I really like Spain. I think that’s abundantly clear, since I’ve happily lived here for almost four years and blog about it every week. However, I must confess that I was quietly celebrating as I watched La Furia Roja spectacularly cock it up on the world stage, and here’s why:
The boundless arrogance of many a Spanish football fan– whether genuine or tongue-in-cheek –has irked me to no end since Spain triumphed at Euro 2012, their third major international tournament win on the trot. This does, of course, warrant some degree of smugness, if vociferous pride– I know I would beat my drum very loudly had my home country managed the same feat (a laughable hypothesis) –but after four years of unbroken crowing and having to listen to how tiki-taka is ‘the best and most unplayable style of attacking football yada yada yada…’, it all becomes desperately annoying.
And then there is the incessant singing that inevitably takes place following a big victory:
“Yo soy español, español. Yo soy español, español. Yo soy español, español etc…”
Most. Annoying. Chant. Ever.
After three major tournament wins you’d think they’d have managed to come up with something cleverer than that.
My next point, one that might get me into hot water, is that I’ve also become slightly at odds with what, exactly, it is that the national side, or rather the typical fan, embodies politically. I am neither a nationalist nor a separatist but I believe I am, as they say, ‘a separatist sympathiser’. To quote Jimmy Burns, author of La Roja, “you can’t separate Spanish football from its politics”, and– while not being the case in every instance –when I hear brutal insults hurled at FC Barcelona’s homegrown players from a white, gold and conspicuously Madrileño corner of the bar, I have to ask myself who my fellow supporters really are and whether I really want to be cheering for the same team. Still, it’d be thoughtless of me to tar all Spanish fans with the same mucky brush; most, thankfully, don’t let opposing political ideologies get in the way of the game, but sadly– at least in my experience –enough do.
All that said, I hadn’t wanted Spain to make such a premature exit from the World Cup; the atmosphere before and during international matches is always electric, and I know a bar here in Granada that hands out free shots to its customers each time a match is won. Salud to that.
Traditionally, at least for most of us, Spain are a side used to winning, so for them to be taken down a few pegs is probably for their own good. Everything has a shelf life, even La Furia Roja, and now it’s time to rebuild and redetermine what they are about, and for the fans to remember that they are not, in fact, invincible.
But let’s not forget that it could have been worse. They could have played like England.
Were you surprised by Spain’s disastrous World Cup campaign? Who are you rooting for?
Here’s a tip: if you ever get chance to watch the Spanish national football team in action, grab it with both hands. At the moment La Furia Roja are rated as the best international side in the world. Throw in the electrifying atmosphere most games generate and you’re sure to have a great time.
So what are the things you need to know before you buy a scarf, cover your face in red and yellow paint and head off to a game?
#1 The Players’ Names
Firstly – for those of you who haven’t a clue about football but just want to see a match – you ought to remember that neither Messi nor Ronaldo are Spanish, so don’t go asking after them. The Spanish superstars include Andres Iniesta, Ilker Casillas, Gerard Pique and Jesús Navas. It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the team before you head off, especially if you’re keen on impressing a local or two by striking up a conversation about Navas’s wide game or something. Also, many English-speaking commentators can get Spanish players’ names very wrong, so perhaps a quick check up on how to pronounce names like Iniesta, Silva and Villa might be worthwhile.
#2 Common Football Words and Phrases
Even if you think you have a decent grasp of basic Spanish, you will doubtless encounter certain words and phrases you’ll never have come across before, not to mention the brutal insults that are sometimes so lewd they’d make the likes of Roy Keane gasp with horror. On the pitch, the goalkeeper is el portero, the defense is la defensa, the midfielders are centrocampistas and the forwards are delanteros. The referee is el arbitro, the sideline is la banda and to score a goal is marcar un gol. Or there’s “La puta que te parió!” – ‘the whore of a mother that birthed you’, popular with el arbitro, strangely enough. Most of the words you learn for watching football will be of absolutely no use to you in any other context of Spanish life but you will still feel great using them.
#3 The Tiki-Taka Rules
If, for example, you have grown up watching British football, then you are probably much more used to a different style of play. The blood-and-thunder-never-say-die attitude that typifies British football is very different from the way the Spanish play it. They use their famous tiki-taka system, which values controlled possession of the ball above anything else. So anyone who just wants to see the goals might get a bit bored, but this style of play is an art form and once you come to appreciate it you will find yourself hypnotised by the incredible way in which the Spanish players retain possession.
#4 That You Should Show Your Emotions
Showing your emotions at a Spanish football game is normal. In fact, you shouldn’t be at all surprised to find grown men crying, screaming or gleefully hugging each other when something exciting happens on the pitch. They might even hug you. Games involving the national side are often highly emotionally charged but they are great fun.
#5 A Few Songs and Chants
Singing and chanting is a big part of the football experience and you will want to know what the ones you hear are about. “A Por Ellos” expresses a ”get stuck into them” spirit and is a very simple song you are almost certain to hear. “Y Viva España” is another often sung by the crowd. You might even want to join in. A quick look on YouTube will throw up a number of typical chants and songs that you could learn before watching a game.
Robert is a writer who lived in Spain while studying the language and is a huge fan of La Furia Roja. He now works as a freelance writer on sites such as Listen and Learn.
A lone, stray dog trots along an empty pavement. Burger boxes blow undisturbed across the street. Sporadic bursts of chatter can be heard each time a bar door is flung open, before the silence abruptly re-intervenes.
It’s 6pm on a Saturday; ordinarily a time when swarms of late afternoon shoppers and early evening diners clog the pavements here in Spain, but today is the day of El Clásico: Real Madrid vs Barcelona, and the only souls in sight are those rushing to their local, jam-packed watering hole before the unparalleled spectacle begins.
This is akin to tuning in for a royal wedding in the U.K. To miss it would be nonsensical, football fan or not. Ask any Spaniard which football team they support and – more often than not – you’ll get two answers: that person’s local team and either Real Madrid or Barcelona. The reasoning goes that both teams, while officially participants in La Liga, are actually in a league of their own; no other Spanish team in the top flight even comes close. Thus, one invariably chooses a favourite.
In England, this would be deemed fickle and cowardly regardless of circumstances; people may support one club team or none at all. So coming to terms with this two-timing custom was rather a longwinded process for me after I moved here. ‘What about when these two teams play each other? Who do you support then?’ I used to ask. ‘And how can somebody support a team from a city that has no geographical bearing to their own?’ But then I thought of Man Utd fans, of whom, by my own admission, I am one, but I am from Manchester.
Nevertheless, this crucial decision of which team to support – Los Galácticos or La Blaugrana – seems to takes place early on in life, often on concrete schoolyards where rights to the players’ names are squabbled over to no end. All except poor Gareth Bale’s name, that is. ‘Gareth Ba-le no es vale!’ (the derogation of which is still unclear to me) is what the eight year olds I teach are chanting at the moment. The Barcelona fans of the class were particularly unremitting on Monday following their team’s 2-1 victory over Madrid at the weekend. ‘What about Granada? How did they do?’ I quizzed them. ‘No sé’ – I don’t know – they shrugged.
But the bitter rivalry goes beyond English Language classrooms. It has done for centuries, despite the first game ever played between the two clubs only taking place in 1902, back when it was just plain Madrid FC – the ‘royal’ prefix was added in 1920.
During Franco’s longstanding dictatorship, a period in which the speaking of Catalan was only permitted in Camp Nou on a match day, Real Madrid became the embodiment of Spain’s Castile region and Franco’s favoured club. Despite this, Barcelona continued to dominate Spanish football throughout the 40s and 50s, winning far more trophies than their Madrileño adversaries. The 60s, however, proved more fruitful for Real Madrid, who became the new unstoppable force. Of the clásicos played during Franco’s rule, Madrid won the most by a narrow thirty-nine to Barca’s thirty-seven. In one match in 1970, Barcelona fans were allegedly so furious with the referee’s performance that they hurled no less than 25,000 seats from the stands on to the pitch. On another occasion, a soldier attempted to arrest one of Barcelona’s groundsmen on suspicion of being a communist (Source).
In recent years though, the most memorable incident has to be the infamous throwing of a pig’s head at an unsuspecting Luis Figo at Camp Nou as he stood by the touchline. It was the first time he had returned to the 98,000 capacity stadium after signing from Barca to Real Madrid in 2000 – an almost unspeakable act. The evening coincided with the first el clásico for English winger Steve McManaman, who had recently signed for Real Madrid from Liverpool.
“It was like nothing I had ever seen. He was abused from the moment he stepped off the plane to the moment he got back on it again. It wasn’t just the pig’s head; there were bottles, golf balls and missiles thrown at him too. It was impossible to concentrate. Eventually the referee had to order both sets of players off until things calmed down. They didn’t, and it was a terrible game of football.”
“The windows of our team coach would routinely be smashed by bricks on every trip to Barcelona. That was truly frightening. On the short trip from the hotel to Camp Nou we’d all brace ourselves and cower down on the floor as the driver put his foot down and hurtled the bus through the particular street where you knew the missiles would start raining through the windows.” (Source)
Is Steve McManaman exaggerating? Who knows. Sadly, I’ve never had the opportunity to attend a match, but even the hostility exhibited in some of the bars I’ve stood in during one is unsettling enough – especially when you become familiar with the most brutal of Spanish insults.
Either way, it’s fair to say that El Clásico has always been as much a clash of political ideologies as a heated battle for three points between twenty-two ludicrously overpaid sportsmen. Even with the fall of fascism, a deep-seated rivalry still remains between the two clubs, which has only been further intensified following the recent calls for a referendum for Catalan independence. Mostly though, it’s about beating the other team on the day: feeling that sense of unmitigated satisfaction, and delighting in being able to taunt fans of the losing side.
When it comes to El Clásico, there is not a single thing that could possibly be more important. It is the ultimate showdown and the ultimate spectacle of a sport unreservedly adored by so many in Spain.
Have you ever attended el clásico or simply watched it in Spain? Or another derby match renowned for its hostile atmosphere? Who do you support??
And two years and one month later, I’ve finally done it. I’ve attended a top division football match in Spain. Of course I had to pick a fixture smack bang in the middle of Granada’s apparent monsoon season, and forget to take an umbrella with me, but the experience gained made the visit all worth the while.
At €35 apiece, La Liga tickets don’t come cheaply. And this was the price for the cheapest ticket available. Puzzlingly, however, these seats were, in my opinion, the best in the house. Right in the corner we were, giving us a perfectly angled view of the whole pitch. Three non-alcoholic beers and one packet of pipas later, and we were off.
“Coño!” “Vete a la mierda gilipolla!” “Hijo de putaaaa!!!!” “La puta que te parió!” The referee had awarded Bilbao a penalty. The fans screaming bloody murder behind me were apparently justified in their firm opposition to the decision, according to one of my pals. I was too busy picking pipas shells out of my teeth (they’re such hard work). The antagonism only continued to grow after Bilbao’s striker stepped up to coolly convert the spot-kick home.
Minutes later, another one went in. This time there were no complaints. It was a very well taken goal, and at this point the three of us couldn’t help but feel that the game was about to descend into a thorough thrashing.
Fortunately though, our fears proved to be inconsequential, when not long after the re-start Granada went and scored! Chances were being spurned left, right and centre and it had only been a matter of time before los rojiblancos found the back of the net. Showing good team spirit, they continued to bombard Bilbao’s goal with ferocious efforts throughout the remainder of the second half but, alas, to no avail. The full time whistle was finally blown and yet again the referee was verbally abused in remarkably imaginative ways.
Drenched and dehydrated due to excessive pipas intake, we trudged away in disappointment. Granada had been unlucky, but could be proud of their gutsy second half display, and despite the result and grim conditions, we all agreed it had been money well spent. If you’re here for the weekend, and there’s a game on, it’s definitely worth a visit.
*Also, if you make the trip to Estadio Nuevo Los Carmenes, look out for Granada’s most dedicated fan: La Papa (The Pope), who, instead of watching the match from his seat, prefers to wander the stadium dressed in red robes, hugging and ‘blessing’ other supporters