Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Bleachers' Brew #105 More Than A Game

(This appears in my Monday April 28, 2008 column in the Business Mirror.)

More Than A Game
by rick olivares

In a pub, one man said to another, "My wife thinks I put football before marriage. That’s rubbish. Why we just celebrated our third season together."

When the late Bill Shankly made his bold proclamation about football being more important than life and death, many thought that it was mere hyperbole. After the Heysel and Hillsborough disasters, some ventured that the famous quote bordered on the extreme. Yet one thing is for sure, the game does permeate itself into one’s consciousness the torpedoes be damned.

Between reports that men prefer to go to a sporting event to having sex -- Deportivo La Coruna's midfielder Julian de Guzman* promised that if he scored against Real Madrid earlier this year, he would give up sex for a whole year. "I don't have a girlfriend and I'm willing to make sacrifices to help the team beat the leaders," he said. "I know what it's like to score against [Madrid keeper Iker] Casillas and it was like an orgasm” -- and how divorces can be even more acrimonious when it comes to those season tickets, football is now seeking to unite in many ways rather than be divisive like a hooligan.

A full Heathcotes wedding awaits those who live and breathe Liverpool FC at their home field of Anfield. It isn’t solely “You’ll Never Walk Alone” that you can sing together, but songs of Holy Matrimony! And now no wedding has to be interrupted with occasional updates on scores, yellow cards, and substitutions. You’re right there above the Kop where the bride and the groom can tell whoever is marrying them to “get on with it” so they can get on with the game.

Liverpool literally rolls out the red carpet for the bride and groom’s arrival at the stadium. The club does all the running around whether the ceremony is for a small intimate number (where the party can be situated in one of the executive boxes) or for a bigger party (they’re booked in one of the tastefully decorated lounges). And to make the wedding even more memorable, the club “can source speakers, entertainment or one of our famous ex-players to add to your event.”

Isn’t that cool? Now when a couple goes to watch a home game, it’s more than just telling their children to come that, “I sat here when the lads tallied eight goals against Besiktas.” It now includes, “this is where yer mam and yer da got hitched now.”

But where the rest of one’s so-called life begins there’s also the opposite – death.

Argentina’s Boca Juniors football club – which is second only to AC Milan for the total number of international championships it has won – has one of the world’s most rabid followings. It is here where even the fans follow their heroes to their graves.

In the La Boca neighborhood of Buenos Aires, it is popular for the club’s supporters to have their ashes scattered on the pitch at the club's stadium of Estadio Alberto J. Armando or as it is more popularly known as La Bombonera (“the Chocolate Box” in English for the stadium’s uncanny resemblance to one). But this ritual has had its problems. "Many Boca fans leave instructions to their families to scatter their ashes on the playing field," said Orlando Salvestrini, a team official. "They would arrive on weekdays with their urns and scatter the ashes on the playing field." Boca's press officer, Laura Acosta, added: "You could see little mounds of ashes left afterwards and this would cause problems with the conditions of the pitch.”

Not wanting to displease their massive fan base, team management established a cemetery just south of Buenos Aires. Now with turf transplanted from La Bombonera and graves of former Boca players transplanted from elsewhere in the cemetery, die-hard (pun intended) fans can be buried alongside their heroes. The cemetery features a fountain designed with the club’s blue-and-yellow crest and blue-and-yellow walls with the names of the deceased inscribed on them. "Boca fans are very passionate," pronounced Salvestrini. "It is an eternal love where we can all together cheer our club from heaven."

That’s great. Take the fans money while their alive and take it still when they’re pushing up daisies.

Taking a cue from Argentina, German club Hamburg put up Europe’s first football cemetery. One of the graveyard’s masons explained why it was necessary for such a patch of land that is just a stone’s throw away from the club’s home field of HSH Nordbank Arena: "If you think about people supporting a club for 30, 40, 50 years, it's part of their life. So why shouldn't it be part of their death?" The cemetery’s designs included an archway entrance made to look like goal posts, while the graves would be arranged on three levels in a football stadium kind of look.

Since the Hamburg graveyard is in a highly urban area where real estate is limited and expensive to come by, Bestattung Wien, a local metal works company has been producing urns for those opting for cremation. The urns cost around £280 (that’s Php 23,254.87 for the forex conscious). "We are doing this as it is European Championship year," said Wittigo Keller, curator of the funeral company's museum referring to Euro 2008 which is in its semifinals stage. “In the last year, there have been plenty of reports of football clubs helping their fans prepare for their own personal final whistles by reserving plots for themselves at official club graveyards.”

One Hamburg fan, Ernst Schmidt, declared that it was a wonderful idea to build a cemetery next to the stadium. " I'm considering reserving myself a space. But it's difficult, because my wife has already been buried in a different cemetery."

Even in death, something comes between sports and one’s marriage.

In between Shankly’s statement is that age old adage that singer Dave Matthews so cheerily warbled about: “eat and be merry for tomorrow you may die.”

And at North Holloway, London, supporters of Arsenal can take their wives or girlfriends to enjoy a hearty pre-match meal whilst being entertained by an ex-player in the fans’ restaurant, Highbury House. The restaurant overlooks the magnificent Emirates Stadium, providing supporters with a relaxed setting and the perfect build up to the game.

During the Gunners’ recent quarterfinals clash with Liverpool in the UEFA Champions League, the restaurant offered fans a discounted treat:

  • Three-course buffet £29.95 (normal price £39.95)
  • Three-course Buffet with drinks - £45.00 (normal price £55.00)
  • And a children’s menu (13 years or younger) - £14.95 (normal price £19.95)

Real Madrid’s famous stadium, the Santiago Bernabeu, located in the financial district of Madrid boasts of three first-class restaurants – the Asador de la Esquina, Puerta 57, and the Real CafĂ© Bernabeu -- that serve Grade-A beef from the Guadarrama Mountains, traditional Spanish cuisine, and a spectacular T-bone steak. The Real Cafe terrace is open every summer from 10 am and is one of the most attractive places in Madrid to have a drink. And get this… valet parking is offered.

So for all of football’s current concerns such as South Africa not being ready for the World Cup in 2010, the rich clubs getting richer, and the endless poaching of players for the more popular leagues, the game is indeed embedded in our daily lives. Where a win makes for a euphoric week and a loss, a bout with depression. And the experience… a season of joy.

* Luckily for Deportivo’s de Guzman, he missed out on an orgasmic experience against Madrid (with Depor winning 1-0 thanks to a Pepe own goal), at least he won't have to wait for a whole 12 months before having another one.

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