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Roma Diaries #1: Seville, Sticky Floors, Madrid & Mirko

Real Madrid v AS Roma - UEFA Champions League Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images

The streets of Seville are a labyrinth of cobblestone. I cross my way through them, listening to the sounds of the city. Beer splashes with flamenco taps, somewhere a woman’s cackling laughter resonates, and the smell of fried tapas wafts from a nearby café. It is dark, but the golden light of the cathedral looms over everything, kissing shadows like a lover leaving. I walk through the shadows.

At a corner market I grab a litro of Cruz Campo, fuel for my fandom. Despite the clouds in the distance, the spring rains remain dormant, yet I walk like a man in a downpour, each step quicker than the next. I drink the beer in long swigs. Soon it’s half empty and that good feeling comes. I am ready. Roma red bleeds through my jacket.

A commotion grows as I near the pub. Midweek Champions League means more people, more drinking, more shouting. I finish the litro in the darkness of an alley. The bottle clanks as it falls. In Spain the Roma fans hide, or at least that is what I think, entering the bar a lone wolf. Crowds gather under wall-mounted televisions. Dejected Sevillistas linger about, still heartbroken from the previous night’s loss to Fenerbahce. My heart too weighs a little less after having watched the penalty shootout. How my host-mother had cried. How the city had cried. But I am no true Sevillista. And I do not shed tears for Los Nervíonenses. Only for Rome. Only for Roma.

On screen, a team as white as God’s teeth exits the tunnel. The Santiago Bernabéu roars. The not-so Galacticos stand side by side, clearly eager to be under the spotlights. Even through the speakers the sound is deafening. I hate them. A team built on riches. But they are not the team of my youth, and as I watch them trot onto the field a certain confidence arises: Roma are better. Led by the bald magician Spalletti, they are fierce and quick. And we have Francesco Totti, and they don’t.

With a slender 2-1 lead after the first leg, the Giallorossi take the pitch in all black kits. A chess match against the whites. The white king, Raúl. The black king, Totti. Who will be standing at the end?

The away goal is like a splinter in my paw, and though it is not enough to debilitate me, it is there, a reminder of pain and mortality. I feel a pit in my stomach, a void incurable by beer and cigarettes. I order a beer anyway and find a place in the back where I can bite my nails down to the skin. The absence of red does not go unnoticed, and I remain quiet, masking both my Americaness and my allegiance to Roma. The match starts and all of a sudden my beer is gone.

Madrid needs one goal. One goal. And of course the match is a back and forth mess, a physical affair hampered by fouls. Taddei looks more like a lumberjack than an attacking player, hacking down Heinze, Robinho, and even Casillas. It is hard to watch, my heart races. And then Aquilani hits the post and the crowd thunders. I begin to look around the bar and I realize the Sevillistas want Madrid to lose. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. And a newfound confidence arises within me as I shed my jacket and let the burgundy of Roma send fire throughout the pub.

At halftime the score is deadlocked and I need more beer. A drunk Brit at the bar banters, taking a look at me and wrangling me into his nonsensical conversation. He and his mate, both Liverpool fans, spy me for a Yank and apparently believe me to be the officiant of their argument.

“Eh, you would know, and tell me what is this baseball game all about? I don’t get it, its rules I mean, what the hell is going on?”

It is then I notice a solitary television displaying a classic baseball match, which I find odd. I can hardly understand the Brits’ accents and so I quickly settle the bet about what a homerun is.

“Oye, I bloody told you so,” one of them says.

Beer in hand I leave, and realize the second half has already started. Reclaiming my spot in the back, I watch the game continue much like it had in the first half. Pepe, always the antagonist, is doing his best Taddei impression, taking out players at will. It’s dodgy alright. Can Roma really manage to keep a clean sheet? Doni does not inspire hope, perpetually looking groggy as if he has just awoken from a deep nap. The minutes wane. Another thump against the post, this time Vučinić, and the crowd again is howling. They can do it, Roma can do it, they are so damn close.

Suddenly, the bar erupts again as Pepe is given a second booking, and off he goes flapping his arms like the pterodactyl he is. Now more than ever, I feel hope spring from within. Ten men. Real Madrid are down to ten men with less than 20 minutes to go. And then another roar thunders as Max Tonnetto curves in a cross to Taddei who leaps and heads the ball into the net. Casillas doesn’t even move. A waterfall of beer cascades to the floor and I howl, embracing the man next to me who returns it warmly. Almost everyone is cheering, all except the few Real Madrid fans who curse at the screen with raised hands.

The Giallorossi are going to win. I can hear Roma Roma Roma singing with the wind from across the Mediterranean. And just as all my insecurities about Roma fade, an offside Raúl whips the ball around Doni and the score is tied again. The Real fans hop up and down as the bar loses its life. I openly threaten the linesman as if he can he hear me. Yet, Roma still hold the aggregate lead.

Each minute that passes I lose a year of my life. But soon it’s the 90th and I can breathe. The floor beneath my feet is sticky and wet from where my beer had spilled, and as I look down at the puddle, Roma is awarded a free kick. Take your time, lads. Take your time. I see Panucci step up, which seems peculiar as Totti and Pizarro are both on the field, but I hardly gripe. So nonchalantly the right-back steps up that no one would expect for it to find the head of Vučinić who blasts the ball past Casillas. And that is it. No more fear, no more doubt. Roma has won. Defeating the so called royalty of Spain. And as the cheers rise throughout the bar, I look around in awe of where I am, what has happened, and the future ahead.