FBTG always prefers giving exposure to the Little Guy. Other blogs frequently dedicate content to the likes of Arsenal, Barcelona and PSG. Naturally, blog posts concerning the big clubs that many people know and love receive a lot more traffic than 1,000 word entries dedicated to small-time Football clubs from Tahiti do, but FBTG would always rather invest time to research and write about less well-known Football topics instead of constantly click-baiting with transfer updates and match reports that you can get elsewhere anyway.
We feel the need to explain this so that you don’t think we’re suddenly selling out by writing about Real Madrid CF. Again.
A recent trip to Spain’s capital gave us the chance to watch Madrid’s 3 biggest Football clubs compete across 3 consecutive days. An evening with the antifa-friendly Rayo Vallecano was certainly colourful, matchday with Atlético Madrid in their new home was fairly sterile, but we noticed that a trip to the legendary Estadio Santiago Bernabeu feels in many regards unique. The ground’s status as being the home of “The World’s Biggest Football Club” attracts a specific kind of attention. As such, we felt that a quick shake-down of the ways in which a visit to Real Madrid CF’s ground differs to a groundhop elsewhere was in order.
The first thing you notice as you draw closer to the Bernabeu either on foot or by public transport is the abundance of Ultras’ Aufkleber. This is a common at grounds. Visiting fans slap a few fan stickers on lampposts, street signs and post boxes to hopefully piss off a few locals later on. However, I don’t think that FC Magdeburg have played away at the Bernabeu recently. Ultras may see themselves as eternal loyalists to a single club, but those who purchase, carry, distribute and use their sticker designs are clearly willing to make trips to see other big names in action. The abundance of Ultra stickers from a wide spectrum of Football clubs around the stadium is proof of the vast amount of fans of other clubs who want to visit Real Madrid.
While they do that, they may feel inclined to purchase a commemorative piece of merchandise. Street vendors of shirts, scarves, hats, flags, vuvuzelas and God-knows-what-else can be found outside any Spanish Football stadium on matchday. Yet at the home of Real Madrid, visitors are capable of purchasing knock-off club wear from young men circulating the ground at pretty much any time when the sun is in the sky, 7 days a week. These street-sellers acknowledge the high prices the club charges for its certified merchandise and understand that a demand exists for cheaper options. The money to be had is enough temptation to try and flog some poorly stitched shirts directly outside the ground, where day-trippers may not have much time to explore the stadium.
What is even more shocking is that you can pick up a forged shirt of a certain Catalonian Football club outside the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu as well, such is the slutty nature of Football tourism to Spain’s capital….
If you attend on matchday, the vendors of counterfeit shirts and scarves are accompanied by another type of wheeling-dealing salesman. A handful of days prior to the last Real match I attended, I scouted ticket prices. Tickets priced at 15€ were available and abundant, so, not knowing the exact numbers of our group yet, we agreed to purchase on the day. However, we had not accounted for the sheer size of the crowd attending a routine Copa Del Rey fixture against La Tercera opposition. Ticket-touters flocked to our enormous queue, each promising the legitimacy of the tickets they were selling. Naturally skeptical, I shook them off. But a more streetwise Spaniard in our midst decided we would either take this chance or miss kick-off.
20 minutes later, we took our 10€ seats behind the grada de animación with a bag full of sunflower seeds, marveling at our good fortune. Not all tickets sold peer to peer however turn out to be the real deal. Be careful.
The worldwide allure of the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu inspires another phenomenon that is altogether unwholesome yet sadly true. Locals know full well that many a wealthy pilgrim will save his or her pennies in order to fulfill a lifetime ambition and visit the sporting equivalent of the Kaaba. These weary travelers are very likely to carry valuables with them, specifically cameras and other photography/ recording equipment and devices. And furthermore, these weary travelers are unlikely to be in a state of high alert. A family from Japan or a couple from the States are going to be conscious of wandering round a major European capital that they are unfamiliar at night, and rightly so. But the city’s biggest sports venue at midday? Many visitors put their guard down in this moment, their attention focused instead on the astonishing structure that they have come to visit, towering before their very eyes. And for this very reason, Madrid’s pickpockets flock to the Bernabeu. My Airbnb host during my visit was a former employee there. “Keep an eye on your bags” she growled.
The final curiosity we’ll explore in this post that the stadium endures more than any other is a function of modern narcissism. When I’m in the North Stand at the KCOM (formerly KC) Stadium, I assume that those beside me are there to cheer the lads and celebrate their belonging to Hull. In that environment, the group identity matters more than the individual. So you can understand my objection to anyone bringing selfie-sticks; a piece of equipment purchased for the single purpose of making a photo of yourself as perfect as can be. The use of a selfie-stick is, in my opinion, the highest expression of self-obsession. Visitors taking selfies in my stadium are using my club as a backdrop for their own face; an act which trivialises and humiliates the affection and love we have for our club. Being a Hull fan, such behaviour is uncommon at my home matches, coz we’re shit (except when playing away against Leeds). But for Europe’s most successful club, visitors taking selfies is part of the fabric nowadays.
Throughout the whole match, you can see visitors who have clearly attended just in order to be photographed inside the stadium. I want you to know; I didn’t do it.
A visit to the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu is truly a unique experience. Its legendary status in not only European Football, but also more generally in world sports, results in such a degree of attention that ultimately facilities a series of phenomena that transform a simple groundhop to a stadium visit that ultimately feels vastly different to all others. Take a look, and keep your eyes open.