Sunday, 25 May 2014

On Football Fever, Real Madrid and That Fantastic Champions League Game

I. Confessions of a Fan

I have been in Spain for a year and a half and  have turned into a loyal Real Madrid fan.  See, it is impossible to live in Madrid, or Barcelona or anywhere else in this country and not be sucked into futbol obsession.

There´s a politically incorrect joke in Spain: Screw Catholicism,  Futbol is Spain´s new religion.  Yes, the people here are serious, no, obsessed with  futbol.  Loyalties for teams and clubs is passed down through families.   You think Spain is in crisis?  Figure out then how all football matches at the Bernabeu Stadium ( the home court of Real Madrid) is always sold out considering that the lowest ticket is about 40€ depending on who is playing.  40€, to put things in perspective,  is  bigger than my total grocery budget for a week, and that budget includes the packed lunches I bring to work.

But yes, yes, yes.  I too have become one of them.   I confess to being  first, a Real Madrid fan.  Though, because I like Lionel Messi, the striker of Barca,  I am also an FC Barcelona fan.  But between Real Madrid and Messi,  I pledge my utmost loyalty to Real Madrid.

It is weird, because I  came from a country where football, until very recently, wasn't  really given attention.    But slowly, slowly,  with the popularity of our new Philippine Azkals team, football (or soccer as it is called elsewhere)  is gaining a foothold in our predominantly basketball-obsessed country.  So I suppose,  it is a sign of times.  Pinas is also turning to football. And I have pledged my fanaticism to Real Madrid.

II.  Football is "Boring"
Last week, I was telling  a Pinoy friend who lives in Holland  how excited I was for the upcoming League of Champions match between  Real Madrid and Atletico, and he kind of uttered a question:  “Isn´t football boring?  90 minutes of waiting to goal, sometimes ending with no goal at all?”   I didn´t know how to answer it then.  Because, yes, he had a point.  Sometimes nothing and everything happens in a football game.  What I mean is that even with countless possessions and steals, with players running and scramming through the field, the game sometimes ends in 0-0 with no goals at all.   Hmmm,  yeah, it´s kind of like life, actually.  Sometimes we try and try and try and get nothing much out of our efforts.

But there´s the flipside too.  The adrenaline-inducing, unbelievable events that makes one  wax philosophical.  How football, like life, is unpredictable, and strange and utterly miraculous.

Take for example, the game that´s now in the news all over the world:  Real Madrid winning the European Champions League 4-1 against Atletico.

From the score you would think that it was not sooo exciting considering the big lead of Real Madrid over Atletico.  But let me tell you, it was close, soooo close, that as a Real Madrid fan among a sea of other Real Madrid fans, watching the game live in a pub in Madrid,  I was close to tears and yes, I was cursing the great Iker Casillas for his mistake which enabled Athletico to lead by 1 early on.

II. What You Can Do with 6€ in Madrid
If you please, let me share how one, even a non-fan, can enjoy  (and hopefully catch) football fever in Madrid.  Most bars in Madrid show football matches.  By bar,  I do not mean the seedy kind that we Filipinos associate the word with.  In Spain, bars are  basically restaurants offering liquors (beers, wines, cocktails), tapas and meals.   These bars also have those big-ass LED TVs that showcases  live football matches.  You can buy a beer and get a free tapa,  stay throughout the game and nobody will shoo you out.  Case in point,  two weeks ago my friend and I went to a neighborhood bar to watch the La Liga´s Championship where Atletico trounced FC Barca.  We stayed for close to two hours, cheering, shouting with the rest of the  people in the bar  (we were the only females in the bar, but in Madrid it´s not a scary thing because most  people are friendly and kind).  How much did we spend?  6€.  6€ paid for  a big glass each of Tinto,  a free big plate of delicious potato salad,  and  a bottle of water.  Yes, 6€,  that was the total bill for two persons. Did the waiter harangue us into ordering more?  No, he was also busy rooting for his team, Atletico.

Watching live football matches in a bar in Madrid is fun and cheap and you get to feel that  heightened sense of tension as you cheer and curse and stomp out your frustrations with other  fervent fans.

III. La Decima
Now, back to that fantastic game last night between Real Madrid and Atletico, held in Lisbon, Portugal.

This was perhaps the biggest game ever this year for Real Madrid fans.  Early on,  Real Madrid have been vocal about their goal to get the La Decima, the 10th Champions League.   To say that the game was much anticipated is an understatement.

Picture this, on Saturday afternoon, eight hours prior to the game,  people at the grocery were lining up to stock up on chips, beers, wine, snacks, breads in preparation for the match.  Where I live in Madrid,  I didn´t see much Atletico fans,  but the Real Madrid fans were out in full gear,  with Real Madrid shirt, jackets and scarves to show their loyalty.

Of course I was in my official Real Madrid shirt too!  What serious Real Madrid fan would be caught not wearing their loyalty up front in such an important game?

IV. Monk´s Bar

My friends and I have planned to watch it in a nearby Irish pub, so we went out to the pub at 6 PM,  close to three hours before the start of the game, but it was already filled to the brim, with no available chairs and tables so off we went to a smaller bar which catered to ermmm, a slightly older crowd.

We ended up at Monk´s bar. An undeniably pretty place.The best part was that at 6 PM, there were still a lot of tables available.

Come 8 PM though, the bar was filled, mostly with Real Madrid fans.  All of us were giddily waiting for the game to begin!

IV. Oh Atletico, You Were Good but Sergio Ramos is Amazing

This is how the game unfolded from my point of view:

For the first thirty minutes of the game, nothing happened.  This was the "boring" part my friend was perhaps referring too.  There were a lot of possessions,  near goals, and  but the defense of  Atletico was airtight.  I admit to one thing, despite being a Real Madridista.  YesAtletico is really good and  truly underrated.  But I am also irritated how Atletico can sometimes be so overly-dramatic especially with violent physical run-ins that´s part and parcel of football.  Their players tend to be so OA when they get hit on the ground, crying and moaning to the hilt, hoping that a yellow card is issued to their opponents. So yes, Atletico was good,  but at this point, since no goal was made,  it was still anyone´s game.

                                All eyes on the game!

And then at 36 minutes, Atletico´s Godin hit a  goddamned goal no thanks to the usually great Iker Casillas´s miscalculation.  Iker, the Real Madrid Team Captain and the goalkeeper moved out of his place perhaps thinking that the ball was now going back to Real Madrid or at least not towards the goal, but Godin, seeing it was open hit a goal cleanly, with Iker being  far enough that he was a few seconds too late to defend it.

So sure, that was just one goal,  there was still time for Real Madrid to score, right?  No need to panic!  Well, let me tell you how it happened.  With only a minute remaining in  the  90 minute game,  the score was still 1-0 in favour of Atletico. The atmosphere in the bar full of Real Madrid fans  was somber with a lot of cursing in between.  And then a miracle happened,  Sergio Ramos popped a goal  and tied the game to 1-1.  That one shot from Sergio Ramos was like a gift from above, with the people in the bar screaming and standing and clapping and raising our fists in jubilation!  Who would have thought it was possible?  Thank you Sergio Ramos for  that  never say never attitude until the very  last minute!

A thirty minute extension was given, and suddenly things turned around.  Atleti´s tight defense and aggressive possessions became erratic, and Real, buoyed by the great Sergio Ramos´s  save  went on to score 3 more goals IN A SPAN OF 30 MINUTES.  Remarkable, Incredible, Amazing! 

And so now, after that stupendous game, I am composing a delayed answer to my friend who thinks football is boring:  Yes, a football match can be boring if you take into account the possibility of a 0-0 game.  And yes, it can be frustrating for a fan to watch their team trying hard, running through the field for naught.

But hey, watch the Champions League Game,  see how amazing and thrilling a game can be.

If Sergio Ramos have not scored at the last minute,  Atleti would have won.  But in a minute the tides turned.  Atleti´s strong performance (and perhaps their psyche) began to crumble.  Perhaps they were tired,  and became  too complacent .  And so in the last thirty minutes of the game, Real Madrid went from zero to 4 goals.  It was so beautiful  it felt metaphorical.  Something about it spoke of life´s own surprises, and that perhaps we too shall  strive to have that Never Say Never attitude until the very end.  Life might surprise us still.

People in the bar were cheering while  we watched the trophy being passed to Real Madrid.

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