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A beginner's guide to football in Spain

Football in Spain, much as it is in England, is undoubtedly the national game with a passion for the sport that can only be matched in a handful of countries around the world. Spain's La Liga (Spain's premier football league for those not in the know) is regarded in many circles as the best in Europe and the international team have been tipped to bring home some silverware from a major tournament for a long time (I might add they've yet to oblige the nation). Taking all of this into account football is clearly tied in heavily with Spain's cultural fabric. To watch a game and to gauge the day to day news and debate is to sample something of Spain and its people firsthand. There aren't many social areas which football doesn't permeate; whether it's digesting the sports pages in a café, catching a game in a bar or kids in the streets and playgrounds emulating the feats of their heroes.

The two most famous clubs are Barcelona and Real Madrid, the latter having been regarded as the best team in the world for the last few years. With squads reading like a who's who of international football the clubs boast some of the best players from around the globe. Football in Spain is a big deal and the stadia, which constitute major tourist sites in both cities, certainly reflect this passion; the Nou Camp stadium in Barcelona has a capacity of 100,000 whilst the Bernabeu stadium in Madrid boasts a capacity of close to 90,000 and both are amongst the largest in the world. Visitors to the cities should certainly consider as tour of the stadiums for a chance to see just how big they are. Both also offer excellent museums offering insight into the two clubs glittering histories and also a chance to see the changing rooms - where most Spanish schoolboys dream of sitting one day.

As you could imagine, the rivalry between Barcelona and Real is massive and when they play the match is simply known in Spain as "El Derby", it is the biggest sporting fixture in the Spanish calendar and is quite possibly the most fiercely contested (and supported) domestic match in all of football. There's even more to play for this season as Barcelona ended Madrid's dominance by claiming La Liga (Spain's premier football league for those not in the know) for the first time since 1999. Madrid will be looking for revenge this season and have brought in some exciting new players to try and reignite their title challenge.

One excellent indicator of how big football is in Spain (and particularly at these two clubs), is just how much pressure is heaped on players and managers alike by supporters and the media when results don't go their way. Club boards can be exceedingly fickle and the way in which club presidents are actually elected by the season ticket holders, gives the fans a lot more power as those running the club have, to some extent, to respond to their demands and whims to keep their popularity. For these reasons La Liga is probably the toughest European league to manage in and most clubs have an alarmingly high turnover of head coaches. It's certainly a cut-throat business and an area in which the Spaniards are partisan, extremely passionate and always have an opinion.
About the Author

For the last five years Mike McDougall has been working as a travel writer and marketeer. He's currently working for a Spanish language School (http://www.babylon-idiomas.com/) to provide additional cultural and travel related material on Spain and Latin America. This article is licensed under a Creative Commons License: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/uk/

Mike McDougall