I’ve been walking past the Santiago Bernabéu stadium everyday for the past two weeks, simply imagining, dreaming, and wishing I knew what lay within the confines of the large gates. The hundreds of thousands, if not millions of fans have witnessed players who’ve laced up their boots, taken the field, and gave it their all for ninety minutes, but that number dwindles when you solely count the number of fans that have witnessed a Real Madrid and FC Barçelona game, El Clásico.
Luckily enough, I got to be one of those fans. YES. You read that right, I got tickets to El Clásico. Granted it was only the Semi Final of the Copa del Rey, which is a trivial and unimportant game in the grand scheme of things, but hell ya I’m went to a Real-Barça game! I’m one of those people who firmly believes that money cannot buy you happiness, but let me tell you… money can buy you tickets to El Clásico and thats pretty much the thing right next to happiness (in my book anyway).
As a soccer fanatic, I cannot even begin to tell you the number of times I’ve dreamt of seeing this match being played out. Just ask any fútbolista what the biggest rivalry in soccer is and they will say, without hesitation, Real-Barça. The hostility towards each other stems from a very long and violent political history (as do most inter-city club rivalries in Spain). I for one, was surprised by this, as I always viewed sport as a means to unite people, not to divide them. Quite honestly, I think that’s why I’m a sports management major – because I’m infatuated by the way sports transcends so many social and political issues!
Flash back to Wednesday morning. I rolled out of bed, threw on my beautiful sea foam green Barça jersey with Lionel Messi’s number 10 on the back, under my long sleeve black NYU Soccer shirt. I grabbed my zip up, knowing that If I were to walk around the stadium in any Barcelona gear, that I’d be immediately shunned and given the nastiest stares you could imagine. The two hours of class could not go fast enough, as all I could find myself thinking about was the intense rivalry I was about to witness. Luckily enough, my Blogging Spain professor was a Barça fan (a rare find in Madrid) and spent half the class talking about the game and the history between the clubs.
I grabbed a quick lunch and then headed over to a friends apartment near the stadium to do some homework and get ready for the game. Of the ten or so of us girls, I was the only Barcelona supporter (obviously) and one of two people who knew what was actually going on. Though it was somewhat comical to me when girls were asking who won after the game (it was a 1-1 draw), I was happy I was able to introduce them to the soccer world.
We walked over to the stadium about an hour prior and I was in complete soccer heaven. Thousands of people crowded the streets, vendors sold merchandise to fans, and policeman blocked off the streets surrounding the stadium. I wore my jersey proudly, embracing the fact that I was the enemy, knowing that anything I did or said would be amplified, not only because I was an American, but because of the colors I wore across my chest. I got spat at, sworn at (numerous times) and told to “get my papers and go home” by many Madridistas throughout the game, but nothing took away from the fact that I was living my dream of going to the greatest soccer rivalry on the planet.
I know for one that I cannot do the game justice but I wish I could share the moments with everybody.Flags were waving. People were singing, chanting, whistling, screaming their lungs out. The unforgettable smells of the jamón y queso bocadillos and the stench of cigarettes filled the stadium. The piercing sounds echoed in my ear drums for hours after the game. You could FEEL the emotions evaporating off of peoples faces when I flashed a smile at every Real fan I passed by. They were disgusted. I was on cloud nine – too excited to even be mad at their “Puta Messi” remarks.
The game itself was not everything I was expecting. A 1-1 draw is not horrible, but in the world of soccer, a tie is practically the same as a loss – and I hate losing more than anything! In addition, Messi had been averaging 1.53 goals a game and recently scored 4 goals on Sunday so I was very excited to see him juke out some keepers, however he was largely absent from the game. Fábregas scored, and as an Arsenal fan in the EPL I was very excited for the old captain to score. I also had been looking forward to seeing Iker Casillas (my favorite male professional goalkeeper) play, however this past week he had surgery on his hand after the Valencia game where his own player stepped on him. Despite having Diego Lopez in goal for Casillas and slew of athletes recovering, Real Madrid proved to be progressing. The best part of the game itself, and perhaps what made me most excited is when my roommate Erin repeated to me, “Barça’s passing is amazing” – and quite honestly it made me smile. Even a complete non-soccer-fan could see the beauty that lies in the crisp passes between Iniesta and Messi.
Wednesday was a dream come true. And everyday when I walk past the Santiago Bernabéu stadium I will no longer be imagining, dreaming, and wishing I knew what lay within the confines of the large gates. I will know. I will know why that stadium, El Clásico, and the beautiful game of fútbol is so important to the people of Spain.