When people travel, whether it be abroad or at home in your own country, trying to get a feel and understand the local culture is usually one of the main goals. To accomplish this task, travels usually include local restaurants, sightseeing, architecture, etc. At this site the belief is that this can also be accomplished by attending sporting events. There are few things outside of sports that have the opportunity to combine local traditions, passions, food, and language all in one.

Taking this into account, when the opportunity to travel to Spain came about this year one of the first things that naturally happened was a quick search for soccer matches during the time in that country. I have heard stories about the Spanish passion for soccer and wasn’t going to miss out on an opportunity to see it up close and personal. La Liga soccer was atop the list for things to do. Of course the first two clubs that come to mind when thinking of Spanish soccer are Barcelona and Real Madrid. While I was fortunately able to include those two clubs in the itinerary, it was unfortunately not for a game. However, the third and most often underrated and forgotten club in Spain did happen to be playing while there: Atlético Madrid. That game is covered first here, followed by experiences at Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. AtletiStadium

Atlético Madrid Game

Atlético Madrid has always been one of the top clubs in the world, having one multiple  La Liga titles and other major international tournaments. The club has steadily been on the rise since 2009, where they have seen success not only in La Liga (the Spanish soccer league) but also in the UEFA Champions League. Led by the fearless forward Antoine Griezmann, Atlético has been a force to be reckoned with since 2014. So although it wasn’t one of the top two teams, the opportunity to see such an elite team naturally got me very excited.

Little bit of back story on the trip. It was a two week trip to Portugal, Morocco and Spain: two nights in Lisbon, one night in Porto, nearly 38 hours in Madrid, 4 nights in Morocco, and 4 nights in Barcelona. Gold was stuck during the time in Madrid, as that was the only time we were in a city where soccer was being played, and really the only opportunity for sports. Although we were able to experience more passion for the sport outside of that game, as well as another interesting sport. More on that in a bit. Side note – apparently Marrakech has a significant amount of golf courses, which would be great to hear the background on. A story for another day perhaps.

AteltiCrowdOne word to describe Spanish culture is LATE. Everything happens a lot later than it does in the States. Breakfast is between 9 and 10 AM, lunch between 1-2 PM, and its difficult to find a restaurant open for dinner prior to 9 PM. Not kidding, 9 PM. So of course the kickoff for the soccer match was at 10:30 PM. Vicente Calderón Stadium is not particularly close to the main downtown area of Madrid, but pretty easy to get to via the metro. It takes maybe 20-25 minutes from Puerto del Sol, one of the main areas downtown, to arrive there. The best part about taking the metro is the constant addition of Atleti supporters at each subsequent stop. By the time the train arrives at the stadium stop, the excitement of all the added supporters is palpable and adds to the experience.

Arriving early is the way to go, as it is truly a party outside the stadium. The streets are literally shut down. Many of the fans are enjoying some Spanish cervezas. If you aren’t wearing the red and blue of the home team, you definitely stand out. We purchased some Atleti swag to blend in more, plus a jersey is always a great souvenir. The team store is right off the main street where the majority of fans are partying.

After getting swag, check out El Parador Cerveceria, a local bar right on the main street corner. You can quickly grab about a large beer (seriously a large, it was 2 pints) for about 7 Euro. Depending on the game time, you may want to eat before arriving as well. There were few spots to grab something to eat, and the food in the stadium is not good. And by not good, it is actually horrible. AtletiBar

DON’T GO IN EARLY to the game, even if it gets close to game time. The stadium does not serve alcohol. So naturally the fans drink as much as they can before entering. I found this out the hard way and it was major disappointment. The concession stands advertise cervezas, but specifically “cervezas con limon” and “cervezas sin alcohol.” That is beer with lime that has very very little alcohol and beer without alcohol. I had a conversation using my basic Spanish with a very nice police officer asking where I could get a beer with alcohol, but she laughed and explained that no stadiums in Spain sell alcohol on game days. Can you imagine that happening at professional stadiums in America?! There was certainly no beer anywhere to be found so we believed her.

The other good reason not to go in early is that, the closer to game time, the crazier the fans get. About an hour before the game starts, what sounded like gun shots rang out. Then a BOOM! Apparently someone brought a cannon. Normal. Then fireworks and sparklers went off. It scared everyone that didn’t know what was happening, including me as I ducked like a fool. But this is normal. This is the fans pregame ritual. Clubs chants quickly broke out. Then the ENTIRE block started chanting along to in unison. It felt more like a mob than a crowd of soccer fans. Everywhere you looked fans were jumping and screaming chants while facing the mob like torches and cannons in the middle of the street. Chills ran down my body as I felt their excitement and instinctively started chanting incoherent words and jumping in rhythm with them.

Don’t get too excited about Vicente Calderón Stadium once you enter, however. As far as stadiums go, it is pretty basic and not very nice. It seats about 57,000, which is quite large for a European stadium. Although not as large as the Barcelona and Real Madrid stadiums, which are 80,000+. Atlético Madrid is getting a new stadium next year that seats 70,000+, and you can see why. The food isn’t great either. Tortilla, Chorizo, and Tuna sandwiches for 4 euro are the main staple. I had the tortilla (basically a sandwich) and it wasn’t very edible. Drinks are also about 3 euro.AtletiConcession

The game itself was exciting. The fans do NOT stop cheering the entire game. Constant chants from the end zone section rang out through out, and at critical moments the entire stadium joined in as well. It was amazing. The atmosphere is comparable to an SEC football game, except it’s constantly loud. The fans are screaming throughout versus just going loud when football teams are on defense. As the game went on and Atleti kept missing chances, you could feel the tension and frustrations from the fans. They continuously jeered and chanted, urging their team on. When Ateli finally broke through on a penalty kick, you could not hear yourself think. It was that loud. When Alaves scored with no time left for the tie, suddenly you could hear a pin drop. It crushed the home team fans. They were living and dying with this team.

If you are wondering where to sit, the home team’s end zone seating appeared to be the best section to sit. Supporters there were leading the chants and had drums and flags waving all game long. Be careful when buying tickets, though. Fans are not allowed to leave their section at any time. You can’t even walk around the stadium concourse. So don’t try to see the entire stadium. It won’t happen. There are gates everywhere, even in the sitting areas, preventing you from going anywhere. Make sure you know where you want to sit well in advance!

After the game ends, the famous La Latina bar area is only a 15-20 min walk away. You can easily take the metro up a few blocks, or follow the crowd to that area. This is one of the more infamous bar areas in Mardid and very popular. Drinks are cheap, but don’t expect overly nice bars. A lot of the bars are basically dive bars. You will enjoy yourself regardless.

Stadium experience aside, this was one of the best sporting events I have attended. La Liga soccer has some of the world’s most elite players. Seeing that talent on display was amazing. The fans passion and pre-game rituals were also fantastic. Atleti

Real Madrid and FC Barcelona Fan ExperienceRealMadridPano

The Spanish soccer experience of La Liga and was so great that we didn’t want it to end with that one game. Thankfully there was an easy solution. Real Madrid and FC Barcelona luckily do allow visitors to tour their stadiums, even if they aren’t playing games. Our first stop was at Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, home of Real Madrid.

Our tour started by going to the very top and seeing a panoramic of the entire seating and field. The first thing we noticed was the sheer size difference between Bernabéu and Vicente Calderón. Vicente Calderón holds 57,000 spectators, Santiago Bernabéu holds 80,000. There area also no gaps in the stadium. I can imagine it gets quite loud. The stadium is also much nicer than Vicente Calderón. How nice the stadium was certainly was the second thing that stood out. The seats were better, the outside of the stadium was nicer, the amenities were better, and I bet the concessions were better too.

Our journey then took us through what was called the “Best Club in History” Room. No seriously, that was the name. The room held the entire collection of trophies and housed the history of the club. It was nothing short of impressive. Memorabilia from their greatest wins and games were housed there as well. Thematic, inspiring music pumped through the speakers as videos of the best players and goals played on the walls. I am not even a fan of Real Madrid and I got chills. Throughout the room the team’s records were displayed. Stats were displayed that showed why Real Madrid is the “Best Club in History.” Real Madrid is dominant not only in Spain but all over the world.

The tour continued until we were able to go out on the field in front of the benches. The stadium was even more spectacular from field level. It was easily one of the largest stadiums I have been in, including many SEC football stadiums. The tour finally concluded with a quick trip through the locker room and exited into the team store. The motto of “Always Be Selling” held very true here as well. BarcelonaPano

The FC Barcelona’s tour  of stadium Camp Nou was very similar in style and feel to the tour at Real Madrid. It began in their trophy and experience room, and ended in the team store. But there were quite a few major differences that stood out. First, the stadium is just the centerpiece of a larger campus. The campus is home to a smaller stadium for the minor league teams, a basketball stadium, and an ice rink. There are also multiple training areas and concession stands. It is a massive area that is physically more imposing and impressive than that of Real Madrid. No offense to Real Madrid fans. The campus is also going to be expanded according to graphics on the tour. Stadium upgrades and more stadiums added are in the plans. The money flowing to this club is very visible.

Barcelona does not have the long history of dominance that Real Madrid has seen either. The club is just as old as Real Madrid but their dominance has been more recent. The trophy room alluded to this, but it was no less impressive. The size of the stadium was also greater than that at Santiago Bernabéu. Camp Nou holds just shy of 100,000 spectators. Massive. The only stadium I have been in that is larger than this behemoth is Neyland Stadium and the University of Tennessee. I personally think it was nicer than Camp Nou as well. We were allowed into the press box and luxury seating and it appeared to be much nicer than Santiago Bernabéu.

The other interesting thing that stood out was the use of flags. Barelona is the capital city of the autonomous community of Catalonia within Spain. Quick history lesson. Catalonia was at one time its own country/kingdom. However, it came under the control of the Kingdom of Spain in the 1700s and has remained a part of it ever since. But many of the people in Catalonia want independence from Spain. As such you see the flag of Catalonia flying everywhere. They are very prideful people. FC Barcelona is the defacto national team for Catalonia, and this is very obvious and observable because of the use of flags. Instead of using the Spanish flag, the team flies the Catalonia flag. When away teams are shown on graphics and scores, the flag of their home country is displayed. For Real Madrid this was the Spanish flag.

To sum things up, it was very obvious to see the passion and pride the Spanish people have for soccer. It was on display even when games were not being played. The money that flows into the game was also on full display. If you are a soccer fan, I highly recommend going to Spain at some point to catch a game.

 

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