Munez strikes a blow for the global Toon Army
We took the young lads to see “Goal” today, that marvelously improbable rags-to-riches story about a young Mexican illegal immigrant in LA, Santiago Munez, who ends up starring for Newcastle United. But there’s a lot of real stuff in it, and I’m not just talking about the cute cameos — Alan Shearer approaching our hero in the gym and saying “Are you done with that, lad?” and then adding about 50 pounds to the weight before taking over the machine. Or Beckham, Raul and Zidane showing up in a London nightclub having watched a Fulham home game that day! (The presence of Jermaine Jenas, who was still with Toon back then and much of it was filmed at their facilities, is even more confusing, since he bears a passing resemblance at a distance to our boy Munez, or Salsa Man as his teammates call him.)
I loved the sense they generated of the atmosphere in the city before a big game, with the little old ladies telling the playboy striker “I can see why they took you off last week; you’re shite.” And so on. But the thing that I found most electrifyingly profound was the scene shot in an LA pub at 7am, as loyal Newcastle fans eight time zones away gather to watch the game on Fox Soccer Channel. When Munez’s dad is offered a drink by one and he says it’s a little early, the West Coast’s Geordie’s reply is “Not in Newcastle, it’s not…” And so, when our boy Munez has to take a crucial free kick in the dying seconds against Liverpool from out on the right (you know, Nobby Solano territory), he pauses to cross himself, and his abuelita in that LA pub does the same, in the same moment, as do the thousands of Geordies shown watching in local pubs in Newcastle.
That’s precisely the communion I was referring to in my piece about watching Liverpool’s Champion’s League triumph with Elvis Costello. There’s a Toon Army in LA. And there’s a little pub on 11th Street in Manhattan that was grown from a cutting of the Kop.
When Liverpool and Man United clash, these days, there are millions of people around the globe hanging on every moment, live, in real time (or almost real time, because what I’ve noticed is that if I’m watching a Liverpool game, the text commentary by the fans on redandwhitekop.com is actually about two minutes ahead). And whereas when I was a teeanger following Liverpool’s glorious first march to the European Cup in 1977 via the BBC World Service on shortwave radio, going to school the next morning elated but with nary a soul with whom to discuss it, today I’ll see at least a dozen people in the course of the average morning who watched the same game
Satellite TV has connected the Diaspora of every great English club to its home base. We scream our heads off in unison when Stevie Gerrard nicks an equalizer in the 91st minute. We gasp as Lampard’s shot grazes the bar. We curse Arjen Robben for diving as if he can hear us. We sit at work watching Champion’s League games, swopping emails with colleagues in Baghdad and Paris and Johannesburg are all sharing that moment along with — if Liverpool are playing — Elvis Costello wherever he is. And in those 90 minutes, our world is very, very small, intimate almost.