I Thought India Was Crazy About Sports. Then I Watched El Clasico
Football is more than life and death in Spain, especially for El Clasico.
Like many people around the world, I always believed that India is crazy about cricket. Who wouldn’t? There’s a cricket match in every corner of our towns, fans flock the stadium with their blue shirts and painted faces for every limited-overs match and we have our own league which garners tremendous viewership.
However, Indians may be cricket lovers, but the country is not crazy just yet!
What’s crazy is when an entire city almost comes to a standstill because there is a football match at 8:45 pm. What’s crazy is when around 50,000 people get together at the bars near the stadium with their jerseys and start singing songs to show the support for their team. And to top it all off, fans get into two groups and march towards each other, forming a procession just before the match begins. They have a small get together and move into the stadium as a whole unit.
This city is Barcelona and the match is against Real Madrid. Mind you, this match is a dead rubber, since Barcelona already sealed the La Liga title. But even then, the Barcelona fans want a victory, they want to defeat their rivals and they are not going to sit back and let the players do it for them. The fans believe they have a responsibility too and they’ll do whatever it takes to be behind their team during the entire 90 minutes.
When we found our seats in the stadium, there was a big yellow page waiting for us. It had instructions asking the fans to hold it up before the match begins. When I held the page up, I realised it was a such a remarkable idea to have all the fans send a common message in sync. The video below will shed more light.
I am going to let out a little secret here. I was supporting Real Madrid, but I wasn’t going to let anybody know about it. Thank god I didn’t wear a Real Madrid jersey as I saw a few Barcelona supporters shouting at anybody wearing it.
Anyway, in the stadium, with my secret intact, I felt really lonely, even though there were 97,939 people in the stadium. I couldn’t see any of the Real Madrid fans in the stadium (I got to know later that they were sitting in a small corner) and I thought to myself, if I am feeling lonely then what must the eleven Real Madrid players have to deal with. That’s the pressure of an away game.
As the match began, it wasn’t eleven vs eleven, but Barcelona players plus fans against Real Madrid players. The fans were involved in every decision the referee took. Every time Real Madrid got a chance to attack, the fans ensured that they make enough noise for the players to lose concentration.
And Lionel Messi is Barcelona’s prodigal son. Nobody should dare to hurt him. Every time Real Madrid played a little hard with Messi, the Barcelona fans were on to the Galacticos. After they were happy with the dose for the concerned Real Madrid player, they would break into a chorus ‘Meeeessi Meeeeessi’. The chorus would make me shiver as I thought, with this crowd, it’s impossible for any team to beat Barcelona.
Apart from watching my favourite, Cristiano Ronaldo, score a goal, I was fortunate enough to watch Andres Iniesta play his final El Clasico of his career. The legend, who has been battling fitness issues, was substituted in the 58th minute.
All in all Real Madrid survived at Camp Nou with a 2-2 scoreline. After the match, the Barcelona players went around the ground celebrating yet another league victory, dancing away with fans to the tune of Ole Ole Oleeeee.
I’ve heard many stories on football being more than life and death. But after witnessing the El Clasico firsthand, I am convinced that football is not just a game in Spain. It’s a celebration, it’s a way of life.
(This article is being republished from The Quint’s archives ahead of the match between Real Madrid and Barcelona on Sunday. This piece was originally published on 11 May 2018.)
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