A Por Ellos: What to Know Before Attending a Spanish Soccer Game

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?


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About Cat Gaa

As a beef-loving Chicago girl living amongst pigs, bullfighters, and a whole lotta canis, Cat Gaa writes about expat life in Seville, Spain. When not cavorting with adorable Spanish grandpas or struggling with Spanish prepositions, she works in higher education at an American university in Madrid and freelances with other publications, like Rough Guides and The Spain Scoop.


  1. UD Las Palmas are in 2A, although they once finished runners up in the top flight to Real Madrid. Way back in the 70s. They used to play in a reallly cool inner-city stadium. Now it’s out of town, the atmosphere’s not good. They reached the play-offs last season. Hopefully they can get promoted this season. It’s been too long since they were in the Primera.
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  2. Ohhh those pipas! At the last game I went to there was a guy behind us who went through an entire bag and left allll of the shells in a literal mountain by his seat. I was very tempted to take a picture…
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  3. Great article, Cat! Let’s hope Betis have a good season *fingers crossed*
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  4. Christine says:

    First let me say thank you for being a hicha de Betis and not Sevilla; being a Málaga fan I’m sure you get it. :o) I never thought in a million years I would be so addicted to futbol. When I studied abroad in Madrid I kinda took a wee interest but it wasn’t until I lived in Buenos Aires and dated a Boca fan did I realized (the boyfriend came and went but the love of futbol remained). I’d follow members of the Argentine team to their perspective clubs. Long story short..I ended up following Málaga and when I got placed there ahhhhh..well let’s just say even though I’m back in the states I have a doormat that read Casa Malaguista and get up at ridiculous hours on the weekend to plant my fanny on a bar stool to watch La Liga and EPL.
    Of course being in Spain you have your local team and then the BIG question…Real o Barca?

  5. Thanks for this! I’m going to Sevilla for the first time next April/May (yeah, I know) so this helps with knowing more about the sports culture. The explanation on how leagues work has answered a LOT of questions. I purchased shares in Real Oviedo last December and follow the team but could not understand the league ascensions, etc. Gracias from a Colts fan in Indiana!

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      Real Oviedo, wow! What a cool thing to buy into. You must MUST get a ticket to a game, either here in Sevilla or in Oviedo. And hopefully April/May won’t be terribly hot – it usually isn’t. Will you be here for the fair?

  6. Ahhh yes, love this post :) I won’t lie, one of the top things on my to-do list once I finally get to Madrid is attending a game at the sacred Bernabéu! And as much as I adore all my team’s games, the most exciting matches always take place at the end of the season when you’re waiting to see who will be relegated and who will be promoted.

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      Too bad you missed the Madrid-Betis match last weekend. And, for real, the end of the season is such a nailbiter!

  7. Viva Sevilla! Haha, only joking Cat.

    I’m a Sevilla fan, or at least have been forced to be from my wife and her bros. Went to the Derbi last year, 5 v 1, was right in with the Billies, absolute mental. I’m a big footy fan and have been to a lot of games back in England, but nothing can prepare you for the madness of a Sevilla v Betis. I’m really a Spurs fan, so maybe we’ll meet in Europa league this year. Great article. You’ve inspired me to write one about when I went to the Derbi!


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  8. Love this! Going to a game this weekend for my querido Athletic, and reading this made me even more excited. :)
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  9. Fun post!

    I’ve been to two games, both Real Madrid. They were okay, but I have to admit I don’t get into soccer as much, and it may be because Mario is not a huge soccer fan! Yes, he does have his team (RM), but he much prefers (!!) basketball. (Obviously, being from Indiana, this is more than okay by me!)

    I get way more into the national team’s games. I love me some Andrés Iniesta and Iker Casillas.
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  10. My first taste of Spanish soccer was long ago in Sevilla. We were there for the Semana Santa in 1978. There were no hotels, of course, so we ended up in the spare bedroom of a Sevillan family and fist learned about the rivalry between Sevilla and Betis. So, for a at least a week, we were Betis supporters. But, we ended up living in Barcelona, and you know what happens there…Força Barça!
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  11. Oh, and one more thing. I hate Real Madrid. But that won’t be so easy to do now that Mourinho is gone. Spain is much more pleasant with him out of the country.
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  12. what fun! i love that your gramma went!!
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  13. Love this post!! My Dad worked with the Packers too ( I was born near Green Bay) so I must say GO PACK GO!
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    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      What a cool job! My dad went to St. Norbert’s, so he’s been going back and forth between the Bears and Pack for ages!

  14. My husband loves soccer so we often watch the Spanish football teams — hope to go to a game in Spain one day!
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  15. Thank you for sharing this.
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  16. Very practical tips – especially like that you’re referencing which words to know and use 😉

    I’m hoping to spend some time in Spain soon to re-learn Spanish, and I really think going to a football game will help. Hopefully some tickets aren’t so difficult to get…
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    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      Tickets aren’t terribly difficult, unless you’re talking Real Madrid or Barca. Try for the other teams in Madrid (Atletico or Getafe or Rayo Vallecano), or Espanyol in Barcelona. Atletico is actually a really strong team, and their stadium is right in the center of Madrid!

  17. Se me han puesto los pelos de punta leyendo tu artículo…

    ¡¡ Viva el Betis manque pierda !!

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      Jajaja, gracias! A ver como están hoy en la UEFA, no creo que vayamos por pereza jiji! Un saludo y MUSHO BETIS!

  18. When in Spain — it sounds like a great way to go local. Love your grandmother’s reaction. And good to hear that if people have the urge to throw something it’s paper products instead of beer bottles!
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  19. Soccer, learning swear words, AND the Green Bay Packers (I’m from Wisconsin)?! Awesome.
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  20. Attending Spanish soccer games sounds like a fantastic way to be part of the culture. I’m not a huge sports fan, but when I cheer I always pick the underdog too.
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  21. Helen Nicholas says:

    Now you tell me what I was saying! For me, it was a matter of self preservation. My only experience with non USA “soccer” games was watching the melee in the stands of both teams when emotions ran high. Because of the size of the guys sitting around us, I wanted to be on their “team” if something happened. If and when I go to another futbol game with you, I will expect more coaching in the sport’s decorum and how to best protect myself if I want to support a different team than my neighbor. Su Abuela

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      Hey, you’re just adapting to life in Spain, and I applaud you for it, abuela! We had a great time, didn’t we? Now that Kike and I are season ticket holders to the other team in town, you’ll have to visit, and I’ll re-teach you all of the swear words. Un besito.

  22. I live in Latin America where Futbol is like a religion here and ironically enough I have never seen a game.

    I remember visiting Argentina years ago and wanting to see the Boca’s play and there was an entrance for men and women, cuase that’s how insane the fans get, it is too dangerous for women!
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    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      No way!! I feel like European soccer is a tad more civilized than South American games, but being a fanatic, I’d love to go to the World Cup next year. Looks like we’re making it to Brasil for Christmas, just a bit too late! If Spain wins again, I’ll definitely tour the stadium!

  23. After watching Athletic Bilbao storm their way through the Europa League in 2012 I couldn’t help but fall in love with them, their heritage and the whole style of ethics behind Spanish football.

    As a big football fan I’ve longed to watch many a match in Spain and with us just round the corner (kinda) in Italia, it is too small a distance not to go.

    If we could meet for a game I’d be really happy.
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  24. Pedro Meca says:

    great! a football post! i know it is old, but i shall say something.

    i think that Betis aren’t the lesser known in Sevilla, yes there are more Sevilla FC supporters in the city, but within the province there are more Betis fans, and in Spain the feelings and attitude towards them are very nice, whereas Sevilla FC have a bad reputation.

    anyway it is interesting how you, a north american, have ended up liking it. Maybe before you came to Spain your views or attitude towards the sport were typical north american, that football is boring and foreign, etc

    it is the same attitude that i have about baseball for example, i know nothing about it expect for players hitting a small ball and running round the field, and even having ignorance about baseball i often visit a website of a newspaper from St. Louis, Missouri, to read their Cardinals’ posts, i even read all the comments that people post even though i don’t have a clue about what they say, but it amazes me their love towards a sport i don’t see any sense.

    my point is that if you have ended up liking football once you have learnt it and felt it in Spain, i would also end up liking baseball if i had the chance of learning it and feeling it in north america.

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      Haha, you’re very right, Pedro! My boyfriend and I caught one football game, and it bored him to tears! Luckily, the stadiums serve beer! I actually played soccer as a kid, so I didn’t need to learn another set of rules, and having Spain win the Euro Cup shortly after I arrived certain helped with the hysteria!

      • Pedro Meca says:

        what? what match you refer to that bored him? i thought that your boyfriend does like football and he’s a Betis fan.

      • Sunshine and Siestas says:

        No, the baseball game! The Novio is die-hard bêtico.

      • Pedro Meca says:

        you say that you played football as a kid…well this is something us Spaniards see it quite weird, i mean, in the USA you find lots of girls playing it, even there’s such a thing called “soccer moms”….

        it’s really interesting how in the USA football is seen as a girl’s sport, whereas in Europe it’s a man’s thing, and even more interesting is that NFL has a bad press here and its players aren’t seen as real men because of those helmets and padding, whereas in the USA they are real men.

  25. I found this blog by chance since I’m off to Sevilla next week. I’m hoping to get to the Betis-Bilbao game on Sunday. Where should I sit in the stadium, bearing in mind I’d like some atmosphere, but I don’t speak Spanish?

    • Hi, Iain. Practically anywhere but the Athletic section (visitors) will have ambience. I sit in Gol Norte in the Tribuna Alta, but the Fondo is a lot of fun, too. We’re sure to lose, but we’re used to it!

  26. Lisa Krueger says:

    So…..I was on a cruise with my niece…she got very sick and has been in a hospital for 2 weeks in Malaga. I have more time on my hands than I know what to do with and just purchased my first…and I thought only….ticket to a soccer game in Spain. I am going on my own…have no idea what to expect and took about 2 hours to figure out where I should sit. Ended up center field….7 rows up and hope I will be able to see ok. I don’t know what to wear….I was thinking about buying a jersey to fit in but now don’t know which teams jersey to buy! It’s Malaga vs Barca who I actually have heard of. Wish me luck…I will be prepared on the lower level for flying objects now and plenty of alcohol consumption. I enjoyed what you wrote and thank you. Still trying to figure out what time to get there and if the teams warm up or what they sell there and what I can bring in. Sometimes I feel like I am on another planet here lol! Wish me luck…

    • Lisa, sorry to hear your niece is so sick! Hopefully doctors there speak some English (or you some Spanish). No need for you to buy a jersey – some die hards will, but I don’t so much as have a scarf! I’d get to the field about 15-20 minutes before to hear the line up and team song! Have fun – it’s definitely an experience, and Barca is a top team!

  27. Richie from Sydney, Australia says:

    hi I am about to attend my first ever la liga game between FC Barcelona and Valencia in October 2016. As this has been on my bucket list for sometime now and probably the only time I will get to see my sporting hero (Messi) in a game before he hangs up his boots, I would like to know if its suitable to bring my 3 year old son to the game. You have written a very good assessment of what to expect in terms of crowds and how passionate spectators can be. im pretty suure that we got the cheap tickets so we are probably sitting in the top section of the Mastella, but all the same would like to know if its pretty safe to take kids to the game? thanks from Richie in Australia

    • Hi Richie, very legit concern. Big games – particularly ones between rivals – can get rowdy because many clubs have fans called ‘ultras’ or fans who can sometimes inflict violence if provoked. I’ve seen some obscene things at games from fans, such as vandalism or throwing bottles. Plan to arrive at the stadium early, as the skirmishes tend to happen just before kickoff. Have a great time!

  28. Go Real Madrid tonight!
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  29. I think the environment is what many fans outside of Spain fail to understand. Futbol in Spain is just different, but you do a great job explaining it here. Me and some of my friends that have studied in Spain get it, but it’s so difficult to explain the atmosphere to my American friends. Thank you for sharing!

  30. Thanks a lot for sharing such a great piece of article! I found it a good helpful write-up with a good sound and explanation. Here I got a number of concepts that is definitely helpful for everyone who wants to attend in the Spanish soccer game. Please keep sharing more updates!


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