“Back in 1969, I was 7 years old. Kids at that age, even today too, declare allegiance to a soccer club which usually is the one that represents your city. Every town, even small towns have a local soccer team that you root for. But you also have to be a fan of a team in ‘La Liga,’ the national league even if you live in a city which doesn’t have a team playing in ‘La Liga.’. The choice is usually by birthplace, if you were born in a big city that determines which professional team you become a fan of. But if you were not born in a big city or a city without a professional team in ‘La Liga’ then your choice is based off of other factors. For example, a family member like a dad, uncle or a cousin or even a classmate. It can also be based on geographical proximity to a team with a professional team in ‘La Liga.’ And in the big cities that have more than one professional team that is usually shaped by your family, neighborhood, part of town that you were born in, usually. Many kids also by default, in virtually any city, even cities that have professional teams, also follow one of these two teams, Real Madrid or Barcelona. So you can be a Sevilla fan or a Valencia fan but also either Real Madrid or Barcelona, which are the two most powerful clubs. So it’s like in the U.S. that the Lakers or Celtics have fans all over the country. In Spain, the country is always divided into two camps, the Real Madrid followers or Barcelona followers.
So when I was 7, so the American equivalent to second grade, there was a three way split since first grade that I remember. We would always play and talk soccer. So all my classmates were divided into three groups: Athletic Bilbao, Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. Every kid was a fan of one of those three. In 1969 I saw one day, right after school that season the national championship had been won by Atlético de Madrid. So I saw a poster that featured them on a window of a bookstore. I was looking at that poster and recognized their faces from watching them on television; I knew somewhat the players. In that moment I decided to be a fan of them and no one else from the school was rooting for that team. I particularly liked the striker, Garate. I kind of wanted to, I liked the fact that no one else at the school was rooting for them and also because they had just won the championship I decided that was the team I was going to follow. So that day I became a ‘colchonero.’ That’s the nickname that the followers of that team are known by. The nickname ‘colchonero’ was born in 1913 when the team switched it’s original white and blue colors for red and white vertical stripes. Which up until today are the team colors. The nickname was born because the colors and vertical stripes reminded people of the design of mattress covers of the time. Mattresses of the time, early 20th century were striped and white and red. So it reminded people of mattresses or ‘colchones’ and from that point on the team and it’s followers were known as ‘colchoneros.’ The team has had, over it’s 100 year history some reasonable success, winning several national championships and European titles. However, it has not been as successful as Real Madrid, their neighbors, or Barcelona. And the team itself and it’s fans have given rise to a now nationally known spirit or attitude. The reason for this is that there had been intermittent, sprinkled success but usually the wait in between titles has been long. On a couple of occasions the team lost it’s standing in the first division, ‘La Liga’ and had to drop down to the second division, what would be the minor leagues in the U.S. Like for a big team like Atlético de Madrid to drop down like that is a big deal. The history of the team is alot of success mixed with hardship and disappointment. A few years back there was a spot on television that shows this attitude, issued by the team as a promotional campaign to increase the following and season passes for the club. Purposely this commercial reflects the ‘colchonero’ spirit of living through disappointment and hardship. So you are a fan of them because it’s almost like your own personality. They emphasize that it’s almost like being a masochist because you know you’re going to be disappointed. It showed scenes after past disappointments. And at the end the son asks the dad, “Papa porque somos del Atleti?” (Dad, why do we belong to Atlético de Madrid?) That is the question that all kids, in my days it was only boys but now it’s boys and girl, ask each other, “De quien eres?” (Who do you belong to?). Every boy had to “belong” to a team. The spirit of my team kind of represents an alternative path or approach which manifests itself often in life. We have situations in society, in politics, in business, or art where people tend to gather around what seem to be the two majority options, paths, or schools of thought but that sometimes a third alternative or way may emerge. For example in the United States, most people would identify themselves as being either republican or democratic. And now in more recent years, the Independents have gained more momentum. Even in English we would use the question “who do you belong to?” more to describe your political inclination. While in Spain, your sports allegiance is a huge factor within your identity. Although it’s not perfect, it’s a stronger predictor of a persons general attitude, mindset or view of life than sports allegiance in the United States. I’m trying to say that a person who follows Atlético de Madrid is in general, more likely to be more a third way person in politics and other things in life. It’s an important, popular statement or way to gauge or ascertain a persons general outlook. Also, people who follow Real Madrid or Barcelona have other generalizations.”
There are several interesting facets to this description of folklore:
Firstly, the group of fans that support the national teams all have nicknames. These nicknames however are not derived from the team name or a team mascot, like many of the teams in the United States. The nicknames are based on other factors or criteria. The participant gave the example of followers of Atlético de Madrid being nicknamed, “colchoneros.” Fans of FC Barcelona are known as ‘Culés’ and those of Real Madrid are called ‘Merengues.’ Merengues comes from a” Spanish dessert, usually white, made from whipped egg-whites and sugar, and served amongst the elites.” ‘Culés’ is “Catalan for asses. People passing by their old stadium, Les Corts, would sometimes see their buttocks hanging over the side of the benches, hence the nickname for the supporters.”
These two explanations were provided by: http://www.laligaweekly.com/2010/05/la-liga-nicknames.html. The site provides some of the other nicknames for the followers of teams in ‘La Liga’ and their descriptions.
Also interesting is that there are some stereotypes surrounding the individuals depending on the national team they support. Doing some more research I was able to figure out that fans of Real Madrid have the stereotype of being wealthy and elitist. I was unable to find a ‘stereotype’ regarding the followers of Barcelona, but the team has become a symbol of Catalan pride throughout their desire to break free from the rest of Spain. Atlético de Madrid is “the 3rd club of Spain in terms of fans, although far from Barça and Madrid. The image of the club is the story of the most “unlucky” team in Spain. Atlético is the club where everything can happen and it’s always lived by big passion, the good and the bad things. This history of “losers” and compared with their neighbors have made Atlético a special club. Atlético is considered the team of the people, the team of the artists, even sometimes linked to the left in politics. They say ‘it’s easy to be madridista, but being atlético is something that can’t be explained, you have it in the blood’.” A similar explanation of Atlético de Madrid’s reputation to that of my father’s is provided above by http://www.xtratime.org/forum/showthread.php?t=145703.
Additionally the language they use surrounding sports and especially soccer is indicative of how crucial it is to their national identity. In English we ask people who they are a fan of or who which team they root for. Usually it has something to do with your geographical proximity to a particular team but not always and/or can have something to do with your family culture. However, in Spanish the question that is asked is “To whom (what team) do you belong?” It is meant to ask for whom does a person root for but they type of language that is used implies a very strong connection with a persons being and identity. Also, since the country is much smaller than the United States the rivalry may be more augmented due to the fact that the teams and fans are confined to a smaller geographical space which creates more tension. This could be compared to the rivalries between Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks in California or the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers in California. Most rivalries are not cross-country, they are between teams of closer geographic proximity. But still, it seems that an individuals loyalty to one of the three national soccer teams in Spain is a much greater indicator of personality and/or political inclinations and an integral part of a citizens national identity than in any sport in the United States.