After living in Philadelphia for a year and a half, I thought I had seen the true face of intense sports fandom, and knew it well. This past Sunday, I was soundly corrected by a visit to Oviedo’s own stadium for a little game of fútbol.
A small gathering of Temple students were guided to the stadium by our new local amigos Bernardo and Antonio. When we learned about the game the night before, Antonio warned us that Real Oviedo is only in Second Division B, meaning the outcome of the game would not nearly be so important as a match between Barcelona and Madrid, and if we didn’t want to bother with a team so low on the totem pole, then we didn’t have to. We assured him that we didn’t care—we just wanted to see some fútbol.
So, while I expected to see at least some team pride, I went in with the notion that the game would hold all the glamor of a minor league baseball game, and nothing more.
Instead, from the first instance of contact between foot and ball, stadium volume levels jumped up quite a few decibels and stayed there for the duration of the match. Maybe it was just a release of pent-up energy from the initial delay (Ávilez forgot their shin-guards. Who does that?), but fútbol fans in Spain don’t seem to waste any time in getting hyped up for the game. At sporting events in America, crowd activity seems to build in a slow swell as the game progresses. Spanish crowds flatline at the highest peak right out of the gate.
Our friend Antonio was… animated. Truthfully, I thought he was going to burst a blood vessel in his head. He probably spent only about half the game in his seat, and he seemed to be in the midst of a one-sided shouting match with the Real Ávilez players which taught me the proper context of a few improper words that I never learned in any classes.
I’m not usually one to follow or care about sports outside of physically attending a game here and there, but perhaps I’ve just been looking in all the wrong places. Fútbol is much more consistently exciting than baseball or football. Sure, there can be long stretches of boring or poor playing, but at least there is always movement. I can see why the rest of the world is so into it. Too bad America doesn’t seem too keen on jumping on the bandwagon.
At game’s end, Real Oviedo came out on top, trumping Real Ávilez 2 – 0. The city was happy, of course, but the singing in the parking lot after the game not from the people of Oviedo, but from Ávilez. A small band of Real Ávilez fans, one armed with a chest-mounted snare drum, walked through the crowds proudly singing songs of Ávilez. It wasn’t a show of aggression, or any kind of taunting—there were certainly no jeers from Oviedo in return—but rather a bold display of team pride in its purest form. For some Spaniards, fútbol is not just a sport, but a matter of identity. Win or lose, your team is an extension of your city, not a small band of athletes that you can suddenly disown the minute they play poorly.
Philadelphia could learn a thing or two from Ávilez.