El Classico - not bad for my first Spanish football match

I've written about el Classico - Real Madrid vs FC Barcelona - before. I've watched it many times, screaming at TVs in bars both in Barcelona and Madrid. But never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would get the chance to actually go, watch it in the flesh. But that's exactly what happened on Saturday night.
The bloke is away in Alaska at the moment, heliskiing. Well heliboarding to be precise. It's where you take a helicopter up to the top of some insanely high mountain and try to get to the bottom without causing serious injury to yourself. To me - who's only gone skiing about five times in my life - it sounds like pure madness, but to him it's the trip of a life time.
Anyway, so it was that he couldn't go to the match. And lucky me, I got his abono (season ticket). Which was mighty generous of him, as people were illegally selling their seats on ebay for up to 800 Euros. Mental.
I even had my own guide, in the form of his friend Migelito, for a completely authentic El Classico experience.
And so I found myself, plastic cup of Martini in hand, in the midst of hundreds of Madridistas in a street opposite the stadium, with two hours left until kick off. The atmosphere was incredible. And once I'd got it into my head that people wouldn't be able to tell I was a Barcelona supporter just by looking at me, I began to relax and enjoy it.
The bloke has had his season pass for two years, but it's not really his. It's "rented" off a woman who has a few of them. She sells it for the season, but it's still in her name. but Miguelito went on the official waiting list for his, and finally got it in 1993. He sits next to his friend Fernando, who has had his since 1984.
These guys are super fans. Miguel, bless him, when he picked me up was talking at a million miles an hour, and had a slight shake in his hand. It was the nerves. All the talk before the match is strictly football - the players, their form, the trainers, what's going to happen. I found out Fernando's wife was expecting a baby, so I attempted to chat to him about that. After a few enquiries as to how his wife was doing, when the baby was due etc, I said: "I think having children is a marvelous thing, after all that's why we're put on this earth, no?" (Which, I'll admit is a bit flowery - but it sounds better in Spanish.)
To which he replied: "No, we're put on this earth to watch Real Madrid win." And thus the football chat was back on the table again.
It's only broken off to sing the various football songs, of which there are many.
"Viva España" is a favourite, as is the Madrid Hymno – "Hala Madrid". But there almost as many concentrating on spewing hate on "puto Barca" - including this one - against Barcelona's manager Pep Guardiola (who has had his sexuality questioned and been accused of taking performance enhancing drugs during his football career.)
"Ai Guardila, ai Guardiola, que delgado se te ve! Primero fueron las drogas, Ahora por Chueca se te ve!"
(Oh Guardiola, oh Guardiola, how skinny you are. First came the drugs, now you're out down Chueca) Chueca being the gay going out area in Madrid. Nice.
I mean I know rivalry between teams is normal, but I've never known a hate like between these two teams. There was even an enterprising fella going round selling 'Anti Culé' t shirts for a fiver. (Culé is the name for the Barcelona supporters, by the way.)
Mind you, it's much more than rivalry between football teams. There's the whole political side of it, the history of the civil war and the Catalans versus mainland Spain stuff that's wrapped up in it. So if I don't feel it like some of these supporters do, then it's perfectly understandable.
I was contemplating all this when there was a massive commotion outside the stadium – the players were arriving. The whole street erupted and people started letting off fireworks. It was eerie – the screaming and cheering and the thick red smoke gave it a primeval feel. But that was all ruined when someone chucked a firework into a bar.

We pegged it down the street while the riot police – of which there were many around - came rushing in to seal off the street. I looked left and right to see bar shutters winching down. They were really expecting trouble.
But it all dissolved into nothing, the shutters went up  -and we strolled back up the street to buy some bocadillos before heading to the stadium and taking our seats for the match.

Walking up the stairs and into the stands is something I'll never forget. It's like you've crossed over the edge of the real world and straight into the TV – it's all so surreal. The thousands of people above, below and all around you. The noise – which completely washes over you in organic waves – and the spark in the air. The expectation, the nerves, the sense that something amazing is about to happen. I've been to football matches in England before but they were nothing compared to this.
But then again this was the Classico in a 80,000 capacity stadium – markedly different than watching Sunderland play in Roker Park. I didn't have time to dwell on all that for long though, as we were cutting it fine on time (the players were entering to the tune of Nessun Dorma) and Miguel was helping me find my seat.
How hard could it be, I thought, when the bloke said Miguel would show me to my seat before the match. Very hard, it turned out. A steward directed us us and we still ended up completely lost and stepping over rows of pissed off spectators who were annoyed about the late-coming guiri who was blocking their view of the players coming out on the pitch whilst stepping on their toes.
To make matters worse there was someone sitting in my seat when I finally found it. To save arguments I sat in his seat, two rows further down.
No matter. I was set, and just in time for kick off. I was really watching el Classico! It was weird – when you watch it on the TV, you don't have much choice about where you look. It's wherever the camera takes you. But I couldn't help try to look everywhere at once, and had trouble keeping my eyes and mind on the game.
The press, crouching in the corner of the goal line, straining to lift their telescopic lenses. The first aid people, hovering on the sidelines, just waiting to pick up the stretcher and rush onto the pitch. Pep pacing up and down, hands in his impeccably cut suit. The banners of the different groups of fans – including one for the really extreme organisation -Madrid Sur. All these things you never get the chance to see at your leisure on the small screen.
And I couldn't stop watching the supporters. The looks on their faces, the way they would stand up, red in the face to shout abuse – whether it be for Barcelona, their team – or the extra special insults for the tiny square of 200 Barcelona supporters tucked away in the top right hand corner. "kill yourselves", "go back to Catalunya" etc etc.
There was a deadly silence from all of them however, 33 minutes in, when Messi scored a goal. For a second I forgot myself and started to cheer, but I reined it in at the last minute - turning it into a disappointed noise. "Yeeeeahhhhhoh" But why was i the only one making any noise? The whole stadium just stared straight ahead. Had I made a mistake? Had the goal been disallowed? But then an almighty roar rose from the top right of the stadium, where all the maroon and navy blue t-shirts were. That confirmed it – it was one nil to Barcelona.


The mood in the stadium began to change after that. The little old man who was sat next to me listening to the commentary through headphones plugged into the radio began to complain about how rubbish his team were playing. I happily agreed.

He was right - real were making some silly mistakes and just giving the ball away. Their wonder boy Ronaldo wasn't doing what he was supposed to be doing. it was not going well.

It just got worse in the second half for them. Now I was finding it easier to concentrate on the game, especially when, in minute 55, Pedro scored the second. this time I didn't make a sound, instead I turned to watch the Culés going crazy.

All the fight went out of Real after that, and something i hadn't expected started to happen about 15 minutes before the end of the match. People started to get up and leave. Aren't you meant to stay and support your team till the bitter end? I saw one guy take off his scarf and throw it in his bag in disgust. I'd heard how critical the fans were, but I wasn't expecting this.

Too quickly and it was all over, and i went to find a very dejected Miguelito and Fernando. they were completely deflated. We traipsed back towards the car, among crowds walking with their shoulders slumped, eyes to the floor. they looked like defeated soldiers limping back from a lost battle, which i suppose they were.

"You don't know how it feels, losing at home to your mortal enemy," said Miguelito. "It hurts. And now we're three points behind."

He added: "Your lucky boyfriend, he'll be gutted, but at least he can go ride down a mountain and forget all about it. Me, I'm not going to watch the news for a week, especially not the sports. I just want to forget about it. I bet you're happy though."

I felt bad for Miguelito, but he was right - I did feel happy. And contrary to what the bloke had predicted, I had no desire to switch teams, and start supporting Real.

I was still buzzing from the whole experience as i crawled into bed after watching the goals again. i couldn't help wondering about the little group of Barca fan at the match and what they'd done after the match. Did they manage to get home without being lynched? I really hoped so.


  1. I've seen both those teams playing over here. The first time you walk into a big football ground is amazing, all the colour and noise!

  2. ooh I hope FC Barcelona won when you saw em!