Can I begin with an apology? This is my first post on Soccerlens about La Liga and its turned in to a bit of a rant. Sorry.
You know that feeling of mild surprise you get when you look up from your newspaper and suddenly realise that the train you had been waiting for has arrived on time? Well, that’s kind of how it feels in Spain when the football authorities actually get something right.
Unfortunately, there have been no pleasant surprises in Spain ahead of this weekend’s match between Real Betis and FC Barcelona: a match that, in the time it has taken me to write this, has just been moved from Madrid to Seville.
When I started writing this an hour ago at three o’clock on Friday I had no idea where this Saturday’s game was going to be played.
Once again the people in Spain responsible for organising a game of football have shown how utterly incompetent they are at organising a game of football.
Ever since Real Betis were handed a two-game stadium ban plus a 9,000 euros fine after a fan threw a bottle at Athletic Bilbao goalkeeper Armando during their league clash on March 15, everyone involved in the whole affair has done nothing but drag the reputation of Spanish football through the dirt.
The Betis hierarchy have behaved little better than the idiot who threw the bottle – and at least he had the excuse of being drunk at the time.
I should probably explain.
Real Betis appealed against their punishment and refused to seek an alternative ground in case their appeal failed. Setting the tone for the next couple of weeks, the acting Betis President Pepe Leon singled out Spanish FA president Angel Maria Villar for overseeing:
“a serious and wrong despotic act against Betis and their fans. I haven’t seen such a persecution against Betis since the days of Franco’s dictatorship. We want to say that this is a savage act.”
So, instead of allowing the matter to resolve itself in the board rooms and court rooms, the Betis President effectively took the matter to the terraces: creating a culture of victimisation amongst the supporters while stoking up passions in a country that still bears the scars of civil war with talk of fascists and dictatorships.
Then, on Thursday evening, the Spanish FA decreed that Betis’ argument against the ban was “entirely rejectable” and announced that the ban would be upheld and the game against Barcelona must be played in Madrid.
A last minute attempt by Betis to have the match moved to the Olympic stadium at La Cartuja in Seville was rejected on the grounds that the stadium would not be ready to host a match in time.
This means, of course, that Betis face having a fixture moved to the Vicente Calderon for the second time in five years: the last time was during the 2002/03 season when their ground was closed because of fans throwing flares from the stands.
How have Betis responded to this decision?
“This club takes no responsibility for any incidents that may arise as a cause of the match between Real Betis and FC Barcelona being played at the Vicente Calderon in Madrid,” read an official club statement.
“We are being treated like savages and idiots” fumed the Betis president – only using racist terms that this blogger will not repeat.
“We are talking about a very serious incident in Madrid. For the first time in the history of football we will have fans from four teams, all of whom, are absolute rivals, meeting up in the same city. It is an act of terrorism because terrorism is what happens when you put the lives of others in danger. It is corruption taken to the extreme,” said a lawyer acting on behalf of Real Betis.
And now, literally as I type this, at four o’clock on Friday evening, after having just booked a flight and hotel in Madrid – the Committee of Sports Discipline have announced that the game will take place at Real Betis’ ground in Seville.
Of course, we could all just have a laugh about it, shrug our shoulders and say “oh, those crazy Spanish.”
However, we are now talking about a game of football being played in an atmosphere in which the supporters feel themselves the victims of a “despotic dictatorship” at a club that in spite of having an appalling track record in terms of discipline is willing to publically wash it’s hands of any responsibility and effectively encourage its fans to start a riot.
We are, remember, talking about a club in which the real victim in all of this (remember him? the guy who suffered a serious eye injury as he tried to play a game of football) described his treatment by the staff at Betis as “utterly shameful” and who said that he “would have needed to have been in a coma to have got any support from the club’s officials.”
But let’s not point the finger of blame solely at Real Betis for this fiasco. What about the Spanish FA? The same FA that is threatened with expulsion from UEFA competition because the government is insisting on intervening because it failed to call presidential elections on time.
We currently have a president willing to rush through a ban that leaves us all in limbo 24 hours before kick off when he is happy to fail to enforce a four year old stadium ban upon Barcelona for a similar incident.
Take a big deep breath…..and calm.
This is supposed to be a blog about how fantastic La Liga is. And it is. I still believe that.
But while we still have this level incompetence at every level, while we still have club presidents using racist terminology and fans monkey chanting on the terraces, while fans don’t know when and where they are supposed to be watching a game of football and can’t even rely on seeing it on television because those responsible have completely mucked that up as well – then La Liga won’t be that fantastic for that much longer.
The people running the game in Spain have been recently debating why La Liga has fallen so far behind the English Premier league. Perhaps, the people running the game need to have a long hard look at the people running the game.
I’m off to catch a train to Seville. And to have a long hard look at the people running the trains…
Lee Watson runs La Liga Review.