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Tit for Tat

It was the first round of games in the Champions League proper this week.  Cristiano for Madrid and Messi for Barça both kicked off this year’s campaign with hat tricks.  All in a day’s work for these two.

The term, hat trick, had a great hold over me as a youngster.  I recall spending primary school lunch breaks loitering at the frontier of the big boys’ playground, watching the daily match between the P7s and P6s.  The fixture has a long history stretching back to the early twentieth century.  No P7 team has ever lost.  This is largely due to the P7s always being a year older and therefore enjoying a physical advantage over their opponents.  The fact that P6 goals are frequently disallowed for reasons such as, “we weren’t ready”, “you kicked it too hard”, and, from the keeper, “nope, the sun was in my eyes”, also helps maintain P7 dominance.

I would stand and absorb everything that happened in these mesmerising 35 minute kick and rush extravaganzas, mentally preparing myself for when my time came.  I learned the nuances of the game.  For instance, P6s could be offside.  P7s could not.  P6s’ “off the wall” goals were always disallowed.  P7s’ were not.  P6s’ free kicks were always indirect.  P7s free kicks were always automatically upgraded to penalties.

It was while serving this silent apprenticeship that I first heard of the hat trick.  Every so often, no more than once or twice a term, it would be bellowed jubilantly by a P7.  Never by a P6.  I didn’t understand what it meant at first (there was no Google in those days) but it was clear I had just witnessed something special, something to be cherished.  A little later on in life, and having finally, through disciplined and meticulous observation of the lunchtime clásicos, learnt the meaning of the hat trick cry, the mystique of the feat stayed with me.  There didn’t seem to be so many back then and when they arrived there would be great fanfare and celebration and a player could expect to have his name up in lights for at least a week.

Messi and Ronaldo have ruined all that for me.  They have turned the hat trick into something boringly normal.  Since CR7 moved to La Liga in 2009, both men have registered trebles or better on 21 separate occasions.  They are averaging over five a season.  It is quite frankly becoming ridiculous.  What is even more astounding is that they genuinely seem to make a bigger effort to notch a hat trick when the other has just achieved the feat.  No less than eight times their hat tricks have arrived within a week of one another’s.  On three of those they both scored three on the exact same day.

You can imagine the scene in the Barça dressing room, minutes before they take the field.  Messi says to Xavi, “Here Shav, check Marca and find out how many he got”.  Xavi scans his phone then raises his eyebrows and whistles.  “Another three I’m afraid” he informs Leo.  Messi shrugs indifferently. “Fair enough” he says as he danders out onto the pitch and scores four.

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