Pilgrims in black and white

What makes a ”che”? Locally, it’s no mystery. Fathers takes their sons to see the local team play, introducing their offspring to their city’s pride. Or friends and colleagues influence you to root for the team that they can see every weekend, and because the local news are full of it. As long as football is popular, most fans will be made in this manner. Others, an amplified phenomenon with the globalization, are worldwide fans of the megaclubs like Barça and Manchester United, where the Messis and Beckhams will be found.

But there are some that become fans of teams far away that they otherwise have nothing in common with. It was impossible for their fathers to take them there. And in most cases their friends and colleagues never brought that distant club into their lunch time chat. So how can someone from a remote Norwegian fishing town or a mountain village in Caucasus get engulfed in the spirit of ”valencianismo”?
I myself fell in love with the black and whites through a small banner with pictures of the players on it that was sent from my grandmother back when I was seven years old. After my granddad died, she spent the winter months in Mallorca instead of freezing back home. And she knew exactly what her grandson wanted to recieve when she sent a package home to Norway. Anything football related was sure to score!

I got banners from Real Madrid and Barcelona too, with players such as Hugo Sanchez and Diego Maradona on them. But it was a player on the Valencia ”banderín” that caught my attention; Mario Alberto Kempes. It made such an impression that, here I am, over 30 years later, waiting in glee to be one of the crowd in Mestalla’s stands. Not one bit less excited than I was back in 1982.

The others stories are similar. And different. The president of our peña was also hit by the ”Kempes virus” as a kid while accompanying his father watching Valencia matches in bars down in the Alicante area, sucking up the locals’ enthusiasm and cries of ”Goool!!!”. But we have another member who fell in love with the club through an old computer game, while randomly trying to manage the Valencia CF through bits of computer code.

Valencians will be surprised how many fans there exists around the world. In countries as far away as Oman, Australia, Vietnam, Guatemala, Hungary, Bangladesh. Most of them will probably never be able to visit their football equivalent of Mecca in Avenida de Suecia, but still follow everything that happens around the club, often relying on Google Translate for news in Valencian online newspapers. Many of them sit in front of a dodgy stream in the small hours of the night to watch the matches. Not even time zones can keep them from their love affair. When Valencia recently played away in remote Russia against Kuban Krasnodar, perhaps the most impressive performers were the members of the Russian ‘peña’, some of who’d traveled a thousand kilometers to watch what is generally seen as a half decent Spanish team. If those aren’t hardcore fans, I don’t know who is!

Now it us, the Scandinavians’, turn to show our colours in Mestalla against Real Sociedad. We’re not that many, but equally passionate. Most of us have waited a long time for this weekend. That precious free time between work and studies, and scarce money after the bills are paid is spent not on family, parties or buying a treat to our girlfriends, but instead invested in fulfilling a long ache and dream; shouting ”Amunt Valencia” from the top of our lungs from a concrete stand at Mestalla.


Pål Ødegård (@paalpot75)

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