Culture and the Cup, Dispatch 6: Madrid

The Spanish public celebrates Wednesday's game. (Bruner/TYG)

MADRID — This city is in the center of Spain. Puerta del Sol, a wide open plaza featuring not one but two fountains, is in the center of Madrid. And on the biggest billboard around Sol, overlooking the throngs of flip-flopped tourists licking ice cream cones, a massive message of fútbol and nationalism is displayed on a Nike ad featuring members of the Spanish team: ES NUESTRO AÑO. SERÁ NUESTRA ERA. (It is our year. It will be our era.)

So, one could easily say that football and hope are at the heart of Spain. Some victory and pride in the 2010 World Cup would work well as a nice sangria to ease the economic wounds and broken egos of the year. And after last night’s hard-fought win over Germany, that prophecy could come true.

Spain’s first match against Switzerland, was a disappointing defeat that left the city stunned. But Spain rallied, going on to win the next three games against Paraguay, Portugal, and Chile. Next up, the match everyone had been waiting for: Spain vs. Germany, two fútbol giants who had played in the finals of the EuroCup in 2008 – where Spain had won. Germany wanted revenge. Spain wanted to win. We wanted to watch a good game.

The best place to go for a true fan experience in Madrid is Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, where thousands of young adults flock — buckets of sangria and cigarettes in hand, adorned with Spanish flags, David Villa jerseys, and an impressive number of tattoos and piercings. In the midst of all that red and yellow and pride, the feeling was electric.
No matter that it was impossible to see the large screens set up outside; no matter that within minutes we were sweating profusely in the densely packed crowd and 95 degree weather. What did matter was Puyol’s epic goal far in to the second half, which set off a solid ten minutes of celebration so intense that no one was watching the rest of the game. When stop time finally ran out at 93 minutes, there was a second explosion and we joined the crowds parading down Paseo de la Castellana in a euphoric mass. We spent the rest of the night waving flags, blowing vuvuzuela, breaking out into Spanish chants, and yelling every time we saw fellow fans in a flash of red and yellow. The walk back to our apartment took about half an hour, and still the city was in an uproar for victory and for España with people running the streets, cars honking horns, and flags flying.

They say that Spain is in rough economic shape, and there was just a metro strike last week following a civil servants’ strike last month. But last night everyone proudly sang my personal favorite cheer: Yo soy Español, Español, Español. (I am Spanish, Spanish, Spanish.)

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