There’s a phrase that states that you are never too old to learn. Some people may disagree with this. Certainly if you’ve tried to learn Spanish at an older age you’ve probably recognised that it doesn’t fall into your lap easily. But what about developing an appreciation of another sport, say football?
For one reason or another, I’ve never been to a football match. When I was young football grounds were considered to be rather ‘macho’ and scary for a girl to go to. The reputation of the football hooligan and some football stadium tragedies meant that neither I nor any of my friends considered a football match an alternative weekend activity.
However, I’m married to a football fanatic and it seems a little harsh to never visit a football ground in Spain.
Elche c.f. is a football team based in the city of the same name not far from where I and many other Ábaco workers live. It acquired greater fame and many new supporters when the team re-entered the first division in 2013.
This promotion meant that Elche would play such iconic teams as Madrid and Barcelona. And, of course, their fans could get to see these two giants of the football world, too. These particular matches have perhaps been a little over priced for your average fan, but when the opportunity arose to see Elche play Seville, third in the league and UEFA League Champions, this seemed like the ideal opportunity.
Even though my husband has been a football fan ever since he could remember, visiting a Spanish football ground was going to be something out of his comfort zone too. With help from my colleague, Luis, who is a tried and true supporter of Elche, we acquired the tickets.
If my husband was excited, it was nothing to my young son, who until now had only watched football on TV. ‘Will there be a commentator shouting ‘gol’?’ he wanted to know. It took a little while for it to sink in that this was a live event without the intervention of cameras or rather intrusive commentators. The only commentators would be the crowd.
Slightly over dressed
The first real contrast in experience was before we even got to the ground. Planning what to wear I was even persuaded (by my husband, the expert in frosty football match) to take a woolly jumper, jeans and even a jacket! In spite of the fact that it was over 25 degrees outside. My husband did hold back from advising us to take woolly scarves and bobble hats. Just. Such is the legacy of hundreds of football matches from the sideline in the freezing cold.
If we’d been unsure what clothing we should wear, there was no doubt when we arrived at the stadium. It was a beautiful October day and the jeans and jumpers didn’t need to leave the car boot. The Martínez Valero Stadium was soon filling up with the thousands of fans eager to see Elche’s tussle with Seville. Seville being close to the top of the league, this was going to be a tough match.
The stadium provides a very dignified host to the committed team and its fans. Green and white are the team colours and everyone, who can, joins in with the Elche anthem, ‘Aromas Ilicitanos’ at the beginning of the match. It’s a large stadium that can easily accommodate the 33,000 supporters, and their drums.
Of course, we couldn’t enter the stadium itself without the obligatory trip to the team shop. My son was delighted to have another excuse for buying a new football kit. I was quite happy too, seeing as, the cost aside, they are extremely versatile, easy to wash and don’t need ironing.
Never having been to a football ground I couldn’t really contrast the experience with that of my home country. However, having attended numerous ice hockey matches it felt quite similar. There was a real family atmosphere with every age group mulling around together. Although I understand that things have changed in the UK now and that football is much better attended by all generations and genders, I was still surprised by the breadth of participation.
Perhaps the lack of bawdy bad behaviour was also partly due to the lack of booze. It was available outside the ground but not in it. Instead ‘usherettes’ glided between the rows with plenty of coco cola and water. Oh, and there was pop corn. The experience had a real family feel, almost akin to a trip to the cinema, but here you could make as much noise as you wanted.
Of course, my husband had plenty to say about the strategies used in the match. Something of little interest to me, except that I did notice, rather frustratingly, that all the action was always down at the other end of the stadium to where we were sat. An unfortunate result of the fact that Elche played better in the first half than the second.
For me, it was a perfect introduction to football. I didn’t feel intimidated, there was plenty to watch and a good atmosphere. I can actually say I enjoyed it. For my son it was proof that those men running around in very expensive kit can be on this side of the screen too. And for my husband it was a reminder that even though he now lives in Spain he can still get to see a decent football match if he wants to.
Will I go again? I would certainly recommend to people that they try it at least once. And, provided we can get the parking arrangements better aligned, I think this could be something that I do get to learn well past my fortieth birthday.