Juan Cruz: Olé, España! (But we're still a divided country ...)

No matter the make-up of our football team, they don't belong to all Spaniards

Related Topics

In the Spain team that was crowned European champions on Sunday night, only two men came from Real Madrid – the team favoured by the Franco regime and for years almost the sole provider of representatives for the national side. Barcelona – that emblem of Catalan nationalism – provided three players, and the team as a whole was notable for the fact that its members originated from all corners of Spain.

This was the Spain of diversity that our Prime Minister, Jose Luis Zapatero, likes to talk about, the Spain of territorial solidarity. For Zapatero, these claims are about calming nationalist emotions, which nowhere run higher than in the Basque country of the north. It's a diversity that is much more a football reality than a political reality, but nonetheless, at this moment, as Spain revels in the glory of its great victory, what these players have achieved remains powerfully symbolic.

Whether what has happened on the football field has longer-term consequences for Spanish politics, frankly I doubt. But people are enjoying it for now, and I've seen the effect myself.

I watched our semi-final against Russia at the home of a Catalan singer-songwriter, Joan Manuel Serrat. Years ago, during Franco's time, Joan had the opportunity to sing Spain's entry in the the Eurovision Song Contest, but he refused to take part in it because he wasn't allowed to sing in his own language, Catalan. That's how much the politics meant to him. Yet as we sat in front of the TV, every Spanish goal was celebrated with pride.

Then there was the final against Germany on Sunday. I watched this in Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands, surrounded by islanders who cheered the goal that turned out to be the winner as if they themselves had scored it. And then, in the streets, cars hooted with the same unbridled enthusiasm which has been a feature of the Spanish media these last three weeks.

The other day, before the final, Jose Montilla, the leader of the Catalan government, wrote an article in La Vanguardia, the Barcelona-based daily: "Why do I want Spain to win?" The answer is simple: the Spanish team belongs to all Spaniards, to all who want to be Spanish, to those who are not sure, and to those who would like to refuse. That's because it is diverse and it is good, and because its players today represent some of the best football in the world. If the team was no good, we wouldn't care whether or not it was diverse, and it wouldn't matter. But it is a good team. It's a pleasure to support this team, even if there are those who would rather not admit it.

The fact remains that this team has become consolidated much faster than the project Zapatero is overseeing. There have been politicians – Catalan and Basque separatists – who, on the eve of the Russia match, said they would rather they beat us, arguing that as a "new" country, Spain's opponents needed their support. But the footballers didn't let the political push and pull get to them, and it seems that within the team neither the Basques nor the Catalans have been too worried about this tiring atmosphere, which so often dominates Spanish politics.

There's a Valencia player, Marchena, who comes from Andalusia, who has been working on improving his Catalan (which he has learned in Valencia) with his team-mates Puyol and Xavi, and in general, the pressure of nationalist polemics has remained outside the boundaries of the team.

The rest of the team tell the same story of a great coming together. Of the two Real Madrid players, the goalkeeper, Iker Casillas, comes from Mostoles, a town on the working-class belt of the Spanish capital, while the defender Sergio Ramos is from Seville. Of the three Barca players, Iniesta was born in Fuentealbilla, a tiny village in Albacete, La Mancha. The other two, Xavi and Puyol, are Catalan. The rest of the team come from all over: the Canary Islands, Asturias, Valencia. There's even a Brazilian, Senna, now a naturalised Spaniard and one of the revelations of the tournament.

It was noted that at some difficult moments of the tournament, sparks flew within the team that in times past – when they were trapped by the belief that they would always lose – would have ignited fires. This time, however, the Spanish side has been blessed with the victory gene.

Still there is something that prevents the team from belonging to all Spaniards. Nearly 80 per cent of Spanish viewers saw the games Spain played, but the percentage came down 20 per cent in Catalonia and the Basque Country. Then again it was up to 80 per cent in the Canary Islands, the region which is farthest from the Spanish mainland, and where there are periodic bursts of nationalist feeling. Are we sure the Catalans and the Basques don't want Spain to win? Not really.

The writer is an author and columnist on 'El Pais'

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Business Project Manager

£350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Project Manager job vaca...

Business Analyst (Agile, SDLC, software)

£45000 - £50000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Day In a Page

Read Next
80 per cent of Commonwealth countries discriminate against LGBTI people - will Salmond speak out?  

Alex Salmond must speak out against the Commonwealth's homophobic countries

Peter Tatchell

Commonwealth Games 2014: Speak out against homophobia, Mr Salmond

Peter Tatchell
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor