Yesterday a Deportivo fan was killed in Madrid. Just like that. A fight between hooligans near the Vicente Calderon started on the morning of the game and a fan was killed. What is disgusting is that when I called my friend in Barcelona to find out what happened, he told me that the game hadn’t been called off, it was played as if nothing had happened! I then found out that both presidents said that it had nothing to do with football and blah blah blah. I cannot believe it!
Something like that would never happen in England nowadays but if it did, it is clear that the game would be called off straight away. It wouldn’t be necessary to call the Football Association as the presidents of the clubs would be the first ones to understand the situation. For those of you who read my articles from Spain, the FA has delayed the start of games on many occasions just because of traffic problems, so the fans have time to get to the stadium.
I am a professional footballer but I keep saying that there is also a fan in me, the one I started to be when I was little and was taken to Sarrià to watch Espanyol. And with the passing of the years I realise that the politics in football is taking the passion out of the fans. Here in the UK they know very well that the fans are the owners of this game, we play for them and to them. But unfortunately this is an exception in today’s game and when violence is part of the equation I don’t really know what can be done. What happened in Madrid yesterday is not a one off. A Real Sociedad fan was killed in Madrid a few years ago and some Barça ultras were killed, an Espanyol fan a while ago… But the presidents of the clubs still say that has nothing to do with football! I think at this stage, it should be the fans that are stopping this craziness, but in Spain they don’t have, like in England, a fan association who can make their point. And of course, in Spain the club directors and the football association do as they please. I am not sure what else I can say about this really, but I can certainly talk about what is going on in Blackpool.
Another week and another point, which doesn’t help much. On Saturday we played a very tense game, with little football and lots of nerves, which seems to be the norm lately. Being bottom of the table, one cannot try to play attractive football, although I still think we could be playing much better. On a personal matter; zero minutes. At my age I should be calm enough not to talk about certain things and I am not going to write what I really think, but those people who know me know what I think and all I can do is work harder, and if nothing changes I will work even harder. And that’s it. To pull a face or to say certain things won’t help. I’ve gone through that already in the past….
I remember my first sessions with Alaves. I was so pretentious that I thought I knew everything and I deserved to be in the first eleven. It was a team with Primera players fighting for promotion. The coach was Pepe Mel and in the training sessions I would play as a left back in order to improve my defensive game. That was what he told me but I was stubborn and I saw it as an insult. He’s going to make me play as a left back? I would say to myself… Well if they make you play as a left back you shut up and play. At the end of the day, the coach is the boss and you learn from these things, whether you like it or now. So if I am not playing now, I keep quiet. My first agent, the one who took me to Alaves, always used to tell me: “listen, watch and keep quiet”. And that is what I am doing right now.
Some self-criticism is also needed. That is something that many people in football lack. You always see the faults in your brother’s eye but not in your own. You have to admit your errors and accept them. That is the only way to improve, whether in football or in life. That is what I believe.
Anyway, life goes on. Close to us at the bottom of the table we have a team that I don’t like to see there. What happened to Brighton? For two seasons we were fighting to get promoted, during the first year they were, without a shadow of a doubt, the best team in the league and now they are fighting relegation. I am really sorry for the fans and for my friends over there. It is harder and harder to recognise any of the players now, if I know more than four I am lucky. Look at Derby County, they have been playing with almost the same players for years and they are now getting the results. I think the same should have happened at Brighton. To completely change the team has many risks and this is what is happening here in Blackpool. But Brighton deserve better, they have got great fans, stadium, facilities and team, so I really hope they can compete for more ambitious targets and I hope to see them in the Premier League in a few years time.
Speaking about Brighton, on Thursday I was able to have dinner with three of my former colleagues who live around the Manchester area, Ashley Barnes and Stephen Ward who play at Burnley and Adam El Abd who plays at Bury Town. We had a great time remembering anecdotes and talking about our experiences and wondering why Iñigo Calderón has still got the same car!! Moreover, we agreed on how nice our teams are. I like to meet up with nice people who I really like and to see that we have the same feeling, whether we play in the Premier, the Championship or in League Two. Coming back to Calderon and his car, its not about having a big car just because you are a footballer but at least one that can pass the MOT without having to pray to the Virgin of Lourdes first.
I was reading an article by Cristian Alvarez, Rayo Vallecano’s goalkeeper who takes the subway to the training ground, reads Steinbeck and Marx, who runs away from the stereo typical footballer label and who don’t give a damm about society. There are lots of players like Alvarez, thank god. Calderon reminds me of him. He doesn’t take the subway because there is no subway in Brighton but he rides his bike a lot, he dresses like an university student, he successfully earned a degree in Sports Science, he cares about learning and improving intellectually and is a very humble person. He is the best bestman I could have chosen for Emma. A true friend, but please get a new car!!
This week we have a friendly on Tuesday. It is always better to play, even if they are friendlies, than to train. In the end, the competitiveness in you comes out and makes you want to play well in order to beat them. The excitement about a game is what keeps you connected to football and when you lose that excitement, your football adventure finishes.
When you reach 30 years old you start thinking about what comes next and there is not much left now. I have never assumed that I would have a contract on the table for the next season and even if I had, I have sometimes thought about early retirement. I have been like that since I was 20… During my first years in Swansea for example. Badly timed injuries, hours and hours of work in the shadows without rewards, all these things consume you. It has happened to lots of people before but in the end the love for the game prevails.
I really love this game, and I want to play to show myself that I am worth it. So I am trying to improve every week, to train better than last week and to try and get in the first eleven. I said a long time ago it is going to be very challenging to try to convince a British coach to let me play, but that is what I am trying to do.
I have had some strange days this week. On Saturday I hardly got any sleep because of the anger I was feeling and yesterday I got upset about what happened in Madrid. Today a new week starts and we play Birmingham on Saturday, who managed to stay up during the last minute of the last game, last season. Miracles do happen when you put work and determination together and that is what we are going to do now at Blackpool.
Translated by Alfons Vinent.