My first true sports love was the Green Bay Packers. Growing up along the border of Wisconsin-Illinois, my classmates were divided between Cheesehead lovers and the Monsters of Midway, making the Bears-Packers games something of legend. Nevermind the fact that I was born the year Ditka took Da Bears to Da Superbowl – Brett Favre and Vince Lombardi were my childhood heroes, along with Nadia Comaneci.
I soon took up a profound love for my university team, the Iowa Hawkeyes, as well as the Chicago Cubs, both perennial underdogs in their leagues. Then I up and moved to Spain, where no pigskins or baseballs are readily sold. I’d have to choose between tennis, synchronized swimming or fútbol to satisfy my sports cravings.
Thankfully, fútbol is sacred in Spain, and I was soon watching games every week with friends around the city. I learned the names of all the players on the Spanish national team and followed them earnestly (I even jumped into the Cantábrico when they won the World Cup in 2010, one of my fondest memories of my time in Spain). But I never answered the question so many students posed: ¿Sevilla ó Betis?
Thanks to some earnest friends and invitations to Estadio Benito Villamarin, I have become bética, which is Seville’s lesser-known team and home to one of Spain’s biggest fan bases (true story: there’s a Peña Bética club in NYC). Friends like JM, the Novio, Manuel, Pedro and even my former boss sold me on the idea of the underdog, the verdiblancos whose reputation took a beating in 2009 when they descended from the top Division Primera of La Liga into Segunda, where they spent two seasons. I attended the match late in the 2011 season los de la Palmera secured enough points to ascend back to Primera, and my heart swelled. That was all it took – living on the borde of a victory or a terrible defeat, the colorful ways the fans would insult the refs, the other team, even their own players and coach. If Barcelona Futbol Club is “Mes que un Club,” Betis is more than a feeling.
Note to self: it’s a fútbol team, no need to wax poetic. Besides, this post is about the matches and not my team.
Towards the end of the 2012-13 season, I went to the Derbi Sevillano, a pre-Feria tradition where Seville’s two teams square off. Season records are broken in attendance, and police forces swell to accommodate the botellones before kickoff. Tickets are a hot commodity, but the Novio’s business trip meant Emilio and I would be squished together in Gol Norte, cheering on our afición.
Attending a match with socios is a lot like attending a reunion – everyone knows one another, passing around packs of sunflower seeds and glasses of wine. Everything is debated and criticized, from calls to inability to stop goals. People go hoarse slinging insults at the other team (or even their own), hugging and giving slaps on the back when the team scores or has a good rebote. The two halves pass by quickly when you’re up, or excruciatingly slow when you’re down.
For my birthday last week, the Novio bought Emilio’s season passes off him, so we’re in for another season of debilitating defeats! The season started last week and will last until June, then it’s World Cup time again! Move over, Cubbies, attending a Spanish fútbol match is a whoooole new ballgame:
Understand the Organigrama of the Liga BBVA
The BBVA Spanish soccer league is composed of 20 teams in the top tier, called La Liga in Spanish and is one of the most-watched leagues in the World (duh, Spain has won the 2008 and 2012 Euro Cups and the 2010 World Cup). Each team plays a schedule of two rounds against the other teams, once home and once away, for 38 weeks, each called a jornada. Depending on match outcome, the teams earn up to three points, and they accumulate points throughout the season.
The team with the highest amount of points is crowned Campeón de Liga, and often clinches the playoff title, too, and the three lowest scoring teams are automatically moved down to Segunda División. Teams at the top of the second tier are welcomed back into the Primera División, and there is a playoff to determine the last spot. You’ll often see people at games who are also following other matched with their mobile phones or radios, jotting down points scored during the week and configuring where their team stands at the end of the jornada.
Not that you’re interested, but there’s also Segunda B and a Tercera División (an American friend of mine played for Albacete, who is in Primera B, thus making himself way cooler than anyone else I know).
But what about Fernando Torres and Jesús Navas, who play for the Selección Española national team? Many Spanish soccer stars opt to go to the Premiere League in the UK for their salaries and prestige. The same goes for Lionel Messi, who plays in La Liga for Barcelona, but also for the Argentinian National Team.
The bocata is sacred
After you’ve suffered through 45 minutes of tiki-taka, or the juggling between players that is characteristic of fútbol in Spain, the field suddenly empties and fans grab their bocata and can of pop. This, of course, after they’ve had an aperativo of pipas, or sunflower seeds.
Make sure you bring yourself a sandwich for halftime, and make sure it’s big enough to share. It may be a good idea to bring wet wipes for when you’re done, too (or maybe that’s just me).
Know your curse words
On my second day in Seville, my grandmother and I attended a Sevilla Fútbol Club match against Recreativo de Huelva. My grandmother is a demure woman, but fun-loving and open to new adventures. We climb up to the far reaches of the Sánchez Pizjuan stadium, and I settled in between a concrete wall and a man whose stomach stuck out as if to catch all of the pipas falling out of his mouth. Not knowing enough Spanish, my abuelita sat in the empty seat in front of me. I’m pretty sure she got pipas in her hair, too.
Whenever Sevilla lost posession of the ball, the man next to me would shout, JOOOOOOOOOder. joDER. JODER.
Naturally, my grandma thought it was a victory cry, even though the club was up 3-0. She began chanting it, too, and I couldn’t find the heart to tell her that it was a strong explicative because she looked so happy feeling integrated into a very Spanish part of life. Now that I’ve been to several more fútbol matches, I sling insults at players (often from my own team) and the refs with a well-crafted swear word or two. Try it, you’ll love it.
It’s expected to use strong adjectives
It has to be said: Andaluces are exceptionally good at exaggerating, and football is no exception. A well-deserved goal becomes a golazo, a blocked goal, a paradón. When discussing plays with your neighbor, be sure to add -azo, -ón, -ote to the end of nouns, and súper- and híper- to both nouns and adjectives.
And don’t be alarmed when you see grown men cry, either.
People throw things. Often.
As the Himno del Betis rings throughout Estadio Benito Villamarín, los béticos tend to release millions of paper stars, toilet paper rolls and even paper airplanes fashioned out of the lineup towards the field. Since the Novio and I sit in the first amphitheater, we get everything from the second and third, plus splashes of wine from the guy who sits directly behind us. Rare is the day where I shake my head and only a few sunflower seed shells don’t fall out.
But don’t worry, it’s all in good fun, and it sure beats the time where some Florida Gator fans poured a beer on my head at the Outback Bowl.
Who’s your afición? Have you ever been to a Spanish soccer match?