G and I had wanted to go to Spain for years. YEARS. But we never actually thought it’d happen. We’re not world travelers… either of us. I had been to Europe in college (Italy) but other than that, neither of us had been further than Cancun, Mexico. Well, thanks to some decent tax returns and G’s entrepreneurial success this past year, we were able to save up the money to fund the trip of a lifetime. Or at least a decade. And there’s no doubt… our (my?) football obsession may have played a significant part in getting us to finally take the plunge and buy the tickets.
All season we’d had this trip in mind… And come about Feb/March we had almost decided we’d go to Germany first for the Champions League final, ASSUMING that either FC Barcelona or Real Madrid would be playing in the final. And then we’d swing on over to Spain (see our naivete in this scenario?) to catch the Copa del Rey final. But once we saw the prices for flying to Munich plus the cost of the train between countries plus the amount of time needed to enjoy ALL of this… we knew it wasn’t going to work as planned. We had to scale down.
Somewhere between discovering that neither Barca nor Real were going to be in the Champions League final and May 21st we decided to go for it, but on a smaller scale. We booked our trip to Barcelona and Madrid with less than a month to plan, around the Copa del Rey final. If you knew me about 2 years ago, you’d know I don’t do this kind of thing. I need months and months of planning. I am not spontaneous. I carry too much guilt to put myself (or my husband or our relationship) before my children. I do not spend money today that I could save for tomorrow. But my desires have changed recently to include things like excitement, spontaneity, passion, self indulgence (not proud of that one), belonging, and FUN! And therefore, we booked our flight. We’d work the details out later.
Only a month or so prior we had bought tickets (good tickets) to go to the Brazil vs Argentina match in NY this summer. But once we realized we were going to actually take this trip, it made sense to sell these tickets (for a significant profit) so we could put the money towards buying tickets to the CDR final. It was a long shot… but at least it was a shot! And we were willing to take it. For a couple of weeks we checked online for tickets, and they were getting pricey with every passing day… especially after Guardiola announced his departure. Which is precisely why we became more determined to go. It was going to be historical in one way or another and we wanted desperately to be a part of it. However, because of poor planning and timing (a serious drawback to being spontaneous!), it was suddenly too late to order tickets online and guarantee their arrival before we departed the States. And we weren’t quite sure who to trust… At the very least, we’d be in Madrid while the game was going on. At LEAST people would be WATCHING the game, TALKING about it, MAYBE even wearing jerseys… which is such a far cry from what we are used to here in our neighborhood. It was going to be a win either way.
We traveled from Barcelona to Madrid on Friday, May 25th, the day of the game. We arrived around 10 am and had precisely 12 hours to figure out how we were going to participate in this event. Honestly, we had no idea what to expect. I’d say we were slightly more cautious than we needed to be throughout most of the day… but not cautious enough during a couple of very brief moments. We knew that experiencing football fanaticism in the United States HAD to be significantly different than experiencing it in Europe, or Spain for that matter, during their country’s cup final. So yeah, we were cautious for most of it, and mostly walked around, wide-eyed and taking it all in.
From the get-go we noticed hordes and hordes of people walking around Madrid in the familiar red and white striped Bilbao jerseys. Many wore the accompanying black berets on their heads. Numerous fans walked the busy, crowded streets waving flags over people’s heads. They walked in groups of 5 to 10 or more, and their chants echoed off the buildings in the narrow streets as they navigated the intricate corridors of the city. There were Barcelona fans as well… but they were less numerous, quiter, and in smaller groups. For now at least. Having no idea what to do or where to go, we walked aimlessly, me with a perpetual smile on my face at the site of football fans. I didn’t care who they supported… they were crazies… like me. 🙂 I felt like I belonged.
Having just arrived in the city we had no idea where we were going so we decided to walk in the general direction of the Calderon stadium, thinking we’d either try to find someone selling tickets there (we had no idea how it works in Spain, but at FedEx field, that’s what you do!) or find the Barca “camp” that G saw on tv consisting of tents, food, and lots and lots of beer. As we meandered through street after street we suddenly saw an opening into a large open square.
As we walked through the portal into the square we noticed 1) We had found Plaza Mayor and 2) This was where fans were gathering prior to the match. All of the outdoor seating had been cleared by the restaurants so that people could sit at any table. Beer and drinks were being sold along the outsides. And fans, both Athletic and Barca supporters were EVERYWHERE… almost like ants… chanting as they walked, eating, drinking, laughing, singing, waving flags, taking pictures, and loving the moment. Naturally, we joined them. We picked a table in the Barcelona selection and sat down for a beer. I actually felt out of place NOT wearing a jersey (again, we weren’t sure what to expect so we hadn’t put them on yet). That’s the first time in my life that’s happened.
We stayed for a while and listened to the back and forth chanting of the fans. Everyone was extremely kind and friendly with one another, as well as with us quiet foreign observers. Bilbao fans were taking pictures with Cules, and vice versa. It was all very congenial.
I kept taking video with my phone in disbelief. I was determined to take those home to show my family that I am NOT ALONE in my love for this sport. That it’s a REAL thing… it’s alive, it’s insane, and it’s crazy fun. I tried to explain once to my mother that this footballing world is like a culture. There are customs, languages, relationships, experiences, and community within it. Of course, she gave me the “You really ARE crazy!” look and changed the subject. But I saw it with my own two eyes on this day. And I felt it.
To Be Continued… Still to come: We wear our jerseys with pride!, attend “Barca Camp”!, and get mixed up with the wrong crowd. : /