Let me begin by saying, I am not a soccer fan. I follow a few sports, mostly college football and Red Wings hockey, but I do not take notice of soccer’s minimal presence in American sports culture. So, when my friend suggested that we go a Real Madrid game that night, I had no idea what to expect. The metro ride to the Santiago Bernabeu stadium was filled with fans sporting all kinds of Real Madrid paraphernalia. We arrived at the stadium and right away my friend and I bought at Real Madrid scarf, wanting to be included in this new and exciting part of Spanish tradition. My mentality was focused not so much on the game itself, but on the cultural aspect. When in Madrid? … attend a Real Madrid game.
On the outside, Santiago Bernabeu looked like any other stadium I had been to before: lit up, circular, fringed by lines of fans. The inside, however, took my breath away. Although the U of M football stadium boasts one of the largest seating capacities in the world, Santiago Bernabeu had an incredible presence that reminded me of the Quidditch World Cup scene in the fourth Harry Potter movie. It seemed impossible that a stadium could be that large, that steep, and that LOUD. Despite our nosebleed seats, we could see everything on the field and watched with intense focus as the ball bounced back and forth from player to player as if it were a pinball game. When Madrid scored its first goal against the opponent, Sevilla, the stadium erupted into cheers louder than I ever thought possible, followed by their victory song, Hala Madrid. The voice was unified and clear, proclaiming that the team, their team, was beyond comparison and better than anyone else.
From that moment on, my friend and I were hooked. Thankfully, we were accompanied by a compañero, a Spanish native who volunteered with the IES program. For the next 90 minutes, we bombarded him with questions about the game, the players, and the Real v. Atlético rivalry. He, however, was from Barcelona and grudgingly spoke of Real Madrid as a pretentious and showy “equipo.” His Catalan roots forbade him from speaking anything positive of Real Madrid. He explained that the rivalry between his team and Real Madrid was called El Clásico and that it acknowledges divisions not only in sports teams but in region, politics, and culture. This both surprised and amazed me. In the U.S. we hush fans who get too heated by saying, “It’s only a game.” Here, it is so much more than that. Fútbol, to the Spanish, is not only a way of life, it is an identity. In the end, Real Madrid clinched a victory over Sevilla with a score of 2-1. The victory songs, chants, and cheers continued from the stadium through nine metro stops. Based on what I saw that night, I can honestly say that you cannot entirely experience Spanish culture, without experiencing the excitement and unity felt at a fútbol stadium.
For more information on the CGIS Madrid Program visit the MCompass program page.