The GLOCAL Experience: Football!

As part of our second stop in GLOCAL, José and Johan attended one of Spain’s favourite pastimes: football. Below, they share their experience watching Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, respectively. Despite having had some difficult years recently, these two are perhaps still the most relevant teams in the world.

Real Madrid (Jose)

It’s now seven in the evening and the Paseo de la Castellana, one of Madrid’s main thoroughfares, is starting to come alive. T-shirts, scarves, and flags bearing the Real Madrid logo flood the bars and surrounding streets. There is a festive atmosphere. There is football going on in Chamartín, tonight Real Madrid plays against Real Sociedad.

I arrive at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium with my ticket ready and have carefully read the entrance instructions which are available in English, Japanese, and Spanish. The stadium looks strange, full of cranes and construction equipment, as it is en route to become the most spectacular sporting venue ever seen.

Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in Madrid

For now, it is the Bernabéu de toda la vida, that of Madrid’s people and of its millions of fans around the world. The stadium is dressed in a mixture of fans’ signs and publicity from big Spanish companies and multinationals. Year after year, Real Madrid tops Forbes magazine’s list of the world’s richest sports teams. With more than 200 million followers on social media, the team has more followers than many countries have inhabitants. Football has somewhat ceased to be football and has increasingly become a business. But it wasn’t always like this. Before the big TV contracts and multi-million-dollar sponsorships appeared on their shirts, los blancos limited their influence on the local level. And some of that can still be seen in the stands.

I sit in section 208, on the west side of the stadium. It’s half an hour before kick-off and the stadium slowly begins to get crowded. Flags from many countries of the world are visible: Guatemala, Mexico, Venezuela, South Africa are some of the ones I recognise. Every year, fans from all over the world pilgrimage over to Madrid wanting to see the stadium and the players they had only seen on TV.

Jose enjoying football game with friends in Madrid

In addition to the many international fans, the stadium is also home to the locals. Those who have inherited a small piece of ownership of the team from their parents and who will probably pass it on to their children in due course. Some of these children come to the stadium for the first time, like the young boy of around 4 who sits next to his father, who enthusiastically recounts an anecdote from the club’s history, while nostalgically recalling the nights he spent here with his own father. Nearby, an octogenarian lady asks her daughter if she got tickets for next Wednesday’s game, when Real Madrid will play for a place in the next round of the European Cup against one of the most powerful teams on the continent, Paris Saint Germain, who have been collecting the biggest stars in world football on the strength of their checkbook (something that Real Madrid used to do in the not too distant past). Yes, answers the daughter, and not only do we have tickets, but we’ll be in the boxes. The lady gets excited. They both smile. The match kicks off.

Father-son bonding time in the stadium

Real Madrid has only one Spanish player in their line-up. Players from Brazil, France, Germany, Austria, Uruguay, Belgium, and Croatia run all over the pitch. A starting eleven as diverse as its supporters.

The match ended 4-1 in favour of the home side. My inner child, the one who used to watch the matches on TV, rejoices. A childhood dream comes true, even though I now enjoy it in a different way, perhaps with less passion, but with the illusion intact. In the stands, with every goal, the flags from all over the world come out in celebration while the fans chant the names of the team’s stars. It no longer matters whether they are Venezuelan, South African, or Madrilenian. For 90 minutes, plus whatever the referee decides to add, everyone is Real Madrid. The local and the global, with all their nuances and contradictions, in a football stadium.

The moment when Real Madrid scored a goal

Watch this video taken by Jose to experience the thrill!

FC Barcelona (Johan)

I don’t know how to properly pronounce Camp Nou nor do I know how to pronounce Les Corts, the neighbourhood where it is located, yet a mix of chance and urgency led to a flat in Barcelona with a balcony overlooking the façade of what is considered by many to be one of the most important temples of football. When I told this to family and friends, many remarked with excitement what it must feel like to be there, so close to such a source of admiration and desire. Yet, as a consequence of my great footballing ignorance, this excitement was not understood. Of course, I had previous references to the importance of this sport and its impact on all spheres, especially coming from Colombia where football is almost a religion. Added to this are the effect of the global aspirational system and the mediatisation of desire, which means that one would practically have to have lived all his life under a rock to have never heard of FC Barcelona; despite this, my interaction with the subject was always limited to the vital minimum necessary to sustain social conversations.

Camp Nou Stadium in Barcelona

This all changed at the end of February when uncontrolled social chatter led me to accept an invitation that at first seemed like an unavoidable commitment, but which turned into a memorable experience. Are we going to see Barça? I was asked unsuspectingly, “It’s something that since I arrived in Barcelona, I knew was going to happen”, I replied as a loose comment to myself, but my interlocutor took it as a statement that sealed a pact. A few days later I received an enthusiastic message saying: “I got the tickets, I got good seats”.

So, without much knowledge, but with a lot of curiosity, on February 27th  at 7:30 pm, I left the house and walked down Carrer D’arizala in the direction of the stadium. Five minutes later, I was in front of a majestic place that for the first time showed its imposing face to me; I was only used to looking at it as a horizon of cold concrete amidst silhouettes of trees rendered inert by the effects of winter, but at that moment I began to know the power of the space set up for the event. The outside lights were on, blue and red colours flooded the place through rivers of people crowding enthusiastically at the entrance while the background sound was made up of trumpets and shouts in joyful and festive tones. Although the night was cold, this carnival atmosphere ignited the inner excitement of being there, you didn’t need to see the smiles hidden behind the masks to feel the warmth of the people’s expressions.

Watch this video taken by Johan to feel the excitement of the fans!

I have to confess that I tried hard to think what the reason for this welcoming vibe was, but in the face of such a dynamic avalanche of emotions, I soon gave up and devoted myself to feel, to enjoy. The sports complex is divided into two main sections, first, an external corridor that I walked for almost an hour around the building that houses the court, the second space, which I finally decided to enter at 8:30 pm. After a few steps through a sort of dark and gloomy tunnel, a huge window suddenly opened up, reflecting the penetrating green of the football pitch. Through the visual effect of the building’s structure, which created a concrete frame, my immediate association was that of having nothing more than a huge screen in front of me, but once I entered through a small door, all possible perceptions and emotions exploded as I passed from a restricted space into the magnificence of the largest capacity stadium in Europe. Inside, everything that happened was part of a set of ritualised actions.

At 9:02 pm the home stars took to the field amidst cheers, which was immediately followed by the entry of the opposition accompanied by boos and whistles. This was immediately followed by a moving dissent that moved through the place like a dance around a ball as an idolised object. Force and movement charged with what was occurring with life, the actions were meticulously observed by eyes that judged and were not afraid to show their emotionalism in doing so. Between the pauses and explosions, the different moments of the match passed, and in the face of an agonising wait, which the absence of a differentiated element of that complacent rhythm of coming and going granted, came the refreshing balm of the chaos that unleashes exacerbated emotion.

It was during the 36th minute that the stadium cheered the first goal in unison. Each time the process was repeated, you could feel how the atmosphere grew louder and the happiness reached immeasurable levels. Although I was totally infected by this passionate emotion, I sometimes thought how cruel it was to enjoy the symbolic destruction of others, differentiated by the colour of a uniform. This moment was repeated four times in 90 minutes. By 10:52 pm it was all over.

Watch this video taken by Johan to immerse yourself in the passion!

On leaving the stadium and returning to the balcony of my flat, Carrer D’arizala and the Camp Nou in the background no longer looked the same, it was as if the strength of the events had given colour to the façade and spring to the trees.

Much of what I had experienced remained there, in fact, the satisfaction of the event I had witnessed was accompanied by a feeling of slight unease that can apparently only be explained after returning to that place and in similar conditions to continue where it left off the last time. I don’t know if I like football yet, but I certainly don’t like unanswered questions. I’m definitely going back to look for answers.

Barcelona FC vs. Athletic Club (Bilbao), score 4-0

Johan enjoying his first football game in Barcelona

PS: History was made at the Camp Nou

Thanks to the fact that we took so long to write up our experiences, we had time to write this note as a postscript. FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, in their men’s sections, have faced each other 249 times. In one of the most eagerly awaited matches in the world, both teams have divided, more or less equally, honours. The women’s sections, on the other hand, have met just seven times (all Catalan victories).

Despite more than 250 iterations, the Clásico played on March 30th at Camp Nou in Barcelona in the quarterfinals of the women’s Champions League will go down in history as one of the most important. According to various press reports, the 91,553 fans in attendance constituted an all-time record for a women’s football game. Beyond the result (Barça’s victory, including a stunning show of spectacular goals), it was very special for me to witness this match. I had always wanted to experience a clásico in person and my first experience could not have been better. The atmosphere is unbeatable. I hope there will be many more women’s derbies with packed stadiums.

Long live football!