"I'm on my terrace every night like lots of other people and I'm clapping away and I'm looking at the ambulances passing by and I'm looking at the poor guys and gals working in hospitals without the proper protection and I think, 'Damn, I wish I could do something more for them,'" Steve Archibald says, and so he did.
There has always been something determined and direct about him, a sense that he has an iron conviction: It's the way he played, the way he is. Whether that's stepping into Diego Maradona's boots -- well, pulling on Maradona's shirt -- or this. "I thought, 'I'm going to do that,' so that's what I'm doing," he says. It could go on his coat of arms.
The former FC Barcelona striker went inside, looked at the numbers and worked it all out. Soon, he was announcing it. All the medical staff in Spain working during the coronavirus pandemic could get their electricity and gas at cost price for a year, via his company, FC Energía.
"It was just a feeling inside me: 'I wish there was something we could do,'" he says. "And what I could do was give them their energy at cost. I don't make money from them, not a penny, but I'm not worried about that." He called it the tarifa héroe ("hero's tariff") and it isn't an offer, he says; it is a thank-you.
It's also not the most typical of career paths for a former footballer: a striker turned ... energy supplier? But then, from Clyde to the Camp Nou and from there across the city to Espanyol, playing for 14 clubs over 22 years -- Aberdeen and Spurs especially standing out -- Archibald's career wasn't that typical, either. And it never seemed to bother him much, nor did it stop him making a success of it.
When Archibald arrived at Barcelona in 1984, he went to take the No. 8 shirt that he'd always worn, and the one Barcelona had written into his contract, only to find Bernd Schuster sitting on it. Schuster had always worn the No. 8 and he was determined to continue wearing it. It was a point of pride -- he wasn't going to lose his shirt to the new foreign signing -- and also a point of pressure. There was no way, he said, he was wearing the No. 10 that had belonged to Diego Maradona.
Archibald explained how important No. 8 was to him, the number he had always worn, but he looked Schuster in the eyes and, realising the German player's concerns, let him have it. It was the right thing to do, he was sure. He'd take No. 10; it didn't bother him, even if he got asked about Maradona daily. You've come to replace Diego, they said; I've come to be Archibald, he replied. Which, as always, he was. He was Barcelona's top scorer as they won the league for the first time in 11 years. The following season, they reached their first European Cup final in 25 years.
Archibald, 63, still lives in Barcelona now, almost a quarter of a century after his final game, a solitary appearance for Home Farm in Dublin. In Barcelona, he founded a company called FC Energía, linking football to one's gas or electricity supply, becoming a partner of a dozen Spanish clubs. "We thought it might be a good idea to sell gas and electricity; everybody needs it, right?" he says. "And we thought the football link might just work."
"We changed the business model. We took the idea to Nexus, the biggest providers of renewable energy in Spain, and went from there. Whereas Endesa and Iberdrola, for example, will buy their energy at 5, say, add a margin and sell at 7 or 8, we don't. We buy and sell at cost, with a small management fee, and we keep it clear: The energy sector is complicated in terms of tariffs and it drives people crazy. We like to be transparent, which the industry is not. It's a hell of a place really. If we can simplify it for ourselves and the customers, good."
Why, then, don't other energy companies adopt this model? "Because they're greedy," Archibald says. "We're also going very, very big on green energy, because of the state the planet's in. It's green energy; others sell 'dirty' energy: fossil fuels, atomic energy, and it's not clean. I don't like to use the word 'movement,' but it is something we're pushing. And that links to the medical sector: They're working and curing people, and we want to help cure the planet. It's about awareness.
"I just wanted to say thank you to them somehow. So we decided: OK, let's give them their energy at cost for a year. They don't need to do it now: They're head down, working; they can't lift their head up because all they're doing is working, sleeping, working, sleeping."
"This pandemic crisis will change us," Archibald says. "We've seen the importance of life. No one has been able to stop the world like this, nobody, not a war or anything. Not like this. It's like the world has said, 'Listen, hey, enough. I'm choking here. I'm going to die; you need to stop.' Sure, it's a virus and we don't know where it comes from, but it links to those environmental [questions]. The world has had a chance to breathe -- there are fewer cars about, less pollution. Hopefully people will see that, because it might help the environment enormously. This might push us and [the planet] needs it."
One thing it might not need yet is football, Archibald said. "Like many people, I watched the German league and it was sad, right," he says. "It was just sad, like fish and chips without salt and vinegar or a pizza without topping. Fans are the lifeblood of the game. Like that Tom Cruise line [in "Jerry Maguire"]: You complete me. And the fans do complete us. Without the fans, it's sad.
"I know football has to try to return because of the money, but as a player, if I was asked to play to see out the season, I would be reticent to do so. My chances of becoming infected increase, so why would I do that if I have my kids at home? There will be players out there who [feel the same]. The 'lesser' players will not say anything but the minute Messi says, 'I'm not playing,' then what happens? I would finish it now.
"If we're putting money before players' lives, that's unfair," Archibald says. "Let's give a thought to how the player is actually feeling inside, he will be nervous and uncertain. Players feed off of the energy of the fans -- playing without fans reduces the intensity and quality of the play. The players should have had a vote on the return of the game since they're the ones that have to put themselves at risk. A blind vote, with one caveat: If they decide against playing, they forfeit their salaries until it is safe to return."
Football might not feel the same when it does start up?
"Yeah, and that's why the football season should end now, to preserve the integrity and quality of the game. Don't rush something through, a product, that is going to be inferior -- and it will because it will be missing the fans, and they're what makes the game work. People will watch it on TV and it will feel sad, missing something. Add the possibility that people die and that doesn't do it for me, nor for the fans I am sure."
There are more important things, Archibald says. More important people, too, applauded every night at 8 from his balcony in Barcelona.
"The medical professions have been fantastic," he says. "And this is not just looking after them -- by using green energy we help the planet; it's a double whammy. Somewhere the two things link together in my brain. I just wanted to say thank you. I thought, 'What can I do?' and I looked at it and thought, 'I can do this', so I am."