The A-Z of Spanish Football

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To mark the opening of's spanking new Travel Guide section, we look at surely one of the world's best footballing destinations: the mesmerising world of Spanish football, as described by Simon Talbot...

A is for… Anti-Madridismo
Loudly boasting the world’s greatest players whilst armed with a giant chequebook, a sycophantic media and a self-professed ‘universalism’, Real Madrid’s mission is to ‘evangelise’ the world. Which not only makes them Spain’s most loved club, but also its most loathed, the alleged ‘government’s team’ and cheating recipients of refereeing favours. Anti-Madridismo has become a defining feature of Spanish football, not just at Atletico and Barça. If you can see Madrid away, do. And brush up on your swearing before you go.

B is for… Bocadillo
Never mind the scarf, hat or replica shirt, what truly marks the Spanish football fan is the bocadillo and the pet food [see ‘S’]. All over the country, fans arrive at games armed with a giant bocadillo (French bread sandwich) wrapped in tinfoil like a silver baton, and ready to observe the strictest etiquette: nobody touches their bocadillo until half-time (not a single second before). That whistle is the cue for everyone to rip greedily at the foil. Open too soon, too late, or go without and you’ll be forever marked out as an amateur or a foreigner. Or, worse still, both.

"Hands off, it's mine"

C is for… Cantera
Spanish fans always seem to be banging on about rock-face excavation, for cantera means quarry. Happily, it also refers to locally-mined talent or a club’s youth team. Athletic Bilbao only use players from the cantera vasca (Basque quarry; those born or brought up, in footballing terms, in the Basque Country), while Real Madrid’s policy is often referred to as cracks y cantera (superstars and quarry).

D is for… Día Después, el
An institution for 15 years, until cruelly cut in 2005. Monday nights aren’t the same without El Día Después (The Day After), the show that revolutionised football coverage and made producer, director and presenter Michael Robinson Spanish television’s biggest star - he remains very much in demand on other TV programmes. Part Fantasy Football League, part Football Focus and part Match of the Day, El Día Después was a brilliant celebration of the politics, culture, society, theatre and madness of Spanish football. A show that put everything else [see ‘E’, especially] to shame.

E is for… Estudio Estadio
Spain’s painfully ’70s Sunday night round-up and tackfest, a national institution despite ‘trendy’ graphics that might, just, have looked avant-garde when the programme first aired over 30 years ago. Hosted by the wet Juan Carlos Rivero and the cheesy Iñaki Cano with his brilliantly bushy moustache, it’s also the home of uber-interviewer and camera-lover Quique Guash – the self-styled players’ friend with the kind of nuclear orange tan normally reserved for stiletto-tottering 45-year-olds at a Doncaster disco.   

F is for… Fútbol sala
Why do Spaniards have such silky skills and tiny balls compared to the lump-and-hoof, battling English? Maybe the key is the ubiquitous fútbol sala – virtually non-contact, technique-dominated five-a-side with handball-style goals and a ball that doesn’t bounce or lift; that can’t be hoofed or headed; that one ex-Oviedo star aptly described as "like a pudding".   

G is for… Galáctico
Inspired by Real Madrid’s out-of-this-world superstars, galáctico became the most overused word in Spain and an infuriatingly easily wheeled-out headline. According to the sports press, at the height of the craze there was a ‘Galactic Welcome’ every time Madrid’s players arrive anywhere, president Florentino Pérez's daughter getting hitched was a ‘Galactic Wedding’ and the club's healthy economic state was, really, a ‘Galactic Superavit.’

"We have lift-off..."

H is for… Hijo de puta
Son of a bitch; a phrase you’ll need to really enjoy any match and certainly the first thing you’ll learn, as David Beckham testified. According to one overcome writer, Becks “arrived barefoot, like Christ” only to end up like Beelzebub nine months later having tried out his one bit of Spanish on a linesman. And been sent off.   

I is for… I Can’t Take My Eyes Off You
Spanish fans might have some comedy chants, but there are few real songs, aside from the official club hymns, which – Atlético apart – nobody actually sings during the match. One the Spanish do enjoy, though, is I Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, adapting the ‘I love you baby’ chorus to any suitably named player.       

J is for… Jornada
The jornada (literally 'working day') is the latest round of games. So, Jornada 7 is the seventh week of the season; like UEFA speak’s ‘Matchday 7’ only without sounding completely stupid.   

K is for… King’s Cup
The Copa del Rey, Spain’s devalued cup competition, experiences something of a revival whenever big clubs get to the final stages – especially if they lose. Real Madrid's defeat to Deportivo, in the final, on their 100th birthday, in their own stadium, with Depor fans singing ‘happy birthday to you’, was an Anti-Madridista’s dream come true.   

"Ee-aye-addio, we've won the cup" (repeat to fade)

L is for… Lo que el ojo no ve Or
‘What the Eye Doesn’t See’. The most emblematic section of El Día Después [see ‘D’], where cameras catch what you didn’t – like the linesman who told a player to ‘go and take it up the arse!’

M is for… Maletín
The star of every season’s final weeks. As teams with nothing to play for face the direct rivals of teams with a lot to play for, the infamous maletín (suitcase) makes a sneaky appearance. Supplied by an interested third party, the suitcases are there to encourage otherwise unmotivated teams to try a little harder and are, so the allegations go, stuffed with food, wine and cigars. And sometimes even bundles of cash.   

N is for… Newspapers
Spain’s best-selling newspaper – by miles – is the sports daily Marca, shifting well over two million copies. Meanwhile, AS, Sport and El Mundo Deportivo, also sports (ie football) dailies, outsell most real newspapers too. Marca and AS make no secret of their preferences, dedicating eight pages a day to their beloved Real Madrid and sniping at their rivals, while Sport and Mundo Deportivo do the same for Barça. Even if there’s nothing much to say: when Madrid travelled to freezing Moscow, Marca helpfully published some photos of woolly gloves, scarves and hats.

O is for… Olé
OK, so everyone’s doing it these days – if and when their side manages to string a couple of passes together – but the Spanish started it. And they say it right. Olés aren’t the only thing taken from bullfighting, either: football stadiums also meet extreme brilliance and complete rubbish with a pañolada or hanky wave.

It's Spanish for "booooooo"

P is for… Peña
Even the most useless Spanish clubs have countless peñas, or supporters’ associations, usually based in a local bar with hams hanging from the ceiling and often named after a player (who’s then expected to donate shirts and turn up smiling at least once a year). In a country with a limited culture of away travelling, peñas based in enemy territory are often the only ones supporting their team, while they also arrange trips, show the games on telly, and dish out tickets. A great place to watch the match if you can ’t get in.    

Q is for… Quiniela
Spain’s football pools. Spanish dictator General Franco was one famous winner and so would Iker Casillas’s dad have been – had his son only remembered to post the coupon.   

R is for… Real
As in Real Madrid. Just don’t call them that – Real on its own means nothing more than ‘royal’ and Madrid are not alone, far from it. There are Reals from Oviedo, Mallorca, and just about everywhere else. No one is simply Real: Madrid are ‘el Real’, but normally just Madrid, while ‘la Real’ are Real Sociedad [de Fútbol] (Royal Football Society), never just Sociedad. And while we’re at it, a few more pointers – place names tend to get dropped where the title is snazzy and not just ‘Real’ (Zaragoza, Valladolid, Betis) or unless someone else got there first. So, it’s Deportivo (which is simply Spanish for Sporting) not La Coruña, while poor Deportivo Alavés are just Alavés (ie from Alava province). Likewise, it’s Celta not Vigo, Rayo (bolt of lightning/stripe) not Vallecano (from Vallecas), and Racing rather than Santander. Athletic are from Bilbao while Atlético are from Madrid. Oh, and finally, there’s no such thing as the Primera Liga. The Spanish haven’t yet gone in for this ridiculous tournament name-change business – it’s La Liga and/or Primera (Division).      

S is for… Sunflower seeds
Pipas in Spanish. Every ground is littered with empty sunflower seed shells. Skillfully shelled, separated and scoffed by Spaniards, sunflower seeds take some getting used to and most Brits give up, defeated and whining about rabbit food. But the Spanish can’t get enough: when Valencia visited Manchester United, Trafford’s pet shops sold out. Honestly.    

T is for… Tosh
John Benjamin Toshack – Spaniards call him JB – has become a legend, even altering the official Spanish dictionary with his comedy habit of translating English idioms into Spanish. Literally. Like the time he got sacked for saying that pigs would fly over the Bernabeu, or when he had the poor, confused hacks hacking at their wrists with his bread and butter, water off a duck’s back and headless chickens.   

"Give it little eyebrows back stick early doors"

U is for… Ultras
Normally wise to avoid this lot, even if all too often they’re the only ones making any noise. Every club has its ultras – hard core fans, usually with a political edge and sometimes (although not as often as the press would have it) a taste for fisticuffs. Amongst the most famous are Real Madrid’s Neo-Nazi Ultra Sur and Barça’s Catalan Nationalist Boixos Nois – the self-styled ‘Crazy Boys’ who spelt their own name wrong and accidentally became the ‘Boxwood Boys’.     

V is for… Vinny Samways
Really. Vinny Samways is a superstar at Las Palmas, where he played for six years. Like Eric Wimp eating a banana, England’s Skinny Sideways underwent a dramatic transformation in Spain, where he was sent off on his debut and became a hardman, a headcase hero to thousands. Owns a football bar in Marbella.       

W is for… Wembley
Yes, Wembley. It’s not all white horses, people on the pitch and Stanley Matthews; Wembley is also very special for FC Barcelona, whose museum boasts an old team bench and turnstile. For it was there in 1992 that Ronald Koeman’s free-kick secured Barça’s only European Cup in their first 97 years of history – a record that, until their second win in 2006, put the Catalans on a par with Aston Villa.   

X is for… Xabi and Xavi
Alonso and Hernández, two of Spain’s most creative midfielders, with touch, vision and pretty passing … and, let’s face it, it was either them or Xylophone.    

Y is for… Ye-Ye
As in She Loves You, Ye[ah], Ye[ah]. A Beatles-inspired transliteration, Real Madrid’s Ye Ye Team won the 1966 European Cup, becoming the first in a long line of strangely enduring nicknames – the father of Madrid’s Emilio Butragueño-led ‘Vulture Squad’, Johan Cruyff's Barcelona ‘Dream Team’ and the Galácticos [see 'G'].   

Z is for… Zamora
Every year Spain’s statistically best goalkeeper is presented with the Zamora award named after Ricardo Zamora, the Divine One. So famous was Zamora, who played for Barça, Madrid and Espanyol, that Stalin allegedly said of Spanish President Niceto Zamora in 1931: ‘Wasn’t he a goalkeeper?’ While the best goalie is the Zamora, the season’s top scorer is the Pichichi, but P was already taken.

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