Fear and Loathing in the Calderón

The day had started innocuously enough. I woke up and smiled at my woman and child, who guard over my sleep every night from a neat frame on my bedside table, right next to Dani Pandes, a seven-inch tall black-and-white teddy bear with the Barça crest stitched to his belly that I had picked up at the stadium less than a week before. Ho ho ho, my new room in a relatively humble working class neighborhood of l’Hospitalet, not Barcelona, is nothing if not homely. I greeted both my family and Dani with a cheery good morning but all three just stared at me in return, which I considered somewhat off-putting. No matter, I would refuse to let myself drift into negativity.

I went to the market and came back with two baguettes and 150 grams of blue cheese, which, together with the brie, eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms and parsley made for an arsenal with which any self-respecting breakfast aficionado would feel ready to face the morning, although I have to say that if the clock had already crept past one in the afternoon by the time I sat down to eat, it was early. I digress. The point is that somewhere between waking up and my first meal of the day I just knew. Come nightfall we would be Victorious. We would force the ball down the throats of these nazi swine to score goals that would make grown men weep with unbridled joy like the spirit of a teenage girl trapped in the hairy body of a middle-aged bartender.

Don’t ask me how I knew, that is irrelevant. Somebody told me that what really mattered was not why I felt that we would win, but whether or not my prophecies tended to fulfill themselves, which was a fair question, the answer to which I have forgotten. We live in interesting times, in the oriental sense of the word, and good answers to good questions are not always coherent. What is important is that we remain True, and I honestly believed that we would cruelly bludgeon to death these hounds from hell like a heartless bastard with a duffle bag full of unwanted puppies. My feeling was boldened when I found out that our opponents would miss not only Diego Costa, but Arda Turan as well. Those are arguably Atletico Madrid’s two best players, Bubba, so how do you like them mattresses?

The rest of the afternoon was spent performing assorted tasks and chores, all of which were too mundane to bother you with in this space. I had acquiesced to my new roommate’s request to watch the game in a bar together, something which I had serious misgivings over. Not the bar, of course, which, provided that they are cheap, which my roommate, let’s call him Giorgi, had most definitely promised me it would be, are fine establishments at which to scream and cuss and cheer at your favorite football team. No, my misgivings were centered entirely on Giorgi himself. For one, he is Bulgarian, which I must admit is not a crime per se, but I just so happen to question the moral fiber of any Bulgarian that lives in Barcelona and does not like Hristo Stoichkov. Worse, however, is that he had previously told me he was not much into football. Generally I am not one to question a person’s likes or dislikes, but whenever I stumble upon a man who tells me of his disinterest of the beautiful game, the thoughts that ensue to consume my mind are   “Who is this man?” and “Why does he exist?” I now realize that I should have gone with my instincts and declined his invitation, but since at that moment in time he assured me that he would introduce me to his Spanish and Catalan friends, and I am, after all, new in this city of art and deception, I decided to accept. I may be a Foreigner but I am not Rude, and anyone who might tell you otherwise is a lying sack of manure and deserves to be castrated with barbed wire.

I continued to ignore the signs. We live at a ten-minute walk from the Camp Nou, but the bar was the other way and, not wanting to spend money on the subway, we set out on foot in the direction of Plaça de Espanya. Fair enough, I don’t mind walking and the weather was agreeable. During the next twenty minutes my mind was mostly on football-related matters, with half an ear focused on my Bulgarian companion’s constant blabbering about his professed love for his apparently soon to be legalized drug of choice. That didn’t bother me in the slightest, though what I did find mildly alarming was the confession that he could not hold his liquor. Nevertheless, I was in a good mood, as usual when eagerly anticipating a big match. There is something special about Champions League nights, or at least once the tournament has entered into the knock-out stages, and seeing so many culers sporting blaugrana gear while walking the street made me all the merrier.

We arrived at the bar in a timely fashion, with five minutes to spare before the match would start. Enough for quick introductions, during which my name created quite a lot of confusion and I was repeatedly asked whether there existed a Spanish equivalent. The answer, of course, is No. I don’t do equivalents. I only have one name and if you don’t like it, don’t call me. I am not your Chinese waitress who can barely speak your language but still goes by Helena. To a casual observer that might appear like a certain unwillingness to integrate, but I assure you that is far from the case. If you lose yourself, you are a Nobody, and a Nobody can never be good to anybody. To the delight of the group, I spent the remaining minutes before the game conversing in Catalan. They were astonished that I spoke their language better after three weeks in Barcelona than others who have been here a lifetime. Personally I am of the opinion that that says more about those others than about myself.

After ordering a round of San Miguels (that’s Spanish for Budweiser) I was soon forced to turn my back on my new found friends. Our players were getting ready to kick off a football match, one I knew that we would win. I faced the TV and I took a sip of my beer. It was already poured into a glass, and this is important because Helena had given me a bottle and I don’t remember pouring it. It tasted odd, but then I find European beer tastes odd regardless. I swear by the South American beers I have gladly gotten used to over the years. They are Refreshing, an important quality when you live in temperatures of well into the hundreds and a humidity that makes your toes feel like a pack of baby rats in a hot tub.

Back to the game, which started well, with Leo Messi cutting from the right flank towards the middle before unleashing a dangerous shot that sailed over the goal. Anyone who can do something better than anyone else is a natural friend of mine, and even more so if we share a first name (now there’s an equivalent for you, Bubba). Yes Siree, we were in for a lot of Fun that night, except for the lone Atletico supporter in the bar who was about to suffer the longest ninety minutes of his life. He was about to experience Tears and Humiliation after playing a Barça team that was supremely talented and fully motivated. If only he knew what I knew. I confidently took another sip of my beer.

I believe it was at that moment I saw bright yellow spots flashing from the corner of my eyes. I held on to the table. Had I been standing I would have crashed on the floor. Not that it made any difference. I felt like I had hit my head without remembering and all that happened after was dark and twisted. I vaguely recall a missile that sent both our crossbar and my heart trembling. Who doesn’t matter, but I it could have been Adrian. In a reality previously unknown, David Villa worked his butt off for every ball, winning being the purpose of each cell in his body. His cross was headed back across the goal mouth, and Koke, a hybrid monster with the body of a panther and the head of a poisonous toad volleyed the ball into our net.

Somebody must have spiked my drink. I glanced around for a suspect, only to see Doubt and Frustration filling the room, with the exception of two: Julio, the colchonero, a grown man with the look on his face of a fifteen year old boy in the midst of losing his virginity, and Giorgi, my roommate, completely uninterested in the game and playing Candy Crush on his cell phone. I kicked him below the kneecap and urged him to pay attention.

My head was spinning. What was to come was a trip I was only half-prepared for. Blurry visions of red, white and blue swirled over the pitch like an American dream turned nightmare in the Calderon. From its stands millions of voices were baying for blaugrana blood, and they entered the bar through the television speakers. Whenever we had the ball we were surrounded by two to four crocodiles snapping at our ankles and tearing at our limbs. They were everywhere and the pressure was terrible. I had to order another beer just to calm my nerves. Pinto played long balls forward, where midgets stood no chance against Spartan titans. The only space on the pitch was behind our defense, and it was repeatedly exploited by greedheads that knew of no bounds. Ye Gods, they’re trying to break our crossbar! Our coach paced the sidelines with the expression of a helpless father whose children had been inducted by Charles Manson.

Maybe we would turn things around in the second half. And maybe I had been drugged. I asked Helena for another San Miguel just to make sure, and told her to keep them coming. People who lack my expertise might believe this strategy to be counterproductive, but I knew better. If I had ingested a mind-altering substance I was going to flush it out, no matter how much alcohol it would take. Maybe we were all under the influence of the same psychedelic downer. It was a weird scene, and Julio didn’t help. He kept singing “Olé, olé, el Cholo, Simeone” and for some reason no one shut him up. I banged my fists on the table and stared at him hard when the second half started.

It did not get any better. Few people understand the implications of getting caught in the System and those that do are too traumatized to put it in words. Most culers are romantic at heart, and there is no tribe I’d rather join, but the System has no mercy for souls like you and I. Once it has you in its clutches, there is no escape.

In the end I felt relief when it was over. All of us did. Barcelona had fought for all that was Fair and Beautiful in a world that is Cold and Cruel, but they did so without strength against a bunker that was filled with zombie robots bent on destruction. We were zero hundred in fifty fifty challenges. If there was a hope in hell we would score, our hearts were a couple of levels below that scorching place of permanent residence. It was depressing. It was also Reality and one that we had to come to terms with, one way or another. Some were upset and disgusted. I personally could not bear to think about the consequences of this Loss. Not yet. It was too soon, and I was certain of only one thing:

The next day I would wake up with a terrible hangover.

Dedicated to HST (a teenage girl trapped in an old man's body). I pale in comparison to your awesomeness. May you R.I.P.
Dedicated to HST. I pale in comparison to your awesomeness. May you R.I.P.
Categorized as Barcelona

By Levon

Culé since way before football boots were of the neon yellow and lizard green variety, Levon is a deep thinker with increasingly shallow thoughts. He lives in Barcelona with his gorgeous wife and daughter. The lucky bastard...


  1. I like that article! Between this one and the spot-on analysis from Kxevin, this site has really helped a lot in overcoming the disappointment from the loss.

    I, too, had certainty that we were going to win that match, the difference being that having to stay at home sick I was in no danger of a hangover (compensating for that with an excess of pretzels).

  2. Can’t decide which of the last two articles I like more: both brilliant.

    Thanks Levon!

    1. I hope Bayern make it a 7/8 – 0 over two legs to EE.

      Finally, thanks to UEFA that Courtois can play against Chelsea.

      I think Atletico will win CL

  3. First of all, Levon, the omens were right. Second, San Miguel? You are in Barcelona and you drink San Miguel? Do you know how many kittens have you murdered by doing that?

    Third, awesome post as always, but why aren’t your closest with you? Spanish bureaucracy? 🙁

    Fourth, tell Zhoro/Gosho(diminutive of Georgi) that he has shamed Bulgaria. From a fellow Bulgarian in Gran Canaria. Also, put this for him to listen and ask him to translate it for you(make it a surprise 😉 ).
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Afdr3wM_zto (it’s not anything offensive, don’t worry 😀 but in my view it’s a nice summary of your post)

    And, as always, Visca Barça!

  4. marca is saying messi is out for 2 months!? i havent seen it anywhere else..wtf?? that might explain a lot…2 months= 2 days before the start of the world cup..

  5. WOA WOA WOA! please disregard the last comment…i misread the headline / story…messi WAS out for 2 months…sorry about that..

    thanks for the awesome articles guys…

    i have to say..im really rooting for athletico for the remainder of champs league..when i was watching them, they phrase “a mans team” kept coming to mind..flat out tough..and not really that dirty. we could have EASILY been down by 4 or 5 in the first half.. notjust a short while ago they were referred to as pathetico..what a quick turn around. i think it was the graham hunter article where i read about the team + coach + fans creating that perfect moment…the other day at the vicente calderon looked downright scary…

  6. Atletico Madrid were probably the best team in the world Wednesday… Chelsea are inferior, and I have a “potentially fresh” AM as favorites in a final vs BM, the latters still have the habit of ‘choking’ a bit, until proven otherwise.

    Our season has been poor since Christmas, very good performances equaled in number by terrible ones. I see no technical explanation for this, the players might just not be mentally there. Hope there are quality purchases for next season, an important aspect is internal competition for starting XI spots, there is none at the moment. Coach is possibly destabilized. If it is true that his system shift earlier in the season was rejected by the players, then you might have to replace him, although I find it a stretch to blame the coach for this season’s failures.

    The copa against a weaker than usual RM, not to mention their “cheap Gareth Bale” is injured, should be won quite easily. Just looked at AM’s fixture list for the rest of the season, looks quite nasty, therefore we are favorites for the league title. Crossing fingers.

  7. It is no coincidence that our most individually talented team is so successful against our most hated rival, RM. They don’t really play a system, don’t really play as a team in the way that Atleti does, so there are always spaces and gaps to be exploited by Messi, Neymar, Sanchez, Iniesta. It’s logical.

    So true! I never looked at it that way wrt Madrid.

    People can argue all they want about Pep Guardiola’s greatest accomplishment. For me, it was to get talented individuals to play as a team.

    Tata can do that too if he selects his team based on merit and get his tactics right.

    For me, these were nothing more than psychic salve that people are slathering over reality — we don’t have the horses to play against a top-flight world that has figured out how to stuff tika-taka. You play physical football, you flood the midfield, and you press and work like a dog.

    The players need someone who can command them and work hard for them like a Simeone, Jupp, Klopp, even Mourinho.

    We were never physical during the latter stages of Pep’s era but we still won a lot. The players simply worked harder for him.

    Blame? Excoriation? I can’t be angry at these players who have brought me so much indescribable joy. It’s impossible for me. I can’t single anyone out for particular scorn, saying that if only this player or that player had done this. Messi ran 6.5km today. So what. He has had matches before where he has probably run as little, but scored a hat trick.

    Didn’t you always single Messi out after matches just like you described, where he ran little but scored goals.

    “Put in Sanchez and pull Fabregas, you fool,” culers screamed. He did that, and Atleti kept on doing what it was doing. He pulled an ineffective Iniesta, and people carped about that. And you wonder if he wanted to pull Messi instead of Iniesta, you wonder if he wanted to make deeper, broader changes but felt like he didn’t have the real authority.

    I don’t think Tata can read the comments after making the subs. In any case, it doesn’t really matter to the fans which players will deliver us a good display and result, to me at least. I want the club to win and I’m sure most of us feel the same way too.

    I wanted it and I couldn’t care less if Messi was subbed and Song (just an example) danced through the defense and scored a golazo.

    Bale knew he was there, could have marked him but seemed to say, “A defender will deal with that. I have magic to create.” So he didn’t mark Iniesta.

    Like this? 😆

    He didn’t know the squad, but he knew enough to know, even as he was saying that Puyol was one of our important signings, that it was bullshit. He’s watched matches, he watched the team practice and knew what it needed.

    Why are you and many others acting as if Tata isn’t allowed to sign anyone? How do you even know that? Tata was offered the job and accepted it with a very high salary. All facts.

    During the meeting/negotiations, for sure they discussed the plans for the future of the team to which the board and Tata came to an agreement.

    And it is not like there are many clubs where the manager has a 100% reign from the board. There will always be minor disagreements. Barcelona during Laporta reign was one of a kind just like Wenger with Arsenal and SAF with Man United.

    Just look at our opponent, Simeone doesn’t have better players than us (on paper) and has a much lesser budget but he CAN MAKE THE MOST out of the players at his disposal just like most other managers in football does.

    1. If remember correctly, Simeone won River Plate a league in his first season and then got them relegated or had such a poor outing that he got sacked. Have some perspective. Sometimes changing a manager is not the solution. Could we have done a treble in the past seasons had Pep the great motivator stayed? I don’t think so. Sometimes we have to accept what we have and move ahead. I hope Tata gets one more season whatever be the results, let him put a stamp, so whatever it takes to do that, then bow out.

    2. I wish Atleti win both liga and CL. But then that would mean, sadly, they will look like crap next season. Thats understandable. With this kind of intensity, that too with a small squad, they wont have the same energy next season.

    3. Not to mention the “big” clubs coming for Koke, Ardan, Costa, etc. However, I think Simeone has created a, “us against the world” atmosphere that the players have clearly bought into. I don’t see many leaving. Maybe Costa because at his age he knows he has one more big payday coming and will want to take the money. Chelski probably. I do think Atletico will strengthen their squad size with the CL prize money they’ll earn this season. They’ll do well next season. Maybe not win the league, but will make a difference to who does. Maybe not make the Semi’s of CL, but will be the team no one wants to draw. In 12 months time the CL prize money nearly doubles. If they are able to hold on to key players this summer, they could make some serious noise for years to come. Stabilize their financial debt and build on their global brand. Personally, I love having 3 teams able to win the league. I’d like to get the 4-8 spots up to a competitive level as well. Then Liga would undoubtedly be the best int he world.

    4. I think Tata was too much passive with both the players and the board. May be the board said, oh Puyol can still play you see, and he says yes Puyol it is. He could have insisted for a CB during the winter transfer. And with the players too, when Xavi told him we play the Barca way, he seem to have just accepted it. But he could have then offered to resign or insisted he had alternate plans.
      But may be he really didnt have a plan as the Atletico match showed. Even for the fifth match of the season, he kept on repeating the same thing, didnt he? Equate this with Pep and the Classico series. Of course we must not compare Tata with Pep, which is very harsh.
      But I am sad Tata was clueless. Bringing in Alexis and Pedro, making all four of our attackers on the pitch at the same time reminded me of desperate moves of Maradona in the Germany match. Whats the use of all these forwards, when the midfield was dead.

      If he has real good plans for us, let him adopt it next season. Dont be passive, please.

  8. I think the big difference between them and us was that Simeone’s players were willing to die for him, whereas Tata’s weren’t even willing to run for him.

  9. Levon,

    One of my favorite posts in BFB history! Thank you so much. It really lifted the spirit and soul to read this. Hilarious! Hunter would be proud.

    “Our coach paced the sidelines with the expression of a helpless father whose children had been inducted by Charles Manson.”

    Unbelievable! I’m saving this to my bookmarks.

    1. I almost wet myself with glee, because I was thinking, “THAT is precisely the kind of individual magic, when all else fails, that … never mind … dang.”

  10. Not to take a literary turn, but folks really interested in Hunter S. Thompson should start with a compilation called “The Great Shark Hunt.” It’s writings, short stories, stuff from Collier’s.

    What isn’t that well known is that Thompson, before he became Dr. Gonzo and to my tastes, rather a silly person, was an excellent reporter and writer as well as a gripping storyteller. That compilation contains examples of early and later Thompson, so it makes for a worthwhile volume/download/e-book/what have you.

    In many ways, Thompson’s early work can be characterized as a free jazz player having gotten a grounding a straight jazz then bebop, so that he could understand what he was doing when he went outside with the melody. Dudes like Cecil Taylor and the late, great Hal Russell are examples of that. It’s what I think of when I read (past tense) early, then late Thompson before he began the slide into self-parody.

  11. With UEFA and Chelsea confirming that Courtois will be playing all is well worth the world. That should be a winnable match for Atletico and hopefully it takes their concentration away from the league enough for us to get an advantage going into the last few games.

    RM v Bayern will be a great couple of games and a real test for both of them. I fancy Bayern even if they haven’t been very impressive recently, giving that Real should be trying to win instead of Utd just avoiding losses.

    The paper talk is positive about our summer and it looks like a big transfer season for us. I hope for a little bravery mixed with common sense and clear goals. If Tata is the one charged with taking our club forward then we better support him. If he is not then it’ll be even more complicated unless the replacement is already in place.

    1. MD is reporting that UEFA has accepted our appeal/request to stay the ban. So the process now begins, probably ending at the CAS, with that meeting (assuming no expedited process) coming around July or August.

      This could mean, if the club moves quickly and really is interested in spending that 120m, a metric shit ton of market action.

    2. I don’t think any manager, whether it’s Tata, Klopp, Pep, De Boer, or any other name appealing to culers can succeed with this board.

    3. Like most people I really like Klopp. He gets a huge amount out of his players and plays good football. If Tata isn’t going to get 100% support from our board then they should ship him out and get Klopp.

      Either way, what I want is a manager with control so that the buck would stop with him. I’m sick of the blame game being played whenever anything goes wrong without knowing whose responsibilities are what.

      Seeing what Simeone has done with Atletico makes me hope that we can once again reach that level of discipline and execution. It’s very rare but when it happens it is amazing.

      Koke has been amazing this season and anyone asking for Gundogan should really be asking for Koke instead. I’d be happy to buy Koke and offer Rafinha on loan to Atletico next season to see his progress.

      Another thing to add, for those worrying about our football if we had ‘real’ defenders, Atletico’s defenders don’t really play ball but their football is very effective. If our defenders could defend and get proper support from the rest of the team then we would win a hell of a lot of football matches with 60% possession instead of 70% with probably better football.
      When we were at our best in terms of our football we weren’t just keeping possession, we were creating 20 chances a match, these days, with the same possession stats we are creating maybe 4-5 chances.

    4. Possession football allows a side to pin back a defence and push the game up into their half. Then the most vital thing is the press. That’s where so many chances come from. You lose the football, they try to transition, you get it back and catch them out of shape. We don’t do that any more. That’s why our possession football has become so sterile. Barca needs to get rid of Xavi (I suspect he also has too much influence in the dressing room) and Cesc and bring into two midfield wolves (Rafinha – let’s not forget him – and Gudongan??) and maybe make Messi play a lot more on the midfield (which might force him to defend).
      The 4-0 against Milan shows just how potent that sort of strategy is, even against good sides.

  12. What’s with the news of Bartra is not included in match squad? Is it really harmstring injury or one of those “discomfort” to prepare for the copa final?

  13. Until Klopp is photographed standing next to Barça crest,

    Lets all support the guy who dragged our defence from ‘Beyond crap’ to ‘More than acceptable’

    Also, he introduced a legitimate Plan ‘B’ to our system,
    That’s what you all wanted, remember ?

    Atleti played extremely well, that’s not a lame excuse but honest praise.

    Wishful thinking : wish we could run like them.

    Reality check : if our players run like that, they won’t last long.

    1. You say that, but Simeone managed to make six of the players who’ve played the most minutes in La Liga outrun and out press our squad, which had not played as many minutes and therefore should have been fresher on balance.

      Just a stray thought; I wonder how he’d do in charge of Barcelona.

  14. I would’ve crowded out that midfield. Stacked it to the fukking rafters – 4 5 1. We know how demonically possessed they are at the Calderon, so why not go there and make it a midfield scuffle until it blows up in smoke, & leaves carnage. They’re a more subdued opponent at the Camp Nou naturally. If they’re gonna bully us, let them do so with less numbers in midfield. Messi’s been ineffective this term against Atleti in any case, so just leave him up front alone. Pack the freaking middle area with more players, & turn it into a scrum for the ball. Hose down that Atletico inferno, & their insane chompers. They maul you, you maul them back in numbers. Be more compact. Stem that tied by crowding that conceded part of the pitch, until you’re able to tiki & taka. Force the issue. Scramble for the ball by bunching the area out. Barca got bullied anyway. 4 5 1 would’ve meant being less bullied, a bit ‘defensive’, in terms of formation, but is it really, with a better chance of keeping the ball in that area. We couldn’t keep the ball at crucial times anyway. A 4 5 1 couldn’t have done it anymore harm. In any event we sucked defensively, so why not crowd them out.
    Pep Guardiola. Wise baldie. He’d tiki & taka much more intensely, quicker, with more precision, against high pressing teams. He’d make them play more compact. Playing closer together means, if you lose the ball, your teammate is closer in range to challenge for it, & turnovers often end up being oddside, more than if they’re less compact. &, pressing whilst being more compact, means the distance you travel is also shorter.

  15. I have been of the opinion of giving martino another chance. Not anymore. I do understandthat the majorityof the issuesfaced by our team is not his fault. It was making ofbthe management. But what he showed yesterdaywas all his fault. What is the point Itrying something again and again knowing clearly that that has failed every time. Yesterday we didn’t deserve to get the equaliser. But still bartra got us ine. Martino should have immediately brought in sancez so that we could take the initiative.

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