I’ve been to Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park. To Soldier Field. To the Air Canada Centre in Toronto – the homes of some of the most storied North American sports teams. Although the league schedule for Spain’s top soccer league didn’t line up for me getting to see Real Madrid play, I did make sure to visit their historic ground, the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu.
Real Madrid offers a truly remarkable tour of their stadium. You buy a ticket, walk inside, then get to guide yourself through the tour with no one shuffling you along quicker than you want. Stop one on the tour is way up in the cheap seats for a panoramic view, or as I would call it, the view that my limited funds would likely procure if I bought a ticket. Wow.
The first thing I noticed were those sun lamps on the field to keep the grass green where the shadows crept through the afternoon. The second thing I noticed was just the size of the place. It was quite something to be inside the eerily quiet stadium with its 85,000 empty seats.
Here in the upper reaches, the seats are pitched so severely that each row needs a railing. You’re awfully high up, but remarkably close to the sideline of the field below.
From the upper levels, the tour progresses down a few ramps to the VIP level seats. The typical price for a league match for the seats right behind me in the picture below starts at 200€.
One of the more fascinating parts of the tour was a visit to the museum and trophy rooms for the team. Interspersed with old kits, scorecards, boots and artefacts were all of the trophies won by the team since their inception in 1902. Long story short – Real Madrid has won a lot of trophies. Among them – three UEFA Champions League trophies and the FIFA Team of the Century.
The tour moved along to the lowest level seats on the way toward the field. We paused just long enough for a picture together as the thought of setting my feet on the field was becoming too much to resist.
And finally, field level of the Bernabéu. I imagine Cristiano Ronaldo, in the midst of faking an injury and demanding a yellow card for the opposition, has stared up into the seats from this very spot.
Not only was it an amazing experience to be on the field in the empty stadium, but I got to take my place on the Real Madrid bench. Staring out to the field, I allowed myself a moment to dream about being part of the Real Madrid team. Somewhere I can hear Rafa Benítez asking one of his assistants who the Canadian without any football skills is and how he got into the lineup as a substitute.
Side note – those seats are ridiculously comfortable. If I was on the team, I’d be fast asleep in ten minutes sitting in one of these.
Sitting on the bench, the size of the place struck me again. Those blue seats just seem to go on forever.
The next stop of the tour was the Real Madrid dressing room, using their tunnel to the field to get there. Here’s the view you’d have taking the field at the Bernabéu .
One of the world’s most powerful football teams has a dressing room and facilities that, although nice, left a wee bit to desire. Yes, each player’s locker has his picture, but they only have a hard wooden bench to sit on. The tour gave us a view of their medical facilities, shower (picture top right), hot tub and a peek into the visitor’s dressing room. If you’re the visiting team, you’re getting ready in pretty spartan facilities (picture bottom right).
I’ve taken a few stadium tours on my travels, and this one is the gold standard. The last stop on the tour was the team’s media room where press conferences and post-game interviews are conducted. Maybe if I study up on soccer (and Spanish), one day I could take my place here to respond to the media on how my remarkable tactics led Real Madrid to a victory.