Before we left on our trip, our sole European Friend — a Brit — advised us: "Wanye, if you’re going to go to Europe you HAVE to try to hit up a soccer game. Only don’t call it soccer, call it football. Or footie works even better. Calling it soccer there is like calling it Ice Hockey over here. Don’t embarrass yourself for heaven’s sakes."
With this sound advice ringing in our ears, we threw caution to the wind and headed off to the footie match — Real Madrid v FC Racing.
As the subway neared the game more and more fans started piling on wearing their Real Madrid scarves, hats, jerseys and the like just like taking the beloved LRT at home. The fans were quite calm as apparently Real Madrid plays in 157 leagues simultaneously and this game wasn’t against anyone crazy. A Real Madrid victory was expected by anyone who knew anything, or so we gathered watching the numerous pre-game shows in the local bar the night before.
We got out of the subway station near the stadium and it looked as though we had stepped into a major offensive campaign by the Spanish Army. If there was one police officer there was 8 gazillion, with paddy wagons lined up on all 4 sides of the building in case anyone wanted to step up to the plate and get sassy.
The stadium – the largest in Europe we were told – is designed to keep everyone outside as long as possible, presumably to give the cops the largest clubbing and tear gassing zone possible without damaging the building. We now realize the convenience of entering RX1 from any entrance and being able to wander freely until you find the right section.
Here we had to wander blindly around the outside of the building trying our ticket in every automated turnstile only to be rejected time after time, much to the rage of everyone lined up behind us as we had to turn around and head back down the 5 flights of stairs back down to the street.
In Madrid they call the sections vomitorios – you read that right – and they keep them a state secret to confuse out-of-city fans who are dare take a ticket from a deserving Real Madrid fan.
Eventually we found our vomitorio and sat down to an unbelievable site of 120,000 of our closest amigos watching what turned out to be a great game. And we sat right close to the action, assuming you define "close" as "a low suborbital plane."
Game play is a tough thing to follow though we could actually see quite well despite the fact we could stand up and slap the International Space Station as it flew by. As much as we cringe when an NHL referee turns on his mike to announce a call, or Mark Sholtz comes on screen to "entertain" the faithful during a stoppage in play, we now see that it keeps the casual fan engaged and quasi informed as to what exactly in hell is going on during the game. Here there are no announcers and the scoreboard helpfully shows only the two team logos, the score and the time remaining in the half. This left us looking around confusedly as a pair of goals were called back, penalties were assigned for various phantom injuries and crazy plays went un-replayed after the fact.
This didn’t seem to bother any of the other 12 million fans at the game much less the man sitting next to us. This dude must not have heard that the game was a lock as he nervously watched the first 5 minutes of play before whipping out a pouch of tobacco, rolling a cigarette and lighting it aflame to sooth his tattered nerves. We looked around aghast, expecting one of the billion cops within the surrounding block to run over and taser this guy within an inch of his life, but it only seemed to serve as inspiration to the fans around us who followed suit. As the game wore on it looked like a Snoop Dogg concert there was so much smoke in the air, except here we didn’t get a hankering for Doritos or find anything to be hilariously funny.
As the game wore on Real Madrid scored a goal much to the delight of the hometown fans. They stood, they tooted the awesome little plastic horns everyone seemed to have on them and victory cigarettes were lit as far as the eye could see. Oh and you know what else they do in between tugs on rich Spanish tobacco?
Yep, it seems everyone has a song they sing at all points during the game. Defense – there’s a song for that. Offense? A song. Player subbing in — song. 11:42 on the clock? Song. Oh and they dance too to keep time for the singing. We are out sung and danced at hockey games, Nation. Outside of the national anthems and the occasional accompaniment of Cotton Eyed Joe we can’t remember ever singing or dancing at Rexall Place. We don’t know when hockey fans decided to turn down "no singing or dancing lane" but we can’t help but think we would be a tremendous singing/dancing threat on several dozen hockey beers.
As the game rolled on into the second half we noticed a group of hilariously intense fans sitting behind the far net. Ringed by security guards we initially mistook these folk for fans of FC Racing. But as the game wore on it became clear they weren’t. Though they didn’t sit down the entire game, we couldn’t tell who they were cheering for exactly. Real Madrid wears black and white, FC Racing red and green. These mystery fans were clad in purple and sang mystery songs, danced mystery dances and smoked mysterious cigarettes all out of sync with the other fans at the game. And with a minute left they whipped out all these huge flags and banners on cue and stood there as if to say "What are we doing here? Why are we so excited? You’ll never know Wanye."
Not able to ask the fans around us who they were, we were left to watch these super fans chant, dance and sing their way to a 1-0 Real Madrid victory. As they were safely led away by their security detail we couldn’t help but wonder if there was a secret game within a game that they were there to observe or if they were in fact representatives of the Spanish Tobacco companies overjoyed to witness the lung carnage within the arena.
Either way a good evening was had by all:
Real Madrid 1
FC Racing 0
Mystery Fans 1