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?

 

Seville Snapshots: A Por Ellos. La Roja and the Confederations Cup

As the Novio says, “Sport is a physical activity with marked rules in which the Spaniards always triumph.” He is, of course, basing his knowledge of the domination of Spanish sport in tennis, Formula 1, synchronized swimming, and, clearly, fútbol.

I never thought I would be interested in the most popular Spanish sport, despite playing as a kid on local teams and even for my high school. But between Betis matches and watching Spain clinch the World Cup in 2010, defeating the Netherlands in an extra play (I think my bladder nearly burst for not wanting to miss a play!), I was hooked. A por ellos.

Thankfully, there are football matches nearly every night of the week, whether it’s league play, the Champions League, or worldwide championships. Spain just completed playing in the Copa Confederaciones, or the Confederations Cup. In this precursor to the World Cup next summer, Spain easily breezed past Tahiti and Nigeria, winning its group, and then squared off against Italy in the semifinals.

As I tick off the opponents Spain has faced since 2008 and the nail-biting penalty kicks and extra minutes, I realized that Spain has long has a target on its back. One of its biggest opponents has been Italy for the last five years, particularly after Spain beat L’Azzure last summer in the EuroCup, becoming the first team to win Eurocup-World Cup-Eurocup. The Novio and I took my mom to the bar to watch the game. Nancy isn’t interested in soccer and missed me score my only goal in actual competition (I played right wing! Get over it!), as she was yapping away, and this game was no different.

After 90 minutes of play, an extra play time was added. I got flashbacks to the World Cup in 2010, watching the time drain away while the game remained scoreless. Penalty shots were kicked and each one sunk in. Italy. Spain. Italy. Spain. On penalty kick seven, Bonucci misses, allowing Seville’s own Jesús Navas to clinch the game on his kick, and sending La Roja to the finals against hometown host Brasil.

Last night, as I finished my master’s final project, I listened with earnest to the radio. Spain was going after the last cup going into the World Cup stage next year, where Germany and Brasil will likely be touch competitors. Thankfully, I was distracted from the huge 3-0 loss and turned off the tube once Marcelo started prancing around and congratulating his Real Madrid teammates on the Selección Española.

As a Cubs and Betis fan, I’ve just one lema: There’s always next year.

Interested in sharing your stories and photos on Sunshine and Siestas? I’m looking for guest bloggers during these busy six weeks of camp and Camino. Get in touch if you’re keen!

Four Kid-Friendly Options in Seville

As a teacher, I often sigh thinking of how wonderful it would be to grow up in a city like Seville. The beautiful parks, proximity to historic sites and the long lifespan of their abuelitos seem to make childhood here happy and educational, even if the kids do dress up like pansies. Though it has long been known as a city with a rich history, many of the activities that people traditionally choose in Seville – museums, parks and flamenco – can prove to either be a bit dull or not youth appropriate.  Here’s a few picks for where to take your niños in La Hispalense:

Cheer on one of Seville’s fútbol teams

While my great sports love will always be the Iowa Hawkeyes, I’ve become a die-hard Real Betis fan, one of Seville’s teams in the top-tier of La Liga. La Liga is home to world famous football squads such as Real Madrid and Barcelona.  These two squads annually compete in El Clásico. Due to the match’s popularity, free tickets have been given away from a competition making El Clásico one of the grandest and much-awaited sporting event in Spain.

The Estadio Benito Villamarín hosts Real Betis home games and has a capacity of 45,000 spectators.  They say that only Real Madrid and FC Barcelona have more fans than the verdiblancos of La Palmera, and football is not just a sport, but a passion for fans. Tickets are usually cheap, and the thrill of constantly teetering between victory and defeat gets anyone’s heart racing. Your kids likely won’t understand the choice swear words for the referees, called árbitros, anyway!

Visit the Museum at the Plaza de Toros

The Plaza de Toros de la Maestranza is the second oldest modern bullring in Spain and home to one of the most well-known bullfighting festivals in the world. Even if you do not like to watch bullfighting matches, it is still worth a visit. The mustard-colored albero sand and the stark white of the building is insanely gorgeous.Construction began on the structure in 1749 and the building has been maintained until today.

There’s also a small but informative museum that celebrates the history of the sport, explains its three parts and pays homage to the toreros who compete, which can be conducted in English. You can even see the head of the mother of Spain’s most famous bull – the one who killed prominent bullfighter Manolete. According to tradition, if a bull fatally gorges a bullfighter, the mother of the animal is slaughtered.

Seville Bike Tour

If you are only going to be in Seville a couple of days and want a way to see as much of the city as you can, consider taking the Seville Bike Tour.  A bike rental is included in your fee and your tour guide takes you around to the best places in the city while explaining to you the history of Seville.  Tour guides speak English, Spanish, and even Dutch and are very friendly and accommodating.

La Reserva del Castillo de las Guardas

One of the largest wildlife parks in Europe, La Reserva del Castillo de las Guardas has over 1,000 animals and 100 different species in settings nearly identical to their natural habitat.  You can drive through the habitat on your own or have a guided tour while seeing lions, zebra, and all sorts of wildlife as if you were on Safari.  In addition, there are also exhibitions and live shows separate from the wildlife habitat that include sea lions and even a recreation of the American Wild West. La Reserva of Castillo de las Guardas is located about one hour north of Seville in the town of the same name.

Other museums like the Pabellon de la Navegacion or the Castillo de San Jorge are cheap and kid-friendly options, as well as the wealth of parks and plazas. If I were a kid, I’d been in and out of the fountain in La Alameda de Hercules during the hot summer days (but mostly just to get a funga face from the Naners)!

Where do you mommies and daddies hang out with your kids in Seville?

How La Roja Made Me Love Fútbol Again

My first experience with Spanish fútbol was a Fútbol Club Sevilla game in September 2007. My grandma and I melted like butter in the sun and got seats high in the grada, next to a man who spilled over his seat and shouted COÑO every time the rojiblancos lost possession of the ball.

Helen asked how I liked it, and I pined for Hawkeye Football.

For me, fútbol was little more than an excuse to get some friends together to drink beer and casually comment on a game. I had played as a kid for years, hanging up my shin guards to focus on school and gymnastics in 2000, years before Spain’s national team was even on my radar.

In the summer of 2008, however, I spent my months missing Spain and working at Banana Republic Factory Store. My boss, Erik, approached me one July morning with a proposition: Work my 90 minutes of break simultaneously and call with updates. What updates?

The Euro Cup tournament had begun, and my boss assumed I’d be interested in watching it.  I obliged, and found it was me who was then yelling COÑO and TIRA, COÑO and ME CAGO EN LA MÁ! as Spain battled Germany in the finals. After 90 grueling minutes, la Furia Roja came out on top, a taste of what to expect in South Africa two years later. I was impassioned.

Xabi. Iker. Piqué. All part of my vocabulary. I played Wave Your Flag for my students Friday on the opening day of  the 2012 Euro Cup and tears pricked my eyes as I remember watching countless games and scheduling my social calendar around them during the World Cup – US, Mexico, Germany and Spain made up the countries of nationalities of la familia, and we ate guacamole at Juan and Marco’s while cheering on Mexico, found a beach bar to watch Spain-Uruguay and convinced Kirsten to not wear any black, thus giving away her German heritage before they lost to Spain in the semis. I once even watched a game by myself, back against the wall, just to not risk missing the first ten minutes to return home after work.

When I walk into Plaza María Pita in La Coruña, I remember the excitement leading up to the final. Carrying a plastic bag full of cold beers, we waited hours for the square to fill while Waka Waka was played on repeat. With the crowd ebbing and flowing with every corner, card and kick, we all found ourselves at different points of the plaza. At minute 82, I told Lauren I would rather pee my pants than miss the last few minutes of a tied game. As I squatted over a toilet where I didn’t even bother to turn on the light, an eruption occurred. I rushed out to see if someone had scored, pants still unbuttoned.

In the end, an extra 30 minutes was tacked onto the game. Nerves were tense as people around us hugged us in close. No one spoke. Tikitaki. Back and forth went the ball. Iniesta in from the right side. Strikes. Past the goalie’s hand. straight into the net. As Reina put it, “He wrote the script for our success.” Spain had brought faith to a country in the midst of its worst economic crisis, had united a nation in the name of balompié. I felt like I was a part of the greater picture, swept up in the craze and into numerous hugs and high fives from strangers (including the defeated Dutch).

Two years later, I’m with Inma cheering on La Roja as they play a friendly with China. The game isn’t especially interesting, but it was the last time they’d play before their debut in the Cup this evening with Italy. I cheer the chants loudly enough to lose my voice, straining my neck around someone in front of me with a goofy hat to see the corner kicks. Explain to Inma what fuera de juego means and why cards are given.

Finally, after five years, I have found a way to move past my need for tailgating and Gary Dolphin, and I feel that La Roja is my Spanish team to believe in.

Euro Cup FAQs:

The Who, What, Where: During the month of June, 16 qualifying teams from across Europe will go head to head to determine the continent’s best football club, with the final on July 1st. Poland and Ukraine are sharing the hosting duties this time around.

Spain’s Desafío: Be the first team in history to win back-to-back-to-back Eurocup (2008), World Cup (2010) and Eurocup (2012). Apart from being a team of depth, La Roja’s players don’t play with their egos to feed as they do in the national league. Spain is grouped with Italy, Ireland and Croatia and plays their first game tomorrow at 8:45 pm against the azzurra from our Mediterranean neighbor. Teams to watch are the usual heavy hitters: England, France, Holland and Germany, two of whom were teams Spain beat during their World Cup run.

Spain’s Schedule: Spain plays its fellow group members in the first round: Italy today at 8:45 pm, Ireland the 14th at the same time and Croatia on the 18th. The two tops teams of the division will duke it out in the quarterfinals on June 23rd. The winner will be decided on July 1st at 8:45 pm.

Who are you rooting for?

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92 Reasons to visit Seville

In working on an article for The Spain Scoop, I paid a visit to the Seville Tourism Board’s website. On the main page, to coincide with the World’s Fair in Seville’s 20th anniversary, the board proposes 92 reasons to visit Seville.

Among my favorites are things I enjoy about living here, like 88 (eat a montaíto de pringá), 74 (buy a flamenco dress),  55 (eat el jamón bueno bueno) and 58 (sleep a siesta). Then I remember the insane amount that I still have before me to do, like visit Doñana National Park, spot the Duquesa de Alba, see the Derbi between Mi Betí and Sevilla FC, walk el Rocío to Almonte.

I do think they gave up towards the end, as the last reason is, because you feel like it. So, so sevillano of you, VisitaSevilla. But who really needs to list 92 things to do in and around this glorious city whose history stretches back over 2000 years, whose sunsets are breathtaking and whose cuisine is tó lo bueno. Seville is more about feeling it and living it than seeing it.

Take a look, and tell me what’s on your Seville itinerary, or the reasons you’ve been here before. The Tourism Office hooked me up with this year’s Fiestas de la Primavera poster, and it can be yours if you’re chosen!

My Seven Super Shots

Maybe it’s just my love of Camarón or my quest to see Seville in new ways, but I was crossing my fingers I’d get to do the Seven Super Shots run by hostelbookers.com . Similar to the ABCs of Travel, this virtual game of tag centers around photography, which I am all to willing to admit to loving.

The gimmick is to examine the snaps you’ve taken and choose the best out of several categories. When reading a few others on my Google Reader, I already had mine mentally picked out.

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