Putting in extra time

The referee blew the last whistle of the 2010 World Cup and an ecstatic Spaniard held his empty beer glass from the base victoriously over his head with both hands. His team had just become champions of the largest sporting event around the globe.

Although Spain beat Holland (the nation I was rooting for since the beginning of the tournament) 1-0 after extra time, the Spanish fans got me over the loss instantly.

I thought the South of France would be a great place to watch the French win the cup, but their early departure in the first round put all eyes in Perpignan on Spain.

Due to its proximity to the Spanish border, residents of Perpignan don’t necessarily see themselves as French, but as Catalonians. During the championship game, it was obvious whom everyone in town supported as red-and yellow-striped flags waved all night.

Nearly 50 people packed into the patio of the small bar where we watched the game and only three of us, including a native Dutchman, at a small table to the right of the entrance cheered for the Orangemen.

When Andres Iniesta scored the only goal of the game in the 116th minute, the seats in the bar emptied and everyone was on their feet cheering.

It was a slight hit to Dutch fans, but the game was spectacular and Spain deserved to win. The night will live with me forever.

But the end of the game was just the beginning of the night.

As soon as the game was over, cars were driving through the small French alleyways with horns blasting in celebration and the flags of Spain and Catalonia waved through the warm night air.

Leaving the bar, Spanish fans stopped traffic to celebrate with the drivers and sing triumphantly as the group of elated Spain supporters wandered through the Place de la Republique in search of the next bar to continue the celebration.

When we ended our voyage at O’Shannon’s Irish Pub, the number of those in the group shrank, but the volume and size was concentrated, making it much more fun.

A stranger at the bar in a red jersey noticed my lack of team pride — the blue shorts and a white shirt I wore to the beach earlier — and started to raise the pen in his hand to mark something on my face. After a brief hesitation — after all, a stranger was attempting to draw on me — I finished my third glass of Jameson and surrendered.

He took his red pen and drew one line on my forehead, switched to a yellow pen and made another stroke, and then capped it off with one last red line. Then I returned the favor, drawing the Spanish flag on his naked forehead.

After hearing all the commentary about the awful French performance, I figured the World Cup bug died in the country, but Spain’s success carried on throughout French Catalonia.

They may be yelling, “Viva Espana” in the country just to the south, but across this region, the chant I will take part in anytime is, “Viva Catalan!”

For another take on World Cup fever in Perpignan read Elizabeth Culley’s “Perpignan shows Spanish roots in World Cup.”