surinenglish

Everyone's favourite granny at Malaga's sporting arenas

Mari Pepa attends a game at the Martín Carpena arena.
Mari Pepa attends a game at the Martín Carpena arena. / SUR
  • This has been an unusual season for 76-year-old Mari Pepa García, who misses cheering on Malaga CF and Unicaja and making fellow fans' lives that bit sweeter

It all began 25 years ago in the Ciudad Jardín district of Malaga city. She didn't realise it at the time, but Mari Pepa García was about to discover a new world, one which she would love forever. Her children, Dani and Mar, were fans of the Unicaja basketball team and had tickets to watch them play Olympiacos Piraeus in the Euroleague 1995-96 season. Dani couldn’t go and Mari Pepe didn’t want her daughter to be on her own. “Come on, I’ll keep you company,” she said.

She knew nothing about sport, including basketball, but was captivated by the atmosphere. “It was so much fun, I was like a little girl, I had such a good time. And it was addictive - I have never missed a single European match since!” she says.

After that first experience, Mari Pepa was continually looking to buy tickets and the following year she couldn’t resist becoming a season ticket holder. “When I originally came to Ciudad Jardín, I had no idea what life was going to be like, but it was so exciting. I couldn’t wait for match days,” she says.

She became a football fan not long afterwards. Two seasons after watching her first basketball match, La Rosaleda became another of her favourite places in the city. “I loved it when we all waited together for the coach to arrive, and as soon as we saw the driver we all started singing,” she says, laughing.

This is the thing about sport; people not only fall in love with the game, but also the atmosphere in the stadium. That is definitely what happened to Mari Pepa, who at the age of 76 says she doesn’t understand much about the rules, but wouldn’t miss a match for anything.

In both the Martín Carpena arena and La Rosaleda stadium she has a favourite place beside the stairs, and she is very wellknown. “People pat me on the shoulder and say hello. They know I have sweets and chocolates to give out to everyone,” she says. This granny from Malaga never goes unprepared; she always has her ‘kit’ so she can hand out treats to children, and even the workers. “I always make sure the people on the door get some,” she giggles.

Just not the same at home

Now, however, Mari Pepa sits on her sofa instead of in the stands, and watches the matches on Movistar or DAZN. She watches some live, and others later, but she is clear about one thing: “When I’m going to watch the day after, I ask my children what the result was. If they lose I don’t want to watch, I’m getting old now and I only want to see good things,” she jokes. But she longs to be there live, in the stands at the Carpena or La Rosaleda, enjoying the music, the singing, and her family around her: her son, daughter, and grandchildren Noa and Leo. “I love La Rosaleda, but right now nobody can go there, to see anything,” she says. She has, however, noticed that there have been some people in the stands at the Palacio de los Deportes sports complex. “They must be selling some tickets, then... maybe we’ll be able to go before too long,” she says, hopefully.

She can’t choose between the two temples of sport in Malaga. If there is a match on at both at the same time, her daughter Mar decides which one they should go to. “Sometimes we have watched Malaga play and then rushed to see Unicaja as well, but if the matches coincide then she decides which is the most important,” says Mari Pepa. She recently turned 76 but this time she couldn’t celebrate in her favourite places. “The boy who sits in front of us is also from Ciudad Jardín, and one year when it was her birthday he made her a placard,” says her daughter.

A thousand stories to tell

After so many years watching these sports, Mari Pepa has thousands of memories, including celebrations like the time fans rushed onto the pitch at La Rosaleda when Malaga gained promotion, although she says she wasn’t one of them. “There was no way I could jump over the barriers, so I just cheered in the stands,” she says. She also remembers when Unicaja won La Liga in 2006: “We were carrying so many green and purple balloons... I was having the time of my life. My daughter had to go, but I stayed in the city centre celebrating, and then caught a bus home,” she says.

Mari Pepa also used to make cakes for “the old Unicaja players” and take them to the bench.

Being a fan is something very special and, like Mari Pepa, everyone has stories to tell. After all these years in Ciudad Jardín, following Unicaja and Malaga CF, she has now spent her first year without being able to support her teams. But she isn’t downhearted. She’ll be there at the Martín Carpena and La Rosaleda to cheer them on just as soon as she possibly can.