European Soccer Tour – Day 7: Barcelona and Texans vs CE Mercantil

Back home now, catching up on the final updates . . .

Day 7 of our tour dawned clear and bright in Barcelona. This place really has beautiful weather – and a cheerful Spanish nonchalance toward air conditioning. We were pretty warm all week.

the view from the back of our hotel, the hotel Alimara

We ate breakfast at 9:00am and then hopped on the green line. Conveniently, the subway’s Mundet stop is just a short walk from our hotel.

This guy got on at one of the stops, stood right in front of me, and serenaded us for awhile.

He was pretty good

We disembarked at Passeig de Gràcia and began walking through the beautiful sun-kissed streets of downtown Barcelona.

Barcelona’s pretty

Barcelona is a beautiful, clean city, framed in bright blue skies with cooling breezes blowing off the Mediterranean. It offers grand vistas from nearly every tree-lined downtown street. Though only a two hour flight south, Barcelona is a marked change from England. The British people are – speaking very generally here – handsome but in a homely, blue-collar way. They are as comfortable and familiar as a pint over bangers and mash and lovely though somewhat hard-bitten. They differ from Barcelonans as their chill northern overcast differs from the bright Spanish sun.

The people of Barcelona are beautiful; the women are striking, the men toned and athletic. Their tans are the very definition of golden, and remarkably even, which makes sense after one observes some of the local customs on the Barcelona beaches, but more on that (perhaps) in a later update. Though Barcelona’s weather can be hot, Barcelonans (unlike this pasty-white Norteamericano) don’t sweat, they glisten. I was struck by how young the city seems; at times I wondered if we had somehow stumbled into a Latino version of Logan’s Run.

As we walked down Passeig de Gràcia we came upon Casa Batlló, which is a creation of the famed Barcelona architect and artist Antoni Gaudi, descriptions of who’s work resulted in our modern adjective gaudy. But that does him a disservice. Gaudi’s creations are breathtaking and naturalistic, and they almost look as if they have grown up from living stone. The Casa Batlló, also called the Casa dels Ossos (house of bones), is on the Illa de la Discòrdia (the “Block of Discord”), and what a cool address to have, no?

La Casa Batlló

We continued on to the Plaça de Catalunya, which is the city center of Barcelona, filled with sculptures and a large fountain, where we caught our tour bus.

The Plaça de Catalunya

The city tour was interesting, mainly featuring views of Barcelona’s architecture and descriptions of the great changes that occurred in the city in preparation for the 1992 Barcelona Olympic games. Below are some pictures snapped on the tour.

The Cathedral of Santa Eulalia

A view of Barcelona’s port. Note the ubiquitous McDonalds signs

Blake fell asleep during the tour. It’s been a long few days

Arriving at the coast, the tour guide noted that in recent decades the beaches were mainly populated by shanties, before the Barcelona renaissance that reached its pinnacle in the Olympic transformation. The shanties, by the way, have been “removed” so that the lovely beaches could be established. In another instance, when we passed a park, the guide noted that the families that had been living on the park land were “evicted”. Disconcertingly, what became of those families and the occupants of the shanties was not reported to us.

One of Barcelona’s many beaches

We passed by the Peix, a beautiful golden fish sculpture by Frank O. Gehry that catches the sun each day

The Peix

This sculpture by Antoni Llena is called “David and Goliath”

We stopped for ice-cream and a bathroom break near Antoni Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia cathedral. This cathedral was an obsession for Guadi in the final decades of his life. His work on it started in the late 1800s and continued until he was killed in 1926 after being hit by a tram. As you can see in the image below, it is still under construction, more than 100 years after work was begun. The effort on it has been stopped several times, due to interruptions such as the Spanish Civil War of the late 1930s, among other things.

This cathedral is breathtaking, and looked to me like something you might find in Tolkien. It appears nearly organic in its structure, and is my favorite Barcelona building. I now wish I had taken the opportunity during the next day’s free time to go inside it.

The Sagrada Familia cathedral

A closer view of the stations of the Cross on the front of Sagrada Familia

Following the bus tour and lunch at La Vaca Paca, a Spanish bufet restaurant (I may have already mentioned it, but Spanish food is delicious), we went back to the hotel so the boys could prepare for a match that night against CE Mercantil.

We loaded the bus and headed to Sabadell, a town about 20km from Barcelona, which is home to Mercantil. We arrived at the soccer pitch, which was very nice, featuring artificial turf, locker rooms, showers, and – a bit foreign to American soccer parents but a feature at both stadiums we played at – a concession featuring a working bar. Spanish soccer moms do enjoy a cold cerveza to go with their cigarettes in the stands during a match.

The Mercantil logo

We became acquainted with some of the Mercantil parents, communicating primarily through translation provided by Flora and Martha, some of the bilingual Texans parents. The Mercantil parents were very nice. The mentioned to us that on the current FC Barcelona roster there are eight players who came from Mercantil, which should have been a warning to us for what was about to happen.

Mercantil parents

Before the match we took a team picture with the Mercantil players, who were wearing FC Barcelona colors. Another overlooked warning sign.

The Texans and EC Mercantil. A custom here, from what I can gather, is to pose with the opposing team’s national flag.

Below are two action shots taken during the game.

Blake on the throw-in

Fighting for the ball

Basically, and I don’t know how to state this delicately: we had our behonkuses handed to us on a hubcap in this game. The final score was 7 to 1, Mercantil. They were just an extremely good team, and they played in the same style as FC Barcelona. It is a more elegant, skilled and possession-based brand of soccer than what we saw of the British style, which is more direct and frenzied. These boys were very good.

I got some coaching from Flora on how to say the word “team” and then said to the Mercantil parents sitting near me, “Tu equipo es muy bien” (your team is very good). They looked a little confused but smiled politely back at me. My guess is that I mangled the Spanish and they may not have understood what I said.

Our older boys played the next game against Mercantil’s older team, and lost 3 to 0. Mercantil is just a very good team. As Callum, our loaned Scottish goalkeeper stated after our game, “they were a very good side”.

The Sabadell Mercantil facility. It was very nice

Before we left, one Sabadell nino who couldn’t have been more than 8 years old was shooting goals against some of our players, and making many of them, even though the goal was stuffed with seven or eight of our guys at a time. Every time he shot, he would squeal out a high pitched “MESSI!”.

Needless to say, we left with nothing but respect for our competition. I was proud of our boys. They played hard and with a lot of heart. In their defense, they have had a long week, have been doing a lot of travel, and were playing on an unfamiliar surface in an unfamiliar stadium, at the end of a very busy day after a previous night where they got to bed about 3:00 am. After running the table in England, both of our teams had now tasted defeat in Spain. But there is another game, and perhaps redemption, coming on day 9.

We ended our day with a late dinner at La Fresca, another Barcelona Bufet. It was fabulous.

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