I’m still recovering after a rowdy bout of celebration Sunday afternoon.
My favorite club, Valencia spanked the reigning champions of Europe and current villains of my football soul, FC Barcelona, 2-1 at the Mestalla.
It was a complete victory against a team going through a small mini-crisis.
Read this fascinating piece by master Spanish scribe Phil Ball about the crisis at the Nou Camp, which will precipitate their battle for La Liga and their defense of their European championship. Will Barcelona be able to blot out their drama? Or will it consume them, costing them a chance at immortality?
This team looked a lock at securing a run of titles. But as we know in sports, nothing is guaranteed. There’s even talk that Ronaldhino or Samuel Etoo could move on at the end of the season. Keep an eye on this unfolding story as they face off against Liverpool on Wednesday.
As for Los Che, what can I say? They’re the strongest team in La Liga by far, yet injuries and their own internal crisis have cost them points and stability. They find a way to implode when it matters most, against their bogey team Getafe or against smaller clubs like Recreativo. They shine when it’s needed most, against clubs like Barcelona and Real Madrid. For more on this, read Sid Lowe's take on this mysterious, calamitous club.
This Wednesday they travel to the San Siro to face off against another of their bogey teams, Inter Milan.
Inter have knocked Valencia out of European competition three of the last six years.
The Italian giants beat Valencia in the quarter-finals of the 2001-02 UEFA Cup before knocking them out at the same stage of the Champions League the following year.
They then thrashed Los Che 5-1 at the Mestalla in the group stages of the 2004-05 competition.
Not pretty stuff.
Inter are the most on-form team of the season, winning 16 consecutive games in Serie A.
To say I’m nervous is an understatement.
The story of my love of football would be incomplete without the story of Valencia. Although Valencia has absolutely nothing to do with my hopeful journey to Africa, the thought of going to Africa couldn’t have happened without the joy & inspiration Valencia FC has given me through the years.
They’ve allowed my love of football to grow exponentially.
Before Valencia came along, I didn’t have a cause to support, a club to hang my hat on, a team to pain over.
Now I know what it’s like to see devastating losses and painful defeats. But I also know the elation of championship runs, beautiful goals and victory celebrations. It’s utter stupidity at times, rooting for people you only know by name and number, an ocean away, kicking a ball without a personal thought for who you are (although in my case, I’ve met a handful of Valencia players).
But the weekly unfolding of the story gives life a little order, makes it just that much spicier.
I cheered vigorously for my boys on Sunday, my voice the lone one in a sea of azulgranas.
But I was loud, I was cheerful, I was grateful to lend my voice to Valencia’s claim to the title. I also drank way too many beers and my headache the next day attested to that.
It’s not always easy to root for a team that has no fans. Well, let’s not say it that way. Go to a bar in New York to watch the matches, and you’re surrounded by Manchester United, Barcelona and Real Madrid fans. You have your Celtic clan, the Arsenal group and the Chelsea boys. But where are the Valencia supporters? Where were they when the won the title in 2002, 31 years after their last championship? Where were they when they lost the Champions League in 2000 to bitter rivals Real Madrid? Or lost the final on penalties to Bayern Munich in 2001, Cañizares crying into his towel after the final penalty miss?
I sometimes wish I could watch a Valencia game with a throng of Valencia supporters (duh, go to Valencia you might say! You know what I mean though … ), hear the loud cheers when Villa scores, like I do at Barcelona games when Ronaldhino scores. But for now, it’s just me.
I’m often the only one supporting Valencia. I’m the one wearing the safety orange shirt or the red-and-yellow clown kit that fronts as the Valencian flag shirt. I’m known as Aimar by some, a fake Real Madrid supporter by others. I’m clapping alone, hooting and hollering when I see a great play or a defensive stop.
But there’s one thing I know. Valencia made me super proud this weekend. This blog, this dream of mine couldn’t have happened without them
Hopefully they’ll continue to inspire this week against Inter.