Well, we’re back today with our fourth installment of The Fan In You, a series where a fan offers their perspective on how they came to root for the team they love. This week’s piece brought to you by our La Liga correspondent Donald Wine II.
When I was a kid, every fall I would play soccer in the youth leagues around my birthplace in Michigan.
I was good…really good.
I remember when I was 8, I scored 30 of my team’s 32 goals that season (my younger brother tallied the other two).
I wasn’t the next Pelé, but maybe I could have got a scholarship if I had stuck with it and not found my love for track. But to me, soccer was a fun sport to play, and sports are always more fun to play when you’re good at it.
About that time is when I discovered that there was a world of soccer outside the United States. My brother and I would get home from school in time to watch Champions League matches. It was there I got to see some of the best teams in the world: Manchester United, Leeds United, Arsenal, Inter, AC Milan, Barcelona and Real Madrid. I would watch with awe at how these professionals played the game with such ease and with such precision. In the end, I fell in love with Madrid.
Some people get roped into following a particular team because of their history, because they have family from there or they grew up there. For others, their affinity for a particular player is what makes them follow a team.
Despite Real Madrid’s glamorous history and star-studded lineup and their vault full of silverware, it was indeed a player that convinced me to start following Los Blancos. Don’t get me wrong, the constant winning is awesome. Being able to see so many of their matches because of their perennial lineup of galactic superstars is a great thing, and of course that helped me further my love of all things Real.
Yet, it was the player that got me hooked to Los Blancos that will surprise you: Fernando Hierro. Even though I played striker as a kid, it was a defender/defensive midfielder that got me really following Real Madrid.
I loved Hierro’s game, how he would control the back line but would still have an ability to press forward and put the ball in the net. Hierro was one of the main reasons I would try to find more Madrid games on TV until a young striker emerged in the Real lineup that went by one name: Raúl. The Golden Boy, the King of Madrid, Raúl became my favorite player in the world along with Hierro. His ability to score goals with either foot, in every single way imaginable, made him a god among the legions of Madrid fans around the world, myself included. My two favorite players in the world, on the same team? It was screaming “Halamadrid” for life after that.
Of course, world-class, legendary players have come and gone from Estadio Santiago Bernabéu. But, until this season, Real Madrid have always had either Fernando Hierro or Raúl on their roster. Their leadership is what has inspired my leadership qualities. Their work ethic is something I strived to attain in everything I did.
And they are how I began to become a Madridista.
Visiting Spain twice, and later living in Spain with a Spanish family (who were diehard Madrid fans), only furthered my love for the team that everyone loves to hate. When I lived in Spain, I was able to tour the Bernabéu and was in amazement that I was standing in one of the cathedrals of world soccer. I also was there to party at Plaza de Cibeles when Madrid won La Liga on the final matchday of 2003, celebrating into the night with 500,000 other Madridistas.
To date, my only time watching Real live was when they played a friendly here in DC against DC United in August 2009. I still have never been to the Bernabéu to see a match. My goal in the next year is to do just that. Whenever that happens, I may just stay there. I am an American, but my love of soccer starts with the Madridista inside me. And, I have a tenacious defender by the name of Fernando Hierro and a silky smooth striker named Raúl to thank for that.