In N.Y.C., Front-Row Seats To Spanish Soccer

Barcelona and Real Madrid are two of the best soccer teams in the world. They're also bitter rivals, and when they met Saturday in the showcase El Clasico match-up, fans around the world turned out to watch the game. Reporter Jesse Hardman joined soccer enthusiasts at New York's Spanish Benevolent Society.

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Before he came to the United States, David Beckham once played for one of the world's most storied soccer clubs, Real Madrid. His old team was in action against its greatest rival, Barcelona, this weekend. And while that game drew a sold-out crowd in back in Spain, it also filled a slightly smaller, but no less enthusiastic, venue in New York. Jesse Hardman reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MAN SPEAKING ON PA SYSTEM)

JESSE HARDMAN, BYLINE: About a hundred Spanish soccer fans haven't even found their seats yet when Real Madrid scores a goal, 20 seconds into the game.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

HARDMAN: Barcelona strikes back about 20 minutes later.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

HARDMAN: Jose Cherez, an Ecuadorian in his 50s, is decked out in a Barcelona jersey and scarf.

JOSE CHEREZ: Well, the game-Real Madrid got lucky. They scored the early goal, but we tied it, and we going to win 3-1.

HARDMAN: You think so?

CHEREZ: I know. I'm positive.

HARDMAN: The enthusiasm and language of the crowd, not to mention the Estrella beer and tortillas, creates the feel of Spain in this Manhattan brownstone.

ROBERT SANFIZ: (Spanish spoken)

HARDMAN: Robert Sanfiz welcomes soccer fans and other visitors to the Spanish Benevolent Society, a social organization that first opened its doors in the late 1860s.

SANFIZ: Literally people would come here, and we would give them a meal and a place to stay for a few days.

HARDMAN: Sanfiz says Little Spain, as the neighborhood was known, was full of Spanish businesses and families.

SANFIZ: We would have, you know, little mini running of the bulls. We would have flamenco shows.

HARDMAN: But that was in its heyday in the 1950s. Since then, membership has waned, and three years ago the Benevolent Society almost closed. That's when Sanfiz, a lawyer who lived in the neighborhood, got involved and began to engage a new crop of Spanish immigrants.

IAN HARDIES: And I've only been here my first time past 20 minutes and it feels very homey already.

HARDMAN: People like 42-year-old Ian Hardies, a furniture designer originally from Southern Spain. And in the second half, his team, Real Madrid, is now losing.

(SOUNDBITE OF PEOPLE CHEERING)

HARDMAN: A lucky bounce puts Barcelona ahead, 2-1, prompting Barca fan Jose Cherez to jump in front of the big screen and wave his scarf in the air.

(SOUNDBITE OF SINGING IN SPANISH)

HARDMAN: The game ends with Barcelona on top, 3-1 Jose Cherez was right

CHEREZ: I called it 3-1. My predictions came true, and I'm a very happy Barcelona fan.

HARDMAN: While the majority Real Madrid crowd is disappointed, everybody seems to have had a good time, speaking Spanish, drinking Spanish beer, and feeling right at home. For NPR News, I'm Jesse Hardman in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF SINGING IN SPANISH)

CORNISH: This is NPR News.

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