Rooting From Afar

Real Madrid accused players from Barcelona of being racist and cheating. (AP)
Real Madrid accused players from Barcelona of being racist and cheating. (AP)

Sometimes it's easier to love at a distance.

Live in the city where your favorite team plays, and you will witness each dumb thing said by your favorite player. (If you're fortunate, when he's stopped for driving under the influence, he won't say "Do you know who I am?") You will see the manager's whiney complaint about a call proven hollow by the replay. You will almost certainly come to regard the team's owner as a greed-addled accumulator of baubles…a man who thinks of his ownership stake in the pro sports dodge as a bright badge of patriotism, and honestly believes he's entitled to every dollar of public money he can grab, and also more, when he wants a new building.

I'm sure my distance from the lads who wear the uniform of F.C. Barcelona is one of the reasons I've remained a fan of the most accomplished soccer club on the planet. Sure, it doesn't hurt that they win so regularly, but distance from the beloved object cannot be discounted. I follow the team's progress on their web site. I watch televised games when I can. But because I am here and the Barca players are there, I do not have to know as much about them as I am doomed to know about players on our shores, such as that they lie under oath, or that they will do anything to get on Oprah, or that they put crumpled newspapers around their beds to foil the approach of sneaky ghosts.

But this spring has been challenging, even for a Barcelona fan who is a U.S. citizen incapable of reading the sporting press of Spain without getting a lot of the words wrong.

Partly because Barcelona has played their rival, Real Madrid, four times over the past few weeks, and partly because it is Barcelona, rather than Madrid, which has wrapped up the domestic league title and advanced to the Champions League Final, Madrid's players have called Barca's lads racists who fall over for no reason while somehow coercing the officials into bending every game Barcelona's way.

Watching as Barcelona has prevailed over Madrid through brilliant play in every game except the Copa del Rey final has been satisfying, but hearing the Barca players called phonies, cheaters, and bigots has reinforced my conviction that sometimes it's better to keep the object of one's affection on a pedestal that is in another country. Because although the charges levied against the Barca players by the Madrid players and their coach sound like the pissy trickle of wine squeezed from sour, Spanish grapes, I don't KNOW that those nasty charges are entirely hollow. What I know is that soccer as played by Barcelona has been exquisite, even inspiring. I feel that the beauty evident in their play is a kind of truth, and, to paraphrase Keats, that's all I need to know. It's all I want to know. And that's a state of heart and mind easier to occupy when one sits some distance from the game.

This program aired on May 5, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.


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