Note: For those who have followed my Spanish blog in previous tournaments, this is a recurring topic. However, it’s one that never gets old and I haven’t read anyone else commenting on it, so please allow me to milk the subject at least once more.
Even though I started to watch live matches at the Bernabeu at the tender age of 8, my love affair with the Spanish national team’s live performances had to wait until 2000. Before that, not only I didn’t have the money to follow Spain in their often frustrating displays in international tournaments, but it was also hard to catch a live game in Madrid, as the Spanish Federation don’t have their own Wembley and keep travelling from one stadium to another, in an commendable effort to take the team to every corner of the country.
In October of that year, Spain played a friendly against Israel, in their preparation for the 2002 World Cup. In my first national team match watched live at the stadium, Spain won 2-0. The date will be remembered because some kid named Iker Casillas made his debut with the national team, but what I recall more vividly about the experience was the complete mess in the stadium when the band played Spain’s national anthem.
Most of you may already know that the Marcha Real – the original name of Spain’s national anthem, composed in 1761 – has no lyrics. In the past, politicians from right, left and centre have tried to add some text to the music, and even the Spanish Olympic Committee failed miserably in their unexpected attempt to solve this puzzling deficiency back in 2008.
The sad, unquestionable fact remains: my country, and especially their politicians, enjoy arguing so much about any issue that you couldn’t put a single word in the anthem without it becoming immediately charged with some political meaning, hailed by ones and despised by others. Sometimes I wish that we had one of those anthems with some nonsensical lyrics that currently mean absolutely nothing to no one (something along the lines of ‘high mountains, sunny beaches, my name is Manuel and I come from Barcelona’ and so on and so forth), but it’s obviously too late for that.
However, despite its lack of words, the Spanish anthem does have a melody and, more importantly, a musical structure. This structure, simple as they come, is divided in two different verses that should be repeated twice each. If you remember your literature classes in high school, a classic AABB.
In past decades, people would remain silent in the stands while the anthem was played, a very formal choice of behaviour quite likely generated as a result of 36 years of dictatorship under a military government. Habits began to relax in the late nineties, and slowly but surely some of Spain’s less stiff fans started to hum our lyrics-less anthem using the sound ‘lo’. Soon enough the humming became full shouting at the top of each supporters’ lungs, and thus the so-called ‘loloing’ was born.
By 2000, the anthem’s ‘loloing’ had already become widespread. For instance, in that October night at the Bernabéu, as the band started to play, the public embraced joyously the moment with their ‘los’ in perfect unison. The first verse was executed spotlessly both by musicians with their instruments and fans with their ‘los’. However, when the second verse started, it was utter chaos.
The average fan, who only listens to the anthem in very few sporting events every year, does not remember that he needs to repeat the first verse twice, and goes immediately for the second, which, by the way, is much more fun to lolo, especially under the influx of alcohol. That is exactly what happened that night at the Bernabeu: while the band played the second A, the fans were singing B, in yet another illustrative example of how difficult it is to get Spaniards to agree on something, even if it is to sing their own anthem.
The national hymn confusion left me perplexed for some minutes, but forgot about the topic as soon as the game was over. However, the same phenomenon kept happening in every one of Spain’s matches I watched during the next few years, making an embarrassing moment of what should be a key part of the pre-match preparations to fire up our fans. The worst performance I remember dates back from 2006, in Spain’s last-16 match against France. The Spanish fans were so baffled when the public announcement system repeated the first verse twice that they stopped singing altogether, to the hysterical laughter of some French fans sitting next to me: ‘zis is ze best you can do?’
In the last 12 years, the only moment of enjoyment the anthem brought me happened in Viena’s Ernst Happel stadium, where Spain eliminated Italy in Euro08. The best set of Spanish supporters I’ve ever seen gave us a fantastic anthem performance, as at least half of them knew the correct order to ‘lolo’ the melody and managed to lead the other half to sing it the right way. Other than that, the beginning of every match has become a source of awkwardness and disappointment. Confed Cup09 and WC10 were simply atrocious in national anthem’s terms. Our debut match against Italy last Sunday just increased my disappointment. And honestly, it’s not that tough: AABB!
So if you’re one of those lucky chaps who will watch any of the following two matches in Gdansk – and / or hopefully, the knockout stages in the Ukraine – remember: wear your lucky shirt (this limited category only includes Euro08’s, WC10’s or the current shirt, as all the rest bring bad luck) and repeat the first verse twice when the anthem is played. Every Spaniard sitting nearby will look at you in awe.