Soccer fan on any continent

Sherri Gardner HowellFarragut, Feature

My best friend and I are planning a trip to Spain together. We travel together fairly well, in spite of being very different in what fuels our passions. We’ve had great trips together and with other friends that encompassed everything from 10 days in Prague to weekends at the spa in Asheville.

We aren’t having any trouble planning our Spanish adventure. We both essentially wanted to see the same places. Having already been to Barcelona, we are taking off for the white villages of Andalusia in southern Spain, with a trip to Madrid to start the adventure. She is indulging my desire to rent a car and drive once we leave Madrid, and I am indulging her meticulous, “I don’t want to miss anything” planning before we leave.

We are parting ways on only two things on our “Must Do” lists. I will not leave Madrid without visiting the Santiago Bernabeu Football Stadium, home stadium of Real Madrid, the best soccer team in the whole country. She is longing for the Opera Walking Tour in Seville, a city, so I have learned, that boasts the sites of some of the world’s most famous opera scenes.

I am more Opry than Opera, so I will find other entertainment while she snaps photos of Rosina’s balcony from the “Barber of Seville.” The stadium in Madrid, however, will be music to my ears.

Neville and I toured the soccer stadium in Malaga, the Estadio la Rosaleda, at the tail end of a cruise. We went mainly to shop in the store as part of our hunt for authentic Spanish jerseys for the boys. The tour of the stadium, however, was great and whetted my appetite for more. When Madrid hit the vacation plan, visiting the Real Madrid stadium shot to the top of my list.

I have never gotten over the soccer obsession that was born the day my older son picked up a size 3 ball and started kicking. My young grandsons have not, so far, shown a lot of interest in continuing the family tradition – the oldest opting for baseball and the other two still being too young to know much difference between soccer balls, baseballs and basketballs. I was in heaven when the World Cup was being televised, but I don’t have a “regular” team that I follow.

I’m waiting, somewhat impatiently, for the new Major League Soccer team to arrive in Nashville. I have already warned my husband that I intend to be a season ticket holder, although I’m not sure I’m young enough for the “stand-up-the-whole-game” rowdy fans section. I’m not wealthy enough for the club boxes, either, so I’m hoping for something in-between in the new stadium being planned in Music City.

In the meantime, I indulged in going to a game when I visited Los Angeles, have plans to see the Sounders next time I’m in Seattle and have alerts on my television for telecasts of several favorite teams, both MLS and European.

And I will get to see the home field of Real Madrid! My friend really should be counting her blessings. I found out after we had booked our airfare that Real Madrid has a home game six days before we arrive. Had I known, I might have lobbied to change our whole itinerary!

The game I went to in Los Angeles happened because the visiting team was staying at my hotel, and I ran into one of the players waiting for the elevator. Being a good southern girl, I struck up a conversation. By the time we reached the lobby, I had the scoop.

The concierge, a fellow soccer enthusiast who had recently returned from attending three games of the World Cup in Russia, helped me find tickets to the “sold out” game at a price I could afford. Once I got there, fate and LA hospitality that rivaled our southern claims combined to land me in the high-donor section with a view of the soccer field that was way above my pay-grade (and my ticket price).

It was wonderful. And it certainly fueled the soccer fire that has always been burning.

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