90-minute escape. Then reality

Thursday.

Durban is grey, gloomy. The sun’s been up for a few hours but it’s hardly visible, hidden.

I’ve been up for a while myself, despite the late Wednesday night.

The last copy was sent in time to watch the Uefa Super Cup final, a cracker of a Madrid derby — even if it was played in Estonia — between Real and my Spanish team of choice, Atlético. Real won the Uefa Champions League and Atléticothe Europa League.

I’m stoked.


I don’t dig Real. Too much money, too many Galacticos, too much right-wing history. I used to dig Barcelona, back in the days of Oleguer Presas, arguably the most left-wing right-back the Catalan club ever had. That Barça is dead, buried under a pile of money, lies and dodgy dealings.

When Diego Simeone arrived at Atlético in 2011, I was done with Barça. Ready to move.

Simeone earned the nickname El Cholo during his playing days as a hard-as-nails defensive midfielder for Argentina, Atlético and Inter Milan. I loved watching him play.

Cholo was a mad, totally committed player, often over the top and sometimes a cynical bastard, but always for real, so when his coaching career took him back to Atlético Madrid, it was on.

Cholo’s worked some serious magic with Atlético. Turned them into a team that has taken the league off its wealthy rivals, marched its way into two Champions League finals, a winning side built on football, not money.

I’ve been waiting for years for Atléticoto beat Real in a European final. Show the world that unity, guts and will can beat money, hype and pedigree.

On Wednesday night they did it.

It took extra time for Simeone’s warriors to finish Real with a rather emphatic 4-2, a beautiful comeback after going 2-1 down, but finish Real they did.

Diego Costa had brought Atlético level with a second goal in the 79th minute, cancelling out the Karim Benzema header and the penalty by Sergio Ramos. Costa’s first goal was a superb individual effort in the opening minute of the game, his second the platform Atléticoneeded to get back in the game. It kept them there long enough for Saúl [Ñíguez]and Koke [Jorge Merodio] to bang in two more. Finish the deal. Properly.

Costa represents that spirit, that sense of will, that Simeone has instilled in his players. The big man is a thug, a menace, just like his boss, but he’s a marvellously talented footballer who runs his guts out for 90 minutes and would rather die than lose the game. One in the first minute and one in the 79th.

That’s good enough for me.

Cholo had to watch his team’s famous victory from the stands, thanks to a ban for swearing at a match official in last season’s Europa League semifinal against Arsenal. Atlético won the Arsenal game, but our man was still incensed by what he saw as dodgy refereeing.

Fair enough. That’s Cholo. The man’s a handful, but he can’t be accused of not caring.

Respect.

I wonder whether Unai Emery’s going to bring the same kind of warrior spirit to Arsenal. If Sunday’s outing against Manchester City is anything to go by, he hasn’t. Arsenal gave no sense of knowing what they wanted to do with the ball.

There was no midfield. Granit Xhaka and Mesut Ozil were as useless as last season. Missing. A comedy act, as if they were playing for somebody else. Emery might as well have started with Gordon Ramsay for all the good Aaron Ramsay was in the midfield.

All indications are that another miserable season lies ahead. Arsène Wenger may be gonebut his departure doesn’t appear to have introduced any sense of purpose, any steel, to the team.

Orlando Pirates’s Serbian coach Milutin Sredojevic — Michu to the Ghost — seemingly needs to channel his inner Cholo. Wednesday’s 1-0 loss to Wits was a soft one.

It’s time to work. I hit the remote. The highlights of the Super Cup are on. Saúl’s goal is a beauty, even on a second viewing. A delightful team effort, it’s a lovely image to start the day with. Football is like music. It lifts the spirit, takes you away to a different, glorious place where there’s no day-to-day, no boss, no bills, no death, no poverty. For those 90 minutes, the world ceases to exist. All that matters is what happens among the 22 players and the ball on the field. The world, the shit, can come later.

The news feed starts. The sense of wonder vanishes. Instantly.

It’s footage of the Marikana massacre. Six years on. It’s as shocking as it was on the day itself, horrific, an out-of-control orgy of violence and revenge by the cops. A massacre. Tragic, yes, but not a tragedy, as the cops and their masters would have us believe.It was a massacre. 

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Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper
Storyteller.

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