The view from Spain

Tweet and get beat

March 18, 2013
By Phil Ball
(Archive)

I remember a friend of mine once saying to his son, who had just apologised to him for bullying his younger brother: "Don't apologise. Just stop doing dumb things and then you won't have to say sorry".

Hugo Mallo
GettyImagesHugo Mallo showed some poor judgement during the Galician derby

It seemed a decent sort of logic. But ever since the appearance of easy-to-use social media, professional footballers have been having to rely on making apologies, instead of thinking about their actions beforehand, rather too often.

The Galician derby between Deportivo and Celta on Friday night was a case in point. It has never been a massively friendly affair, perhaps because of the differing nature of the two cities (La Coruña and Vigo) and because neither club has ever really wanted to admit that the other was more 'gallego' (Galician), to put the issue into a nutshell. In La Coruña, people see Vigo as an anonymous urban sprawl bordering on Portugal, while in Vigo they dismiss La Coruña as a snobs' parlour up north, remote and aloof. The two communities seem to inhabit different planets, and both sets of fans have poor reputations in terms of their ability to keep cool.

None of which, of course, detracts from the interest and splendour of a derby game between them, even late on a Friday night. There haven't been too many in the top flight in recent years, with the last dating back to the 2006-07 season. Last season, of course, there were a couple of games down in the Second Division, Deportivo having spent one season there, but now they're both back.

How long they will stay is another question. Oddly enough, Friday night's affair was the first time in the history of the two clubs that they have met in such darkened circumstances - they are 19th and 20th in the table. You have to go back to 1973, when they played a game as the clubs occupying 16th and 17th, for something similar, and there had been no worse-looking precedent.

With so much at stake - to return to the main topic - it was something of a surprise that the young right-sided defender Hugo Mallo, out for the rest of season with a serious knee injury, decided not to stay at home as ordered but instead to head up to the game in Coruña with a Celta peña (supporters' club), travelling on their bus.

Obviously bored during the ride, Mallo found himself a 'Se Vende' (for sale) poster, with Deportivo's shield placed below it. All good fun between mates, but the shot soon found its way onto Twitter, as these things tend to, and went viral. During the actual game, Mallo was filmed up in the seats with a scarf covering part of his face, leaning against the fence that separated the supporters, engaged in a hostile dialogue with several Deportivo fans as if he wished to relive the days of his recent youth, cruelly snatched from him by the demands of a professional footballer's contract.

Mallo's little day out spawned a host of soundbites, the best coming from team-mate Mario Bermejo, who said: "Cuando duermes con niños te despiertas meado" - literally, "When you sleep with children you wake up covered in urine" - referring obviously to young parents' experiences, but suggesting the Celta fans who tweeted the photo were the children who should not have been trusted to keep it in all night.

And so Mallo, also caught on the TV cameras with lip-readers' interpretations to the fore (when he dropped his scarf below mouth level), was forced by the club to organise a hasty press conference (Mallo said, unconvincingly, that it was his initiative) in which the usual apologies flowed.

The incidents were mildly amusing in some ways, and proof - as if Twitter itself had not already proved the case - that footballers are just normal guys like us who can't spell and want to go to the match with their mates and have a bit of verbal, if the opportunity presents itself, with the other teams' supporters.

It's just that it very rarely happens, and even footballers as young as Mallo disappear from public sight as soon as the contract is signed. It's not an altogether healthy syndrome, but the reality of post-modern sport makes it impossible for top-flight players to continue to lead a normal life. Hence the beauty and the beastliness of Twitter, a lifeline for players to feel vaguely connected to the real world, even if they can no longer tread its pavements with comfort.

Iago Aspas did not cover himself in glory at the derby either
GettyImagesIago Aspas did not cover himself in glory at the derby either

Unfortunately for Mallo, the game itself was an ill-tempered affair, perhaps inevitably with so much at stake, and another Celta player, their star turn Iago Aspas, also failed to cover himself in glory after being sent off for proffering a 'Glasgow kiss' (headbutt) to Carlos Marchena as they fell over each other in the Deportivo area.

Although Deportivo were 1-0 up at the time, it conditioned the game, which Deportivo won 3-1, and may well condition the rest of Celta's season, assuming that Aspas gets a four-game ban for violent conduct. Aspas appeared to take umbrage at contact with some body part of Marchena as they fell, and Marchena appeared to react with a swift post-kiss boot to his opponent's head, but the referee decided to punish the visitors only. Deportivo, though, would probably have won anyway, fired up as they were by Mallo's pre-match indiscretion.

Deportivo are still bottom with 20 points, six from safety, but hope springs eternal. It may have been the boost they were looking for. Their new manager, the professorial Fernando Vasquez (he was originally an English teacher), admitted they were still in the 'UVI' (intensive care unit) but said their chances of recovery had improved.

Vasquez had managed Celta between 2004 and 2007, but the Depor fans seem to have forgiven this little error, for now at least. He had not actually managed a team since giving up on Celta. He is a happy Galician wanderer, having also managed Lugo, Ferrol and Compostela, but if Depor avoid the drop he might be invited to stay. Their next two games are against fellow strugglers Mallorca and Zaragoza. If they don't win those, the post-Celta glow will soon start to fade.

Sticking to the theme of players' extra-curricular habits, Sunday marked the 100th anniversary to the day that Rafael Moreno scored his first official goal for Athletic Bilbao – against Real Madrid, more strictly Madrid Foot-Ball Club, in the old O'Donnell stadium in Madrid in the cup semi-final. He scored after two minutes, then again after ten (with his hand, apparently). Bilbao won 3-1 and then won the final against Racing de Irun. They inaugurated their San Mames stadium against the same side two weeks later, Moreno baptising the ground with the first goal. This was the player whose nickname "Pichichi" (Little Duck) was adopted to accompany all future top scorers in La Liga. Marca actually began it back in 1953.

Moreno, the nephew of the writer Miguel Unamuno, went on to score lots of goals (200 in 170 appearances), but died of typhus in 1922 after eating some dodgy oysters, or so the story goes. As with the best referee of the season award, the Guruceta trophy (Emilio Guruceta was the referee who took bribes in the infamous Anderlecht v Nottingham Forest UEFA semi-final tie in 1984), the Spanish seem to delight in honouring their more wayward sons.

Despite Moreno's goalscoring feats, his legendary drinking and womanising divided the Athletic supporters, but it was amusing, in the light of Mallo's weekend, to see a photograph of "Pichichi" in the newspapers on Sunday, bullfighting in 1915 in front of a packed arena in Madrid and actually killing the bull in the act of the 'estocada' with the sword.

Just imagine the headlines today - 'Cristiano Ronaldo cuts off two ears in San Isidro!' and then apologises to the club, the fans, and everyone else he felt that he had let down, because he hadn't thought of the consequences. Amusingly, Aspas also did this in the routine post-incident climb-down, saying he apologised to the fans, his club and his team-mates, but interestingly failed to include his victim, Marchena, in the list. Well, Marchena can look after himself, but a mention would have been nice.

Lionel Messi celebrates
GettyImagesLionel Messi has scored 42 goals in La Liga this season

Elsewhere, Leo Messi scored again (twice) in the 3-1 win over Rayo Vallecano, making it 18 league games on the trot in which he has found the net. The scorer for Rayo was Raúl Tamudo, who recently returned to the club after a brief stay in Mexico. He is traditionally a much-despised figure at the Camp Nou, mainly for his years at Espanyol and specifically for the goals that he scored there in 2007 that sent the league title to the Bernabéu. Bizarrely, after coming on in the 70th minute for Andrija Delibasic, he scored with his first touch.

Real Sociedad climbed into fourth after hammering Valladolid 4-1 at home and playing some fantasy football in the process. Check out Antoine Griezmann's second (and Sociedad's third) for goal of the weekend. They have now only lost one in the last 18 and, with Malaga's stumble at home to Espanyol (Sociedad's next opponents), things are looking very interesting for the Basque side.

They can now rest in the Champions League afterglow for a fortnight, as the league takes a break due to the World Cup qualifiers. Spain play Finland in Gijon on Friday and then take on France in Saint-Denis the following Tuesday, all of which gives the players plenty of spare time to upload all manner of silly stuff onto their Twitter accounts. Watch those spaces.