The first time I stepped on Spanish soil was in the year 2000, in Mallorca.
Two of my three uncles chose the early part of that year to snuff it, and my dad had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.
I had left my wife and two wonderful children over an ill-fated liaison with a drop-dead gorgeous secretary at the company I worked for. She was *dating* a man 25 years older than herself. He was a millionaire and drove a Bentley. He apparently wasn’t too hot on the physical or emotional side though; hence her interest in me.
When alive he was a life vice-president of a major club in the North East. I’ll give you a clue: they have just been relegated.
I was not a happy bunny, but I quickly got a lucky break and met the fantastic woman I’m with today. We went on a last-minuter to Magaluf (it was allocated on arrival, honestly).
And that’s where we met Raphael, a dedicated Barca supporter.
He was a typical Latino, warm-hearted and commercially orientated. He basically ran a money exchange with a car hire business on the side.
Three days into the holiday I was told I had been made redundant. The new millennium was shaping up nicely. Not.
Two days later a new personnel director took over at work and invited me back as a sub-contractor. And I got some redundo you wouldn’t sneeze at. I told Raphael about it.
I went into his office the next day in my City shirt, swatting the insects off as I entered. He laughed like hell. “Nobody Spanish wears yellow on the Island – and you can see why!” he said.
He decided to shut for an hour and take me to the Country Bar, aka the two Pepes’.
They had a parrot and whichever Pepe asked: “Te es aficionado de?” it would shout “Barca, Barca”.
Anyway Rafa advised me not to P my redundo up the wall but buy a finca – a large area of land with permission to build on if you greased the right palms.
I did just that, and that’s when I met Carlos.
Wearing a black training top to distract the insects, I spoke to my new neighbour for the first time while his dog, a Rhodesian Ridgeback called Keira, tried to kill me with kindness. I had to gently swing a boot to fend her off. Then there were the cats, kittens, chickens and everything else around to negotiate. This was Llucmajor in rural Mallorca, not Magaluf.
Kaki fruit and sweet and rather sickly Mallorcan wine were freely-given gifts, as were punnets of tomatos and potatos. And the occasional glass of some rather special brandy.
We had nothing to give back except to speak English with Carlo, his friend Antonio (who built our little chalet on the land) and their respective families.
We spoke of football, boxing, gardening and American movies all the time – common verbal currency, I guess. These folks loved to hear and attempt to speak English, although we probably learned more from them than they ever did from us. Carlo and his wife Theresa inadvertently got us both up to poco pocito standard, anyway.
Carlo, unlike Rafa, was a Real Madrid fan. And he remembered City putting up the fights we did against Bayern and Inter. He was totally respectful of what a “small club” could do. He once drove me to see Real Mallorca against Atletico Madrid (Eto’o, Nadal, Nino and Torres all played that night) and even with my rudimentary understanding of Spanish I loved his commentary on and understanding of the game.
On the way back he said he empathised with me: his birthright was Spain and Real Madrid – mine was England and Norwich City. No difference he explained; although he did have a wry smile on his face as he said it.
For his constant kindness, I “organised” him the famous white and purple reversible Real Madrid shirt thanks to my mate Andy at the then JD Sports in the City. Carlo was double delighted – it wasn’t even officially available in Spain at the time.
He worked as a painter at Palma Airport (like the Forth Bridge but warmer), but his real love was drawing cartoons. He inked me one of him running around the departure lounge in “my” shirt with a great big grin on his caricatured face. I hope I find it again one day. It’s around somewhere.
I went to watch RCD Mallorca several times after that on my own; occasionally with Carlo and once or twice with my partner. Twelve Euros a ticket, take your plastic glass of Cruzcampo lager into the Son Moix and avoid the flying cushions if you can. The hotels charged sixty – yes, sixty – Euros for a match ticket and coach travel of around 10 kilometres to the edge of Palma.
It was a proper second team, if you like.
I sold up on the Island at the same time as Mallorca dropped out of La Liga. Almost to the day.
With one segunda match to go they’re on the point of falling into the third tier. Too much funny money under the bridge, I’m afraid.
Of course, it happened to us as well, but unlike RCD Mallorca will probably ever do, we fought our way back up (and down) the ladder.
Second teams? Enjoy the experience of watching them but don’t get emotionally involved.
Which brings me back to my intro, but I think I’ll finish right here in this case