Nothing attracts people like a TV camera. Nothing, that is, apart from free stuff. As for the combination of free stuff plus the chance to be on telly … well, who can resist? The camera zoomed in as they held out their hands and the reporter closed in as they gratefully clutched their booty. Drawn to it like moths to a flame, they smiled and shouted, and waved brand new T-shirts in the air, beaming. Campaign week and the local Socialist party, the PSOE, was doing a roaring trade in tops cleverly made for the occasion. Never mind that it looked suspiciously like the other party's colour, or that most of those wearing them can't vote anyway, they'd put the opposition PP to shame.
Everywhere you looked, the PP's cardboard stars littered the floor, unceremoniously dumped. And everywhere you looked, the PSOE's shirts shouted at you, ceremoniously pulled on, like suits of armour, a declaration of intent. There were hundreds of them: bright blue with a message scrawled across the back: LET GETAFE BE THE WINNER. Today more than ever. As a camera drew close and they crowded round to make themselves seen and heard it was time for the kind of measured, erudite punditry Spain's late-night mass debate show Punto Pelota could only dream of: "¡Vamos Geta! ¡Joder!".
Across the top of the dugouts at Getafe's Coliseum Alfonso Pérez stadium, an advert says: "Antonio and Ricardo." The cheap joke says they must be sponsored by their fans. All of their fans. The Coliseum has a capacity for just 16,400 and on average they still only fill 58% of it. Getafe, after all, are only in their seventh season in the First Division. But now the fear was that their seventh might be their last; now the fans were there. Even the seats in the corners, normally just there to stop the wind whipping in, were being used. This time they were even there over an hour before kick off, basking in the sun and cheering the team bus as it wound its way into the stadium. Let Getafe be the winner.
They had to be. The day before, 400 fans had forced their way into the team's training session to show their support. The president, Angel Torres, rewarded them with free tickets. They were not the only ones: rather desperately, more than 4,000 tickets were given away in the end, while blue plastic flags were placed on every seat. As the team headed to the dressing rooms, through the gates they could hear fans – one of them brilliantly wearing a shirt with JUANCAR across the back – shouted encouragement. The Coliseum was nearly full. Free tickets, free T-shirts and on telly. Noise and chants, an actual atmosphere. Getafe were going to need all the help they could get.
It was the penultimate week of the season and Getafe had to win. Almería and Hércules were already relegated and eight other teams could join them: Málaga, Mallorca, Levante, Real Sociedad, Osasuna, Sporting, Deportivo and Zaragoza. Spain's worst team in the second half of the season, boasting just two wins in 13 weeks, Getafe looked like the prime candidate for the Second Division.
For the first time this season, every game kicked off at the same time. This time what happened elsewhere mattered. And for the first time this season, the giant scoreboard, did not provide the goals from round the grounds – each one announced with the roar of a lion. Instead, everyone hung on the radio. Including the Getafe match-day delegate, playing the messenger's role. Afterwards both Míchel, the Getafe coach, and Osasuna's José Luis Mendilíbar claimed that their decisions were not dependent on what happened elsewhere; they both chased victory. But the evidence – and what they said next – made liars of them.
Zaragoza started in the relegation zone, on 39 points, but they were at home against Espanyol. Getafe, facing fellow strugglers Osasuna, had 40. Deportivo, on 42, were at the Camp Nou. But after three days' boozing, and with a team of kids, it wasn't really Barcelona they were facing. Sporting Gijón were on 43 but everyone 'knew' they'd win: they were facing nothing to play for Racing Santander. Racing's manager is a Sporting fan and season ticket holder; Sporting's manager is a Racing fan and shareholder, Sporting hadn't bust a gut to beat Racing last year, and the president of the Cantabrian government Miguel-Angel Revilla was shooting his mouth off – just for a change, like – and going on about an Asturian-Cantabrian pact.
Above them, Real Sociedad (44 points) travelled to Seville and Levante (44) to Mestalla. Mallorca (44) had never been in trouble all season – their lowest position was 11th – and they weren't about to be either: they went to relegated Almería. Málaga had 45 points and The Beast. They also had a 0.004% chance of going down.
Getafe's chances were officially 32.9%. Only they were actually higher. Not that you would have thought it. Look up mañana in the dictionary and it will say 'tomorrow' but it doesn't actually mean tomorrow at all; it just means 'not now'. No one seemed interested in saving themselves – this was a phoney war, leaving it all for another day. Pedro Ríos missed an open goal, Kike Sola passed up the chance to take a tumble, but mostly nothing was happening. Even a couple of hideous challenges didn't seem to wind anyone up. A draw, it seemed, would do.
They weren't the only ones that thought so. Trouble is, playing the percentages is a risky – some would say outright stupid – policy. Over at the Romareda, Zaragoza had taken 12 shots but mostly poor ones. Racing, surprisingly, had gone 1-0 up against Sporting only for the equaliser to arrive just before half-time.
At half-time, Getafe's PA system bizarrely started playing We Are The Champions but Torres stood alone in the directors' box, motionless. The scoreboard had not moved either. It was 0-0 – not just here but pretty much everywhere. Every single team from Zaragoza up to Levante was drawing. Of the nine that could take that final slot, only Málaga were winning and, surprisingly, only Mallorca were losing - 3-0 down in Almería. Zaragoza were still in the relegation zone and Getafe were close to it. Nothing much had changed. Nothing much had moved. And nothing much had happened.
Then, at 10.13, it did. Zaragoza pulled the plug. Ponzio's goal put them 1-0 up against Espanyol and changed everything, everywhere. A moment later, Sevilla took a 1-0 lead against Real Sociedad. In between time, Getafe's match-day delegate whispered into Míchel's ear. It might be an idea to attack now. Fifty-seven minutes gone and on came Dani Parejo and Juan Albín. Getafe were in the relegation zone. Out came the abacuses, the cuttings of the league table. Getafe 41, Zaragoza 42, Depor, 43, Real Sociedad, Sporting and Mallorca 44, Osasuna and Levante 45. Soon, Sporting took the lead and safety with it. Málaga had conceded an equaliser but it made no difference. They were safe too.
In the stands, they got twitchy; headphones were pressed in harder, wedged right into the ear like that would prompt a goal or some good news. "There are things that matter more than football but right now I can't remember what they are," said Míchel, "the tension on the bench is unbearable – worse than it ever was as a player." Over in Zaragoza, Javier Aguirre was calling it "agony." The pressure, he said, prevents players from performing, from letting go. At least it does for most. For Parejo, it is different. On 65 minutes, he brings down a high ball with a glorious touch and sends it fast across the six-yard box. Flaño dives in and scores an own goal – the season's 1000th goal. A pile of blue bodies grows bigger in the corner. A figure in a suit dashes around on the touchline. Pandiani prepares. Zaragoza slip, Osasuna slip, everyone reacts. Except Mallorca, the team that thought they were safe weeks ago. Zaragoza 42, Getafe 43, Depor 43, Osasuna 44, Real Sociedad 44, Mallorca 44.
In five minutes, Osasuna take four shots. La Real get one back in Seville. It's 2-1 now. Still 1-0 here. Ustari makes two brilliant saves. Pandiani's header comes back off the bar. Getafe's fans will them not to score. And will Barcelona and Valencia and Espanyol and Sevilla to score. Only Sevilla do – and they're the team they could sort of do with not scoring, to give la Real nothing to play for against Getafe next week. In the 92nd minute, a swift break and a cool head. Parejo again. Slotted into the path of Ríos. 2-0. A huge roar: Getafe sit one point and two places outside the relegation zone. There is relief but no redemption. Not yet.
Málaga, Levante and Sporting are safe. Zaragoza, Deportivo, Getafe, Osasuna, Real Sociedad and Mallorca are not.
"We don't deserve to be suffering to the end like this," the Mallorca coach, Michael Laudrup, said. And he is probably right; it is precisely the fact that Mallorca were 'safe' before that means they're not safe now. This season it's likely to take the highest ever points total to survive. Maybe a head-to-head record too – or even a 'mini-league' of results. There are eight possible combinations in which two teams end on the same number of points, seven combinations of three teams finishing level and two combinations in which four teams can finish level. Next weekend, it's Mallorca against Atlético, who have nothing to play for; Real Sociedad and Getafe, direct rivals; and Zaragoza against already-safe Levante. As for Depor, they face Valencia – the side that so painfully denied them a league title with Djukic's last-minute penalty miss back in 1994.
Six teams fighting for one place. Six teams who know that, whatever happens elsewhere, a win will be enough for them to survive. But six teams who are clinging to a different discourse. "A draw will do, won't it?" noted Mendilíbar when told that his team has to win on the final day – and it will if Zaragoza don't win or if Depor or Getafe lose. "A draw will do," replied Míchel when told that his team, too, has to win on the final day – and it will if Zaragoza and Deportivo don't win. As for Getafe's opponents, Real Sociedad, they would also be satisfied with a draw - ifZaragoza don't win. Risky is not the half of it.
Thirty-seven weeks later, six teams remain. The good news for all of them is that their destiny is in their own hands. The bad news is that might just be the worst possible place it can be.
• Barcelona celebrated their title by, erm, throwing peppers into the crowd. And Pep Guardiola continued his recent narrative about beating the richest and most powerful club in the world. Which is, of course, true. And the sight of the Barcelona team packed with products of the youth system was impressive. But since when were Barcelona a bunch of paupers?
• Nine goals in the last three games mean that Cristiano Ronaldo has now scored 38 this season (or 39 if you read Marca, etc and so on), making him the joint (or the single, etc and so on) top scorer in Spanish football history – alongside (or ahead of, etc and so on) Telmo Zarra and Hugo Sánchez. Phenomenal.
• Quique Sánchez Flores bowed out as Atlético Madrid coach to a huge ovation from some of the fans – and a bit of an irritated whistle from other fans. He marked his last game by leaving Diego Forlán out of the squad altogether. Their horrific relationship doesn't so much get worse as get more public. Both will be out the door this summer. So too, in all likelihood, will David de Gea – but at least he marked his final game at the Calderón with a penalty save against David Trézéguet.
• Speaking of bowing out, Fredi Kanouté might have done that at the Sánchez Pizjuán on Sunday night. Pure class.
• There seems to have been some excitement about the Europa League places – and there still will be next weekend - but this column can't work out why. Or, like them, sum up much enthusiasm. The three teams occupying the places that no one is really that bothered about, the three teams guaranteed to occupy them at the end of the season, are Athletic, Atlético and Sevilla. Which, frankly, we have known for weeks and weeks.
• Welcome back, Betis and Rayo! Oh boy, this is going to be fun.
Results: Almería 3-1 Mallorca, Villarreal 1-3 Real Madrid, Getafe 2-0 Osasuna, Sevilla 3-1 Real Sociedad, Zaragoza 1-0 Espanyol, Valencia 0-0 Levante, Barcelona 0-0 Deportivo, Athletic 1-1 Málaga, Sporting 2-1 Racing, Atlético 2-1 Hércules