Three young Turkish men took the high speed train into Madrid from Barcelona this morning just to see the stadium.
“One player, Mesut Ozil, he’s half Turkish and he speaks the Turkish language!” said Aydin, 24, and his friends affirmed with a nod. “We know all the players. Everyone knows Real Madrid in Turkey. Isn’t it the biggest club in the world?”
For soccer fans from around the world, visiting the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium is a pilgrimage to see a soccer sanctuary. For business and tourism, it is a money-making machine.
For all of Madrid, game-night is a war between rival teams. Thousands stampede through the streets and their chants ricochet from Paseo de la Castellana to Plaza de Cibeles. Policemen on horses gallop through the crowds overlooking the angrier patrons smashing bottles. Bars get swarmed. Screams are heard out of apartment windows.
Many Madridistas live for their team.
Alfonso Ramírez, 49 year-old lawyer from Madrid, took his son, also Alfonso, to become a member of the team on his first birthday. They haven’t missed a match since. Now Alfonso junior is seven years old and he goes weeks without sleeping. His parents were going to take him to a psychiatrist because at school he would nod off on his desk.
They asked Alfonso if everything was okay at home. Yes, he replied. And with school? Yes. And grandma? Yes. Then what’s wrong Alfonso?
«I’m just so nervous if Real Madrid doesn’t win the La Copa del Rey!» said Alfonso junior, fretting over the upcoming Madrid-Barca game. «And I don’t know what kind of sandwich to bring to the game, or which soda can.»
Some fans reminisce about the times when the team won more than just rich lists.
«It was almost unfair to watch them play,» said Jotas García, 25, who has been drinking beers outside Santiago Bernabeu for the last seven hours. He’s wearing one of his six Real Madrid jerseys. «They were unstoppable, they won the European Cup in 1998, 2000 and 2002. We used to be what Barcelona is now.»
For many Real fans, the team is going too commercial.
“The essence of Real Madrid has been thrown away,” said Ramón Alvarez, 21, a university student and life-long Real fan, flustered and shaking his head. He was preparing for a rant. “It used to be a team. I lost hope a long time ago. I used to have season tickets but they started to look like a business. If we really want to make Real Madrid a business, do it! Don’t pretend you’re not. Don’t just give them money to jump around the field!”
Jose María, 58, has run a newspaper stand outside Santiago Bernabéu for over twenty years, before the museum, online-ticket-orders and numbered seats. During the Franco regime, which ended in 1976, Jose says that it was illegal for people to gather in groups on the streets. Every time there was tension, they would announce a match to distract people from staging a protest. He also said it was frowned upon for women to go to matches at that time and few tourists came to Spain.
“Everyone thought we Spaniards were uncultured and that we didn’t know anything other than soccer or bulls,” said José María. “But they´re just like us though! Look at it now, the way they come here every day to see the museum. You should come here on a game night when the whole neighborhood collapses and they destroy the streets. It’s like a storm.”
Jaime Vázquez, 24, is from Madrid and has been an Atletico Madrid fan all his life, Real’s Madrid rival team. Although he detests Real, he says the whole world knows them and that’s great for his city. The first time he gauged Real’s grandiosity was in Virginia State University, visiting a friend. He met a student from Kenya on a sports scholarship who started to tear up when Jaime said Madrid because it was his dream to visit Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.
“And when I travelled to Serbia and Bosnia, every time I opened up my Spanish passport the policemen would shout Raúl! Raúl!” said Jaime. “They knew nothing about Spain other than fiesta. But at least we could talk about soccer.”
These interviews were conducted outside Santiago Bernabeu Stadium on Saturday, March 20th, before the match for the Spanish League. Although Real Madrid won Saturday’s match, they’re most likely to lose the League against Barcelona. The next big tournaments coming up are the finals for the Champions League this week.