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The NewSLU

A Real Madrid Match Through the Eyes of Soccer Novices

The author joins a group of American study abroad students as they embark on their first-ever experience of Bernabéu
Delaney Garvey
A knock-off jersey the author bought in the metro before her first Real Madrid match.

Bernabeu Stadium is swarming with thousands of energetic fans getting ready to watch the team they have been rooting for their entire lives. But among these veterans, I led a group of my American friends to watch their first-ever Real Madrid match. They were lucky, though they didn’t know it: it was one of the first games of the season.

“It was overwhelming, to say the least, but not in a negative way, the stadium was practically buzzing with energy,” said study abroad student Lily Staub, 21, of St. Louis.

The fans that surrounded our seats immediately welcomed us, giving us information about each player, the history of the club, and what cheers to do. The people were warm and inviting, not something I am used to. As a frequent fan of college basketball, I am accustomed to fans that lean more on the drunk and loud side whereas Real fans are calm and kind. My expectations about the crowd were completely thrown off as soon as the match started, and I believe my friends were surprised as well.

“I am used to a lot of loud drunk screaming, fans with their shirts off and beer in everyone’s hand, but the fans were nothing like that,” says study abroad student Cate Zidar, 20, of Detroit.  “The only section that was rowdy was the groups on both goal ends with their flags and chants, but even that didn’t seem out of control.”

The game started exactly on time, with a big opening ceremony: the Spanish national song was played sung and the starting 12 were announced. I went into the match knowing the few key
players: Bellingham, Vini Jr., and Modric. But as I looked around me, fans were supporting every single player. Of course, there were a lot of Bellingham jerseys — he is the best midfielder in
the world right now — but I saw a lot of names of bench players, goalies, and even past players of the club. The fans seemed to be so connected to this team. As I talked to the fans around me, I asked them what Real Madrid meant to them.

A father and son bond over fútbol

“Football connects everyone,” says Rodrigo Gomez, 46, of Madrid. “For the past for seasons I’ve watched every home game with my son. The bond we share over football brings us together.”

The bond that Rodrigo describes seemed to be the overall theme when I talked to other fans. This team or even sport has the amazing ability to bring family members, friends, and even strangers together. At one point the chants picked up, fans got more energy, and Real started to dominate the game. My friends and I talked about how we had never seen a sport move so fast, and seen athletes this athletic. The ability to run nonstop for 45 minutes took our breath away.

Real Madrid was dominating Palma’s half for practically the whole half, with barely one let-up. When they scored their first goal, the stadium roared with noise, I am pretty sure my eardrums almost burst. I have experienced a lot of different sporting events: NHL games, MLB games, NFL games, college football, and basketball but nothing compared to the noise that I heard that night in Bernabeu stadium.

I have never seen a fan base so excited for their first goal.

“As soon as the ball rolled across the goal line, the fans broke out in cheers and chants.” said study abroad student Katie Gripenstraw, 22, of Nashville. “I have never seen a fan base so excited for their first goal. It made me so excited for the rest of the game, seeing fans so passionate about their team makes you get into the match more.” 

The energy did not let up for the rest of the half, or even the whole game, we sat in our seats and did not tear our eyes away from the match. As the game went on, I noticed that we were not the
only ones locked in on the match. At one point the loud cheering died down and fans surrounding us stopped talking and dialed in to watch their team. I asked the woman who was sitting next to me why it was so quiet in our section.

Fans don’t like distraction

“The fans don’t like noise or distractions because it draws focus away from the game, just because we are up 1-0 doesn’t mean the game is ours. We have to be prepared for anything to happen at any moment. In La Liga anything can happen,” says lifelong fan Maria Sanchez, 34, of Madrid.

Right after she finished speaking, Real Madrid scored a breathtaking goal right before the half, again causing a riot in the stadium. You would think they just won La Liga, but nope, just a preseason goal right before the half. The fact that this was the energy throughout just the first half is what made me become a Real Madrid fan. The constant enthusiasm and intensity made the match truly enjoyable.

As we settled in for the second half, my hopes were high for victory, and I think everyone in the stadium agreed. The vibes were unparalleled, everyone up and cheering just for that third goal, my friends and I included. I guess cheering paid off because soon after the 80th minute, the third goal was put into the back of the net. It was like Real knew that we were there and decided to put on their best performance.

When the whistle blew for the game, I embraced my friends and the fans around me. This was truly one of the best experiences I have had while being abroad and maybe the best sporting event I have seen. The fans, the atmosphere, and the spirit were what made this match a truly incredible experience. If you are in Madrid during the football season, you have to see a match. It will make you fall in love with the people of Madrid and Madrid as a whole.

Do’s and Don’t of Becoming a Real Madrid Fan
  1. DON’T call it soccer, call it fútbol!
  2. DO wear a Real Madrid jersey. Fans do know if you're wearing a fake one, FYI.
  3. DON’T wear FC Barca colors to games.
  4. DO participate in chants led by the fan section. Just make sure you know what you're saying.
  5. DON’T block anyone's view at any time (learned that the hard way).
  6. DO sneak in snacks. Food for sale is limited and expensive.
  7. DON’T talk trash to rival fans, unless your goal is to start a fight with strangers.
  8. DO study the statistics of key players like Jude Bellingham and Luka Modrić.
  9. DON’T pretend to be a lifelong fan. Nobody likes a bandwagon.
  10. DO be ready for a sports season like no other!

      -- Delaney Garvey

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