El Clásico

A poll taken in my 3rd grade class the week before the match

I’m still playing catch up here, but there’s just one more thing (I think) that I must document before this blog can join me in the present. The Monday after Thanksgiving was Spain’s semiannual Super Bowl, known as el clásico. It is the two times a year that league schedules dictate that Real Madrid and FC Barcelona go head to head.

For those of you who don’t know, these are the two powerhouses of Spanish soccer. Some even say the two best teams in the world, and I suppose that’s not much of a stretch because the World Cup winning Spanish soccer team is pretty much distributed between Madrid and Barcelona. From the time that they can pronounce the word “fútbol,” all Spaniards are a fan of one of these two teams, and I really do mean all. I don’t know a single Spaniard who didn’t watch the game, and there’s no elaborate half time show so everyone actually watches the game, not just the entertainment.

El clásico is compared to the American Super Bowl for the sake of having something to compare it to, but that doesn’t even come close to describing the magnitude of the event. Absolutely every citizen of this country roots passionately for one of these two teams. Some also root for their local team, but that’s kind of like rooting for the Red Sox before 2004; it’s just wishful thinking and hometown loyalty. They know that in the end it will be Madrid or Barça, and there is no fence-straddling allowed in the matter. For weeks before the match no one can talk about anything else. The week before a fight broke out at recess at work. A full, fist throwing brawl between nine year-olds because they cheer for opposing soccer teams. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I really don’t see this happening over any Super Bowl, World Series, or NBA championship. Following the fight my third graders spent an entire class debating who was going to win, taking a class poll, and suggesting consequences for the supporters of the losing team. These ranged from losing recess to doing the homework of the winning team’s supporters for a week.

That leaves a very obvious question, who’s my team? I think I had only been in Spain for about a week the first time a Spaniard asked me that. Notice that the question isn’t “Do you have a team?” It’s assumed that everyone does, and in most Spanish families team loyalty is passed down in the family, almost like it’s genetic. Whatever team’s jersey your parents put you in when you’re six months old is who you will root for your whole life. Having grown up without this conditioning, I’ve had to examine what I know about each team and pick a side. I didn’t put too much thought into the matter because I really just like watching good soccer and was picking a side more just for fun, but it boiled down to a few things:

  • I’ve visited both cities and like Madrid much better.
  • I watched Spain throughout the World Cup and think that Casillas, who plays for Madrid, is absolutely amazing. I always played either goalie or defense when I played, so I definitely appreciate a good goalie. He’s gosh darn handsome too.
  •  David Villa, the star of the World Cup team, has a funny looking soul patch, making him easy to dislike, and he plays for Barcelona

Therefore I am officially a Real Madrid fan. I have since found out that the fan base of the teams also divides roughly on a political scale, with liberals for Barça and conservatives for Madrid, which perhaps means I’m on the wrong side. But my understanding is that it’s more of a historical thing (fun fact: Madrid was Franco’s team).

So after weeks of build up, game day finally came. The match is only aired on a pay per view type of channel that you have to pay more for, so most people head out to bars to watch the game. El clásico is the only thing that Spaniards actually show up on time for. If you’re not in your selected bar an hour before kick-off, you’re definitely not sitting, and there may not be standing room left either. I was lucky enough to not have to deal with this, especially since I was tutoring up until half an hour before the match.

My bilingual coordinator, Antonio, invited my coworker and me to his house where he and his wife were hosting a small party to watch it, and it was fantastically fun despite Madrid getting their asses handed to them 5-0. Antonio’s son, a Madrid fan, got text messages from his friends after every goal, rubbing salt in the wound. The guests were actually divided between Madrid and Barça, so I had a good time arguing with Antonio’s nephew about fouls and which goals were offside. At one point Antonio’s wife, impressed that I actually knew what I was talking about, said “¡Tú entiendes bien!” Their nephew, who didn’t want to admit that I was right about a bad call, replied, “No, ella no entiende nada.”

The game ended with all Madrid fans eating their words, shaking their fists, and looking forward to the rematch next spring when they will have home field advantage. I’m just looking forward to watching good soccer and arguing with Spaniards again. I already have a seat reserved at Antonio’s.

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