Tuesday 7 June 2011

Madrid: A Tale of Two Sports

Madrid is the cultural, political and sporting heart of Spain. The local football team, Real Madrid, was named by FIFA in 2000 as the Club of the Century and the town is fiercely loyal to its local side. Winning more championships than any other team in history, the home stadium, Santiago Bernabeu has a capacity of 78,000 and regularly sells out.

The other famous “sport” in Madrid is bullfighting. Held weekly from May to October, the Plaza des Toros Las Ventas (the largest bullring in Spain) is filled with loyal fans keen to see their favourite matador best the angry beast.

The view from my seat at Las Ventas

During my time in Madrid, I wanted to experience both sports. Although Real Madrid were playing Bayern Munich in a charity match whilst I was in town, it was impossible to obtain a ticket at short notice. I settled for the next best alternative, a tour of Santiago Bernabeu stadium.

The tour is open every day (but the areas open for access are limited on match days). The tour includes the upper stands, walking around the pitch, the players’ bench, the tunnel, the President’s box, the press room, player’s locker room and trophy room (more like museum as the size is so vast).

Holding a press conference

Coming out of the tunnel

The Copa Del Rey 2011

It is impossible not to become caught up in the excitement that Real Madrid generates whilst on this tour. Madrid’s passion for football and their team is palpable and I was instantly converted to a fan.

The same, however, cannot be said for bullfighting. Whilst the festival atmosphere prior to the match was contagious, I found the bullfight itself to be quite distressing to watch. Each night, there are six scheduled matches (i.e. bulls) and there was an exodus of tourists (myself included) after the first fight. I think the locals are used to this as the couple sitting next to me, noticing my lack of applause and constant horrified expression throughout the fight, actually stood up after the fight preempting my decision to leave.

I was surprised to know that the part of the fight takes place in horseback

I’m glad I went and saw it for myself; at least my opinion is now an informed one. However, for me, the bullfight was not something I could appreciate. I like my meat bloody when it’s on a plate, but not when it’s being tortured for 30 minutes in front of me.

The bull's final moments


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