Our train got back at 8:30ish and we each hurried home to have dinner, promising to meet up to watch the game at a bar. As the game started at 9:00, by the time I got back to eat it had already begun. I watched some over dinner then met some (other) people from the program to watch the game outside a bar, as there was no room left anywhere, watching with a crowd through the window was the best we could do. Barcelona, the opponents for the championship scored first. Throughout the remainder of the first half Real Madrid didn’t score and things started not to look good. After the half time, Real Madrid game back to score three goals and block all of Barcelona’s attempts to make the final score 3-1 Madrid.
As the game ended I met back up with Stephanie, Sam, and Albina (Tanya was too tired to come) and we followed the masses towards the Plaza de Cibeles, not really knowing what to expect. As we were fairly close to the plaza (just a couple of blocks down Gran Via), we got there rather quickly and secured a nice view (albeit a little far away) of the fountain and statue from a median strip (yes, the roads were closed; Gran Via, a huge street designed by many of the same people who put together Times Square, was closed for many blocks to allow fans to walk in/watch from the street).
I had read in my guide book that in the past, fans had stormed into the fountain and repeatedly broken off appendages of the statue so that now the police barricade the fountain to keep people off. They certainly had walled it off this time. The whole fountain had been drained, then surrounded by a huge circular wall and topped with a platform featuring patrolling officers. We weren’t really sure what was going to happen in terms of events, so we just watched as the plaza and surrounding streets filled with people.
We stood around until 12:30ish, then exhaustion set in. We started to kind of head toward the subway, but with so many people, the progress was slow going at best. By 1:00ish we had meandered across the street and almost to the subway when a double-decker open-air bus drove into the middle of the plaza and started doing laps around the fountain as the song "We are the Champions" filled the air. The team was waving from the upper deck of the bus. The bus then stopped and the team walked across onto the top of the barricade as one by large groups of white balloons were released into the air. Next thing we knew a crane carried the team captain to the middle of the fountain to drape Real Madrid gear over the statue. The crowd went wild. Then fireworks soared above as "We are the Champions" played yet again (it was more like a continuous loop). As the last firework faded, we attempted to hurry out of the plaza and got caught in sea of people (fortunately going the same direction we were). The city was filled with people honking horns, screaming Real Madrid cheers, and celebrating. We also saw some people in fountains, on street lights and lampposts (and one fall off a traffic light bringing the light down with him), and in trees. It was quite the experience.
We didn’t know how fortunate we were to get out so quickly and uneventfully until the next morning in the papers. Different newspapers estimated the number of people gathered at Cibeles differently, but there seemed to be some sort of consensus around 600,000. It also turned out that after we left, the people who stuck around too long for the liking of the police were made to leave with tear gas.* All in all 108 people were injured in the rush out of the plaza.
The next night I went back with Stephanie to take pictures of the statue. The barricades gone, the streets cleaned up, and the broken traffic light repaired, you’d have never known what had occurred there just the night before except the fountain remained off and the statue was still decorated. Two important lessons: 1) leave large events quickly and 2) never underestimate the loyalty and excitement Spaniards have for soccer.
*I would like to add that the area where we stood was very calm, filled with people taking pictures of the proceedings. Had there even been a hint of the need for police intervention (or a hint of the police planning to intervene), we would have left immediately.