Champions League Final. Real Madrid 4 - Atletico Madrid 1
24 May 2014, 2:45 pm. The Spanish Benevolent Society of New York, Chelsea
If one can resist or simply did not arrive early enough for both the match and tapas consisting of seafood paella, glazed Pincho Moruno skewers, or heavenly dates stuffed with almonds, blue cheese, and wrapped in bacon at La Nacional, there is always the upstairs of the establishment’s owner, the Spanish Benevolent Society of New York.
During the Champions League Final in Lisbon, Atletico Madrid stood toe to toe with its cross-town, more illustrious rival Real Madrid and who better to host the match locally than the Spanish Benevolent Society Of New York (SBS).
The SBS was established in 1868 with the first flood of Spaniard emigrants, who sought to establish themselves in the rapidly increasing pan-American city of New York as merchants, cigar makers, longshoreman, and dockworkers. Founded as a social club that develops educational programs, promotes exchange programs with Spanish youth, and hosts social events, their history is old and their vast photographic archive is testament to their preserved culture and identity in NYC. Presently, Spain is dealing with an unemployment rate of 54 percent of people less than 25 years of age. The SBS is still a critical resource for the contemporary Spaniard emigrant seeking to build a career, live abroad, or have a New York City adventure.
The SBS, Real, and Atletico were all formed before the Second World War, but all three truly gained their identity in the post WWII era, where Spanish emigrants became exiles, Real became Franco’s “precious team” and Atletico one of the “rebels” of the state like the Basque and Catalan clubs (Atletico was founded by Basque students) at first, but then at times veered far to the right. However, at the SBS, all is one and the tense history of el derbi Madrileño was barely noticed. On second thought, this simply may have been due to the sheer domination of Real supporters. However tame the atmosphere was inside in the SBS, on the pitch was a different story.
It was 1 pm and we were already late for the 2:45 kick off. The stairs up to the SBS reception room, where the big screens were housed, were packed and we knew our chances at a decent photo or two were gone. However, all was not lost as the line was merely waiting for a wedding reception to finish so the red and white clad wait staff could enter and soon empty the remaining cervezas de Estrella Galicia and pitchers of sangria. We rushed in, tables were shifted into place and dismantled the stadium seating of loose chairs from the wedding party, and umbrellas, scarves and flags were used as placeholders for late arrivals.
Atletico started strong and with Real’s keeper, Casillas over zealously coming forward on a goal kick, misjudging the ball, and being caught out and at fault of the 1-0 Atletico lead. The SBS was eerily quiet and if we had not known who the dominant team was in the room, we did now. The match continued in a stalemate of Atletico’s more than aggressive play, where Ronaldo was the focal point of obstruction. However, as Real took the pitch in the second half, they did so with increased attack and focused aggression, dominating possession and shots on goal.
It was club icon Sergio Ramos who ended up saving the day for Real, keeping them alive at 1-1 in the 93 minute and forcing extra time with a textbook header. Soon after the break, the Welshman Gareth Bale set the scoring momentum with another goal and Atletico soon unraveled, allowing one more to go in and then a final dagger after a penalty shot from Ronaldo, who could not resist immediately removing his shirt and flexing. This showmanship increased the already agitated Atletico coach Diego Simeone, who ran on to the field for the second time, conjuring up the image of a teleovela villain, dressed all in black, making a last stand for his family in this brutally dramatic Champions League Final.
The final was 4-1 Real. La decima was realized. The majority of the fans in the SBS were ecstatic and in song, but we couldn’t help but feel for the tireless yet exhausted Atletico supporters. Upon leaving the SBS, there did not seem to be any hard feelings in the room and this can be attributed to and perhaps subsided by the shared experience of Spanish identity as experienced in NYC, especially at Little Spain’s premier landmark in the city