A week and a half ago I sent in a story about Spain’s modernity.
Spain is a thriving democracy that includes health protection along with basic constitutional rights and freedoms, I said. It doesn’t deserve the image it has in many parts of the world: fiery and primitive passion, the Spanish Civil War, Francoism, and bull fights all over the place. In fact, the community of Catalonia has tried to outlaw corridas de toro on animal-rights grounds.
One part of that burns-like-fire image, however, is more than well-deserved: futbol.
Many Americans don’t care all that much about soccer. In fact, I didn’t either, until I took photos for the soccer beat for the IDS last semester. But they know of Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, of the Spanish national team and their place in the upper echelon of world soccer. They may not know Spanish futbol. They may not follow it. But they respect it.
They don’t know the half of it.
Major League Baseball and the NBA each have 30 teams in their top divisions, and the NFL has 32.
Real Madrid and Barcelona are only two of 181 professional soccer teams in Spain. Forty-two of those teams form the top two levels of the Liga de Futbol Profesional.
Yes, we have our own share of sport craziness. From riots in title-winning cities to IU’s own celebration during the Final Four in 2002, we’ve created a unique brand of take-to-the-streets fandom.
But when soccer teams in Spain win major games, fans don’t burn cars, because their rallies have enough fire as is. They’ve been cheering in the streets for decades, even centuries. It’s so common that fans have chosen de facto rally points: la Plaza de Cibeles or la Plaza de Neptuno in Madrid and la Rambla in Barcelona.
Just last week, Atletico de Madrid, the second of three professional soccer teams in Madrid, reached the finals of the UEFA Europa League, and more than a thousand people rushed to Neptuno to celebrate. Men, women, children, teenagers, old guys and suit-clad businessmen chest-bumped and mosh-pitted to Atletico fight songs screamed at lung-bursting levels as if they’d just gotten a golden ticket to heaven. And it wasn’t Real Madrid.
Trust me, hell-raisers support Real, as well. At last weekend’s game against Osasuna, an eleventh-place team, fans wore horn-spiked hats and yelled for (or, in the case of a few Brits sitting in front of us, against) the home team.
When something good happened, they raised their fists with joy; when something bad happened ... well, they raised their fists then, too, but with a few words to go with it. When Ronaldo scored in the 89th minute to lift the team to a 3-2 victory, the stadium almost exploded with cheers and hugs.
I’ve been to Colts games and two Oaken Buckets, but this is fandom. This is futbol as it should be — the kind that gets you to buy a Real Madrid scarf when you’ve only lived here for four months. The kind that gets you to run down to Neptuno on the other side of town after someone texts you while you’re getting ready for bed.
The kind that’s so contagious, you might bring the sickness back to the U.S.