Reflections from an American soccer fan in Spain

Elise Covert, Senior Writer

Mola Hostel, center city Madrid.

When my Finnish roommate Jerry asked me what my favorite part of my stay in Madrid had been, I told him it was my visit to Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, the home of Real Madrid C.F.

“Wait, you’re from the United States, right?” Jerry said.

“Yes . . .” I said. It seemed a strange question considering that everywhere I go here, I don’t even have to open my mouth to speak poorly-accented Spanish before people know I’m “Americana.” But as it turns out, Jerry was only struggling to reconcile my interest in soccer with my nationality.

“And you like soccer? I didn’t think Americans liked soccer,” Jerry said.

Unfortunately, as a blanket statement, that’s pretty much true, especially when compared to Spain. Nonetheless I smiled and laughed, assuring Jerry that yes, some Americans actually do like soccer.

When I boarded my flight back in August for my semester abroad in Alicante, Spain, I had never been to Europe before. I was expecting a love of soccer, no doubt, but what I experienced extended far beyond my expectations. It’s no exaggeration to say that at any hour of the day, one can turn on the television and find sportscasters animatedly arguing a call or praising an outstanding performance from the previous night’s action, or at the very least, fútbol highlights.

While watching soccer is a pastime for some in the United States, for many families in Spain it’s a way of life. Once my host father, Paco, discovered that I enjoy fútbol, he realized he could talk about it all the time. He spent extended amounts of post-dinner conversations explaining to me why Lionel Messi is the best player he’s seen in his lifetime.

One night, Paco took me to see his home team, Elche, who play in the second division of La Liga, Spain’s most prestigious league and one of Europe’s best. Elche used to be in the top division, and though their stadium doesn’t fill up anymore for the lower division matches, the atmosphere is still distinct from any Major League Soccer game I’ve been to. I got chills when the team marched onto the pitch from the locker room and the whole crowd started singing the team anthem, a ritual that takes place before every home game. Many of the fans, like my host dad, have been Elche fans for their entire lives and have raised their children on the exact same tradition.

Through all this, I couldn’t help but wish that people back home had this much passion for the sport. It’s something that brings together families, whole cities, and even an entire nation, all united by a love for the beautiful game.

So, when I had the opportunity to tour Estadio Bernabeu on our program trip to Madrid, I jumped. Raised a lifelong sports fan, I feel a sense of excitement whenever I enter a stadium or arena, and this excitement builds as I climb the flights of stairs until I reach the top and look out over the entire field, court, or ice rink. Even after two years in Lewisburg, I still get more than a hint of that feeling when I walk into Sojka Pavilion for a basketball game. There’s something about the anticipation of competition that gets me every time. While exploring the history of Real Madrid, this anticipation proved itself.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway so far is just how much pride Spaniards have in their sport and their teams; fans simply cannot get enough. Some of my classmates who came with me couldn’t quite understand why I was so excited to walk around a soccer field. But it’s more than a soccer field; it’s a gathering place, a respite from all the negativity on the nightly news, a place where history happens, and where thousands of people become one. It’s all for the love of the game. And I love this country for that very reason.

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