This week: Problems tabling your motion by Martin Bland.
How many successful transfers of British footballers to southern European clubs can you remember? Not many – Lineker to Barcelona in the Eighties, Bale and Beckham to Real Madrid, before that, John Charles to Juventus in the Fifties.
Most fail though. Stars of English football like Rush, Hughes, Cole, Owen, Gascoigne, Woodgate, Greaves and many more just don’t cut the Coleman’s mustard abroad. English football is all blood and thunder, played at 90mph on cold Tuesday nights in tumbledown places like Watford and Sheffield. You can’t run around for 90 minutes in the midday heat of Seville or Valencia so you have to make the ball do the work. Close control, tiki-taka passing, controlled movement are all essential skills for the successful footballer in Spain.
And so it is with füssball, table football, known as futbolín in Spain. Just because you’re the guy who stays on the table all night back home, dazzling onlookers with your ability to whack it forward, knock it side-to-side half a dozen times and then unleash a rocket into the space behind the opposition keeper who’s left standing like a lump of wood; it doesn’t mean you’ve got transferrable skills and a FIFA rating. The game’s different here – in fact, the Spanish actually claim to have invented table football.
The first issue you’ll notice is that the pitch is different. None of those beautiful flat surfaces you’re used to in the pubs of Manchester and Liverpool; much more like a double-ended Yeovil, with a downward slope towards the centre-line from each goal. A sideways glance to the bar to see if that next beer is on its way, and the ball has run away from you, and now nestles at the feet of an opposition play-maker.
Then there’s the question of formations. British tables are typically 2-5-3 with everything clogged-up in midfield but in Spain the players line up more like a Marcelo Bielsa murder-ball game with everyone piling forward and no interest in defending. Five up front facing just two defenders – if you score four we’ll get six, is the attitude here.
You pass your way forward in the bars of Spain, playing deft one-twos with the ball, keeping possession. And when you get the ball to the feet of your star forwards there’s none of that rapid sideways passing before shooting that the English practise for hours; with five forwards there’s not enough space and anyway, it’s not allowed, you have to pass the ball into the net – more Pablo Hernández than Peter Crouch.
But the biggest difference between the English and Spanish games is in the goal celebrations. Passion has been worked out of English goal celebrations by an unending desire to turn crowds into American style picnic-eating family days out.
Unless you’re a Leeds fan, unbridled carnage has gone from goal celebrations. Leicester have their happy-clappers, Chelsea their flag-wavers, Manchester United a stadium full of multi-camera Japanese tourists, and Arsenal their silent sleepers. Goal celebrations in Spain reflect the latino passion for dancing. Score a goal in futbolín and the other three players at the table disappear onto the dancefloor, performing a flamenco twirl or a salsa clinch with anyone and everyone who’s watching. It can take a good five minutes to restore order to the table.
So beware all British table football experts – futbolín is a different game. You might be the best player in the Pig and Stilton but you’ll be no big cheese on the table in Café del Pedro.
Martin Bland moved to Valencia from his native Yorkshire in 2004. An avid Leeds fan, he regularly organises trips for Leeds supporters to come to Castellón matches to pay tribute to Pablo Hernández – whose brother-in-law is the legendary golfer Sergio Garcia and who became a talismanic attacking midfielder for almost five years for ‘The Whites’ from January 2016 before returning to his birthplace Castellón during the pandemic. Martin has a fund into which Leeds fans donate – as someone who was formerly homeless, he uses these funds to supply Christmas parcels of food for those on the streets in Valencia.