In Barcelona, ​​attendance record for a women’s football match: NPR

It’s called El Clásico: each time, FC Barcelona and Real Madrid face off. Wednesday is a women’s match that breaks an attendance record at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona.



(SOUNDBITE OF STADIUM AMBIANCE)

KELSEY SNELL, HOST:

The crowds, the energy, a high-stakes football match – it’s called El Clasico, when two dominant teams in Spain and the world, Barcelona and Real Madrid, go head-to-head. Perhaps it should have been called La Clasica today as it was the women’s teams who nearly filled the 100,000-seater stadium for the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals. It set a world record for a women’s match.

To get a sense of the day’s excitement, we spoke with journalist Alan Ruiz Terol as he prepared to watch the game. So, Alain, hello. Describe where you are and what is the scene around you?

ALAN RUIZ TEROL: I arrived at one of the entrances to Camp Nou. This is Barcelona’s stadium. I think you can hear people singing…

SNEL: Yes.

TEROL: …Around me. Tickets sold out weeks ago, so it’s going to be full. And the reason is that people know it’s history in the making. This is the first time that the Barcelona women’s team has played at the Camp Nou with the public. And with the rival being Real Madrid, it’s even more exciting.

SNELL: You know, of course, football is huge in Spain, but for those who don’t really know, can you give us an idea of ​​the dominance of this sport and the real relevance of the Spanish men’s football league ?

TEROL: Oh, that’s really huge. It’s called La Liga, or the league. And it’s one of the most popular sporting competitions in the world, with the two most dominant teams being Barcelona and Real Madrid. Their rivalry is deeply rooted in Spanish history – political divisions as well. So, whenever they face each other, it’s not just a football match, but also a social event. But until very recently, this was only true for men’s teams.

SNELL: Yeah. I wanted to ask you a question about this. Has football not been opened up to women, or is it just not that popular?

TEROL: There’s a lot of machismo in football, and our fans will tell you it’s a man’s game. This, of course, is not true. Women’s football has a long history in Spain. But you wouldn’t say it was popular, at least not until now. I wanted to know why things are changing now, so I asked Edurne Concejo, a sports journalist specializing in women’s football, and she told me the main reason was the rise of feminism.

SNELL: Now Barcelona and Real Madrid are huge clubs. And I wonder when did they decide to invest in women’s football? And what is the situation of the small clubs?

TEROL: Real Madrid, to begin with, didn’t even have a women’s team. They bought an already existing team two years ago.

SNELL: Two years.

TEROL: Barcelona have had a women’s team for years, but they turned professional not so long ago. It was in 2015. So before that, the players had other jobs, and they trained in the evening until late at night. Many things have changed. Now Barcelona are clearly showing the way. They are the most dominant team in Europe with incredible numbers. Megan Rapinoe herself called the team the flag bearer of women’s football.

But neither Barcelona nor Real Madrid are the norm in Spain. Few clubs can offer players similar working conditions. And there are also extreme cases, Rayo Vallecano, where the players did not have a contract. They had no medical staff and some lived in apartments without electricity because the club could not pay their bills. So on paper it’s a professional league, but there’s still a long way to go.

SNELL: Wow. I understand that you also visited the training of a small team and spoke to some of the players there. Young women who aspire to become professionals – what have they told you?

TEROL: Yes. I went to a training session with Club Esportiu Europa, a local club in Barcelona. I spoke to a few players from the women’s team, so let’s listen to Daniela Cervantes (ph) and Marina Lurenz (ph).

DANIELA CERVANTES: I started playing when I was 8, and I’m 16 now. And I feel like a lot of things have changed because now we have references. We feel we have a future in women’s football.

MARINA LURENZ: I’m 15 now and I started playing when I was 7 years old. At first, I only watched men’s football. Now I can see men and women.

SNELL: Okay, Alan, so your prediction for today’s game?

TEROL: I’m afraid Barcelona are in a category of their own. The team hasn’t lost a single game this season and is averaging more than five goals per game. So far, Barcelona have won all of the Women’s Clasicos, or Clasicas, so a loss today would come as a shock. But, of course, anything is possible once the ball starts rolling.

SNELL: It was Alan Ruiz Terol speaking to us just before the El Clasico women’s soccer game. And in case you were wondering, Barcelona won the match 5-2 and qualified for the UEFA Champions League semi-finals.

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