beIN/Tom Findlay

Bernabeu a fitting theatre for epic grudge match

Rising like a skyscraper out of the Madrid earth, the Bernabeu is as imposing as it is compact, the fans front and centre in a cascading homage to the beautiful game.

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Walking out onto the Bernabeu pitch for the first time is like entering a life-sized fussball table. The only thing missing on this day is the players.

These aren’t the words of an ambitious young football wannabe who rocked up to Real Madrid try-outs on the wrong day, nor are they the exaltations of a ‘Madridista’, gracing the hallowed turf for the first time.

It is merely the observation of someone lucky enough to have a chance to visit one of football’s great cathedrals - a theatre of sport that, this week, will echo with the chorus of El Clasico - arguably the greatest modern rivalry of all.

The most striking thing about the Bernabeu is its steepness. From the top tier you would not want to slip on an errant meat pie wrapper.

 

The sheer nature of the seating gives the stadium a box-like quality, more suited to an indoor arena.

Nestled in the thriving hub of central Madrid, the Stadium shares its patch of real estate with unit blocks, shops and restaurants. Rather than fanning out like Camp Nou, it goes straight up - as if acknowledging its inner city surrounds.

From pitch level it’s daunting empty, let alone with 81,044 fans booing, cheering and waving white flags.

The field itself is spotless, an oasis of manicured green turf amid a tsunami of blue seats stretching up as far as the eye can see. Machinery, nets and sprinklers sit at one end, while awe-struck tourists are invited to walk around the stadium and its facilities.

Where Atletico Madrid’s soon-to-be demolished Vicente Calderon possesses the rustic charm of a ‘little brother’, Real Madrid’s facilities, not least its impressive interactive museum, are state of the art.

The home dressing room is like a shrine to the current batch of Galacticos wearing the Meringue strip. Individual spaces, with bench and storage, are marked by a life-sized photo and name of each player. An exercise area and built-in ice baths sit next to a bathroom with all the creature comforts a player like Ronaldo needs: hairdryer, moisturizing creams and hair product.

Towards the pitch entrance is a gym space with exercise equipment and massage tables, while a separate door leads into the match officials’ room. 

Bored-looking staff usher hordes of tourists through the Bernabeu’s bowels, as if breezily brushing away a fly on a balmy Madrid day. This is merely another day in the life of an iconic stadium that has played host to some of football’s greatest teams, matches and players.

Some of those players will be back there on Monday, fighting with everything they've got to preserve dignity in the grudge match that tends to break the internet. For Madrid, a win over Barcelona will all but seal the title, edging manager Zinedine Zidane closer to football immortality and the players closer to the traditional celebratory dip in the iconic Cibeles Fountain. 

For Barcelona, the outcome will either breath life into its ailing league campaign, or make a bad week worse. 

Either way, the Bernabeu will provide a fitting stage for another of football's epic battles. 

 

 


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