Another one off the bucket list: An El Clásico in the Santiago Bernabéu

I honestly still can’t believe it. It really still feels like I dreamed it all up. I was in Madrid. I went to the Santiago Bernabeu. I watched an El Clásico.

So, yes, I am writing about this here partly to convince myself that I was there. It happened. One of my wildest dreams came true.

When I found out I was going to be sent to the UK for three months for work, one of the first things I did was to check the La Liga calendar. My heart started racing at the realization that I will be in Europe for the second El Clásico of the season. And it was going to be in Madrid. I was all in a tizzy, and that was maybe four or five months before I even left for the UK, before I even made the final decision to go.

There was no question of me wanting to go, of course. But the El Clásico is arguably the biggest league match in Europe, if not the world, and tickets are hard to come by. Even if any become available, the prices are enough to make even the most ardent fans balk. It was not an easy decision to make, but as my friends pointed out, it was a golden opportunity. I was in Europe at the same time as an El Clásico! When else will that ever happen again (without even more expense on my part, that is)? And so after some considerable stress with the Real Madrid website (why is there no confirmation page when you purchase via the English site, huh, Madrid?) and some Google Translate, I was the tearful, hysterical owner of a pitch-side ticket to the match of my dreams.

And the tears came flowing again as the stadium slowly loomed large while we were driving down Av. de Concha Espina, on the way out of the city for some sightseeing. I couldn’t help myself to request my hosts that we drop by the stadium for some photos, even if I was going to be back for the match that evening and for the stadium tour the following afternoon.


I guess it goes without saying that there were more tears.

Fortunately, I managed to get a hold of myself for the match. I did not tear up, although my stomach was in knots and my hands were clammy. I was surprised I did not lose my shit as I took my seat. Everything about the Bernabeu, the scale of it, the noise, the fans, was overwhelming. It was bigger, louder, and crazier than anything I imagined. It was perfect.

I have photos of the team’s warm-up and during the pre-match ceremonies. When the match got started, however, it was hard managing a camera and trying to keep up with what was going on across the pitch. I finally decided to give up and focus on the game, to watch it through my own eyes and not through my camera’s tiny screen.


It was thrilling to watch the team I have watched so many times on television live, in the flesh. It’s unbelievable how much quicker everyone is in person versus on TV, Gareth Bale in particular (fine, ok, Messi was great, too).



We didn’t win the three points, but the match was fantastic. Ending 3-4, it has been called by pundits as the best Clásico in recent memory. And I was grateful to have been there for it.

That wasn’t the end of my Real Madrid experience, though. The next afternoon, I went on the Real Madrid stadium tour. I was awed by the size of the Bernabeu the night before, when it was filled to the rafters with fans. But it looks even bigger when it’s empty in the daylight.


The tour starts almost from the very top of the stadium, and you work your way down. It includes the the team museum. And while the museum is a little too self-important and self-congratulatory even as team museums go, there are little gems to be found, like the shoes on the left: Zinedine Zidane’s boots from the La Novena final, no longer our LAST Champions League title . How wonderful it is to be able to say that.


From the museum, you make your way down the stands to pitch-side level. Then it’s up again to the President’s box, from where this shot was taken:


I didn’t realize that the tour included the team’s locker rooms. Imagine my shock when I entered a door found myself facing a row of toilets, followed by these:



Any fan could imagine what kind of thoughts were buzzing around in my head at the sight of the team showers and sauna. It was fascinating to me that these facilities were part of the tour. Apart from the icky thought that hundreds, probably thousands, of visitors walk through what is basically someone’s bathroom and closet… well, let’s just say there were other thoughts.

However, my favorite part of the tour were the lockers. It blows my mind that I was standing there, in the same room where the likes of Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti give their half-time talks/sermons, where titles were drunkenly celebrated, or losses mourned. This was only a place I read about where Sergio Ramos played his (probably questionable) music,


and where the incomparable Xabi Alonso used to hang (sob!) his impeccable clothes,


and where Cristiano hangs his awful Gucci belts.


After spending as much time as one reasonably can staring at lockers, I was off down the tunnel. It was surreal walking up and down the same steps the players do before and after each match.


The stairs bring you right to the player benches and the centerline of the pitch. I am a little ashamed to say how much time I spent just standing there, taking it all in, and also waiting for the Real Madrid TV crew who were doing an interview in the middle of the pitch to clear out so that I can take my photos with a near-empty pitch:


I am still in awe of the entire experience, and part of me still can’t believe it, even when I have pictures to prove that one of my wildest dreams has come true. I was there, amidst the Madridistas, cheering my team on against our greatest rivals. I was there, where some of the greatest players of the world have walked through and bathed, where history has been made, where dreams have been fulfilled, where hearts have been broken. I was there. And in a way, I always will be.

Hala Madrid!

There are no words. Just tears.

OK, I lied. There are some words.

I (and every other Real Madrid fan out there, I reckon) was a complete wreck over the 95 minutes of the match. My hands were clasped over my mouth for about 90% of the match, and I felt like I was holding my entire breath for all of it. Even after Cristiano’s 73rd minute goal, I never relaxed, that 90th minute goal from Bayern (and the other recent last minute equalizers) haunting me. But when that final whistle was blown, all the pent up tension was released. Along with a torrent of tears.

And pride.

And love.

The guys thanking the traveling fans but really, all thanks are due to THEM.

In all my years of being a Madridista, I have never been more proud of this team than I am now, after their 1-2 win over Barcelona at the Camp Nou. The win was not spectacular in a footballing sense, it wasn’t flashy or showy. What it was, though, was a disciplined, controlled and committed team effort. Every single player had a role, had a job to do and they all played it to perfection and more. While Cristiano (of course), Mesut Ozil (that pass!!!!), Alvaro Arbeloa and Sergio Ramos (what a fine center back he’s evolved to be) were the standouts for me, everyone else’s efforts to pressure Barcelona and prevent them from playing the game the play so devastatingly well can not be discounted.

And this win just means SO MUCH. Its importance to the La Liga title aside (and it was decisive), I can’t even begin to put into words how important this win was to the players, to the team, to Jose Mourinho (even if he refuses to speak about it) and to the fans. They beat Barcelona. Arguably the best team in the world. In the Camp Nou. And without having to resort to the dirty tactics that marred last season’s matches. And with only 28% of possession (!!). We beat them. Fair and square. We’ve finally figured them out.


I could go on and on and on about the significance of this win, but not only are there people more qualified than me to do just that, I also think that I’ve already said the two words that sum up everything for me:


And love.

Oh, and also, Hala Madrid!

Photo from the Official Real Madrid Facebook page.

My week of football hell

I’ve been following Real Madrid for almost 10 years now and have been a huge fan for about 7 or 8 of those years. For all those years, though, I only remember one instance when I was this nervous: the last match of the 2006-2007 season where we clinched the title. But that was one match, and I was still in the early days of my fandom.

This time around, it’s a string of three matches over eight days, with two potential trophies at stake. Oh, and did I mention the matches were against our bitter European rival Bayern Munich and, oh, this team called FC BARCELONA?

My football hell week, is what I call it.

I didn’t even feel this nervous last year, when we played FOUR El Clásicos over an 18 day period. There were two titles at stake then, too and the media circus was even crazier. But last year, I didn’t feel like throwing up every time I thought about the upcoming matches for too long. My stomach didn’t do somersaults every time I think of the possibility of Madrid not winning anything this season.

And when I say I feel like throwing up, that’s not just a metaphor for how nervous I am. No. I actually, physically feel like I’m going to lose my lunch all over my office desk (ewwwww, I know). I actually have to will myself to stop thinking about Real Madrid to stop the butterflies from wreaking havoc in my stomach.

My love for Madrid has always tortured me emotionally, but now, my fandom is actually manifesting itself physically. And I can’t put a finger on why this particular set of matches is torturing me so. Perhaps, it has to do with the fact that just a month ago, we were leading Barcelona by 10 points in the league and that lead has since been reduced to 4 points. Maybe, it’s because I know that the league title is ours to lose and that, God forbid, if we do lose it, it will be no one’s fault but ours. It could also be that our dismal record against Barcelona in recent years has finally caught up to me, and I can no longer muster the positivity. As for the Champions League, maybe I’m scared as hell because Ribery, Robben and co. are the first serious opposition we’ve come up against (no offense to Apoel). Maybe, what’s getting to me is that nagging fear that my team, who have run rampant in Spain (apart from the recent slip ups and Barcelona, of course) and in Europe, who have been breaking records left and right, might just not be good enough to bring home those titles (goodness me, typing that down felt blasphemous).

If I feel this way, I can't imagine how these guys must be feeling.

Or, maybe, I’m just going crazy.

The thing is, though, I am grateful for this turmoil. Well, not exactly the turmoil itself, but the opportunity to feel it. Surely, Arsenal/Milan/Liverpool/Sevilla/Manchester United fans would give anything to be in my position. My team is leading its domestic league AND one match away from the Champions League final. I would rather go through this emotional roller coaster than be calmly sitting at home, pointlessly rooting for a team with nothing to fight for.

Yeah, I think that paragraph just confirmed that I am going nutso.

Be that as it may… Always and forever, Hala Madrid!

Photo from the Real Madrid Facebook page

Some post El Classico thoughts

Another El Classico. Another loss. I won’t even begin to try and verbalize what I’m feeling because, well, it would all be whining and swearing and I don’t want that on my blog (I don’t mind having it on my Facebook page, though). But heartbreak aside, I still am able to string some coherent thoughts together, post El Classico:

  •  Yey for the live telecast of the match on AKTV! I have always complained about the pathetic state of football coverage in the country but a few days ago I received the very welcome news that a local cable channel was going to telecast the game LIVE! There was no longer a need to go all the way to a pub in Makati in the wee hours of the morning just to watch the match. And apart from the mere convenience of being able to watch a 5am match in the comforts of your own home, AKTV’s coverage also means that matches from the best leagues in the world will now be more accessible to the growing football fan base in the Philippines. Yey for that!
  •  That being said, AKTV commentators need to get their acts together! It’s frustrating watching such a high-profile, crucial match between arguably the two best clubs in the world, and the commentators can’t even get the players straight. At one point, they said Gonzalo Higuaín was Kaka, even after the replay showed it was clearly Pipita. I guess you could say that that was forgivable, given that you could mix up players in the heat of the match and because, you know, they were two white guys with dark hair. But they also mistook Gerard Piqué for Eric Abidal. But Piqué looks like this, and Abidal looks like this. How do you mix those players up? Also, they kept insisting that the last El Classico result was a 5-0 win to Barcelona. Ummm. No. THat wasn’t even the last league match between the two, much less in all competitions. There have been SIX other RMCF-FCB matches since that 5-0 result. One La Liga match, the Copa del Rey final, two Champions League semifinals and two Supercopa matches. SIX. These are facts, and a 10 year old can easily Google them in 10 seconds flat. Why the hell can’t professional commentators, whose JOB it is do actually research these facts, who could be assumed to be experts on the sport they are commentating on, do the same?
  • I know we lost, but I still have to say this… I liked the way Real Madrid played. I’m no tactical expert, and I really won’t be able to properly explain what was different in Mourinho’s strategies in this game and the previous El Classicos but… I enjoyed this style of play more than the ultra-defensive, hard tackling approach they took in last season’s maddening series of matches against Barcelona. With this match, I didn’t feel a little ashamed of my team, I didn’t feel the need to defend their tactics and, more importantly, there was none of the ugly backlash that followed some of last season’s matches. Last season, I felt like we had to resort to that cynical approach because we knew we couldn’t beat Barca playing how we usually played. But in this match, it didn’t feel like that at all. And for a while there, I felt like we were matching Barcelona, we were playing how we wanted to play (albeit the execution wasn’t perfect). And despite the result, that was still encouraging. Which brings me to my final point…

Now, more than ever.

  • I must keep telling myself, all is not lost. Real Madrid, after all, still have a game in hand and a win next weekend will get us back on top of the standings. With the exception of this match, of course, the team has been playing exceptional football, and have only been beaten once in 16 outings. The end of the season is a long way ahead, we’re effectively still in the lead, and Barca are still the ones who need to catch up to us, not the other way around. It would be ridiculous to think that the season (well, the league, at least) has been decided in this morning’s game. I must remember that, all Madridista must.

Hala Madrid!

This makes it all worth it

I know, I know. Every time I talk about being a sports fan on this blog, usually, I’m complaining. I’m complaining about the emotional strain, the turmoil, the disappointment. But every so often (or at least once a year if you’re a Manchester United/Rafael Nadal/FC Barcelona fan), all the sleepless nights, the nail-biting and the tears pay off. There are moments that make all that self-imposed torture worth it. And the 103rd minute of a match in Mestalla in Valencia was one such moment.

Real Madrid CF beat FC Barcelona to win the Copa Del Rey, 1-0 in extra time.

Under normal circumstances, any trophy is worth celebrating. This trophy, though, is extra special (despite what Sergio Ramos’ treatment of it may imply) because the circumstances of this title and this match are anything BUT normal. Actually, they may never be duplicated. EVER. This title is all the more important to every Real Madrid player, staff member and fan because (1) we beat Barcelona in the final; (2) we beat Barcelona after six unsuccessful tries over three years; (3) we beat Barcelona after drawing with them 1-1 three days prior to this match and virtually handing them the La Liga on a silver platter and (4) we beat Barcelona first in the 18 days that make up the historical El Clásico series .

Finally. Silverware after three empty-handed seasons.

I guess it could all be summarized into simply saying “this is about Madrid beating Barcelona.” It is. But, actually, it isn’t. It’s way more than that. Winning last weekend’s La Liga match would’ve been nice, but the La Liga title, barring an unlikely and spectacular collapse from them, would’ve still been Barcelona’s. For the Copa del Rey final, something really was at stake, it can’t end in a tie, there’s no sharing the spoils. And the team delivered, proving to the fans that they could do it. But more importantly, proving it to themselves.

And even if it took seven tries in three years, the timing of the win could not have been better. We’re now going into the Champions League semifinal, not with the HOPE that we can beat Barcelona. We’ll be facing them believing… no, scratch that. We’ll be facing arguably the best club in the world at the moment KNOWING we can beat them. Because we just did.

What a difference a moment makes.

Hala Madrid!

Photo from Reuters