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The Santiago Bernabéu

A Madrid must-see

Among the many things you can visit in Madrid, in my entry "What to see in Madrid" I recently included the football stadium Santiago Bernabéu, where Real Madrid Football Club play their home games. On the subject of this stadium/museum, I have to explain what it's like to experience a Real Madrid match on this stage, especially a Champions League game.

To enjoy a league game at the Santiago Bernabéu, a standard ticket can cost between 30 and 60 euros. However, if you want to reserve a VIP seat or a box, the prices shoot up. You should know that, for league games, there are normally always tickets, but it's better to buy the ticket as far in advance as possible to ensure you get can get a seat to watch the match. If it's a Champions League match it will be a bit more difficult to get hold of tickets, especially if you want to see the knockout stages: the last 16, quarter-finals, semi-finals ; you have to really be on the lookout to get a good seat, as the tickets sold via the internet are those that haven't been bought by season ticket holders. All this gets even more difficult in the days before the match, when people go crazy to get their hands on a ticket, and there are barely every any left.

Another option, which I wouldn't recommend anywhere near as much, is to buy 'resale' tickets from one of the many touts that gather around the stadium in the hours before kick off. You'll probably be able to recognise them pretty quickly, and they seem to have an almost inhuman ability seek out people who don't have tickets for the match. The price they charge you for a ticket is, of course, going to be much more expensive than what you'd pay if you bought it from the Club's website. But this happens at every match and I imagine that it won't sound like very useful information, due to what I'm going to tell you about what it's like to experience a match of the calibre of Real Madrid against Juventus (from Turin) in the semi-finals of the Champions League.

We're off to Madrid

The first thing you have to do is get to Madrid, and of course (if you go by car) park in a place that's not too far from the stadium, but that's also safe and not too busy. I went with my Dad and we parked the car in a car park on Paseo de la Castellana, next to the metro stop, Nuevos Ministerios. We took the metro and reached the area near the Santiago Bernabéu, where from midday all the fans start to gather and fill the streets, and the bars in particular. It's worth noting that Real Madrid had lost the first leg 2-1 in Turin and so to get through they absolutely had to win, and possibly even by more than one goal. At six in the afternoon people were already starting to gather in the streets around the stadium: Avenida de Cocha Espina, which the coach carrying the players drives down; Calle Marcelino Santa María, where the younger fans hang out and drink before the match, as well as chant and warm up the atmosphere; Calle Rafael Salgado, full of ticket touts more than anything else; Calle del Padre Damián where the official club shop is and where all the tourists go; and of course, Paseo de la Castellana, as I mentioned earlier.

Waiting for the team bus

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But I was ready at six in the afternoon, and until 7. 30, when the players tend to arrive, there was still time to take a look around the area. We went to the stands selling scarves and shirts, to one of the many bars in the area, to the official shop, and when the police started to close the streets we stayed behind a fence in the Plaza de los Sagrados Corazones, between Calle del Padre Damián and Avenida de Concha Espina. The best thing about it is seeing how it fills up with people, the great mass of people that forms at the entrance of the South End of the Santiago Bernabéu, the lines of people that stack up against the fences along the entire length of Avenida de Concha Espina... Then the Real Madrid fans start to chant, “Como no te voy a querer, como no te voy a querer si fuiste campeón de Europa por décima vez”, “Alé alé ale´, Real Madrid alé Real Madrid alé…”, “Es culé el que no bote eh, eh”, and more and more chanted by thousands of people bunched together in the same street, looking towards the same point. The only thing better than this is when the Real Madrid bus appears on the horizon. At that moment, what were chants become a deafening sound that makes your entire body vibrate. The bus usually drives slowly down Concha Espina, because if some crazy person tries to cross, even with all the police, both mounted and on foot, it would almost seem like suicide. When the bus reaches Plaza de los Sagrados Corazones, everything shifts from madness to ecstasy: flares are set off, you can see the incredulous players through the windows of the bus, and the only thing you can hear are cheers of support for the team. There are scarves everywhere, and flags blowing in the wind... It takes less than a minute for the bus to do its lap and then go up Padre Damián street towards the coach entrance to the stadium, but the feeling you get from it is so intense that it seems to last so much longer.

Entering the Santiago Bernabéu

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After seeing the players go past, some people start to go into the stadium and many others stay outside to drink their last beers, as you can't drink alcohol inside the stadium. As you can imagine beer is very expensive in the bars that surround the stadium and there are a lot of people, especially on Marcelino Santa María street, which I mentioned earlier, who drink and have an improvised 'botellón' so they don't have to pay the (what I think are) excessive prices in these bars. As for us, we had a last look round the area outside the stadium and then went in, just after the Juventus fans. They entered through a door next to ours. Our seats were in the corner close to the benches at the north end, halfway up, just a few rows from the pitch and a few again from the next level up. Two or three levels up, directly above us in the 'gods', were the Juventus fans, so if they decided to throw things, we were the lucky ones that those things would land on. I should say that the Santiago Bernabéu is impressive. I have been inside other stadiums, but none of them was quite as impressive as that of the Spanish capital. Now I know why tourists want to pay it a visit or watch a league match, and I also understand what people mean when they say that it makes an impression right from the beginning, as Juanito Maravilla said, "90 minutes in the Bernabéu are very long'. Once sat down and waiting for the match to start, I had to act as an ad lib translator for a couple from Lebanon.

As kick-off got closer, ex-players were talking from the pitch, such as Christian Karembeu, Francisco Pavón, Manolo Sanchís and Roberto Carlos. And of course we saw the Real Madrid and Juventus players warming up, the latter warmed up before the match in front of our stand: Pirlo, Buffo, Chiellini, Arturo Vidal, Marchisio...

Kick-off draws closer

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Another of the great moments that you experience in the Santiago Bernabéu is when they sing the 'himno de La Décima', which gets the whole stadium on its feet when the players come out onto the pitch and a spectacular mosaic is made in the stands using Real Madrid 's: white, violet, yellow... And of course the 'tifo' at the south end, where the hardcore fans' section currently is. After hearing the 'himno de La Décima' the Champions League anthem starts to play and then you really start to get goosebumps and experience the magic of the Santiago Bernabéu in full flow. After the players greet each other the teams get into position and the match starts.

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Real Madrid started attacking the goal at the opposite end to where we were and the one at our end in the second half. Real Madrid started the match well and shortly after kick-off they were awarded a penalty, scored by Cristiano Ronaldo and they went into half-time with a 1-0 lead on the scoreboard, which would send Real Madrid through. And of course, as soon as the referee blew the whistle for half-time, everyone took their sandwiches out of their bags and for several minutes all you could hear was the sound of paper rustling – legendary. Real Madrid conceded a goal shortly into the second half, scored by Morata, of course, a Real Madrid academy player who had won the club's tenth Champions League title with them the year before. Real Madrid tried for a long time to score a second goal in the second half to at least draw the tie and go to extra time, but Juventus hung on and in the end 1-1 wasn't enough to reach what would have been Real Madrid's second consecutive final. Of course I would have liked to have seen a home win at my first Champions League match in the Santiago Bernabéu, but it wasn't to be.

The end of the match

I still have wonderful memories from having experienced firsthand one of the matches that I had enjoyed watching on the TV so much, matches that make your hairs stand on end just by thinking about them. And if I can this year, I will of course go again to enjoy another of these great matches in the great Santiago Bernabéu stadium. After leaving, we took the metro from Castellana (stop: Santiago Bernabéu); to enter the metro, get on the train and get off again took about an hour. We got the car from the car park and went back home.

More than just 90 minutes

Going to Madrid to experience firsthand a night like that can be an experience in itself, especially for foreign students who like football and who, of course, are Real Madrid fans. In my opinion, it's a good option if you don't want to spend a lot of money and you'll have an amazing time. The bad thing is that all Champions League matches are played during the week and I don't know if all erasmus students can miss two days of classes, but even so, my idea is as follows.

You could go to the capital on the morning of the day of the match and, once there, leave your things where you're staying and have a wander around the city, or at least as much of it as you can with the amount of time that you have. Then, at around seven in the evening and before the Real Madrid bus arrives, you could go to the stadium and wait there for the bus. Once you've seen it go past, you have two options: go into the stadium to watch the match or wait outside in one of the bars in the area. If you get cheap tickets in the gods I think you would enjoy it more being there in person and inside the stadium, but if you can't you could always stay in the area and enjoy it in one of the bars with the fans. The next morning, of course you have to make the most of being in Madrid and have a look around the city, see some of the sites that you couldn't visit the day before... And then in the afternoon go back to wherever you're visiting from. Of course, the closer you live to Madrid, the easier it is to do all of this, especially if you live in nearby cities, such as Segovia, Toledo, Valladolid, Guadalajara, Ávila...

But if I was an erasmus student in Spain, for me it would be very clear that to see a Champion League match in the Santiago Bernabéu and experience it as one of the fans would be on my to-do list. If you can't see an important match but you want to go inside the stadium anyway, you can always go and see a league game on the weekend, when perhaps it's much better for seeing the city, or you could take the Santiago Bernabéu tour, which I have already written about in another blog entry ('What to see in Madrid').

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I hope you have enjoyed reading about my experience, and if you can, go to Madrid to cheer Real Madrid on, the greatest football team in the world and of course the best team in the capital.

Bye!


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