Fútbol (Soccer, for you Americans) is much more than just a sport in Spain. It’s more of a religion for most fans. I’d be willing to bet that many Spaniards have attended more matches than Masses or church services in their lifetimes. On important game days, pedestrians are sparse as people crowd themselves into bars and pubs to watch their favorite teams.
Since my arrival in Spain, I’ve been able to attend two fútbol matches and watch many more in various cities around Spain. Their passion for the sport is unlike anything that I’ve ever seen. Being from the South, I’ve seen many devoted football (the American kind) fans, but their loyalty and fandom is nowhere near the level of the average Spanish fútbol fan. Here are my experiences with fútbol in Spain:
1. If you remember from this post, I had the privilege of attending one of the most watched sporting events in the entire world: El Clásico. An intense rivalry between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, it’s much more than just a soccer game for most Spaniards. It’s a battle of cultures between Castilian Spanish and the Catalan. The rivalry can be dated back to the reign of Francisco Franco and the Spanish Civil War, but I won’t bore you with a history lesson. But let me just say this….most Spaniards would kill for a chance to have tickets to this game, and most will never get the chance. As many as 450 million people tune in twice a year to watch Ronaldo and Messi battle it out. So let me just say this…I was definitely counting my blessings when I found out that I got tickets. Polly and I arrived at Camp Nou (Barcelona’s stadium), and quickly found out that we had access to a VIP room with free food and drinks. We weren’t allowed to wear our jerseys in the room because there were companies from Madrid and Barcelona present, and they didn’t want any conflicts. I told you….it’s intense. Polly and I were obviously out of place. Everyone looked important, and we looked….well, American. When the game started, we found our seats in the stadium which were the first row of the second level. Also, they were padded and clearly meant for important people. We just glanced at each other and started hysterically laughing. How did we get so lucky? The whole experience felt like a dream. The fans started chanting and singing and Polly and I were speechless. This. Is. Not. Real. Life. The Spaniards around us were absolutely insane during the game. When Barcelona scored, the entire stadium erupted into cheers louder than anything I’ve ever heard. And I go to LSU, that stadium gets louddddddd. In the end, Barcelona lost 2-1, but here’s what I think was the most interesting part: In the US, if your team is losing and it’s down to the last few minutes, everyone gets angry and leaves. Not here. Almost everyone stayed until the last second of the game, waited to sing the FC Barcelona song, clapped for their team and left in peace. No riots, no anger. I was blown away at the sportsmanship and loyalty. Polly and I left the game in absolute amazement, and feeling really blessed to be given the opportunity to be at the game.
2. UD Salamanca: Last week, ISA offered us free tickets to go see Salamanca’s team play. I wasn’t expecting much because I had just gone to El Clásico, and I knew this probably wouldn’t compare. In fact, I was expecting it to be like a high school soccer game in the United States. Once again, my expectations were exceeded. That seems to happen a lot in this country. The stadium, which was in the middle of nowhere Salamanca, was decently sized and packed full of people. The fans were insane and extrememly devoted to their team. A lot of ISA students were there, so we got to sit next to each other and pretend like we knew the cheers and chants in Spanish. Salamanca defeated their opponent which led to cheers, singing, hugging, and jumping up and down. Okay, so we were the only ones jumping up and down. We were excited, alright? The game was obviously no El Clásico, but it’s one of my favorite memories of Salamanca.