Futbol is much more than just a sport to the citizens of Spain and many other Hispanic countries. It is the way they come together and form communities, organize their aggression, and feel a sense of accomplishment. In Spain, soccer is a particularly intense activity to engage in. Not only do you have the incredibly intense rivalry between Barcelona and REAL Madrid, but you also have ~24 other teams in 3 different divisions fighting it out to get to the top that is almost always dominated by Barca, Madrid, and Atletico. The Barcelona/Madrid conflict is, at its core, a political conflict that dates back to before the Civil War and the struggle between Franco’ls Fascist Party and the Republics of the Left. It’s further complicated due to Barcelona’s ongoing desire to become independent from Spain. Asi que, to root for Barcelona is to root for the independence they have been seeking from the traditional Spanish culture of Spain. Additionally, the entire futbol system is full of dirty money buying players in their infancy and the reality that they are all desperately trying to break into the first division of La Liga.
We went to a game of Roya Vallecano vs Tenerife; 2nd division teams. Roya is a favorite of the middle class because they are the underdogs. But they definitely don’t need the pity, because their team slogan is something akin to “we never give up”. They have broken into the first division in the past and are currently working very hard to make a come back.
The game was incredibly lively; more than most American football games I have been to, in fact. There was a very large fan section with at least 10 HUGE flags waving frantically and the entire section singing their official hymn. I ran into my host brother there who adores Roya Vallecas. He was decked to the nines in red and white and was quite happy that the game ended in a tie. I honestly didn’t know enough about soccer to know that that could even happen, but it was great to watch the hundreds of middle working class fans congratulate each other after the game as if they had personally had a hand in the non-defeat.
It was hard not to feel like an outsider at first, but eventually I learned some of the chants, made good friends with the very enthusiastic spaniard sitting next to me, and cursed at the refs like a champ along with the rest of the fans. You could say I’m a true Spaniard now.