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Madrid City in English
Saturday 25th of November 2017
15th of May 2011 by admin 19th of May 2011
Photo: InMadrid
Gael Force

As Gaelic football fever grips Spain, Tessa White talks to Spanish players enjoying the craic (fun!)

Last month the second stage of the Iberian Gaelic Football Championship saw teams from Madrid, Barcelona, Seville, Pamplona, A Coruña, Marbella and Valencia do battle in the capital. Madrid Harps, one of two teams in the city, emerged victorious in both the men’s and the women’s competition. The sport is proving extremely popular in Spain, with some Spaniards even choosing to play gaelic football rather than soccer or basketball. But what makes the Irish sport such an attractive proposition?


A bit of banter
Native Coruñan and university lecturer Wences Garcia founded the Fillos de Breogán club in A Coruña after a visit to Ireland last year. “I saw a match in Croke Park [the national stadium in Dublin] and the atmosphere was amazing. I loved it!” he says. “It’s more dynamic than football. You play with the whole body, combining different aspects of several sports: handball, football and rugby.”
    In the opinion of madrileña Itziar Alberdi, a player with Madrid Harps ladies’ team, Gaelic football attracts Spanish people who have lived abroad and miss the novelty of meeting people of different nationalities. “The Irish love the craic and a bit of banter. It feels like a family at times,” she comments, “I find Irish people very similar to the Spanish, especially Spaniards from the north where my family is from. I feel closer to all things Irish now and I understand the accent better!” She describes the game as “fast-paced and fun to watch.”

Home and away
From an Irish perspective, Paul Murphy, formerly from Cork, joined the Sant Vicent team in Valencia four years ago. “It was a chance to play a sport I had played back home and to introduce it to the Spanish community,” he recollects. “GAA [Gaelic Athletics Association] life in Spain is a lot more inclusive, welcoming new players regardless of experience, age or weight. We meet up regularly to socialise and hold post tournament dinners and the like.”Gaelic football action. Photo: InMadridGaelic football action. Photo: InMadrid
    It’s an indication of how much Gaelic football has mushroomed in Spain that the current president of the Madrid Harps is Spanish—Granada-born Javier Vicente.  He got hooked when watching an all-Ireland game in an Irish pub with his Kerry-born housemate. For him, the Harps are “closer” than Spanish football or basketball clubs. “The Irish are lovely, very funny and friendly, like Spanish people,” he bubbles, “I am proud to say I have many Irish friends, and we usually meet up after training for a couple of pints, or we organise trips outside Madrid at weekends.”
Just the one
There’s no doubt that the Irish enjoy a few pints but curiously they are not always the ones holding up the bar at the end of the night. “It is usually said that the Irish drink a lot, and are always joking around, but I think that is not true,” Javier Vicente reflects, “Young people in Spain drink a lot of spirits; botellónes are very popular here.”
    In A Coruña, Wences Garcia holds a similar view. “The Irish and Galicians both have a mixture of Celtic blood and Latin culture although most of the partygoers at the club are Galicians. In Spain, food is a big part of drinking: the Irish drink more beer, the Spanish spirits.” Which country consumes more alcohol overall? Paul Murphy responds diplomatically, “It would be too much of a generalisation to say,” he pauses, “but the Irish definitely smile and laugh a lot more than other countries.”


Speak up
The official language of the GAA, which was founded in Ireland in 1884 to promote indigenous sports, is Irish or Gaeilge though in reality English is the language most widely spoken in gaelic football clubs throughout the world.
    Spotting a Sant Vicent’s poster in an Irish bar in Valencia, PhD student Rodrigo signed up hoping to improve his English. “I try to speak in English, but at peak times resort to Spanish,” he confesses. “My English has improved but not as much as my sports skills!” At the Fillos de Breogán club, Galician, Spanish and a little English are spoken, while in Madrid, explains Javier Vicente, “We speak English because the new Irish players usually don’t know Spanish when they arrive here, but Spanish is spoken between natives and Irish people who have lived here for years.”
Sláinte (Cheers!)
Gaelic football looks set to grow in Spain with new clubs emerging and existing clubs continuing to recruit new members, not just from Spain but from all over the world. “I feel closer to Irish culture, have improved my English a lot and I have got to know many different nationalities, not just Irish,” declares Javier. It’s a parting comment that captures the sentiment of many Spanish players, and suggests diversity and good old-fashioned fun have won their hearts.

For more information about Madrid Harps and the GAA in Spain see www.madridgaa.com/inicio.asp?pag=home

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