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How to enjoy a match at the Santiago Bernabeu (part II)

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Guide to make the most out of the experience

The packed Santiago Bernabeu
The packed Bernabeu
Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images

If you missed the first instalment of this guide to make the most out of the matchday experience at the Santiago Bernabeu, click here. Otherwise, let’s continue.

You now know all the insider info pre-match, until the ref blows the whistle. Now it’s time for the match proceedings and the post-match celebrations:

11) Feel the main sectors of the crowd as the match starts. The Bernabeu has always been very segmented: the organized fans in the South End, the knowledgeable, but less affluent ones in the high seats of the Preferencia (the East section) and the desperately demanding, quite well-off bunch in the lower seats all around the pitch.

If you only buy seats for one match through the club, you’re likely to get the high sections (Third or Fourth amphiteatres), usually with a higher proportion of occasional fans, but also fun. Indeed, unless you have the privilege to watch a Champions League match, the crowd may look too silent for long spells of the ninety minutes, but in any match, you’re bound to feel the wrath of the Bernabeu towards one specific player – ours or theirs, sadly –, the ref or our coach as he makes the wrong substitution. In low-key matches it’s a quite shocking feeling, as if somehow a beast had just awakened. In the top-level matches, though, the noise is constant, even if it’s not chants but boos, whistles and screams, but the peaks are still surprising. Again, the stands are so vertical that you do feel like you can influence what happens on the pitch, so do it. I may not be the best representative of my fellow socios, as I spend most matches getting up and sitting down, yelling and screaming and complaining, and of course chanting as much as I can. Empty your lungs: in very few stadia of this size you’ll have the feeling that it does make a difference.

Real Madrid CF v Deportivo Alaves - La Liga
We’ll never forget you, Juanito
Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

12) Scream “Illa, Illa, Illa, Juanito Maravilla” in the 7th minute. The tribute to a crowd favourite who died in a car accident coming back from watching a Real Madrid match when he was coaching in Extremadura, it’s just a short chant for Juanito, an unforgettable #7. His behavior, often a bit too passional for his own good, ended up getting him expelled out of the club after he stepped on Lothar Matthaeus’ head in a European Cup match in Munich. But he starred in so many memorable nights that he’ll never be forgotten, and that’s what we do every match.

13) Don’t leave early to get a drink during halftime or to go home… unless you’re seated in one of the seats next to the stairs. This is not baseball. Some people will do it, but please don’t you be the one, you’ll risk a few stares from neighbouring fans. On top of it, Real Madrid have the terrible habit of leaving the best for last, so you may very well miss one or two goals if you choose to leave early. One of my favourite matches in recent memory was the comeback against Manchester City in 2012: the visitors scored their second on the 85th, so with 2-1 down at least 10,000 fans headed home. Benz scored on the 87th and Ronaldo won it in injury time. I never leave my seat until the ref blows the whistle, be it for the halftime break or the end of the match.

14) Sing, yes, even if your neighbours won’t. If singing is your thing, you should get your ticket in the South End (fondo sur), the lower the better. The main supporter association is located behind the lucky goal, so if you’re close to them you’ll be able to keep up with their singing. And if you need some help with the songs and the lyrics, this is an old but good guide, although there’s always new stuff coming up, usually taken from the Argentinean barras and adapted to the club. On the other hand, if you don’t enjoy a bloke screaming into a microphone, you should better avoid the South End. The leader of the Grada Joven (the name of this association of supporters) uses a small scale PA system that could get into your nerves if you’re not into strident noises.

15) Try to avoid the kiosks during halftime: the lines to get a drink are eternal, so you’d do well to buy whatever beverages you need before kickoff if you are of the thirsty kind. The process to buy stuff from the kiosks was designed by some evil genius that aimed at generating the longest possible lines, there’s no other explanation. If you arrive late, you’ll spend the break just waiting on the line. Again, do bring your own bocadillo in any case, they’re better outside the stadium. A reader suggested the calamares (squid) variety, which is always a winner as long as you eat it while still hot, so it’s best as a pre-match appetizer than as your halftime snack.

16) Don’t be shy, interact with your neighbours as much as possible: even if your Spanish is limited, the sign language works great in football stadia, and you will surely get prompt responses from the people around you. If you like one player or another, enjoy one specific play, think the ref is terrible… express your view, your experience will improve tenfold if you get some kind of communication going with whoever is seated next to you. Chances are that you will hear some anecdote you did not know about a certain player or a coach, and that you’ll end up thinking differently about some subject related to the club.

Real Madrid v Ajax - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: Second Leg
Let others do the booing
Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images

17) Do not boo our players. I know that it’s a Bernabeu tradition as old as the stadium itself and the sunflower seeds, and that we try to convince ourselves that it’s the way to show our high level of exigence and the best manner to keep our players on their toes. In fact, it is terrible and it never helped anyone. I’ve seen players replaced before halftime because they could not take the pressure and yes, they were probably not equipped to play for Real Madrid, but the boos led them to more mistakes than they would have made in a normal atmosphere.

Once into the match, you will feel that there’s different levels of critique among the faithful. Using current examples, if Gareth Bale misplaces a pass you will feel a rare silence even if the stadium is packed. If he misses again, the silence will become a massive murmur with some whistles, and if he makes a third mistake – especially in front of goal – the wrath of the stadium will be felt. If we take Marcelo as the target in his current form, his first miss could go directly to the wrath level. But again, I don’t think that will help any player to perform better. Cheer as much as possible, which is what I do.

18) Stick around the stadium after the match finishes: leaving the Bernabeu is easy and won’t take long to get to the street, but the subway station will be packed, the buses won’t pass near the stadium until 30-45 minutes later and it’s usually tough to find cabs. You can have a beer in the surrounding bars – see point 1 of the previous article –, discuss what happened on the pitch with other Madridistas and catch whatever match is being played afterwards in their large screens. My favourite post-match bar is Camino, on Gutierrez Solanas, as it gets packed with fans to a larger extent than other bars and their wine is cheap and good.

Atletico And Real Fans Prepare For Champions League Final in Madrid
End the day in style, no more bocadillos
Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

19) Dine at Txistu or the Asador Donostiarra: If you’ve ever investigated the Bernabeu experience, you may have heard of them. In these two restaurants owned by the same person it’s likely to run into some current players and their families, former players and coaches, famous journalists or celebrities… They’re the place to go for a long meal after a match, even if it’s late. Indeed, you will need to book well in advance and, mind you, the experience will not be cheap. Personally, I don’t think it’s worth the cash for what you eat – overpriced meat – and there’s plenty of better places to spend cash eating in Madrid, but the experience obviously goes further than the food, and if you end up with a picture of one of your icons, that can be the cherry on the cake of a memorable matchday at the Bernabeu.