The week in the life of a British football fan in Madrid
Flares, Leffe and Ham sandwiches. If I had to sum up my football weekend in Madrid, those would be the words I would choose. Going to a football match in the UK is something special, but I was intrigued to see how, if in anyway, the experience differs for a foreigner in a foreign country. So, as I ventured on a four day break to the Spanish capital, with two days of football activities planned, I was excited to see how exactly I would take in the Beautiful Game, but more importantly, I wanted to find out how this experience differed from our own football environment in England (and sample the Spanish halftime pie and a pint, but more on that later).
After a slightly bumpy two hour flight to the heart of Madrid, I was eager to dump my bags off and visit my first football sight of the trip, the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, home, of course, to Real Madrid. The stadium’s own metro station leads you almost to the doorstep of the stadium itself, with the exit opening out to a view of the stadium that is not too unlike coming out of the tunnel at a ground itself. My plan was to get myself onto a stadium tour and explore to home of arguably the most famous football club on the planet, but I was delighted that, unlike most stadium tours in England, Real’s was self-guided, allowing me to spend as much time in the ground as I wished. Spanish football 1 – 0 English football, perhaps.
The tour provides a number of jaw-dropping vantage spots for those all important fan selfies, but it was a treat to relax in the stands with a pint and a snack and just soak up the atmosphere of the ground, albeit considerably more empty than on a match day. As I walked around the stadium, there was also an opportunity to stand on the platform where Gareth Bale and co. have been unveiled in the past, and like Bale, I too stumbled through my conversational Spanish.
But the Real highlight was certainly walking out onto the pitch itself. Yes, it is stating the obvious that the ground is huge, but there isn’t a view quite like the one available when you stand pitch-side. Looking around the ground, you can almost hear the chants from the terraces as you stand inches from Madrid’s hallowed turf. Breathtaking.
That was Saturday. But for me, Sunday was the footballing highlight of my trip, having secured tickets to Atletico Madrid v Valencia at the Vicente Calderon before flying (tickets online from 30€). Initially though, I took in the Super Sunday offering of the Manchester Derby ahead of the game, finding it being shown in a homely Spanish sports pub. If you do venture abroad, and want to take in a game, definitely find a pub with a local flavour. It might not be as sleek as the Irish pub a few doors down, but it’s often cheap and has a more unique atmosphere. This was the case here, with my pint of Leffe, quite popular in most bars it seemed, being accompanied by a selection of tapas dishes, all included in the 3€ price; bargain. Language certainly was not a barrier to football discussion here either, with undoubtably the whole bar understanding, even if they did not speak English, my frustration at yet another misplaced pass from Wayne Rooney.
The bore draw over, I grabbed the metro over to Piramides, the station closest to the Calderon, and immediately was hit by the wave of Atlético fans all awaiting the game. Outside the ground was very similar to the atmosphere outside a ground in England. Stalls were full of Atletico merchandise, although the match-day programme was absent from the Spanish pre-match tradition. The dreaded half-half scarves were available and even some Falcao emblazoned home shirts were on sale.
Beneath the ground is a bar for home and away fans to mingle before the match, which was surprisingly calm considering the pre-match hype in MARCA, but this was a wonderful opportunity to see home and away fans chat about the game beforehand, whilst taking in the Barcelona-Eibar fixture on the big screens. A note on those away fans though. Spanish fans do not travel, it was seem, as much as English fans do, perhaps because of the distance. That said, Valencia’s 60 or so fans made themselves heard, but for a proper away support, still look to English football.
Waiting outside for the turnstiles to open, there was a rumble beneath me and suddenly a huge explosion, as a number of flares were lit on the walkway to the ground, followed by chanting that gained momentum as the wave of fans surged towards the stadium. There was a glow of fire red accompanied by chants of ‘Atleti’ before the masses converged on a square just off the main route to the ground, where the chants roared pre-match.
Inside the ground, the view was impressive, and the open ground still did well to maintain the atmosphere despite the lack of roofing that dominates mosts modern English stadiums. Then the first real contrast in the match-day experience came, as the crowd lit cigarettes throughout the match. As someone used to the blanket smoking ban in England, this was a huge culture shock and whilst it did not detriment the atmosphere, nor take anything away from my enjoyment, it was difficult to get used to watching the game through cigarette smoke clouds. Another difference was the choice of half-time snack, The pie and pint option I was hoping for, and used to in England, was replaced by home-made ham sandwiches that almost everyone in the ground appeared to tuck into once the half-time whistle blew (by not having one, I confirmed my identity as a tourist to the Spaniards around me).
Atlético were a joy to watch, but were undoubtedly helped by Valencia’s defence appeared not to wake up. Jackson Martinez was a delight to behold for the home side and the Colombian appears to have made himself a fan favourite already. Fernando Torres still enjoys the rapturous reception he had prior to his move to England, but the ground were showing frustration with the former Liverpool and Chelsea man, as he wasted a number of chances to put the game to bed in the second half.
But as the whistle went, there was no rush for the turnstiles as the home fans roared as if they had won the title, applauding their players and charismatic manager Diego Simeone until they were deep down the tunnel. The journey, in fact, back to my hotel was quite comfortable, with there not being the usual human traffic jam that is expected post-match in England.
The following two days included more sightseeing, but the football part of my trip was completed, and I’d learnt the true international spirit of our beautiful game. Yes, there are perks to watching football in Spain, just as there are to watching it in England, but the differences are outweighed by the similarities. The spirit and intensity that it is played, by clubs from both nations, and that it is supported by English and Spanish fans alike, makes it a wonderful experience. If you do get a chance to sample football abroad, do it. There’s nothing quite like not knowing much Spanish, or any language for that matter, and still understanding what 50,000 natives think of the referee.
Featured Image: All rights reserved by Cisco Pics
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