I love the New York Giants. It has been months since we won the Super Bowl, and I still obnoxiously post "NEW YORK GIANTS 2012 SUPER BOWL CHAMPS!!!" on my Facebook wall. A Giants victory will leave me smiling ear to ear for a week. I’m the guy who secretly gave the Vittles employee discount to all Giants fans the day of the Super Bowl. I also embarrassingly shed a tear after the Carolina playoff game eight years ago (I still hate ex-Carolina running back Deshaun Foster for his performance in that game). Up until the past few weeks I have considered myself a "diehard" fan. However, now that I have seen firsthand what that entails, I realize that I am no such thing.
I have had the unique opportunity to be in three European nations over the course of the 2012 European Cup. In London, my boss graciously permitted all employees to take a break from the coffee-infused frenetic typing to watch the England v. France group play match. By halftime, the office was empty and everyone had relocated to the nearest pub. Grown men stood in suits, pint in hand, screaming uncontrollably at the pixels darting across the screen. In Holland, the streets were orange. Thousands upon thousands of orange flags dangled down from above, paper mache soccer balls roamed the streets, as did drunken Dutchmen.
London was wild, and Amsterdam was even more electric, but Barcelona was on a whole other level. If you walked down La Rambla, Barcelona’s main street, you would think there had been an evacuation of the city. Not a single person strolled the sidewalks. There would be absolute silence — a barren wasteland of empty sidewalk stands, street signs, and jamon serrano. Then all at once, the seemingly lifeless city would erupt in a moment of frenetic cheer and passion.
Over the course of my time here, the Spanish beat the French, the Portuguese, and the Italians to win the Euro Cup. We watched each game at a different bar, but regardless of where we watched, the dynamic was the same. Half of the bar was comprised of Spanish locals with red and yellow paint on their cheeks, and the other half made up of jazzed tourists who had become engulfed by the insanity through the electricity that the Spanish team brought to the city. You couldn’t find a seat. Everyone stood, all eyes on the screen, a sea of red jerseys. We were all individuals, but for those 90 minutes, we too were a team. We cheered together when Xavi executed a brilliant through ball, ooo’ed when Pique sent a shot blistering past the wrong side of the right post, and moaned when Balotelli broke through the back line. Simply put: Although we were outsiders, we were accepted as a part of the community. We belonged — and that felt good, really good.
Perhaps part of the reason why the experience has been so surreal is because it has truly exceeded my expectations. Prior to coming to Barcelona, I had been informed that Catalans (the people of the region in Spain in which Barcelona is the located) often rooted against the Spanish national team. Many Catalans feel that they are their own nation with their own unique identity. Even as dictators like General Francisco Franco made attempts to suppress Catalonian nationalism, it has remained steadfast and strong over hundreds of years. Catalonia is the economic engine of Spain. Even as Spain struggles, Catalonia continues to push forward and prosper. Catalonia citizens view the rest of Spain as an entity that is holding them back. Thus, when it comes to rooting for the Spanish football team, many citizens often dissent. However, this year was different. This year, 7 of the starting 11 players were Catalan, including stars Xavi, Pique, and Iniesta. This year, it was a victory for Catalonia just as much as it was for Spain as a whole.
After the final whistle blew in Kiev, Ukraine, solidifying Spain’s epic 4-0 victory over the Italians, the camera followed as Xavi and Pique knelt down in front of the gleaming silver trophy. The two posed for a picture draped in a flag — not of Spanish nature, but of Catalonia. Xavi then presented Spain’s Prince Felipe with a Catalonian scarf with which the Prince graciously accepted and promptly wrapped around his neck. When this occurred, the bar we were at shook with roars of joy and pride. It was at this moment that I realized what it meant to be a diehard fan. For the Catalans, their lives were inextricably bound to the success or failure of their local heroes. It was more than just a game and the team represented much more than just a team — it represented a community. It represented the unity of country and region that have long been at odds. It represented progress, but most of all it represented hope for a country that is facing an economic crisis of substantial proportions.