A Game Beyond the Galaxy

I felt all eyes were on me as I climbed down the long line of stairs to the beautifully kept green grass of the field at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. I flashed my photo press pass to the security guards in yellow. They smiled and let me pass.

I felt the squishy grass below my sneakers as I walked to the gated area known as the “field box” where I would spend the next four hours behind taking photographs as my dream was coming true.

It was a friendly match of the World Football Challenge 2011 sponsored by Herbalife between soccer teams Los Angeles Galaxy and foreign club Real Madrid of Spain. It was also a celebrity event as Zach Galifianakis from the “Hangover” movie joined the coin toss between Galaxy’s David Beckham and Real Madrid’s Iker Casillas.

Real Madrid defeated Galaxy 4-1 in an incredibly played match by both teams, including a stunning goal by Christiano Ronaldo. He maneuvered around the Galaxy defenders with his usual step-over tricks and fired a bullet into the net to entertain the crowd.

As the stadium filled up with spectators and fans, it was clear where the Galaxy fans and Real Madrid fans sat. They lined up the edges above the locker room entrance to catch a glimpse of the players, trainers and coaches — a  blur of jerseys that ranged from Galaxy’s David Beckham and Landon Donovan to Real Madrid’s Kaká, Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos and Cristiano Ronaldo.

“The crowd was shouting phrases such as ‘hala Madrid’ and ‘vamos Madrid,’ while chanting ‘Madrid’ over and over as well,” said UC Irvine alumna Azra Aslam. “Galaxy fans, on the other hand, chanted ‘USA.’ A woman who sat behind us, shouted ‘Oh my gosh! That’s my baby!’ every time Ronaldo had control of the ball, much to the dismay of her husband, whose facial expressions [seemed] obviously annoyed.”

There were 56,211 people in attendance with fans wearing paraphernalia ranging from Galaxy to Real Madrid jerseys, headbands, flags, signs and even face paint. This number was thousands less than last year’s game holding nearly 90,000 spectators as Pasadena’s Rose Bowl. This may have been because of the highly anticipated “Carmageddon” and that ticket prices ranged from $40 for nosebleed seats to more than $300 for premiere lower seats.

When foreign soccer clubs come into town, fans go out of their way to buy pricey tickets to their games. They will stay in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the highways, streets and even the parking lot of the game, pay obscene amounts of money for memorabilia, and even sit in the nosebleed section in heat and cold temperatures to watch these teams compete.

I was very lucky to be standing just outside the locker room’s entrance to see the players, trainers and coaches of each team come out to warm-up and then in full uniform walk to the field. As each team lined up holding a young child’s hand to walk with them to the center of the field, our photo press barricades were lifted and we ran onto the field sideline to be able to take photographs of them head on.

I was sandwiched between what seemed like 50 photographers each cramming to snap the perfect shot of the teams.

“You got to be tough because people push you around,” sports photographer Delilah Jones said. “They take your spots and there are too many men [but there are] some cool guys and annoying ones. There is nothing better than watching Real Madrid.”

The stadium’s atmosphere of cheering, screaming and fanatic behavior all represented how soccer should be an American pastime in California and its fellow states instead of just some game that’s on television to watch.