The Danger of Nostalgia

Por Jack DeVry Riordan* 

Nostalgia flows through every inch of my body when I return to the thought of being with my father at El Estadio La Rosaleda, where my only aspirations or worries were Málaga Fútbol Club. The Mediterranean air had a unique feel. The taste of over-salted peanuts forces you to buy a Fanta Naranja and makes you feel that you were part of something bigger than yourself. These and many more are just distant memories of my youth that live inside me and come to me in my dreams while living in the United States. Even though I lived in Spain from the age of one until I was thirteen, I have US-born parents and have spent the last twelve years of my life in the United States. I visit my hometown yearly and plan to have my wedding there next summer.

As Tim Wildschut states in his book Finding Meaning in Nostalgia, “Nostalgia—defined as a sentimental longing for one’s past—is a self-relevant, albeit deeply social, and an ambivalent, albeit more positive than negative, emotion. As nostalgia brings the past into present focus, it has existential implications” (48). Málaga FC and the experiences I witnessed are a memory of my simple and idyllic past of growing up in a small tourist town in Southern Spain, compared to now living in a confusingly overwhelming United States city where you don’t know your neighbor or talk about the score from last weekend’s matches with someone at a bar drinking a café con leche. For those fortunate or unfortunate enough to grow up in Spain, you understand the relationship that a person has with su equipo

Málaga FC, founded in 1904, is a personal collection of triumphs, like the ecstasy of seeing Málaga advancing onto the quarterfinal against the mighty German side of Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League. Or, the historic victory that ended 6 – 1 in Pamplona versus a very competitive Osasuna team during the 2004/5 season. Even more memorable was this historical win because my family and I flew across Spain to be the only fans of the away team. Wearing the blue and white equipación meant something different that day. We were welcomed by the passionate throwing of batteries in our direction by the Osasuna fans, which led to a net being placed in our protection. Disregarding the immediate threat, I remember the players running towards us after each of the six beautiful goals to celebrate, making us feel as if we were with them the whole way. 

Now, moving back to my country of origin, which feels unfamiliar, I can’t help but relive these key memories from my childhood. Unfortunately, with age, they begin to fade and require diving deep inside my memory and making sure that the events happened, instead of being fictitious illusions I would like to have. While nostalgia focuses typically on a longing for one’s past and revolves around positive moments in the past, for me, it is a curse. From reaching the global stage of European soccer with a pure and raw style of playing, with an unselfish squad with the sole goal of winning it all and a commitment to bringing us, the fans, alongside with them brings us to the present day. Now? Now the club is just like that untouched browned and overripe banana that you see in the morning and creatively think on your way to the bus on the other ways to use it, dreaming of giving it purpose. While listening to the game on the radio weekly for the last few years, my heart sinks deep into the ground, and I’m faced with the reality that one of the most important things in the distant past is now nothing but an abandoned and sickened fútbol team. A soulless being that gives little promise to rise from the ashes. A team that doesn’t allow or give me a reason to root for or listen to anymore, yet the nostalgia-sickened mind persists. 

The semi-regular phone calls with my father, who now lives in Arkansas, often revolve around the topic of Malaga FC and whether we will be able to return to form with ‘simple’ solutions to their problems like: “Maybe we just need a good winger.” These conversations are a form of coping with the reality that I don’t live in my town anymore, but I am able to recall the good moments that will remain with me forever. What do we do when the things that gave us purpose, and a sense of community seem to fall apart? How does nostalgia transform?

Coming back to the US, a country that I don’t recall because of leaving at such a young age, from a small Spanish town, is complicated and confusing. It caused me, the subject who moves, to have to adapt quickly or be threatened with the possibility of being ostracized. Certain factors like new cultural values, different societal norms, new sports, and new teams ultimately lead to an obligation to assimilate to your surroundings. You must redefine yourself, leave the nostalgia of your home apart, and substitute it for those values in your new home. When I moved to the US at thirteen, no one cared or talked about soccer, which was shocking and confusing for me. No one seemed to care or remember the tragic loss of Malaga FC vs Borussia Dortmund that, to this day, still upsets me. Instead, the conversations revolved around the St. Louis Cardinals’ chances of winning the World Series or the disgust with the relocation of the St. Louis Rams to Los Angeles. As the years go by, I find myself searching for nostalgia for the simplest of things, such as food, going to the beach, and playing soccer in the el pabellón of my town

These memories, for some, evoke happiness and satisfaction, but for me, it just reminds me of a simpler time. It was a time when Malaga FC was my everything, but now they are just a Third Tier Spanish soccer team with no soul. Some rational person might just argue, “Why do you even care anymore?.” While true, some intrinsic part of my being doesn’t allow me to leave behind those memories and things that brought me happiness. I can’t divorce my beloved Malaga FC, no matter how low we continue going. It just isn’t a reality. Things like Malaga FC allow me to feel connected with a past that fades from the memory library that I have over my shoulders. 

We all feel certain emotions for specific foods, certain places, and certain childhood friends that hold a strong presence in our existence. Ask any Andalucian who moves abroad if they miss a homemade gazpacho on a warm summer afternoon. For me it is, and unfortunately always will be, my beloved Malaga Fútbol Club. Who are now fighting for a chance to ascend to Spain’s 2nd division soccer league, but so far don’t provide much hope. Stuck in the purgatory of lower-division Spanish soccer, where I will stand on the side cheering.

*Jack DeVry Riordan is a PhD student focused on contemporary Cuban Filmmaking and a lifelong fan of Malaga Fútbol Club.

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