Rayo Vallecano, the Baltimore Orioles, and Clint Dempsey

You may have missed it amid all the hoopla in Manchester and our own hand-wringing over Clint Dempsey’s absence and subsequent future, but Madrid was really the place to be on Sunday.

No, not at the Santiago Bernabéu where Real Madrid celebrated their title-winning season with a GF and GD that makes a mockery of the competition.

Instead, the Campo de fútbol de Vallecas, the 15,550 capacity home to Rayo Vallecano and the smallest stadium in La Liga (and 10k smaller than Craven Cottage), was the site of utter pandemonium. Sid Lowe of theguardian:

Rayo 0 Granada 0 in Vallecas. For the last 32 minutes, it had been kill or be killed: both came up from the Second Division last summer, Rayo had been away for a decade, Granada for three of them. One of them was going back again. In the last 30 seconds that had changed with a goal 401 kilometres away, but amid the tension, the noise and the desperation, few realised that they could both survive. Raúl Tamudo had missed a sitter for Rayo; a minute later, Jara had done the same for Granada. Now Rayo had a minute and a half to save the earth. David Cobeño went up for a corner. The trouble with sending your goalkeeper forward is that if you don’t score you have to send him back again. And so it was that in the 92nd minute, the very last seconds of the very last game, everyone knew that they had to run, and run like mad, but no one knew quite where to.

Seen from above, it appeared completely at random. Like someone had dropped a bomb into the middle of the pitch, sending everyone fleeing in different directions. The corner was cleared: Cobeño panicked and started sprinting back towards his own unguarded goal. Some team-mates went with him. Others went in the opposite direction; some right, some left, some up the pitch, some down. Granada’s players pursued, others protected. Desperate shouts from the touchline: Get back! Go forward! The ball was loose. Then it wasn’t. Some were dashing into the area, others dashing out of it. A shot, a rebound, through the defender’s legs, Michu stretching, the goalkeeper stretching, the ball off the bar, on the line. Tamudo there, a header. The ball in the net. It’s still moving when the first invasion starts; match and mayhem, merged seamlessly. Safety.

If you’ve had a chance to see some of the photos or video, it makes Fulham’s survival a few years ago look tame. And that’s not a slight to us, the raw emotion and jubilation was not lost on the crappy 400k stream I was watching. It was literally awesome.

And then the camera’s kept rolling and this happened:

This all reminded me of what happened here in Baltimore last fall. It reminded me of how the thrill of surviving might be more powerful than the thrill of victory. How amazing feats need a narrative or else they fall into oblivion.

It was a Wednesday night in late September. The haughty Boston Red Sox, in the midst of a record setting end-of-season collapse, came into the season finale against the lowly 93-loss Baltimore Orioles. A win and the Red Sox would still make the playoffs despite their nosedive. A loss and they’d perhaps at least make some odd play-in game, but it wasn’t a definite. They needed to beat a team that sucked.

I was at the first part of this game, but left around mid-7th inning once the thunder and lightning rolled in and didn’t look like leaving. It’s probably one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made of my life. (But how was I to know what would happen after the 90 minute rain delay??)

Trailing 3-2 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth: an Oriole doubled to deep right. Then, another double to even the score. And then, bloop single to left by the then-maligned Robert Andino. Winning run scores.

Boston lost and collapsed their way out of the playoffs (thanks in large part to New York collapsing against the Rays). The Baltimore Orioles are once again relevant in the national consciousnesses for not just for “winning”, but mostly, for surviving.

Johnathan Bernhardt for Et to, Mr. Destructo? and Tom Sccoca of deadspin have a wonderful recaps of what that game meant in terms of an overall narrative, so go read those. Now. But it’s this passage from Sccoca that sums it up for me:

Andino emerges from a pileup between second and third with his jersey untucked, and starts stalking back toward the home dugout. As he goes, he tips his head toward the visitors’ side. “Motherfuckin’ SHIT!” he says. The lip-reading is pretty straightforward. His hand flicks back, in dismissal. “TAKE YOUR ASS HOME!”

Sure, it’s profane. But it’s the essence of his celebration,similar to that of Rayo Vallecano’s Michu singing, dancing, spraying beer, et al in his jockstrap, is what is so moving. To finally be that center of attention; not because you came in second place but last place, for so long, is my sporting fandom raison d’etre.

And it’s that absence in regards to Fulham this season what made this past year seem so surreal. And made Clint Dempsey’s setting of club and American goal scoring records feel as if it existed in a vacuum.

This season didn’t really have much of a narrative. Fulham had no flirts with relegation like in 2002-03 when Coleman took over, 2007-08 when Roy took over, or even last year when Hughes struggled for the first half. Nor we were we really ever the EPL’s darling like we were in 2008-09 during our run to 7th, and 2009-10 during our fairly tale Europa run.

We were just fairly consistent at being mid-table. Because the team was doing “just okay”, there was nothing to attach his feats to like there might have been in any of the seasons above.

And so all we can really do is remember how great it all was; not how he saved our asses from the drop. Or put us into Europe. Or a cup final. (Perhaps it’s just pulling a double over Liverpool for the first time ever?)

And so the thought of losing him after all this stings more so than if it was him singing, dancing, spraying beer, et al in his jockstrap on video. Or telling Harry Redknapp to “TAKE YOUR ASS HOME” on the final day as we clinched a Europa spot (provided he was fit to play then).

Am I crazy to prefer that?

(featured image via @RVMOficial)

Tim Gelles is a writer for Craven Cottage Newsround. A Fulham fan since 2006 when he saw Fulham defeat an Iain Dowie led Charlton. He resides in Baltimore. His current headshot is temporary. E-mail him or follow him on twitter.

5 thoughts on “Rayo Vallecano, the Baltimore Orioles, and Clint Dempsey

  1. Great stuff, Tim. And you’re right, we are working in a vacuum aren’t we? Times like this you need young players to wonder about.

    1. I guess the “young players” were supposed to be this season’s narrative, but it felt more like a sidebar.

      Frie, Sa, Kasami, Kacaniklic and Briggs had just 15 starts combined. Only Frei and Kacaniklic featured, even just intermittently, after winter.

      1. I think Frei and, to a lesser degree, Kacniklic, kind of validate Jol. More of the same next year and I’m sure we’ll start seeing the benefits. We should look up previous youth tournament winners and see where they ended up.

        1. I’d agree they validate. Just that in this “transition” season, it was really the old guard that was relied on. Again.

          And yes, sounds like a great post. CCN TEAM: ASSEMBLE!

  2. I really don’t feel that way about Fulham – that’s how I feel about other clubs – Southampton are forever staying up off the back of 29 Le Tissier goals and assists, Norwich will always be beating Bayern 2-1, and Pompey are in the FA Cup but going down.

    But with Fulham, it’s about the matches and the moments, whatever narrative they were part of: Terry Angus belting out of defence to set up a goal with an inexplicable 50 yard dribble, the late equalizer against Shrewsbury, Carragher’s off and we’re humiliating Liverpool, 2 (count ’em!) goals from set pieces to draw with Chelsea…

    It’s why I like Rich’s match reports so much, actually: unlike professional journalists, he’s more interested in what actually happened in the match than in the narrative around it.

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