Sit down at a word processor and write the story of this Barça season, then shake your head. It’s crazy.
It’s always difficult to speak for everyone in a group, but these days are a pretty bizarre ride for this here culer.
And by “these days” I mean the last decade, from Ronaldinho’s samba football and Guardiola’s divine triangles to “Get em!” Enrique. What a time to be a culer, no matter when you came to the club.
It’s why it’s appalling when people want to make new fans somehow feel lesser because of when they came to the club. My interest in Barça started when the club was happy just to make Europe, much less dominate it. But that makes my joy no more or less real and valid than someone who just started following the club because they like Messi, and thought Guardiola was cool. Hell, people who are newer supporters find a lack of success even more wrenching than those who understand trophyless seasons and failure.
The culerverse is a big place.
But it’s still a bizarre ride because in this fairy tale season, a club and a team have embodied every single aspect of sport, and life. It’s still even deeper than that.
On April 27, 2014, Barça faced off against Villarreal. It was two days after the death of the club’s beloved Mister, Tito Vilanova. In a dark back room of a Chicago pub, lit only by the glow of flat-panel television sets, I sat on a bar stool and tried to hold it together during the moment of silence that preceded the match. It was impossible, just as it is impossible right now, as I type this.
And yet, in thinking about that time, staring at a laptop screen made blurry by a veil of tears and then thinking about today, comes the reminder that being culer is about everything. It’s rage, anger, mistrust, suspicion, delight, giddiness, exultation. It’s feeling betrayal as a favorite player is sold, it’s being happy when something wonderful happens to a millionaire in short pants who has no idea that you even exist. Sport consumes us because it is life, a crazy movie that lasts 90 minutes, breathless cliffhanger and love story.
I don’t care about the personal lives of the players, but you don’t have to look very hard to see magic and symbolism in the Iniestas welcoming a new child into the world in this amazing season, after the sadness of a miscarriage during a year that seemed cursed. If you were to write a story of a team and a season, this Barça and this season, and try to sell it as a book or movie, it would be rejected. “Make it more like real life, and we’ll think about it.”
Right down to Xavi lifting the Champions League trophy this has been a year of magic, culminating in making history and a club legend going out on top. This stuff is impossible to write. You wouldn’t dare. Too cheesy. The team’s last Champions League trophy was hoisted by a man who kicked cancer in the teeth, who left a note in the locker room of the stadium that hosted the final, a promissory note of greatness. And when that team’s Captain marched up to the podium, handing over the captain’s armband and letting that player hoist the trophy … “Make this story more like real life, and we’ll think about it.”
Xavi is past it. So many believed it. The line of fools has a spot reserved for me. Because Enrique knew better, he asked Xavi to stay. And when that player entered the pitch to finish what his successor in Iniesta started, to restore order and help the team that he spent his entire playing career at achieve ultimate success, the team that he almost left for fear he wouldn’t make it there …
“Make this story more like real life, and we’ll think about it.”
Belief and doubt. Even the most pessimistic among us has, deep down in their heart, hope and belief. You have to. People stomp around on Twitter, asserting that something is NEVER going to happen, but even they hope that it does. That’s the magic of it all, placing your joy in the hands of a complete stranger, then hugging a complete stranger when that joy is realized. But being culer is, in these emotional ways, no different than being a supporter of any other club. It would be wrong of us to assume otherwise, but it would also be wrong of us to feel those special moments any less, tears of joy and heartbreak. Their being universal helps us understand and explain them more easily.
Sport is life. I know people who don’t like sports, and it’s a little difficult to grasp their reasoning, because sport is life. In a match you can go from unparalleled joy to heartbreak in a few rotations of a spherical object. Great players do great things, great players fail. Journeymen have moments of divinity and become, for a few moments, superhuman. They often just as quickly return to mere mortality. It’s magic. The movies love sport because that world is bigger than real life in ways that make sane folks shake their heads. “No way. That didn’t just happen.”
It’s weird to wake up the day after something, and check to make sure it actually happened. Barça won a treble yesterday. Its supporters have a team for the ages, a team impossible to assemble so it was grown on-site, hewn from diminutive players who would have come up short elsewhere. Its superstar needed medical intervention to reach “normal” size, even as he is still physically a small man striding among giants, even as he has grown into the best player in the game, a genius who sets records and makes history with metronomic regularity.
Naaaah! Make this story more like real life, and we’ll think about it.