On Wednesday, May 9th 2012, the National Arena in Bucharest hosted the 2012 UEFA Europa League Final between the Spanish teams Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao. Sounds not very attractive for a girl, right? Wrong! For a couple of days, Bucharest transformed into a red and white volcano of Spanish supporters, whose friendly attitude and joy of life made even the most “unfootballistic” person (that is me!) cheer for their favourites.
In the day of the game, two hours before its start, tens of thousands of Madrilenians and Bilbainos flooded the squares near the stadium, drinking, singing and preparing for the big night. On our way to the arena, we got off the metro in Piaţa Muncii, 15 minutes away from the stadium, and all we could see was an almost endless sea of cheerful supporters of Athletic Bilbao. We let ourselves “float” with them, take pictures with them, wave their flags and sing with them, even if we had never heard the Basque language before. Happiness is an international language, after all.
Soon the National Arena rose in front of us like a ship, much like Noah’s Ark, where more than 50,000 people entered gaily to find fulfilment and “salvation”. On the inside, the stadium looked even more impressive than on the outside, so sounds of awe and admiration could be heard from everywhere. As the stands were filling with supporters, we took a look around. We were in the middle of Bilbao’s fans, quite passionate and impetuous men, I would say! They painted their faces in the colours of their favourites, wore the club’s T-shirts, waved the flag of the Basque Country and even ate their traditional Iberian lomo (cured loin of pork). There was such a joy in their looks and such great smiles on their faces that it was impossible for them not to make friends with everyone around. And so I met Arkaitz, who I suppose should have won the prize for the supporter who laughed, cheered, sang and cried the most during the match. For he did cry every time Atletico Madrid scored, and that happened three times!
After the spectacular opening ceremony, the game started. The show in the stands continued with the show in the field, but while the Bilbainos were winning the “fight” in the stands, not the same could be said about their team’s players. Falcao, the Columbian striker of Atletico Madrid, reduced Athletic Bilbao’s supporters to silence after his two goals (min. 7 and min. 34). “Viva Espana! Viva Espana! Viva Espana!”, the entire arena resonated with the shouts of the Madrilenians fans. Diego set the final score to 3 – 0 for Atletico Madrid in min. 85, but these are all numbers, not emotions, and what really counted in the end was the thrilling atmosphere that the supporters of both teams created.
Three hours after stepping the foot inside the monumental National Arena, we were leaving not with the joy of one team winning or with the disappointment of another one losing. We left with the delight that we have been part of a true recital of hopes and dreams, of love and caring, of passion and inspiration and, nonetheless, of acceptance and optimism for the future. I’m sorry, dear Arkaitz, that I cannot share your sorrow, but it’s been too wonderful an atmosphere... :)