Sunday, at exactly 3:00 p.m. local time, I decided I would go see Spain play Italy. I’d spent most of the morning in downtown Gdansk, listening to Spanish fans chant and drink and beat a drum. The game started at 6. It was now or never. I decided that it’d be hard to leave Poland and live the rest of my life knowing I could have seen Spain play Italy. In my opinion, this Spanish team is the best national team ever; the Italians, you may recall, aren’t so bad themselves. Here are some notes from the evening.
1) The ticket:
I’m not going to say how much I paid for the ticket. I’m sort of embarrassed about it. When I think about the price, I also think about what I could have purchased instead, and I blush. I will tell you that it wasn’t the €500 two Italians wanted (although, at first I thought they wanted only €50, which would have been an incredible deal). In fact, I passed up on a bunch of tickets all priced over €250 -- which seemed to be the average price of a scalped ticket Sunday night.
I eventually met a heavily tattooed Irishman who wasn’t afraid to negotiate. He worked with me, and I got a reasonable deal under the circumstances. Nevertheless, it was expensive, and before I gave him the money, I texted my wife to tell her I might spend an obscene amount of cash on this. “Should I do it?” I asked.
“It would be a great experience,” she told me.
I told her I loved her and handed over the money.
2) My seat:
As I went through the various layers of security (ticket check, pat down, ticket scan), I realized I didn’t even know what kind of seat I had. I worried I’d be up in the rafters, swatting at birds. When I realized my seat was in the lower stand, I began to smile. When I realized I was only 15 rows up, I did a little fist pump. When I realized my seat was right in the center of the 10,000 Spanish supporters, I may have danced a little jig.
I sat next to some older gentlemen from Gijon and some younger guys wearing flamenco dresses who were too drunk to really hold a conversation. About 10 minutes before game time, two English guys took the seats to my immediate left. When I took my seat, I dusted off my Spanish and exchanged pleasantries with the guys from Gijon. I wasn’t wearing any red and, feeling I owed them an explanation, mumbled something about being American. One of them, a man with short hair and a two-day beard, said, “Yes, you’re American, but you were born like you were Spanish.”
3) The Spanish fans:
The Spanish were, for the most part, great. They chanted and sang for almost the entire match. By my count, they went quiet only twice: during the Italian national anthem and after Italy scored. For the first half, a group of guys at field level, by the corner flag, led most of the chanting. In the 48th minute, a stocky man wearing a wide-brimmed, black hat emerged from the main stand exit to my left, holding a drum. He beat it twice and as the Spanish fans turned and cheered, he removed his hat and gave a deep bow. He played the drum for the rest of the match, the Spanish fans chanting along with the rhythm.
4) On Sergio Ramos:
In the 17th minute, Sergio Ramos put a pretty nice move on an Italian attacker, cutting out a pass and sliding the ball around his planted leg, bamboozling his opponent and winning possession. It struck me as a particularly confident thing to do when one-on-one and close to goal. A mistake in that position would have been catastrophic. I exchanged glances with the English guy seated next to me. We were both obviously impressed. “I don’t see John Terry ever pulling that off,” I said. He did not respond.
5) On Mario Balotelli:
Some Spanish fans racially abused the Italian striker. I wish it hadn’t happened. I wish I didn’t have to write this right now but I’d be lying if I didn’t. It happened twice. I don’t know if the hooting came through on television or not; it may have been drowned out by the whistling. I should say that both times it only lasted for seconds, only a minority of fans participated and other fans turned and told them to knock it off. But it did happen. Twice.
6) On Fernando Torres:
When Fernando Torres came on for Cesc Fabregas, the Chelsea man received a wild cheer from the Spanish support (Cesc, who had just scored, received a polite, appreciative standing ovation). The cheers for Torres came as a bit of a surprise, only because of how much he’d struggled for the past two years. Those travails don’t matter. The Spanish supporters love him. I thought he did a decent job, too. Perhaps he was even unlucky not to score. He had some chances, but he fluffed them -- which is I guess about normal at this point.
As we rode the tram back to the city center, much of the talk was about Torres. Later, I ate a kebab alongside a several Spanish men wearing flags as skirts. They were talking tactics, arguing about Torres. The Spanish team looked dangerous with him, but it scored without him. Yet Spanish fans love him all the same.