Jonathan Amaya kicked a soccer ball around on the blacktop outside Hard Rock Stadium as the sun beat down hard on a sea of tailgaters around him.
The 10-year-old’s dream was about to come true. He was going see Real Madrid, his lifelong favorite team, play FC Barcelona. As he ran around in the sweltering 90-degree air — a little bit overwhelming for the New York native — he lamented the fact he wouldn’t see his idol, the famous left-winger from Portugal.
“My favorite player is Ronaldo,” said Amaya, clad in the obvious white jersey soaked in sweat. He was disappointed Cristiano Ronaldo didn’t make the trip, but all was not lost by any means. “I still want to see Sergio Ramos.”
Oppressive heat and even early afternoon showers did not deter revelers from breaking out the barbecues, coolers and much-needed tents before El Clásico on Saturday. Between the rows of parked cars, big cuts of red meat sizzled on grills, merengue blasted from loudspeakers and the alcohol flowed freely.
Early arrivals got good parking spots with little hassle, setting the scene for a carinval of fandom that brought friends and strangers together, under the toast of booze and a savage sun, in the name of the beautiful game.
Fans of both teams traded friendly jabs as they strolled past each other. Some tailgates were houses divided among friends and relatives.
“Get outta here, what are you talking about,” said FC Barcelona fan Cecil Durden, 46, of North Carolina, when his friend started talking about how Real Madrid would win. But that debate would be settled on the field, so they just downed shots of Patron tequila. Durden donned a Luis Suárez jersey for the game, which he and 11 of his friends and family drove 12 hours to experience.
It was an grand homecoming for Durden, who grew up in Miami. He felt the full weight of the cultural moment as he pointed at the stadium and expressed his love for the “305” and soccer.
“This is history right here. You’re standing in history,” he said. “Everyone that is here is part of a legend. It’s El Clásico, mijo.”
The bellow of vuvuzelas cut through the swampy air. Men and women grinded to hip-hop, swigging beers and munching on carne asada and ribs.
A few rows over, Luis Alberto Gomez chucked a pin-pong ball across the thin table right into a plastic cup full of beer. He hollered gleefully as he double-high-fived his beer pong partner. Under the tent next door, a DJ sparked a dance party with some classic Cuban salsa.
Andres Rodriguez, 30, was there less for the passion of the game and more for the experience. He wasn’t disappointed.
“If you’re not here, and you live in Miami, you’re missing out,” he said.
His girlfriend, 27-year-old Marcia Delgado, put it simpler terms.
“Friends. Family. Soccer,” she said. “Always.”