[all links go to youtube videos!]
I was reflecting on my last entry when it made me remember something; kindly indulge me in a bit of story telling. When I arrived in Madrid from Barcelona, it was after a very long train ride, the details of which I will explain in a separate entry, so I was unde rstandably a bit rattled. Through the kindness of strangers I made it to the hostel, checked in, and then went down to reception to see what there was in the area. Once again, the hostelling experience reared its head…common courtesy, at least in the hostels that I have stayed in, is that if you see a fellow traveller at the desk, you say hello to them in either the local language or in English and then carry on with your business. Usually, the conversation will be, “oh hello! Where are you from?”. This, fortunately, is what happened. Our exchange went a little bit like this:
Me: “Hello. Where are you from?”
Guy: “I’m from Dortmund. Where are you from?”
Me: “I live in the US. Dortmund? “
[thinks to myself…admittedly, if I would have had a word bubble over my head, it would have had !!! in it.]
Me: “DORTMUND? Are they playing tomorrow?”
Guy: “They are! You should go!”
That was, so I thought, that., but I should have known better. Fast forward to the next morning…long story short, I failed to get tickets [Real Madrid were hosting Borussia Dortmund at the Bernabéu] but that’s neither here nor there, but I did think that that was the end of my seeing my friend. What I didn’t realise, however, is that I was in the presence of a BVB Ultra [see them march through Manchester city center here and here.] THERE WERE ULTRAS IN MY HOSTEL. A LOT OF ULTRAS. LOTS. This may not mean a whole lot to anyone who is outside of the international footballing community, but those who are familiar with ultras in general know that this could go one of two ways. 1. Very badly or 2. PARTAY UP IN HURR. Fortunately for me, it was the latter.
As an aside, I would like to say a word on ultras. For those who don’t know what they are, they are a well organised bunch of supporters who are very loud and turn out en masse to support their team. They have one aim and one aim only: make the stadium a hostile and uncomfortable place to be if you’re an away fan. Without giving a full on history lesson or a who’s who of these groups, it is probably easiest to say that for these fans their team, is life and death for them. Teams with ultras are among the best supported in the world. Do a search on youtube for groups such as the UltrAslans [of Galatasaray in the Turkish League] or the Delije [Делије] of Red Star Belgrade [Фудбалски клуб Црвена звезда Београд / Crvena zvezda Beograd] in Serbia. The Delije are an interesting case study because, politics aside, they’ve been around as an organised group since the 1940s. There is a reason why they have a banner in their end of the Marakana that says “Hell Rises at the North Gates.” It looks scary, and trust me…if you’re on the wrong end of it, it can be, but if you’re in the middle of it in with them and singing and chanting with them, it’s a lot of fun.
Anyway. Moving on to my BVB friends…it’s like that scene in Fight Club where the members of Fight Club see each other in the street or in jobs and give each other that knowing nod. Walking through the streets of Madrid en route to the Palacio Real ended up being almost the same scenario. First you saw one or two of them: dark jeans, dark jackets, but there…that bright bit of yellow sticking out from under their coats. When you got to the Palacio Real, there were small clusters of five or six together, same ‘uniform’. Most of them had BVB scarves tied tightly around their necks to shield them from the breeze. Interestingly, at one point, it appeared that there was going to be a scuffle in the street. A group of Real Madrid supporters shouted ¡Hala Madrid! repeatedly at a small group of Germans. Little by little, the RM supporters had the Germans surrounded. The police took note of this, as did the rest of the Ultras. With the “lone wolf” RM supporters thinking that they had the Germans backed into a corner, what they didn’t realise was that they themselves were bring surrounded, quietly and nonchalantly. The Germans on the inside knew, they recognised their own. One by one, the outer ring began to clap, the claps turned to chants and eventually all of the BVB supporters in the square were in on it. Once they had finished their chant, they disbanded and went on their way. Calmly, fantastically organised, and politely.
As I walked through Madrid from Palacio Real to Plaza Mayor the groups of five or six had turned into groups of ten or twelve as groups found and met up with their friends. Once you got into Plaza Mayor, it was as though you had left Spain and arrived in Germany. Not a single Spaniard in view, only black and yellow everywhere. Surely this was all of them…surely there couldn’t be any more of them in this city. That’s the thing about Ultras, though. They don’t come in the hundreds, they come in the thousands. The walk from Plaza Mayor up both Calle Mayor and through the back and side streets to our ultimate final destination was nothing but a sea of black and yellow for as far as you could see. Surely this was all of them this time, right? Well…yes. For now. Five minutes from Puerta del Sol you could hear them, all two thousand of them. They were packed into the main square at Puerta del Sol, and there were so many of them there that they had spilled out into the alleys. In the middle of it all, stood on the grassy part and raised up above everyone was the ring leader and his band, and they had Madrid rocking. Even as I had walked from there to the Cibeles, I could hear them over the traffic. At this point in the day, this was the last I saw and heard of them. The clock was ticking down and getting close to that magic “two hours before kick off” when they would all head to the Bernabéu to assemble and march to the stadium.
This, however, was not the last I would hear from them. The next day, those who did not take the tour of the Bernabéu the day before the match invaded that part of the city. To use the word invade is not to use it lightly as they really did invade: BVB supporters out numbered madrileños on the train three to one. They clapped, they sang, and they chanted. it wasn’t even match day! It was on the train where I met the three lovely young men that are in the picture above.
The one in the middle and the one in the blue sweater in the foreground I had already come across in my sightseeing the day before, amusingly enough. This was taken in the Real Madrid Press Room and they were giving the “You’ve just won the Champions League against Real Madrid. How are you feeling?” mock interview. Of all fo the people that I met while in Madrid, these three were probably my favourites. They were so much fun and so very accommodating. They saw that I was by myself and having met them the day before, they let me join in in their little group to go around the stadium. I speak neither German nor Spanish and they spoke no Spanish but a little bit of English, but surprisingly enough…we got on just fine. Once again, due to the kindness of strangers, I was able to have a wonderfully enriched experience [and in the slim to non-existent chance that any of you guys see this…hi!]
One last thing that I would like to mention is that my European adventure turned into a “and where have the BVB Ultras been today?”. They definitely left their mark on Europe, as they do. Drawn in the group of death with Madrid, Ajax, and Manchester City, they took over each city they visited. At times it felt like a mini scavenger hunt…they stencilled and stickered their way through Manchester and Madrid [and Amsterdam, no doubt, though I did not quite make it that far on this trip.]. so…thanks Ultras for adding a little bit more fun to my trip
Analogue Boy in a Digital World has a nice entry about the sticker art of the BVB Ultras in his blog here
A few notes on the hostel that I stayed in in Madrid: Hostel Santa Cruz de Marcenado is centrally located in Madrid and very easy to find behind El Corte Inglés. It’s a twenty minute walk to Palacio Real de Madrid, itself a ten minute walk from almost anything that you would want to see. Breakfast is included in the price of the room. The rooms are clean and neat and I really liked that the storage spaces were large. Bathrooms were large and well maintained and the showers were spacious with VERY HOT water. The staff were quite helpful and there is free wifi throughout the building, not just the common rooms. Perhaps due to my being in a relatively empty room for the duration of my stay, it felt, at times, more like a hotel than a hostel, but that’s still a plus in my eyes.
Madrid – Santa Cruz de Marcenado
Calle Santa Cruz de Marcenado 28