MADRID — How does it feel like to experience sitting beside 58,367 screaming fanatics of one of the world’s most famous football clubs?
Our JJJ family watched the Real Madrid C.F. vs. Girona FC game in the capital of Spain last Sunday.
Jasmin, Jana and I arrived from Cebu to Madrid early that morning and, within hours, we were ready for the 4:15 p.m. kickoff time.
Bull horns echoed outside the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, home of the Galacticos for the past 75 years. Souvenir booths were scattered around selling scarves, magnets, water bottles — items plastered with the brand “REAL MADRID,” declared by FIFA as the “most successful and best football club of the 20th century.”
When we entered and took our seats on the 2nd level (of five levels), the song “I Ain’t Worried” by OneRepublic blared over the loudspeakers. Goalkeepers danced to the Top Gun Maverick tune, warming up and stretching. Water sprinklers automatically emerged from the pitch to shower the perfectly-manicured grass.
The game took place last Sunday — meaning the audience was filled with families: dads and moms with their young girls and boys; all wearing “EMIRATES Fly Better” jerseys by Adidas with the names BENZEMA, VINI JR., and MODRIC.
The most visible jersey? Although he could not play that afternoon, it had the name BENZEMA plastered on the back. Yes, Karim Benzema was the newly-crowned Ballon d’Or winner (“the world’s best footballer”).
GAME TIME. The Girona FC players first entered the pitch and they were greeted with howls and jeers. But when the white jersey-wearing Real Madrid players entered, pandemonium started: drums echoed as the fans stood to clap for their home team. The Madrileños screamed and whistled. (Here in Madrid, nobody wears masks anymore.)
The game started and, as expected from world-class play, the passing and goal attempts and defense were exceptional. Real Madrid, the La Liga defending champions, were clearly the better team against the 17th-ranked Girona. They had plenty of ball possession (58% of the time by game’s end).
Luka Modric, the Croatian captain, was a star. So was Toni Kroos. The first half went scoreless despite Real Madrid having plenty of goal attempts.
Finally, in the 70th minute, Vinicius Junior scored from within a few feet from a superb pass from Federico Valverde. That’s when the bull horns erupted and the fans roared. And just when the fans thought that a 1-0 win was looming, a controversy happened on the 80th minute. The referee, Mario Lopez, who was jeered countless times by the home fans, went to the VAR and ruled that Marco Asensio’s arm touched the ball. Penalty reward for Girona. That’s when Cristhian Stuani, the 6-foot-1 Uruguay player, calmly thrust the ball to the right corner.
One-all! You could feel the disappointment among the fans. Then, in the 89th minute, Rodrygo of Real Madrid scored! But, wait, the referee concluded that the ball was taken away from the goalkeeper’s hands and it was deemed a foul. No goal. Minutes later, the game ended in a 1-all draw.
Looking back at the game, Real Madrid fans are some of the most passionate of any sporting fans that I’ve seen.
Inside the Santiago Bernabeu, you feel the sense of history dating back to its inception in 1947. Real Madrid is the Los Angeles Lakers or New York Yankees of football; one of the planet’s wealthiest sporting outfits with annual revenues of $750 million and a fan base exceeding 225 million people.
You imagine the thousands of games played inside and the superstars who’ve sprinted across the field: David Beckham, Kaka, Iker Casillas, Raul, Luis Figo, Ramos, Sanchez and Zinedine Zidane. This hallowed ground was the home of Cristiano Ronaldo.
Santiago Bernabeu is the Centre Court of the world’s most popular sport.