Spain Diary: A Filipina football fan’s journey

This post chronicles all the football-related adventures I  had in Spain. Originally posted here. Grateful to have made all these into reality, and looking forward for more of these in the coming years.

The end of another calendar year calls for a lookback on some of the finest moments in sport for the past twelve months. This isn’t one of those enumerated recap stories, but a series of stories for a football fan who found herself in Spain—one of the best places on earth to be at for some football action.

Barcelona: An Unlikely Experience
The city of Barcelona bursts with color with the architectural marvels of Gaudí, and in many apartment buildings, the Senyera hangs proudly over balconies—a reminder of the Catalan’s deep sense of pride and nationalism.

One other signifier of such pride and nationalism is the blue and deep red shirt of FC Barcelona, which could be found in kiosks and shops throughout the city, along with every FC Barcelona trinket imaginable—from postcards with players’ faces to FCB alarm clocks.

I found myself in the quiet neighborhood of Les Corts in the northwestern part of Barcelona one Monday morning, thinking that tens and thousands of Culés would be making the same 20-minute walk from the Metro station to Camp Nou, their songs and expectations for a win filling the streets.

As someone with a corazon blanco, the FC Barcelona Experience at Camp Nou is the unlikeliest of starts in experiencing Spanish football for myself. Leo Messi and company greet me with their Qatar Airways advertisement at the main entrance.

After getting my audio guide and going past a Joan Miró poster of FC Barcelona’s 75th anniversary, I make my way through the mixed zone and press room, the away team locker room, and onto the pitch, dwarfed by “Mes Que Un Club” formed by the opposite stand. If I were a player of the visiting team, I would understand why Camp Nou is intimidating—it was as if you were the tiniest bean in the middle of a gigantic bowl.

Perhaps the best view of any match at Camp Nou would be at the press box, situated at the topmost tier, just above the VIP seats. The press box is a deck that protrudes from a portion of the topmost tier, equipped with monitors, but with no glass panes looking onto the pitch, enabling any sports reporter to fully absorb the atmosphere during a match.

What I found most fascinating, however, was the FC Barcelona museum, which was well curated with memorabilia since the founding of the club and multiple interactive stations for visitors to relive some of the club’s defining victories. Fans can also listen to the club’s anthem and read along the lyrics in different languages—including Tagalog!

The museum also pays homage to its current squad, with a section dedicated to the Qatar Airways sponsorship and a corner for Leo Messi’s Golden Balls and Golden Boots.

As someone with a strong dislike for FC Barcelona, I did not expect that this visit to Camp Nou would be a good experience, but I was pleasantly surprised. The club understands and underscores its universal appeal, turning it into an effective marketing campaign—not just in the sponsorship department, but in creating a cohesive narrative for a stadium and museum tour for all football fans to appreciate.

Camp Nou facade Mes que un club The Leo Messi Corner

Sevilla: Passion for the Game
It was el derbi Sevillano on my last night in Sevilla, with Sevilla FC looking to further dominate Real Betis.

As early as three hours before the match, bars leading toward Nervión were already crowded with fans. I usually have dinners at Nervión Plaza, a commercial center right next to the Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, and on my last night, it was a sea of red. Outside, some fans decided to light flares, and the local police cavalry have closed off main intersections leading to the stadium.

I thought to myself, “Thank god, I’m wearing red,” in an attempt to blend in and snap some photos of the festivities. Sevilla beat Betis 4-0, and even then, Sevilla fans would have wanted a five-goal treat from their team.

What Sevilla impressed upon me was that the city has an earthy passion, garnished by its flair for the dramatic, as evidenced by its love affairs for flamenco, bullfighting, and yes, football.

Sevilla fans were loud and rowdy, but they sure did know how to have fun and show how fans during a derby live it up. For someone from the other side of the world with a fledgling local league, it is quite a tall order to wish for the same kind of passion for the game and the local football club to become part of the culture over the short- to medium-term.

Until then, there are experiences like the Sevilla derby to remind me of such fantastic fan atmospheres.

Sevilla fans light flares at Plaza Nervion

Madrid: A Pilgrimage and a Night of Magic
When one is in Europe, one must not miss a European night.

It was one of the coldest Wednesday nights in November in Madrid when Real Madrid hosted Galatasaray for their UEFA Champions League group stage match. Stepping out of the Santiago Bernabeu Metro station, it took a while to figure out which gate to claim our tickets and run up the steps onto the third tier of the East Stand.

I was out of breath when I got to my seat, but the immediate reward was that of a large sign on the pitch with the word, “Hindi kayo nag-iisa, Pilipinas.” Indeed, the calls throughout Spain to help the people affected by Typhoon Yolanda have reminded me of just how much the world is with the Philippines at a time of great need—the world of football included.

When the Champions League anthem blared and the players filed behind the large sign, I thought, “This is it. This is my dream come true.” Indeed, there is nothing quite like a European night in one of the cathedrals of football.

The atmosphere at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu was simply phenomenal. As the tiers on all sides of the stadium are vertically stacked, the Bernabeu presents a rather forbidding atmosphere to visiting teams.

The Madrid faithful had their flags and banners, their drumbeats and chants. On this particular night, cardboard cutouts of Cristiano Ronaldo’s face were distributed, to be put up during the 7th and 77th minutes. There was also a large banner that called for the Ballon d’Or to be given to Madrid’s #7.

The only downer? Cristiano Ronaldo was injured and not included in the line-up.

That did not spoil the night for me as much as Sergio Ramos getting red carded in the 27th minute (“I did not travel halfway across the world to see get sent off so early, Sergio!”). I cheered for the goals of Gareth Bale, Angel di Maria, Alvaro Arbeloa, and Isco. My heart swelled when Xabi Alonso was finally substituted in the 60th minute. Finally, I was able to see the maestro in person, stamping the tempo of the game, proving to be most influential in the midfield.

90 minutes flew by so fast, and when Real Madrid’s players stepped off the pitch after a 4-1 victory and the crowds started filing out, I stayed glued to my seat, just taking everything in. A sense of calmness replaced the raucous cheers.

It will be a while before I could experience another night like this.

Hindi kayo nag-iisa Pilipinas

Three days later, I found myself once again at the Santiago Bernabeu for the stadium tour. It started with a trek to the topmost tier for a panoramic view of the stadium, before going to the museum.

No club does it prouder than Real Madrid, with the nine European Cups taking centerstage in a long hallway that displays memorabilia through the years, including membership cards from the 1900s, replica shirts, players’ boots, and the Copa del Rey that Sergio Ramos broke.

On the opposite wall, a series of flat screens show some of the club’s most memorable goals, set against an operatic musical background.

The tour also includes stops at the VIP area, the technical area, and the media room. The highlight of the tour, however, would definitely have to be the home team’s locker room—which was quite a surprise to me that it was accessible to the public. Yes, it did smell like sweat and feet.

This is perhaps the closest you could get to your current football heroes or obsessions, not counting the unlikely chance you’ll cross paths with them anywhere in Madrid or staking out in Valdebebas.

I left the Bernabeu for the last time in this trip with a better sense of Real Madrid’s élan. It’s not so much a victory-at-all-costs mentality, but a victory-with-flair attitude, just as how the Spanish capital would do it.

Just as every Spanish city has something unique in store for the weary traveler, so too do they offer varying experiences for the football crazy traveller. These are the football highlights of my 2013—and possibly, of some other year in the near future.

9 European Cups View from Fondo Norte Where CR7 undresses


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