The European soccer experience

August 25, 2010 in Europe,Places,Spain

Despite playing soccer competitively for years and becoming full-out obsessed with game times whenever the World Cup rolls around, I’d never attended a professional soccer game. My professional sports world is dominated by summer afternoons at San Francisco Giants games, late winter nights at Sacramento Kings games and the occasional tailgate at a San Francisco 49ers game.

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Basically, like many Americans, I spread my sports passion around: I’ve got a different team for every season, an ever-changing array of lineups to keep my attention fresh. I’ve always been intrigued by the European concept of obsession with just one sport: soccer. (Sorry to any European readers, but I just can’t bring myself to call it football.)

More than anything, I’m fascinated by the intensity of the fans. Sure, we have cowbells in Sacramento and there’s the Black Hole of Raiders fans that I’d never dare enter, but nothing seems to measure up to the frenzy of soccer fans worldwide. When I realized that my holidays in Spain coincided with an FC Barcelona game at Camp Nou, I decided that it was a can’t-miss experience.

Luckily, Suzy Guese was up for it and so we headed off to Camp Nou with beers and tickets in hand. A bit fashionably late, we strolled out of the Metro and were shocked by the quiet streets. I’m used to hordes of fans on Caltrain or Bart, or following Sacramento Kings stickers up the freeway. I had a moment of doubt–did I buy tickets for the wrong game?–before we heard cheers erupting out of the nearby stadium. Despite their apparent indifference about being on time the rest of the day, Spanish soccer fans don’t miss a minute of the game.

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We were both a bit hesitant due to myths of hooligans and pickpocketing, but once we arrived, we realized that it was just like any other sporting event: the crowds were full of father and son pairs (and a few three-generation families), young drunk guys and a few sports-inclined grandmas. People sported their team colors, cheered ferociously and generally had a grand time.

I was struck by the relentless support of the fans for their team. Although FC Barcelona played extremely well, winning the game 4-0, there were still a few close calls. The Barcelona fans never booed their team; instead, they cheered when Barcelona missed a goal, as if to applaud the effort. It was a refreshing change from the often-negative and sometimes pessimistic attitude of American sports fans.

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The only thing that struck me was a lack of estrogen in the audience. I realize that it’s still not completely standard (or accepted) for women in Spain–or even Europe– to play soccer or even be a soccer fan. However, while I think that father-daughter sporting events are a fairly normal part of American sports culture, I didn’t spot any little girls in the Barcelona crowd. It’s strange to think that sports still aren’t an everyday part of life for girls here, when it’s such a key part of American childhoods.

Although Camp Nou offers a number of stadium tours on off-game days, I don’t think there’s a better way to experience FC Barcelona soccer culture than attending a game. It’s easy to find tickets online and have them sent to your hotel in Barcelona upon your arrival. Just seeing the 98.787-seat stadium at almost-full capacity is worth the trip–and witnessing the fans’ passion is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

  • Anonymous

    No father & daughter pairs? :-( Have to say some of my favorite memories growing up were going with my dad to San Jose Sharks games (yes, even when they were playing at the Cow Palace). Totally turned me into a life long fan, and even though I don’t consider myself a sports girl, I can’t definitely hold my own in a hockey debate.

    Going to a football game in Europe is definitely on my to do list…whenever I make it back over there (which is hopefully soon!).

  • hi,
    very-very experienced players in our Indian football team.
    thanks.

  • Wow, I’m sooo jealous!! I would love to experience a Barcelona game at Camp Nou. I’ve been to World Cup games before, and the atmosphere in the stadiums was intense. Totally different any sporting event I’ve experienced here in the US.

    The Euro Cup is just around the corner. Do you think you’ll still be in Europe to experience that?

  • Anonymous

    I feel the same way about baseball. I still remember my first Giants game–in Candlestick Park, with Barry Bonds playing! Football in Europe is definitely worth it–I think next I want to check out the “hooligans”–aka an English soccer game. My coworkers are crazy passionate about their teams!

  • Anonymous

    A World Cup game is definitely on my bucket list–which games were you able to go to? I don’t think I’ll be in Europe for Euro Cup, but who knows–I was here for one, when France actually did well, and it was nuts!

  • Pbaj Penguin

    That amazing how many people came to the soccer game!
    Becca

  • Anonymous

    Next time you go to Europe, you’ll have to go to a soccer game! There were lots of little boys, but not many little girls!

  • Reminds me of my Brazilian soccer match I went to. Where are the flares?

  • Soccer

    Flares are prohibited in “civilized” Europe.

  • Soccer

    Actually, in Europe, National Teams does not come even close to club matches in terms of passion and obsession. There is no rivalry around a country society. Sure, people will be very proud and happy if success is reached but, the feeling that you get when YOUR CLUB wins is a lot stronger. It’s something that you share with your people and will throw at your friends and family faces.

    A champions league final (competition where the top clubs of each country play against each other), in Europe, will get as many (or more) viewers than the World Cup final.

    A match at Camp Nou is always special but you wont get the real experience of European football unless you assist to a Derby (match between 2 teams with huge rivalry and history. For example, in the NBA, Boston vs LA would be a Derby). To see Barça destroy a random team is nothing special. Result is almost predictable and most of the supporters are just enjoying “quietly” the game.

    If you have the opportunity to see a Barça vs Real Madrid, Manchester vs Liverpool, Milan vs Inter, Celtic vs Rangers, Porto vs Benfica etc. the environment will be totally different.

    These are games between teams that HATE themselves. The hatred between the main clubs from each country are often 100 years old and are sometimes fuelled by politic / social / religious differences.

    The stress in the air is palpable even if you are a Neutral spectator. The signs of “agressivity” between the supporters of both clubs are evident although, nowadays, real problems are rare in western european countries.

    Time to time there will be some problems but almost always between organized supporters that are considered, by 99% of spectators, as useless trouble makers.

    Anyway, during these games, the level of noise, stress, support is off the Charts. It’s something that North Americans will never really understand because of their Sport System that allow franchises to move around.

    If someone tried to move Barcelona FC from the city, you would get a civil war. No. I am not Kidding. There WOULD BE A CIVIL WAR for real.

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