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FA Cup, you’re Havana laugh…

Submitted by on June 27, 2011 – 9:58 am2 Comments

By Chris Taylor

It’s easy to lose track of things in Havana. You’re on your third mojito, only to find it’s half ten in the morning. The overriding consensus is fuck it, in for a penny.

Our tour guide had taken us to a bar down by the harbour, no doubt run by a mate of his. “This bar used to be owned by two brothers. Gangsters from Miami” he told us. “Now it is owned by two different gangster brothers… Fidel and Raul.” His timing was perfect, no doubt honed by telling the joke dozens of times a day to dozens of different tourists.

Our guide’s English was perfect; probably a legacy of Cuba’s endearingly excellent education system. I didn’t think it proper to ask him what his trained profession was, but if you’d listen to American counter-propaganda, he’d have been a doctor, lawyer, or economist.

Indeed, a scrolling billboard on the top floor of the Unites States Interests Section in Havana relays a George Burns quote “How sad that all the people who would know how to run this country are driving taxis or cutting hair”. Fidel Castro brilliantly responded to this by obscuring the building with 138 flagpoles, flying black flags with a white star on.

I try not to take a holiday during the football season, but I’d always dreamed of going to Cuba, and a peak time getaway just wasn’t financially possible. Before booking I checked the fixture card sent to me with my membership and saw I’d only be missing a few games, and would be back for the Halifax game, a game which ended up being moved anyway. It never occurred to me to worry about missing the FA Cup qualifying rounds. We’d either not get there, or get there and get spanked. Either way missing it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

I was wrong, of course. I usually am on these matters. FC United had beaten Norton and Stockton Ancients in the third qualifying round of the FA Cup to set up a home tie with Barrow in the fourth and final qualifying round. So instead of gooning about Gigg Lane when Carlos Roca’s 78th minute winner went in, I was sat hunkered down in a computer room in a hotel in Havana desperately refreshing a blank internet page to try and find out the score.

I don’t expect much sympathy, but believe me, it was hard. On the morning of the game we had got up early to have a stroll down Calle Obispo, a winding throughway from Parque Central down to the sea. Obispo is lined with shops, cafes, bars and hotels, and is ever full of people busy doing nothing. Sitting around is big business in Havana. As is milling about and mooching. It’s my kind of city. People constantly stop you to talk to you, trying to lead you to their friend’s bar or café, in exchange for a tip.

“Hey! Manchester!” shouted one local, spotting my t-shirt. “Manchester city!” It wasn’t the exchange I was expecting. I offered the man a friendly “fuck off, knob head”, and got on my way. He wasn’t to know, I suppose, but that wouldn’t have stopped Garry Cook laughing like a drain had he been there.

My faith in humanity and the Mancunian football hierarchy was reinstated later in the holiday. We had stopped in to the Café Paris for some distinctly average pork and rice dish, a national staple, and bought a CD off the band who were playing. On the cover the drummer was wearing a Manchester United home shirt from 2001. city and Garry Cook have much to learn before they can match United and Nike’s levels of cultural and marketing imperialism.

In February 2011, Cuba was linked to Venezuela with a fibre-optic cable, making internet download speeds 3000 times faster. I wish the lazy bastards had got on it a little bit earlier, because trying to connect to FCUM Radio on a satellite internet link was as pointless as a Liverpool fan’s passport will be next season. Not only was the internet slow, but it was also expensive.

I ended up paying about ten pounds to get a scratch card that enabled me to log on to the unofficial forum for an hour to follow the game. I just checked the thread in the match day updates forum, and I logged in ten minutes before the goal. “This is the loneliest computer room in the world right now” was my reaction to the goal. I was both elated and gutted. Elated that we’d won, and gutted not to be there and be part of it. There’s much joy to be had from living vicariously through football. But it’s no substitute to actually being there.

When the final whistle went I made my way to the roof top pool. I desperately wanted to run and bomb in, but a sense of decorum prevailed. I’d leave such unedifying acts to Phil Collins in ‘Buster’ and, no doubt, the two Burnley fans who lay their Burnley FC beach towels on sun loungers all day every day. I’d like to think they spent all day every day whinging about the food, the language, the people, and the weather. But I’ve nothing to base this on other than petty prejudice and an unwarranted sense of superiority. Still, I’m probably right.

I went up to my girlfriend to tell her the news. She put down the latest Stig Larssen, ‘The Girl with the Bingo Wings’, or whatever, and peered out over her sunglasses. “Good” she said. “Does that mean you can get on with our holiday now, and stop hanging about in that fucking computer room?”

I mumbled something about that being the case, and promised to take her to look at the fantastic art deco architecture of the Bacardi Building before going out for a late lunch. I didn’t have the balls to tell her I’d be spending pretty much the rest of my holiday trying to sort out tickets for the Rochdale game. But fuck it. Some things are well worth the time and the money and the arguments.


  • Felonious Manc says:

    ***“How sad that all the people who would know how to run this country are driving taxis or cutting hair”. ***

    Why would that need a “brilliant response from anyone? The quote is taking the piss out of taxi-drivers and hairdressers, not out of any attack on government.

    As for the Cuban education system, it’s probably no better than the one in Salford. It’s just that Cuban kids probably pay more attention at school than Salford scrotes.

  • midjmo says:

    Axe Gove and replace him with Felonious – they have a similarly vast knowledge of education.

    We’d have to get Felo elected as an MP first. I wouldn’t suggest putting him up as a candidate in Salford though, after that damning comment on the city’s populace. Cheshire East maybe? Somewhere like that.

    Hit the gates!!!

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