By Karl McDonald, LSU AgLeadership Class XV
I grew up playing soccer as a main sport. I have always had an enormous passion for the sport. As a child in America, soccer is something you start with because the skills you learn are building blocks for almost any sport. It is simple. It does not require many resources; a ball and some field markers. Even at a young age I could tell there was more to this sport. Where we in America emphasize the NFL, NBA and MLB the rest of the world put soccer on that pedestal and call it Futbol. Yesterday evening our schedule allowed a few of my colleagues and I to attend a local match. Something more? Oh yeah!!!
We knew the itinerary long in advance and we knew we would be in cities that hosted great Spanish futbol teams. The Copa del Rey is the national cup or tournament held each year for all the city teams. As the cup progresses teams are hosted by teams earning home field choices… it just so happened that Seville (Sevilla for the locals) was playing Alt. Madrid (one of several teams in Madrid) in Seville one of the nights we were going to be there and we frantically found tickets. It immediately brought nervous anticipation as we knew how much of a treat we could be in for.
As the evening approached, excitement arose. We began our venture across town… a town we were not familiar with, but we certainly knew when we were within blocks of the stadium. The stadium was lit and an excited buzz filled the area. We arrived in time to see the teams briefly warm up. As game time arrived, the stadium packed in… it was difficult to find an empty seat in the 45,000 capacity venue. Just before the game started, a crowd behind one of the goals clearly made themselves known as the home team crowd, complete with songs and an oversized drum. The energy from that section alone was outstanding! Honestly, I missed the kickoff as I found such entertainment in how this smaller, overly energetic crowd seemed to be the orchestra director for the rest of the rowdy fans; choosing the songs and chants that everyone knew by heart. Fortunately the game finally caught my eye just in time to see the home team make a brilliant cross field pass in front of the goal where a Sevilla player precisely redirected the ball to an upper corner of the goal sending the stadium into organized chaos. This continued for several minutes. Sometime later, Madrid made a brilliant shot bowing the ball over the goalie’s head into the net. What I found comical is that the crowd had almost no reaction… they just continued conversation and rooting for their team as if nothing happened.
The score remained tied up as half time came to be. As the teams exited the field it was as if Pavlov’s law took effect as everyone (except us) reached into a warm layer of their clothing to retrieve a midgame snack; sandwiches filled with local meats seemed to be the dominate choice. Almost no one left the stadium seats and nothing else but casual conversation occurred during the break. No halftime performance took place. The teams returned to the field and everyone’s energy came back to life. Sevilla found two more scores in the second half, one from a penalty kick and one from an open field break bringing the final score to 3-1. The crowd stood around for a while taking in the win as Sevilla was set as a slight underdog for the match.
As we admired the cheer and elated joy from the crowd, we began to share our observations. One of the most notable Avery Davidson made was that no chants or cheers came from an announcement on the stadium audio system. In fact, the system was not used unless it was a goal OR substitution announcement. It would have probably taken away from the match given the level of engagement the attendees displayed. Steven Austin had the unfortunate luck of sitting between two smokers which probably made up half of the supporters in character. I recall watching these matches on TV and I always thought it was just the atmosphere or something about the venue that created that haze, NOPE… it was just a thick layer of second hand smoke. I guess you could say it just became a part of the experience for us newbies.
All in all, it was a fantastic time and we all agreed it was Euros well spent and an experience we will never forget and certainly take again if the opportunity comes to be.
While I described it as an American NFL, NBA or MLB game… I would just clarify some differences: No glitz and glamour really; the stadium was pristine as we have found most of the country to be. No overpriced concession items; everything was priced as it was on the streets or cheaper. No “in your face” marketing ads; the focus was left on the team and the match. No cheerleaders; the fans were 110% engaged. Just fun and fans for a backyard hoorah! And a dream come true for a few American tourists!!!