UNL students sitting at the podium of the press conference room at Espanyol's RCDE Stadium.

Only days after landing in Spain for a month-long study abroad program, University of Nebraska CoJMC students ventured to a La Liga soccer match between home-standing Espanyol and Atletico de Madrid. In a matter of hours a long standing soccer fan Nolan Hemmett would utter, “this was the best soccer experience I’ve had in my life so far.” Among the group was Kieran Strawmier, who had never before seen a soccer match: “Espanyol vs. Atletico Madrid was my first organized soccer match. I can confidently say that I will struggle to find another soccer match as captivating as this one.”

In this space you will hear and see some of the responses to a match that ended 3-3, after the visitors took a 3-0 lead early in the second half.

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UNL students before Espanyol played Atletico de Madrid on May 24, 2023 at RCDE Stadium in Barcelona (Photo: John Shrader)

Lucas Garton, like Nolan Hemmett, is a soccer fan. The two would later in the trip broadcast a game at RCDE Stadium, which is now called Stage Front Stadium in a deal announced by Espanyol while the students were in Spain. Lucas was somewhat overwhelmed by the experience. 

“Espanyol versus Atlético Madrid was the biggest soccer game I had ever been to. Having been to multiple MLS games, I thought the environment of Espanyol would be close to what I had experienced at the games in the United States. It wasn’t even close.”

Espanyol’s media relations and fan experience departments treated the students to seats in the luxury suites, and a surprise visit to a special VIP section in the lower level of the stadium. [VIDEO]

“Overall, the game experience was an incredible one that I will never forget,” said Maddie Lind, who came to Spain as a moderate to low interest soccer fan. 

Maddie continued: “Moments after settling in, we were met with a surprise on behalf of the Espanyol staff. We were led down a staircase that was tucked away, eventually leading to a long, blue-lit hallway that was strung with countless kits of famous players for the Espanyol team. The value of fan experience was justified upon entering a small room  that was catered to only a select few, where we were able to see the players walking out of the tunnel as the game was about to begin.”

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UNL students watching Espanyol students walk through the tunnel on the way to the floor or RCDE Stadium. (Photo John Shrader)

The game offered the fans in the stadium and our UNL students a rollercoaster of emotions. Atletico went up 3-0 early in the second half. Espanyol, already facing a mountainous challenge, which included the real possibility of being relegated from the top league in Spain and one of the top leagues in the world. Then, the comeback began. 

It was fueled in part by the incessant and unrelenting fandom. 

Lucas Garton: “Inside the stadium the atmosphere was electric. The Espanyol ultras were seated in front of me, chanting their team on. The passion that came from the ultras is something that would never be touched in the United States by a professional or collegiate sports team.”


Thomas Pepke, who acknowledges that he’s a fan of another Spanish club, in another Spanish city, was quite impressed with the impact the fans had on this match.

“I don’t think American sports have as much opportunity for our crowds to effectively encourage their players as well as an environment like Espanyol. It was incredible. Their influence on the game was tangible.”

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Espanyol fans on their feet in RCDE Stadium. (Photo Rodney Hayes)

“What followed in the second half was one of the best comebacks I’ve seen in soccer,” Nolan Hemmett said. “It electrified all of us. It felt like I was on fire after the equalizer in the 79th minute.”

The three Espanyol goals happened in a 15-minute stretch, starting with a 64th minute goal from Mexican international Cesar Montes. Joselu followed with a PK in the 76th minute and Vinicius Souza ended the run. 

“The atmosphere when the third goal was scored, and seeing the excitement of the fans below us was an experience that I will never forget,” said Jack Shaw. He says he’s seen a snow game at Lambeau Field, Game one of a World Series, LeBron James in his prime and the Chiefs Patrick Mahomes. 

“Attending my first-ever soccer match of this magnitude was a completely different atmosphere.”

For Brianna Breazier this was the first time she had ever seen a soccer match. “Never in my 20 years of watching and cheering on athletes as a fan have I witnessed a louder, more aggressive and passionate fan base then the one on Wednesday night.”

Summed up as simply by Nolan Hemmett.

“Truly one of the coolest experiences of my life.”

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Brianna Breazier and Maddie Lind basking on the Metro in the wake of a thriller at Espanyol. (Photo John Shrader)

Note: This experience would not have been possible without the help of Media Relations manager Andre Merello Clarke. He also hosted the students for a day at the stadium that included interviews with an American member of the women’s team Emily Dolan, and the English Content Manager Nischal Schwager-Patel. And, the very big cherry on top of this soccer cake, the students covered the final match of the season as members of the media. The published results of these ventures will be seen in other posts. (John Shrader, June 2023)

John Shrader is Associate Professor of Broadcasting and Sports Media at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He has more than 35 years of broadcast and journalism experience, much of that time in San Francisco. He's been part of the College of Journalism and Mass Communications faculty since 2017.