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.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah.

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:

Pride.

And love.

Oh, and also, Hala Madrid!

Photo from the Official Real Madrid Facebook page.

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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!

On being a Real fan

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Being a fan of an athlete or a sports team is self-imposed torture. There really is no one else to blame for the heartache, the tears and the crushing disappointment you feel when your favorite team loses but yourself. You could have chosen not to care about a bunch of strangers whose sole purpose in life is to hit a football into the back of the net/drive in circles the fastest/shoot a ball into a hoop. But against your better judgment, against all logic, you do. I do.

When I get asked why I am a Real Madrid fan, I jokingly say that it’s because the men are so hot. But that’s really not the reason (I think I hear some “yeah rights”). Don’t get me wrong. THEY ARE HOT. But it takes more than Xabi Alonso’s gorgeous face to keep me as emotionally invested in RMCF as I am. I give the whole “because they are so hot” reason because, actually, I don’t know why I’m such a Real Madrid fan.

It’s not like they were the best team in the world when I started watching them. My interest was first piqued by the big deal that was made of David Beckham’s move from MUFC to RMCF in the 2003-2004 season. That was the height of the “galacticos” era, and also the start of a trophy-less drought, coaching replacements as frequent as Cristiano’s hairstyle changes, and a period of overall suckiness for the club. They went THREE seasons straight without winning ANYTHING, which is I think a record for the club.  They were disappointing and even downright crap at some points over those three seasons. Xabi Alonso, Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka weren’t even in Madrid then (see, I’m not all about the abs and the hotness!), but I stuck with them. I really can’t explain why.

It wasn’t all bad, of course. There was that unlikeliest of La Liga wins, the 2006-2007 league championship we shouldn’t have won, the season that was turned around in 60 seconds, won in 18 but almost lost to Barcelona in the final match of the season against Mallorca. Doubt was creeping in as Madrid were trailing a goal behind. But another of Fabio Capello’s match-changing substitutions turned the game on its head. José Antonio Reyes came in for a limping David Beckham, and spearheaded the nth Madrid 2nd-half comeback of the season. I remember how I felt when all three goals were scored. The tentative hope when Reyes scored the equalizer (Madrid needed a win to take the championship), the explosion of joy and tears at the own goal off Mahamadou Diarra’s header to make it 2-1, and the relief when Reyes scored again to make it a practically unassailable 3-1. I was laughing and crying into my pillow at 5am. And, again I really don’t know why.

From doubt, to hope, to pure joy

Fast-forward to almost 4 years later, and, again, I am up at the wee hours of the morning, watching an online scoreboard change numbers (boooo to poor football coverage in the Philippines, boooooo). It was the first day out of the 18 days that were to define the Real Madrid season, that were to determine if we go a third season without winning anything, again. Eighteen days, four matches, two teams and arguably the bitterest rivalry in the world of sports (think the Yankees versus the Red Sox with ugly national politics thrown in). Real Madrid vs. Barcelona with La Liga, the Copa del Rey and a place in the Champions League final all up for grabs. It’s been argued that these 18 days are the biggest in the football history of Spain, the country that just won the friggin’ World Cup 10 months ago. It’s THAT big.

And for a Madrid fan, the prospect is not only exciting, it’s terrifying. We have zero wins in the last six El Clásicos, the last one last Saturday ending in a 1-1 draw with Madrid down to 10 men, effectively sealing the La Liga championship for Barcelona. The one before that was November’s 5-0 drubbing at the Camp Nou that I still refuse to think, talk or read about. And as much as it pains me to admit it (and NOTHING can be more painful for a Madrid fan), Barcelona, led by the not-of-this world Leo Messi, are the favorites to win the remaining matches (consequently, the Champions League finals spot and the Copa del Rey) as well.

When will this happen again? Barcelona forms the Pasillo for new La Liga 2007-08 champions Real Madrid, before the El Clásico at the Bernabéu

At times like these I realize that my life would be much, much easier; the circles under my eyes would be much lighter and this post much happier if I was a culé and not a Madridista. The same could be said if I were a Roger Federer or Rafa Nadal (who’s a Madridista, by the way), instead of a fan of this man. But it’s not easy, nay, it’s impossible to just switch loyalties like that. If it were, then I wasn’t a real fan to begin with.

So, against all my better judgment and good sense, I will be glued to my TV/laptop screen for the remaining three matches of this series. Even if all the pundits are saying the Madrid are fighting an uphill battle. Even if matches start at 3am and I have to leave the house for work at 5am. I will stubbornly cling to the hope and belief that Madrid can win a trophy this season, even against the team they haven’t beaten in 6 tries, the best team in Europe at the moment. Because I am a fan. Because I am a REAL fan.

Even if I don’t know why.

Photo credits: BRU GARCIA/AFP/Getty Images (first photo); Google images (no original credit info for second photo).