point of possibly being sent to the second division. ¡Que verguënza! Valencia was up a comfortable 2-0 when Thierry Henry entered the game after sitting out the first half. He soon scored on a brilliant header. Suddenly the mood was nervous as a 2-2 draw wouldn’t be good enough for Valencia to advance. Valencia scored again. Barcelona countered with a goal from Eto’o. Valencia was able to cling to its lead through 3 excruciating minutes of injury time and everyone in and around the stadium erupted like a fireworks display. It was the best news for this club in a year. Staying home is so over-rated.

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