Commentary: Brette Trost Attends Her First Football Match in Madrid

Attending my first football game in Spain on a Sunday afternoon wasn’t my first choice. I wanted to experience the European football I’ve heard so much about. The excessive drinking, the cursing, the violence. Spaniards taking football seriously. But was it going to be the rowdy and energetic crowd I so desired on a Sunday afternoon? Or would it be a more docile and child-friendly atmosphere, which is a common breed for an American Sunday afternoon sporting event.

It was the first match Real Madrid had ever played at their stadium during the early afternoon as well as the first time they had played midday in general since Jorge Valdano was coach in the 1980’s against Rayo Vallecano. Almost every team in La Liga has had an early match this season, with the exception of Real Madrid and Barcelona. In terms of the traditional Spanish lifestyle, where citizens of all ages are expected to eat dinner at 11 and stay out until the sun rises, especially on the weekends, this kick off seemed to be even more daunting a proposition. The general change of kick-off times has been an attempt to profit from Asian markets, as games played in the early afternoon can be televised during primetime in Asia. Spanish football clubs aren’t the only ones trying to cash in on the growing popularity of soccer in Asia, as Manchester United’s decision to go public on the Singapore Stock Exchange represents similar trends. The decision to change the start time proved to be beneficial to La Liga, as more than 120 million people watch Sunday’s match in China.

As each seat filled up fans were greeted with handshakes and pats on the backs. After assuring our fellow fans that we pledged our allegiance to the home team, they welcomed us with open arms. To some extent, the attitude seemed more amicable. There were certainly a large number of children there, including one sitting to my left and one behind me. However, this didn’t stop the sold out crowd from exhibiting its usual passionate and rowdy behavior nor did it prevent the child next to me from joining in with the many jeers at Real Madrid’s opponent. Including the ever popular: “Osasuna es una puta”, which roughly translates to “Osasuna is a bitch”, after Osasuna quickly scored a goal to tie up the game, taking a free-kick while several Real Madrid players were still arguing with the referee.

My friend and I found ourselves in seats that belong to season ticket holders, and the passion was certainly there among the veteran fans. Even after Real Madrid was up 3-1, every missed goal or relinquished opportunity elicited a groan from the crowd, a curse word directed at the official or the running of one’s hands through their fingers in anguish as if they had blown the entire game.

The prowess with which Real Madrid destroyed Osasuna was truly impressive. In the 7-1 romping, which included a hat trick by star Cristiano Ronaldo (his 12th of the season) and goals by Pepe and Gonzalo Higuian, Real Madrid rarely let the ball get to the other half of the field. The second half of the game was met with a slew of nicely executed goals, as Osasuna’s goalkeeper, Andres Fernandez, was no match for second half substitute Karim Bezema who scored a brace. Real Madrid’s winning streak in La Liga was effortlessly extended to seven games.

From a fans perspective, having the match earlier in the day by no means hindered my experience. In fact, the trend of changing matches to midday seems to be a smart move for Spanish football. It certainly did not affect ticket sales in Spain, as it was a completely sold out crowd nor did it affect the energy or intensity of the crowd despite the late-night Spanish lifestyle. Furthermore, capitalizing on Asian markets is a necessity considering the financial troubles of La Liga. As long as there is football, a change in match time cannot stop Spaniards from relishing their national pastime.

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