Over the summer, MSc International Sport Management students at UCFB enjoy the unique opportunity to live and learn in the Spanish capital; home to two of the biggest football clubs in the world. As part of the Real Madrid Graduate School programme, students attend classes at the famous Valdebebas training complex as they work towards a Diploma, visit the iconic Santiago Bernabéu stadium, and get to meet leading club executives and legendary former players. Here, student Callum Noad shares his experiences from the 2019 programme …

When we arrived at the Santiago Bernabeu on day one, the group of 11 UCFB students weren’t quite sure what lay in wait. Fast forward to the present day, nobody can quite believe how quickly the past three months has gone. To say we’ve enjoyed the Madrid experience would be an understatement. 

We were dropped in at the deep end just a few days in; a week-long conference known as White Week saw the UCFB group joined by the rest of Escuela Universitaria Real Madrid cohort to listen to those that know Real Madrid better than anyone. To have the chance to hear insight from those that know the club best was invaluable for our future careers.

White Week set the standard for our experience. Each day was filled with interesting seminars from a wide array of sporting backgrounds. To have the opportunity to listen to Roberto Carlos, Raul and Xabi Alonso reminisce on their playing days was a surreal, pinch myself moment for someone who grew up watching them play. We heard from people across the hierarchy at Real Madrid from the General Manager to marketing managers to those in charge of hospitality and VIP seating. A particular highlight was when Luka Modric surprised the conference and spoke at length on his career thus far. To be metres away from the current Ballon d’Or winner was unforgettable

While our Spanish lingo wasn’t all that extensive in May, the whole group, aided by a few native Spanish speakers, have immersed themselves in the local culture. Living in neighbourhoods where English speakers are few and far between, we’ve really honed our Spanish language ability and can now converse confidently even if sometimes we have to call for help.

MSc International Sport Management students work towards a unique Diploma that complements their masters programme

Despite my parents often pointing out that it seemed we were on a three-month holiday (thanks partly to the frequent pool visits and steady intake of Sangria), the real purpose for being in Madrid has been to complete an MBA Diploma in International Sport Management. Our lectures took place weekly from Monday to Thursday in the Alcobendas campus north of the city. Despite being four hours long, the intrigue and relevancy of each topic, led by an expert in their field, ensured that the group were keen to learn and not just sunbathe. Having learnt the theoretical frameworks behind the industry in our modules back at Wembley, the group found the case study-centred, almost anecdotal nature of the lectures useful for their futures beyond the Masters programme.

Having the opportunity to connect with the lecturers and ask questions individually has proved to be a valuable resource and as such, the group are leaving Madrid with their job prospects enhanced. With such industry experts now just an email away, the group will be reaping the rewards of this experience well into the future. 

With the temperature averaging in the high 30s, we were grateful to not be stuck in the classroom for our entire time in Madrid. 

The school organised many trips to some of the Spanish capital’s leading sports initiatives where we were able to gain a first-hand insight into how sporting organisations operate in the real world.

Students have the opportunity to enjoy the local culture and nightlife in Madrid as well as some major games

Julen Beer enjoyed visiting Fundacion A La Par, an award-winning social enterprise organisation that seeks to integrate those with learning difficulties into working life. With a sports-focus, many of the people we met had aspirations of reaching the Paralympic Games in Tokyo. 

Among the group’s highlights included trips to leading Basketball facilities, frequent visits to Real Madrid’s training ground in Valdebebas and a visit to the Champions League final venue, the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium. 

Outside of the study time, as a group of students who had previously only shared a few hours together each week, we grew closer and have become lifelong friends. Having shared this unforgettable experience together, the group have made memories to last a lifetime. Living in a different country where everyone speaks a different language can be challenging, but the entire group together made Spain feel like home and I, for one, will personally look back on the time together with great fondness.

Callum: "We have learnt so much that our futures are better for it with connections that will no doubt help us further down the line."

Madrid itself is a beautiful, friendly and happy place. With a lively street-side atmosphere, the evenings are never dull yet the city never feels busy or crowded. Even when 150,000 of my fellow countrymen joined us in Madrid for the All-English Champions League final, the city was still at its resplendent best. 

Looking back on those first few days, the group, significantly paler and fresher-faced, were unsure of what was ahead. Now, we are sad that it’s over. We have learnt so much that our futures are better for it with connections that will no doubt help us further down the line. As the sun sets on this experience, I am grateful to UCFB and Universidad Europea for the partnership that has gifted us a wonderful three months.