Soccer in the United States just does not compare to soccer in the rest of the world. People can travel to any part of the world and find a group of kids or adults playing soccer. To most Americans, the Super Bowl may seem like the largest sporting event, but not to people from the rest of the world. Most Americans fail to see the Euro Cup as a significant event. I was one of these Americans until I travelled to Spain during the summer of 2008.
A little background before my story: In 2008, I was a junior in high school. I travelled with my school on a three week trip to Salamanca, Spain to learn the Spanish language. The Euro Cup is the biggest soccer tournament in Europe and it occurs every four years. It took place in 2000, 2004, and, lucky for me, in the summer of 2008. In Salamanca, Spain, lies the largest plaza in the country: The Plaza Mayor. During the final game of the World Cup, Spain versus Germany, over ten thousand people wearing red and yellow, the Spanish National team colors, were packed shoulder to shoulder inside this plaza watching the game on a fifty foot LCD screen. I was one of these people.
It took thirty three minutes for either team to score a goal, but in the thirty third minute, Fernando Torres of Spain scored the first goal. The ten thousand people that surrounded me roared with excitement. I found myself jumping and cheering alongside them from their infectious enthusiasm. I had never seen anything like it in my entire life. As the final minutes of the game ticked off the clock, the score remained 1-0 in favor of Spain. As the referee blew his whistle signifying the end of the game, the plaza walls shook from the cries of excitement of ten thousand energized people.
The entire city was alive that night. People crowded the streets chanting and yelling for their victorious team. Cars honked their horns until two in the morning. In Salamanca, there is a tradition that people go swimming in the fountain in the north side of town every time the Spanish National team wins a significant soccer game. As you can imagine, the fountain, and the road leading up to the fountain, was completely packed that night. People were squeezing themselves into the fountain right up against other people. The bond that strangers shared after the game was amazing. My friends and I found ourselves at this fountain an hour after the game that night. We got caught up in all of the excitement and decided to jump in the fountain with all the Spanish people. As we walked closer to the fountain, some men that were standing in the water stuck out their arms to help us in. We had never seen them before in our lives, but they treated us like native Spaniards by welcoming us into the fountain. The bond that the Spanish people shared was expanded to us that night. As I look back at how we yelled and celebrated with the people of Salamanca, I realize that even though I had gone to Salamanca to learn the Spanish language, the culture and interactions with the people are the far more important things I took from my trip.
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