The game itself was fantastic. Real Madrid played Levante, a team from Valencia that has actually done surprisingly well this season. Even though I don't like to think about it, they beat us in September and are currently in 4th place and will qualify for the Champions League which is amazing for a team that was just promoted form the 2nd Division 2 years ago. Although Real Madrid got off to a horrible start, as always, they came back and ended up winning 4-2. To make the night even better, my favorite player, Cristiano Ronaldo, scored a hat trick. The team could have played a little better but I couldn't have asked for anything better on my first time. And to top it all off, I got to see my cousin (Javi Venta) play for the first time! However, he plays for Levante and I had to secretly cheer for him haha. Here's some more pictures from the game.
Oh I forgot to mention! It was an even more memorable occasion because one of Real Madrid's most accomplished players ever, Roberto Carlos, was honored and got to do an honorary kick off (top right).
Not only was the game absolutely amazing but the experience was completely different from any sporting event I have ever been to in the US. First of all, my host family has season tickets and they are amazing seats. Even though they're in the 3rd tier, we were right at midfield and it really is the perfect height to be able to see the whole game. Also, there are gigantic heaters on the roof of the stadium that point down at the seats. It was absolutely freezing, so those really helped me keep the feeling in my hands and feet.
The other thing that I loved was just the culture around going to a game and actually watching it. This is definitely a generalization but I think that in the US, most people go to sports games for the experience, not necessarily to watch the game. For example, going to a baseball game is all about the extra stuff and extra events or contests going on, not the game.
Its exactly the opposite in Spain. The first thing I noticed is that there are no huge screens showing the game, replays or doing contests in between gameplay. There are two relatively small screens at each end of the stadium that show the score and the time; thats it. And its weird how used to the US culture I was. Benzema scored a goal that was called back for offsides and as soon as the linesman's flag went up, I looked up to the screen for the replay.
Listening to the fans around me was also really great. Hearing their opinions of players, refs, coaches, the other team, etc was awesome. One of the more popular opinions is that one of Real Madrid left backs/left mids, Fábio Coentrão, is horrible and should never play again. Higuain is also fairly unpopular, unless he does something good (like assist one of Ronaldo's goals). And thats the really unique thing about Real Madrid culture is that because of their history, the fans expect nothing but the best. So when a player or the team isn't playing well, the crowd lets them know. But if the fans think someone is playing well, they chant and sing his name (for example, Ronaldo's name was sung several times).
It's not the best picture but the middle section shown above is where the "Ultras Sur" sit. The Ultras are a radical group of fans that spend the whole game signing and chanting different things. Last night they sang Ronaldo and Jose Mourinho's name, and started chants like "Matalo, matalo, Pepe matalo", "Ballesteros, hijo de puta" and my absolute favorite was when they started to sing Barcelona's official song until they changed the end to "Barca! Barca! Mierda!". Most of what they do during the game is good but a lot of fans don't support the Ultra's because they're just too extreme.
The last very interesting thing about going to the game was the food situation. My host mom made sandwiches for the three of us to take. At first I was a little confused because of course in the US, the only thing you can take into a stadium or area is a bottle of water. Here, everyone is carrying a grocery bag packed with sandwiches and sodas. So instead of spending I don't know how much on a meal at halftime, we ate our food and talked about the first half and what should happen in the second.
The one thing I didn't really like about going was that we drove. Apparently they do it every week and its not a bad drive (about 30 minutes) but parking is such a nightmare. And my host dad actually got a 200 euro ticket! Madrid has a perfectly capable public transportation system (that I will talk about in my next post) so I still don't understand why we drove. But it was all part of an amazing experience that I will never forget.