I grew up in a close-knit family having sports enthusiasts as parents. Every weekend, the TV set would be fixed on the sports channels to catch a piece of the weekly sporting events from around the globe. The most hilarious part of this was my parents’ comical banter and arguments about the matches or tournaments that they were watching. More than anything, my parents are die-hard football fans and support the Manchester United Football Club fervently. I was undoubtedly immersed in the football culture.
In 2000, at the age of 13, I watched a UEFA Champions League match. I was left shellshocked and mesmerized. The team that I had watched, played with such fluidity and finesse. I swear, it was like poetry in motion. The striker that donned the number 7 jersey was more than talented, he was otherworldly in my eyes. He possessed a boyish charm coupled with God-like ball skills. I told myself that before the age of 25, I want to have my first match experience in the Bernabeu.
In April of 2009, my nearly impossible dream became a reality. While living in Bordeaux, I booked my golden ticket to Madrid. Yeah, I wanted to see the dandy city, but I also wanted to watch my team play at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu that much more…
It was match day at the Bernabeu. I remember commuting on a jam-packed tube to get to the stadium. It seemed like everyone in the city of Madrid had to be at the same place, at the same time. All I saw was a sea of white opulence. There was a certain electrifying tinge surging through the air and I had butterflies in my tummy. There I was, standing outside the Bernabeu. As I recall, this monstrous structure reminded me of one of those futuristic palace-like forts from Asgaard in the Thor films. I bought a seat for €90. It was a culture shock for me to see the snack of choice consumed by the spectators. At most South African sporting events, biltong or boerewors rolls are the snack of choice. In Madrid, the fans were all snacking contently on sunflower seeds.
To be quite honest, that entire experience was a surreal blur… I was irrevocably blessed to witness Raùl in his Madrid kit at the Bernabeu. When they introduced Raùl and Casillas, it was like Beatle mania. The Bernabeu erupted. I recall Madrid trailing Getafe and managing to win the match in the dying minutes.
As I sat there, I felt a sense of accomplishment. There I was, a precocious 22-year-old from Durban, South Africa. I saved up enough of my own money to make that trip all by myself. Traveling alone really built my character. Never again, did I underestimate the tenacity of my will power. Now, I look forward to traveling again and sharing these momentous experiences with my significant other.