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Spain's immigrant fans get the Real deal

Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy - British Council
 This article was generously provided to ClubFootball by the British Council, which operates in China as the Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy.


Many of Spain's growing immigrant population have decided that, rather than following their native teams from afar, they would prefer to lend their support to local clubs like Real Madrid and Barcelona. Phil Minshull in Madrid finds out why.
A bar on Calle Lavapies in the centre of Madrid throbs with life on a Saturday night. The conversation is animated but all eyes are watching the television set in the corner as Real Madrid's cosmopolitan team of Spanish, French, Argentinean and Brazilian players, including FIFA World Player of the Year Ronaldo, cruise to a 5-1 victory over Alaves.
The audience though is even more varied than their idols. Moroccans, Gambians, Indians, and even a couple of Chinese who have wandered in during a break from working in their grocery shop next door, are among those cheering for the nine-time European champions.
"I am still Moroccan and follow my national team but since I was young we have seen Real Madrid on television. Club football in Morocco is good but doesn't compare to this, and Real are the biggest club in the world," says Mohammed, a local market worker in his mid-30s, to demonstrate why he is so enthusiastic about a side that has never fielded a player from his own country.
"The best football and footballers in the world are here so why not support a Spanish team." Mohammed casually adds that Real's French midfielder Zinedine Zidane is his favourite player.
Mohammed is not alone. In a recent survey conducted by the respected Spanish football magazine Don Balon, Zidane topped the poll as the favourite player of Spain's immigrants.
"He's one of us," says Mohammed, citing Zizou's background as the son of Algerian parents growing up in a tough working class suburb of Marseille.
Every immigrant dreams of making it as big in Spain as Zidane has done. He was the world’s most expensive signing when he moved from Juventus for 75.1 million Euros in the summer of 2001 and now earns around 14 million a year, his salary from Real alone accounting for 6.4 million.
However, Zidane is one in a million, literally.
Estimates from the Spanish government's Ministry of the Interior last year put the number of legal immigrants in Spain at 800,000, or just over 2% of the Spanish population of 39 million, but many experts believe that the addition of illegal immigrants could double those figures.
In Madrid, figures released earlier this year estimate that 11% of the Spanish capital's population are from overseas but in the barrio around Calle Lavapies, 15 minutes walk from the Royal Palace, the figure soars closer to 50%.
Sadly, following Real from in front of a television set is as close to Zidane as Mohammed, and the rest of the Real fans in the bar, will ever get.
Real's historic Santiago Bernabeu stadium boasts a capacity of 75,000 but few of the seats for domestic league matches are occupied by foreigners except for a few visiting tourists.
"The tickets are just too expensive," bemoans Mohammed.
Don Balon's survey found that only 20% of the North Africans they interviewed in Madrid supported Real, lagging far behind the 40% who claimed to be Barcelona supporters and 30% who said they were fans of Atletico, Madrid's other main club.
Real Madrid's main support among the immigrant communities is centred on the South Americans, two-thirds of whom support Real, but Mohammed doesn't care even though he is often outnumbered among his fellow Arabs.
"5-1 and away from home, that shows what a great team Real are. And it will be us, not Barca who will win not only the Spanish league but the Champions League as well," he confidently predicts.



Phil Minshull, April 2003

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