Last night we had the opportunity to attend our first Spanish partido de fútbol, or soccer game, with the match between Atlético de Madrid (“Madrid Athletics”) and Sevilla. It was definitely an experience to say the least.
Atlético, or Atleti, is Madrid’s other main soccer team, after Real Madrid, the team people normally hear about when it comes to Spanish soccer. It’s actually the third most popular Spanish soccer club, with Real Madrid and Barcelona as first and second respectively. We found out pretty early on in our trip that the Atleti and Real Madrid share a rivalry comparable to the one between New York’s Yankees and Mets, but much more charged and actually in the same league. While soccer and sports in general definitely have more passion in Europe than the United States, the emotions felt for the different teams go even deeper than that, with Real Madrid being more the club of the “establishment” and the elites with a huge stadium in a wealthy area. Atleti, on the other hand, has traditionally been viewed as a team with more working class support and a stadium located right next to the brewery that makes Madrid’s most popular beer, Mahou.
It’s crazy how well-attended soccer games are in Europe, and how much people follow them. When we got off the Metro station at the stadium, there were hundreds of people all around. There were tons of booths and stands setup along the street where you could buy branded merchandise or even food to bring it to the stadium. It was even busier when we left… during the mass exodus, the fans were just walking in the middle of the streets and Metro cars literally filled to the brim. I was impressed with how efficiently they handled everything, by letting people with unlimited Metro passes skip the lines and making sure there were police stationed in the roads to help direct traffic and keep things under control.
The game itself was also pretty impressive. Despite it being very cold out and just being a regular season game as far as I can tell, the stadium was almost full. The Atleti cheering section was also very lively, with the fans singing tons of songs that we didn’t understand at all and even doing hand motions in unison.
Though Atlético was leading for most of the game, it ended in an empate, or tie, of 1-1. There was a bit of drama in the middle when one of the Sevilla players got thrown out of the game, but we weren’t really sure what happened to cause it. One thing that still never ceases to amaze me about Europe’s approach to soccer is how when people asked us how the game was the next day, they all already knew! Both Paco, the program director, and Mario, one of our professors, already knew the score and how the game turned out when we said we went. This was apparently significant because Barcelona also had a tie that night, helping raise Real Madrid in the overall rankings to third with 50 points, closing the gap between them and the 51 points that Barcelona and Atlético both have. Spain really does love its soccer. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised today when our journalism professor showed us Spain’s most popular daily newspaper at 2.5 million readers, Marca, which just so happens to focus on sports, and soccer in particular.
Tonight we’re actually going to visit the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, home to Atleti’s rival Real Madrid, for my soccer class. It’ll be interesting to see how they compare.