Spaniards' pride

off track

Football is the trend this season. However, as a game, it is always in the news. After all, football is the most popular game in the world, whether the cricket-crazy fans of the South Asian countries agree or not.

For football fans, a tour of the Real Madrid club’s Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in the Spanish capital is almost like the Holy Grail — like the La Bombonera Stadium of the Boca Junior Club in Buenos Aires, in Argentina, where Diego Maradona practised and played. 

All this stoked the memory of a tour of the enormous stadium and its extensive museum a couple of years back. The visit is something to be cherished, even for those who may be confused between a ‘corner’ and an ‘off-side’.

For one, the museum tells the story of the rise in popularity of football in Spain, which today boasts some of the finest football clubs in the world. Spain took to the game only after it found out in late 19th century that a new sport called football from England was gripping the interest of the sports lovers in the country. Today, the corridors of the museum with rich displays on both sides unfold how it has grown in stature and popularity, holding the fans in thrall.

The pages from its history show that in the late 1890s, academics and scholars in Spain, including several alumni of Oxford and Cambridge, formed a team to play on Sunday mornings. In 1902, it went by the name of Madrid Football Club. By 1905, however, it had already won the first of its many trophies.

The club was granted its Royal (Real in Spanish) seal of approval by King Alfonso XIII, a football fan, in 1920.

However, the founding of the Second Spanish Republic by dictator General Franco at the advent of the Second World War meant that this Royal tag was unwelcome. The club stagnated with no activity going on till the end of the war. Santiago Bernabeu Yeste, the president of the club, was the one to revive it, and the stadium is named after him to honour his contribution.

The stadium, built in the mid-1940s, can hold 81,000 as of now, making it Spain’s largest venue after the Camp Nou in Barcelona. Since then, it has gone through many renovations, and its next move is to increase the capacity to 93,000, making it the third largest stadium in the world.

The Real Madrid Club has won numerous cups since its inception, but more since its revival. The witness is the trophy cabinet with glittering cups. For the record, they comprise 32 Spanish league championships, including five-in-a-row between 1961 and 1965, 19 Spanish Cups and 10 Champions League wins, including the first five. This year, they won their tenth European Cup, an achievement known as the ‘La Decima’ (meaning ‘the 10th’ in Spanish), a phrase coined by President Florentino Perez after their last triumph in 2002.

Inside the museum, on the ‘photo wall’, you will see pictures of every player who has ever played for Real Madrid. Also on display are shirts, boots of players and photos of many of the team’s memorable moments. The trophy gallery is indeed a treat with cups in many designs. Some look as good as artefacts from the jewellers. One of the cups is in the shape of a building!

As you go through the galleries that are meticulously maintained, it becomes obvious that football is a passion with this nation, not just a pastime.

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