All the information you'll ever need about living in Madrid as an expat. From how to buy a train ticket to the best places to watch the football.
Football Fever: The matchday experience in Spain
Barcelona vs Real Madrid. Leo Messi vs Cristiano Ronaldo. A titanic battle between two of the powerhouses of world football is just around the corner. The first Clasico of the season takes place on December 3, with Luis Enrique and Zinedine Zidane’s men once again vying for top spot in La Liga.
With the football community focused on the most watched match in the world, with a global TV audience of around 400 million, I thought I’d go with the sporting theme this month and write about the matchday experience in Spain and which are the best stadiums in the country to watch a game.
So here’s your guide to watching football in Spain!
Where do I buy a ticket?
Keep an eye on the club website. Fixture dates and times in Spain are generally announced much later than they are in the UK – sometimes only in the week the match is due to take place. Tickets normally go on sale two to three weeks beforehand though. Preference is given to members before they go on general sale. You can buy the tickets online or at the club’s ticket office (taquilla) at the ground.
Prices depend on where you choose to sit but in general watching football in Spain is cheaper than in the UK – even Real Madrid and Barcelona. For 30 euros you can get a decent seat in most stadiums.
There are exceptions though. When Real Madrid or Barcelona play away, the smaller teams in La Liga tend to hike the prices of tickets. Many fans decide not to bother in that case so it could improve your chances of getting hold of some, but expect to pay a bit more.
Where should I sit?
While English clubs tend to have names for each stand – The Kop, The Stretford End and the Holte End to name a few – Spanish clubs keep it simple. Lateral and Preferencia are basically the sides – Preferencia generally being the main stand. The ends behind each goal are called the Fondos and are almost always named by location. Norte (north) or Sur (south). Choose Alta (high) if you want to sit higher up and appreciate the movement of the players and tactics. If you’re looking to be closer to the action and near pitch level, choose Baja (low).
What’s the atmosphere like?
English fans tend to travel in far greater numbers to away games compared to Spain, largely because of geographical difference – Spain is around three times bigger! It means the atmosphere in stadiums in the two countries is very different. Rival English fans thrive off the banter between them and it makes for 90 minutes of endless chanting, often very witty. In Spain, stadiums are more partisan. Even if you don’t speak much Spanish, you’ll come away from the game having learned some of the more colourful phrases, normally aimed at the referee. Poor bloke. Spanish fans are also more fickle than their English counterparts and they expect to be entertained. Grinding out a 1-0 isn’t enough. Expect them to boo their own players and wave the white hankies if they aren’t impressed with what they see.
Where’s the best place for a pie and a pint?
Part of the football experience in England is going to the pub for a pre-match pint and then grabbing pie or burger from one of the street vendors on the way to the ground. While heading to a bar beforehand for una caña (roughly half a pint) is fairly common, don’t expect to see many eating burgers or steak and ale pies. To really experience a game like a Spaniard, make yourself a bocadillo (baguette sandwich) filled with jamón or chorizo and wrap it in tin foil ready for half time. Everyone does it.
If you’re feeling peckish during the game, make sure you get a bag of pipas, the awkward-to-eat sunflower seeds.
Which teams can I watch in Madrid?
The obvious two teams to watch if you come to live and study in Madrid are Real Madrid – 11 times Champions League winners - and Atletico de Madrid. If you’re feeling more adventurous, Leganes, based in a south western suburb of Madrid, are also in La Liga this season. There are also three Madrid-based outfits in La Segunda – Alcorcon, Getafe and Rayo Vallecano.
The best stadiums in Spain (in no particular order):
- Santiago Bernabeu (Real Madrid): One of the most iconic stadiums in world football and based in the heart of Madrid. The Bernabeu, named after one of the club’s former presidents was opened in 1947 and having undergone various upgrades, today has a capacity of 86,000. No matter where you sit, down at pitch level or up in the third tier, you have a spectacular view and can appreciate the awesomeness of the stadium. When there’s a full house the noise generated inside the ground is spectacular. The Bernabeu will undergo further improvements in the coming years with plans to add a retractable roof and upgrade the famous façade on the side of the stadium.
- Camp Nou (Barcelona): The largest stadium in Spain with a capacity of 99,000, the Camp Nou is a daunting place for visiting teams. Barcelona fans are a passionate bunch and even when two-thirds full, the Camp Nou is an alluring place. Opened in 1957, the ground will undergo improvements in the near future. Much of the stadium is uncovered today but the club plans to add a roof while a further 10,00 seats will be added taking the capacity to well over 100,000.
- Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán (Sevilla): If you are looking for atmosphere, head to the south of Spain to watch Sevilla. The Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán is a 45,000 seater stadium built in the 1950’s that retains all the charm of one of the old-style stadiums. The tiers are steep and the fans are close to the pitch making it an intimidating place to visit. Spaniards are loud in general, but Andalucians are on a different level.
- El Madrigal (Villarreal): One of the oldest stadiums in La Liga and home to the Yellow Submarine – there is indeed a statue of a submarine outside the ground. El Madrigal has a capacity of 25,000 – enough for half the population of the town of Villarreal. The bright colours and the partisan support make it a great stadium to visit.
- El Molinón (Sporting Gijón) – The 30,000-seater El Molinón is unlikely to win any prizes for architectural beauty but it makes the list because of the incredible atmosphere generated by the Sporting fans. Aesthetically not the most pleasing – indeed some may think the four corners of the ground were filled in in a haphazard and rushed way. Located on the rainy northern coast, it is one of the few stadiums that is completely covered, something that helps keep the noise inside the ground. There’s no running track around the pitch either meaning the fans are up close to the action.
Let me know your stadium experiences in Spain and which you think are the best.