soccer

The Other Sports—There’s More than Just Soccer in Spain

Soccer, soccer, soccer. Or—if you must—football, football, football. (As an aside, please do not get Mario started on this topic about the inane naming of a sport where you hardly use your feet.)

Living in Spain means being constantly surrounded by the sport. I tried to resist, but resistance is futile. Grin and bear it until your grin is no longer fake. Empecé a cogerle cariño (I started to almost like it) in the summer of 2010, when Spain was fighting to win its first World Cup title. Iniesta, you changed my life. I do love the Spanish national team, but when it comes to La Liga or la Champion’s, you can count me out.

Camiseta Selección Española

Besides, I’m a Hoosier. We eat, sleep, drink, and dream basketball.

Hoosier Hysteria

But—believe it or not!—there are other sports in Spain. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular.

Motorsports

Motorsports include Formula One, IndyCar, Stock Car (see: NASCAR), Motocross, and all other sorts of racing involving motorized vehicles. In Spain, the most popular ones are Formula 1 and some involving motorcyles (e.g., MotoGP).

Fernando Alonso 2012 Grand Prix

[Source: Wikipedia]

Some of the most famous Spanish athletes in this category include: Fernando Alonso, a Formula One driver (piloto, as they in Spanish), a two-time World Champion, who races for Ferrari; Jorge Lorenzo, a motorcycle road racer and World Champion in 250cc and MotoGP; and Dani Pedrosa, a Grand Prix motorcycle racer and champion in 250cc Grands Prix.

Basketball

People do like basketball in Spain, and the NBA is very popular here, sometimes even more popular than back at home. (In Indiana, we’re college-basketball fans.) Sometimes when I mention that I’m from Indiana, someone will excitedly shout at me, “Indiana Pacers!” There is also a Spanish league, called La Liga ACB, and it’s regulated by the International Basketball Federation (FIBA from its name in French). This league is regulated quite differently from the NBA and is populated by many Americans who weren’t quite good enough to make it back home as well as others who desire to play in the competitive European leagues.

The Spanish league competes to win the Copa del Rey, the King’s Cup, (just like in the soccer league) as well as in the Euroleague.

Some Spanish-basketball-player names you may recognize:

Pau Gasol

Pau Gasol, who plays for the Los Angeles Lakers, is four-time NBA All-Star and has won two NBA championships with the Lakers.

Ricky Rubio

Ricky Rubio, who plays for Minnesota Timberwolves, was the youngest player ever to play in the Spanish league at age 14. He was drafted by the Timberwolves in 2009, and thus became the first player born in the 1990s to drafted by the NBA.

Serge Ibaka

Serge Ibaka, who plays for Oklahoma City Thunder (formerly the Seattle Supersonics), is a Spanish player who was born in the Republic of the Congo. He is the third youngest of eighteen (!) siblings.

Tennis

Perhaps the biggest reason tennis is so popular is Rafa Nadal, considered to be the best Spanish tennis player of all time.

Rafa Nadal

Rafa, also known as “The King of Clay” for his incredible success on clay courts, is only 26 years old, but has won eleven Grand Slam singles titles (including seven French Open titles) and an Olympic gold medal in singles in 2008. His success, charisma, and general likability have turned him into the singular reason for the sport’s popularity in Spain.

Futsal

Futsal (fútbol sala) is like soccer, but played indoors on a smaller field. Its name comes from the Portuguese futebol de salão, “hall football.” Spain’s team has won the FIFA Futsal World Cup twice and the UEFA Futsal Championship six times, making it second after Brazil.

Handball

Perhaps the most surprising of all to me, handball (balonmano) is quite popular around the country. In handball, two teams of seven players pass the ball (with their hands, surprise surprise!) in order to score a goal. There are two thirty-minute halves. Goals are scored quite frequently, and the game moves fast, making it enjoyable to watch.

Handball Spain Champions

[Source]

In 2013, Spain won the World Men’s Handball Championship, defeating Denmark 35–19.

Cycling

Cycling is also quite popular here, and has been since the mid-1900s. The Vuelta a España, or Tour of Spain, is one of the most important events in the cycling world alongside the famous Tour de France and Giro d’Italia.

The Tour de France is unquestionably the most famous of the three, and there have been Spanish champions, including Federico Bahamontes, Luis Ocaña, Pedro Delgado, Óscar Pereiro, Alberto Contador, and Carlos Sastre. But perhaps the most famous is Miguel Indurain, who won for five years running between 1991 and 1995 and held the record until broken by Lance Armstrong. (This is not to say there hasn’t been cycling controversy here the same as in the US.)

Miguel Indurain

Miguel Indurain in 1996

So there you have it. Spain: it’s not all about football. (But it is mainly about football. No denying it.)

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How to Annoy a Spaniard

After seeing the posts on Matador about How to Piss off a German/Chilean/Italian/Dane, Mario told me I needed to write one about Spaniards. I’m a bit hesitant because writing this post could possibly piss (some of) them off. I’m a much bigger fan of making them think I’m awesome, so … you’ll understand my hesitance. Nonetheless, as I wrote it, I found that in the end it was really a complimentary post. Read on; perhaps you’ll see why.

  • Tell them you prefer the food in the States/England/your home country. Spaniards are immensely proud of their cuisine—and rightfully so. Spanish food is awesome, and I miss it when I’m not here. There’s nothing than can replace my suegra’s cooking. She makes the best lentejas (lentil stew), tortilla de patata (Spanish potato omelette), homemade mayonnaise, pan de queso (cheese bread), carne guisada (a kind of roast meat), pisto (similar to ratatouille, but better), etc. I can’t say enough good things. But still. Sometimes I prefer the States, simply because of the variety. There’s spicy food! There’s spices to buy in bulk, like garam masala and star anise. There’s brown sugar! There’s Thai / Indian / Afghani / Tibetan / Vietnamese—and this is all in my college town of Bloomington. So avoid it. Their food is better (and honestly, it is divine).r_lentejas_s31340053_01

[Source]

  • Refer to American football as just football. Mario loves to joke about this—”Why should it be called football when they just kick the ball when they … punt, you call it? In real football, the players use their feet all the time.” He doesn’t get pissed off, but he’s very hard to piss off, I’ll admit.
  • Tell them soccer is boring. I personally do not believe soccer is boring. It can be boring, and I do prefer basketball (duh!), but I’ve heard many of my countrymen say this. I recommend not saying this in front of any big Spanish soccer fan, at least not without some caveats about how you are an idiot and your opinions don’t matter.

SpainNationalSoccerTeamWinnerofthe2010WorldCupinSouthAfrica

[Source]

  • Prance around in sweatpants. Sweatpants are perfectly acceptable—in your own home. Outside on the streets? Not unless you’re going to the gym, mister. Also, tennis shoes (or trainers or sneakers) probably shouldn’t be worn unless your circumstances fit into the above-described ones. Mario’s mother recently saw him on the street wearing (what I thought were normal, decent-looking) pants and tennis shoes—and let’s just say she was less than pleased. She urged Mario to throw away the pants, pants I found perfectly normal looking. I just don’t get it, I suppose.
  • Insist that cold weather doesn’t cause colds. Even if the research shows differently, Many Spaniards (including my dear suegra) will insist that many weather-related things cause you to “coger frío,” including: not wearing adequate clothing in the winter (sweaters, scarves), drastic temperature changes, drinking cold water in the winter, etc. There is no point in insisting that viruses cause colds, not cold weather. Just wear your scarf, damn it! Cold water is for summer.
  • Insist on subtitles instead of dubbing when watching a movie on television. Spaniards are very used to dubbing. In contrast, I’ve watched very few movies dubbed into English, and, honestly, I hated them. I prefer subtitles, and I don’t mind “reading” the movie, as some see it. But in Spain, almost every movie is subtitled and so are many TV shows—unless, of course, they’re made in Spain. But there are a lot of American movies and TV shows here. In fact, The Simpsons are much more popular here than in the States.

I want to reiterate that this post is all in good fun … but what would you add?

How I Know I Wasn’t Raised Spanish

Surprisingly enough, I am not Spanish. I’ve written a few posts on such topics: How to Dress Like a Spaniard, Tapeando, Hittin’ the Bars, Saying Hello at the Gym. You see, I’ve had to learn it all as an adult. Gradually. I’m still learning everyday, as my conversations with Mario can bring up things I wasn’t aware of before or had heard but just hadn’t put together the puzzle pieces.

  • I don’t innately love a soccer team. (But yes, I do support Real Madrid now. Get over it.)
  • I am unable to de-shell sunflower seeds in my mouth. This caused Mario’s family to spend several minutes instructing me in the fine art of de-shelling sunflower seeds. These efforts failed.
  • I have never eaten cookies  and ColaCao for breakfast.
  • I never had a pincho until I was 21 years old.
  • I don’t “do sport;” I exercise.
  • I don’t innately assign gender to animals. For me, a snake isn’t necessarily a female just because it’s la serpiente.
  • I still don’t get the 11 o’clock break for coffee. Why is no one in their office at this time?!
  • Chorizo and Nutella does not sound like a good combination.
  • Going to buy “the bread” was never a daily outing.
  • I would consider living in yoga pants/sweatpants.
  • I would only get my hair done/buy a new dress for my own wedding and not every single one of my friends’.
  • I just recently discovered the greatness that are “aros de maíz.”
  • I find myself annoyed when things are closed on Sundays. And a little indignant.
  • I apologize way too much. Oh, I slightly touched you as I walked by in the supermarket? I’m sorry! It’s overkill.
  • I never had a house “in the village.”
  • My grandpa does not do the hands clasped behind the back amble through town. And I’m sad about it.

What I Miss


I am so happy to be home. There is nothing like my home in the summer – green grass, cookouts, margaritas made by my Uncle Steve (which we drink on the porch), sunsets, fireworks (even if I don’t like them), walks at twilight, humidity (ugh!), and more. I wouldn’t rather be any place else. However, having been home for almost a month, and having spent the last few days in Texas, I realize there are a few things I miss.

No, not El Escorial specifically. Rather, I miss beautiful scenery of centuries-old buildings. The U.S. is the toddler of the world, having only existed for 200-some years. Spain has universities that were established half a millennia before the United States. Now that’s old! I miss stepping out of my house, walking five minutes, and seeing a Romanesque church built in 1400. I miss every town having its very own Plaza Mayor. I especially miss Salamanca’s.

Ah, dando un paseo - taking a walk/stroll. Around 6 or 7 PM nightly, you can count on a large majority of the people you know to be out doing this very thing. Mario’s parents usually see at least 10 people they know. If you can cross the main street, Santa Clara, without seeing anyone you know, you’re basically no one in Zamora. You will see all types of people out strolling along the main thoroughfare: grandparents with babies, parents with babies in elaborate strollers, parents holding toddlers’ hands, teenagers laughing with their friends, old men with their hands clasped behind their back, old ladies gossiping, elderly women with their hand firmly grasping their husbands’ elbows – all kinds. This just doesn’t happen here, even if you do live in a town where strolling is possible.

Fútbol. I don’t always enjoy watching it on TV, but I love the excuse it gives people to get together, drink, and eat. It doesn’t hurt that when Mario’s friends get together, the food is good - no potato chips and soda here. Nah, we roll with empanada, salad, chorizo, jamón, tortilla de patata, and we can’t forget the always delicious red wine! I also don’t mind that soccer players are, ahem, attractive (a lot of times).

This guy. Yeah, I kinda miss him. By the way, anyone have a job for a cuatrilingual Spaniard (Spanish, English, French, and German)? He’s really smart, has three degrees, and, uh, just hire him! You won’t regret it.