It could be any given Sunday in Sant Andreu from October to March. The pedestrian streets are deadened by overcast skies and shuttered shops. A brave few venture out to shoo away the winter doldrums. They are drawn like moths to the only sign of life: a football match hosted by the Unió Esportiva Sant Andreu.
This is far from the Neverland of Neymar Jr. This is the grown-up world of artificial turf, of rudimentary municipal stadiums, of long bus trips in the fourth tier of Spanish football. This is the untelevised reality of dozens of small clubs scattered across Barcelona whose zone of relevance ends at the neighborhood limits; earthbound, century-old clubs like Sant Andreu, Júpiter and Europa struggling against oblivion.
Minute 0: The 6,563-seat Narcís Sala stadium is nearly half-full for the noon kickoff. The whistle blows and the Sant Andreu’s red-and-yellow à la senyera mixes with the bright-pink of CF Peralada. A quiver of excitement fizzes through the clammy atmosphere.
Minute 7: ¡Ojo! Sant Andreu’s Jorge Muñoz unleashes a powerful shot. Up, up goes the ball, over the crossbar, over the dozen rows of stands, carrying the home fans’ hopes of a goal clear out of the stadium; it’s a home run that the towering Camp Nou would never allow. But seconds later everyone is asking their neighbor what the hell happened when the referee calls a penalty in the opposing area. Peralada’s Keita scores the spot kick. 1-0 for the visitors. Aforementioned fizz fizzles out.
Minute 9: The grandpas stir from their senior slumber and get down to the real business at hand: insulting the referee. Various expletives are combined to detail how inept, corrupt, or simply feces-like the ref truly is. One indignant voice stood out from among the rest. It is bodiless, universal, summing up the anger of all. This old man shows skill, timing his slurs with dips in the noise level so they carry onto the field.
Minute 25: The only group immune to the referee’s evil plan is the “Despredicis” penya, whose handful of members occupy the center of an otherwise empty section. While one man bangs away on a drum to lead their chants, another tirelessly waves a flag with the iconic Che-with-beret image bordered by the group’s “anti-ultra” motto. Make no mistake, these are warriors of the Left.
Minute 45: Halftime. Club president Manuel Comino warns a spectator not leave his mobile phone on the seat next to him. The presi then gives his take on the first half: “The penalty killed us.” He and the junta slip under the stands into the stadium’s inner sanctum to refuel on croquetes and cava before the second half.
Minute 62: Peralada’s Coro makes it 2-0, dooming the disappointed Sant Andreu faithful to half an hour of trying to will away the inevitable.
Minute 90: The referee indicates three minutes of stoppage time. The same incorporeal voice that has been all bile directed at the ref suddenly turns ecstatic, or possibly just ironic. Yes, that surely is well-aged sourness bubbling up in his cry, “Three minutes! Three goals!” Not even a chuckle. Everyone is filing toward the exit as the first drops of rain start to fall.