For some, football is just a sport, but I have seen how it serves to unite a community. The years 2008, 2010 and 2012 will not be easily forgotten by any living, breathing, sangria drinking Spaniard. For six years, we watched the Spanish national team (La Roja) dominate football, and enjoyed a much needed distraction from the precarious state of national affairs back home: namely the economic recession and widespread corruption.
I remember standing outside El Galicia Restaurant – somewhat of an institution – nervously bitting my nails whilst I awaited the final goal that would crush Italy and lead us to win the 2012 European cup. The goal came, but so did the realisation that I was not alone in this fight. As I looked around, I witnessed a sea of red and yellow, in the form of flags, clothes and face paint. I found myself noticing people from all over Spain, with their distinctive accents and mannerisms. La Roja’s victory vanished any obvious boundaries of separation and people of all ages, backgrounds and origins embraced to celebrate the landmark victory. We were not Galicians, we were not Catalans, we were not Andalucians. We were Spaniards.
As people in Spain rejoiced, so did London’s Spaniards. We did so by coming together, spending evenings huddled up in some of London’s most authentic Spanish bars. Drinking our favourite imported beer and savouring our beloved dishes. Football brought old friends together and more importantly, it gave incoming immigrants the chance to make new ones.
It is with this sentiment of national pride that I set off to watch FC Deportivo Galicia play a pre-season friendly against Kilburn FC on a very sunny Thursday afternoon. My understanding of football just about grasps the off-side rule but it does not matter on this occasion. There is something far more important happening on the pitch. There are a large number of players, some of whom I recognise. Rather surprisingly, however, there are also quite a few new faces. On the sidelines I can hear a combination of Spanish and English being shouted at players. Soon I turn my attention to one of the benches and spot a young man fully dressed in FC Deportivo’s kit.
Carlos Jose Gallego Gálvez, 21, teases that he is from Galicia but I can immediately tell that he is from the south – Malaga to be precise.
He is a professional football player and the only thing standing in between him and the club’s home turf at Osterley Sports Centre is an injury. He arrived in London ten months ago, after having been signed by a professional club in Staines.
“I left the other club because I felt really different to every other player on the squad. I was not discriminated against but I did feel really left out. Being happy has a massive impact on the way in which you play, and here [at FC Deportivo Galicia] I feel right at home,” says Carlos Jose.
Unable to play football full-time, he has, like many of his peers, been forced to find an alternative way of making a living. Regardless of how difficult his move to London has been, Carlos has nothing but praise for the club.
“Many of the players are not Spanish, but I feel right at home. I am always joking around and luckily for me, they seem to take it in their stride,” he adds.
Deportivo Galicia was born after a group of Galician immigrants came together in 1968 and found a way of channeling their own personal struggles through football. The club, originally named “Centro Gallego de Londres,” soon merged with “Deportivo” a club set up in homage to Deportivo La Coruña – one of the Galician teams that plays in the Spanish premier league. As a result, the club was aptly named “FC Deportivo Galicia de Londres,” capturing not only the essence of Deportivo La Coruña but also the spirit and heart of the whole of Galicia.
“Football brings people together, there is no doubt about it. I think that we should be very proud of what we have achieved. We have people from all over Spain and other parts of the world,” says Rogelio Loureda, the Club’s General Secretary.
Roberto Rey, 25, explains that FC Deportivo Galicia is a family hobby. His two older brothers played before him and he joined at the age of 15. Roberto, bursting with pride, has seen the club move through the ranks in the last decade. “It would be good to get more support from the Spanish community,” he says.
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