On Saturday night, I’d arranged to go out to celebrate a friend’s birthday. It also happened to be the evening of the final of the Copa del Rey – the Spanish equivalent of the FA Cup (sort of, although the matches are played over 2 legs) – in which Valencia would be playing against Barcelona.
Now, I’m not going to claim that I’d known a lot about it. Funnily enough, I had been aware of Valencia’s progression (and eventual defeat) in the Europa League, but I guess that’s because it was an international competition. I seem to be more tuned in to what’s happening internationally than nationally (and that goes for the news too).
Anyway, having found out a few days beforehand that it was happening, I thought it might have been nice to go down to the fanzone, but having already arranged to go out with Jess I quickly dismissed that thought. It’s not like they stood much of a chance anyway, right? Especially as Barcelona had won it for the last four years in a row.
But as I was getting ready to go out, I heard an almighty cheer from above (and I mean the flat above, not actually from the heavens!) and that long, trademark Spanish exclamation of goooooooooooooooooool!
So it seemed they had scored. Good for them.
I finished getting ready, gathered my things up and set off for Jess’s flat. On the way, there was another big cheer. Surely they hadn’t scored again? It couldn’t possibly be 2-0 to Valencia, could it?
But I arrived at Jess’s flat and it was true. She was watching the first half on her laptop (with commentary in Dutch – see how we internationals live?!) and indeed it was 2-0. And soon it was half time.
We decided to go down to the bar to watch the second half. But soon we started to wonder if it hadn’t been a mistake. Valencia looked jittery. Somehow, they managed to keep the ball out time and time again, but it gave me flashbacks to watching Newcastle matches back home. Start strong and then throw it all away. If Barcelona scored, little hope remained.
And then, it happened. A header came in and was pushed away by the goalie but Messi was there to pounce. 2-1. It was surely all over.
The next seventeen minutes went by in an agony of last ditch defending. The clock ticked slowly down. We held our breath. Surely we didn’t dare to dream?
It’s worth pausing at this point to consider how entirely we had been swept up into supporting Valencia. It’s not like I’d even known the match would be happening a few days earlier. And yet suddenly there I was, practically biting my nails as I waited for the time to tick away, desperate for Valencia to hang on.
And then the 90 minutes were over. The board went up and there was a collective groan throughout the bar. Although we’d predicted 5 minutes would be added on, we’d hoped for 4… or 3. But 5 it was. Surely they couldn’t see it out.
But they did. And then the whistle was blown and the bar went mad and we were high-fiving each other and generally feeling on top of the world. And why not? It’s the first time I’ve lived in a city that has won a major football competition, and to be there in that bar, in that moment, was magical.
There was a parade yesterday for the team to show off their prize. I went along but hung back, allowing the true Valencia fans to take their place en primera fila. There was clapping. There was cheering. There was much honking of horns. There was much taking of photographs. I couldn’t help wondering whether the bus had been decorated before the final (which would seem somewhat presumptuous) or afterwards (which would have been a challenge). I didn’t recognise many (any?) of the players. But it didn’t matter. There was the cup. There was the flag. There were the fans. And I was there too, clapping and smiling and feeling all warm inside.
There was something in the news the other day about the mayor of Valencia saying that the city welcomes its international residents with open arms and values their contribution. Standing there in that bar on Saturday night, and on that pavement yesterday, I felt truly accepted, welcomed, embraced by the city. I felt like I belonged.
Valencia isn’t just a place I’m visiting. It’s home.