Iago

City Views: Iago Castro – “I didn’t speak English when I moved here, which means I’ve learned how to do it as a Sheffielder”

I was born and raised in a little town. A little town in Galicia, northwest Spain.

A little town nobody had heard of in that corner of the country. A place where everything you could watch on TV seemed far away, fictional, almost exotic. A place my uncle, smartly, defined as “a forest with phone line”.

I obviously didn’t know this. I hadn’t seen anything different yet. I grew up the same as any other kid: cartoons, Coca-Cola and Playstation 2. It was, actually, in one of my lazy git FIFA marathons when I heard (or, more accurately, read) a certain name for the very first time. The noisy, toxic screen of that old-school tube TV had a name and badge blinking in front of me: Sheffield United.

I would be lying if I say that moment was a turnaround in my life. Sheffield was just a funny word I’d never heard before and I probably slaughtered the pronunciation. I don’t remember what happened after, but I probably won that match playing on the easiest level (I wasn’t a big videogame talent, you see). However, it’s amazing how something so trivial, just a frame between hours and hours of wasted time, can become so meaningful years and years later.

Time passes. As life does too. My tale wasn’t really exciting or impressive. I wasn’t a little genius or a young athlete with a brilliant future. It was more a case of classic high school stories, some basketball matches, good friends, odd (and questionable) fashion styles, and a couple of drinks sometimes. Then it was college and, again, nothing remarkable here – the good old days, a conjunction of life-changing experiences…

But there’s a particular episode that deserves to be mentioned. On a certain day, one of my close mates decided to wear a Sheffield United t-shirt. “Student exchange, lovely city,” he said. That sort of second coming was eventually forgotten, apart from being a friendly reminder about Sheffield being a thing, and I was reminded further by seeing him wear that jersey every once in a while.

Iago’s friend from back home came to Sheffield on a student exchange. “Lovely city,” he said.

And then, I met a girl. All bad stories have a love plot in them. But I don’t care how bad my story is, because it is mine and it defines me. This girl lived in Sheffield the summer before we met. She was in love with the place. “I know one football team there,” I said, looking for some common ground (not really helpful, admittedly, but definitely better than “I’ve no idea about it”). At least my FIFA-powered geography knowledge was good enough to identify the city she was talking about. She told me about her friends. About how nice the people were. About the Peak District. About Cafe #9. About her plans of moving there. Enough! I’ve since heard and read about three hundred times that sentence: “There are only two reasons people move to Sheffield: University and love”. And here we are.

We moved here on the 25th of September, 2018. I remember that date perfectly. One hour after we arrived, someone stole our backpacks from a friend’s car in Abbeydale Tesco’s car park. “A blind spot,” the security guard said; “Welcome to Sheffield,” one of my first workmates said. It’s probably what my uncle meant by experiencing ‘real life’.

“She told me about her friends. About how nice the people were. About the Peak District. About Cafe #9.” Image taken by writer.

The start wasn’t easy. But we didn’t stop. We were and we are stronger than a couple of car park rats. One week later, we rented our first flat, using nothing but our phones and stolen Wi-Fi. There was no money, but we discovered Sheffield together. Everything you can see, touch and smell, but also the intangible: all the people who made this path easier, all the friends I’m gonna keep in my guts forever. When you’re seeking a future abroad, the concept of family reaches a new dimension; it’s magical how you can feel at home with people you know from one day to another, in a foreign country, in a different culture. But this is Sheffield.

There was a lot of fun to be had. Stroking every dog at every pub; downing Clwb Tropicana pints like water in the Washy; turning myself into a real ale connoisseur; 4am calls to Kebabish Express; Cubana like a fresh breeze reminding me of a night out back home; fascinatedly observing British people singing Sweet Caroline when they can’t even walk, never mind pronounce words. There were hours and hours of walking alone around the Peak District, with only my headphones, a mental peace haven. I nearly cried after that penalty shootout against Italy, hugging my friend. Your pain was also mine that night.

“There was no money, but we discovered Sheffield together. Everything you can see, touch and smell, but also the intangible: all the people who made this path easier, all the friends I’m gonna keep in my guts forever.” Image taken by writer.

We are not together anymore, my partner and I. This means, from one day to another, everything I knew and discovered about this city turned into a blank page. Again, a full restart in an unexpected way is needed. Something I didn’t mention is that I didn’t even speak English when I moved here, which means I’ve learned how to do it as a Sheffielder. If you bump into a dude speaking with a mixed Spanish-Yorkshire accent, using Sheffield-born and bred expressions, it will probably be me.

Yes, I’m that one who says “nah then” or “ayup” when arriving at work; the one who says “be reyt” whilst having a deep, soul-opening conversation in front of three or four empty Moonshine glasses; the one shouting “ge’ore!” when the drunken banter crosses the line; the one filling up his senses with a gallon of Magnet, who is familiar with the sharp belly pain after a greasy chip butty. I also learned I was wrong all the time. There are actually not one, but two football teams in Sheffield: Sheffield United… and the other one. (I’m only having a laugh, eh?)

My name is Iago. I’ve moved here four and a half years ago without a single clue.

My name is Iago and, nowadays, I’m Sheffield through and through.

PS: I also can be a little bit of a mardy bum. But not all the time.




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