Gareth Bale: "I really don't get the Real Madrid fans whistling me"
The Real Madrid forward appeared on the Erik Anders Lang Show and discussed his love of golf, his world record transfer to the Bernabéu and being whistled.
Real Madrid forward Gareth Bale appeared on the Erik Anders Lang Show and discussed his love of golf, his upbringing, how he reacts to the Bernabéu fans and several other subjects including not being allowed to use his left foot at school and his injury problems as a professional.
Lang is an avid golfer himself and creator of SkratchTV’s popular YouTube show Adventures in Golf. AS English has produced a redacted version of the conversation between the two, which can be watched in full on YouTube.
Real Madrid, the biggest team on the planet
Erik Anders Lang: I'm excited. I'm excited for you to be here. I'm excited to be here.
Gareth Bale: I’m excited to be on here
- I'm excited for me to be here. We were saying a little bit before the podcast got started, you're so excited to be talking about golf.
- Yeah, it makes a change.
- Cause you don't normally talk about golf
- No, well, normally when we're doing shoots it's obviously naturally always football and football this and football that, so it's nice to have my hobby to talk about.
- A lot of listeners of the podcast, mostly golf fans from around the world and some of them in America are going to wonder which NFL team you're on. They are mistaken. You're not on an NFL team you're on, perhaps the best soccer team, if you don't mind for one moment...
- Soccer's fine with me
- Real Madrid are the best soccer team on planet Earth. Okay. Can you say that or not?
- Yeah, of course, we're probably the most successful so yeah, there's no reason why not to say it.
- I'm curious to know when you think of the words ‘football’ and ‘soccer’. Do you care which one?
- No, it doesn't bother me. I spend holidays in America so...
- So, you understand.
- So yeah, it's fine for me.
- It's so weird that they're called different things but are the same thing. It really is strange.
- I have a few friends in America, and whenever I say football they're like, "what?", I'm like... Oh yeah, it just clicks like 10 seconds later.
- You're one of the best footballers in the world.
- Says you...
- You didn't blink when I said that though. Do you believe that?
- I never think about it, I just let other people talk about stuff like that.
- Your trade to Real Madrid was at the time, the record breaking deal at the time. Were you like, “Oh my god?” How do you see that in that moment when that's happening? Are you like, “I just broke a record!” I'm obviously great at what I do and here's the proof…
- Yeah. So when a club buys a play for for a large fee, normally there's a lot of pressure because the club's paid how many millions for you and there's this kind of pressure to perform and stuff but when mine went through, it was kind of strange. I knew it was the world record at the time... But yeah, I just didn't really think about it. It's just one of those things, I just wanted to play football and yeah whatever happens happens I just wanted to try and give my best on the pitch where, I guess, a lot of other people feel like "oh, I have to prove my worth". So I kind of took a different approach to it and just kind of let it get off my back.
- So you never thought about doing like a full Dave Chappelle, move to Africa. Never have to touch another football again, a soccer ball! So you're fine with it?
- Yeah. [Laughs]
Just a regular guy
- I'm curious to know. We met about an hour ago - we're at the TaylorMade fitting studio and Santander golf course in Madrid. And you walked in. I can tell immediately that - to say you're a good person is not really the full description of you... When you read quotes about you everyone says you're very down to earth…
- Yeah, well, I mean I'm just a normal person who happens to play football with a lot of people watching. And my friends keep me down to earth.
- You can tell that though about you. I can tell there's no air of "Where's my green room... I ordered all of these things, where's the snacks?”
- I've got my water, I'm fine. [laughs]
- You would think, with the level of success you have in your field that you could easily be like that. That I could have seen a chopper landing on the middle of the driving range, I don't know how. How long was your drive here in the morning? How long is your commute?
- I came straight from training so it was about 20 minutes.
- But in America, there would be a different mode of transportation. And maybe that's just me being an American - the celebrity associated with things.
- I guess it's kind of whatever you feel like you want to do. I feel like I'm quite happy to just get changed in front of everybody and off it goes. It's nothing no-one's seen before.
- Your parents both live in the same house that they raised you. And your dad works in a high school, is it?
- Yeah, used to.
- And your mom, she had a similar job...
- Yes, she used to work as an estate agent and then as a secretary to a solicitor so yeah just a normal background.
- Yeah, as normal as you can get...
- Yeah, yeah, just two working parents, trying to provide for their kids and their family and I'm just a regular person...
- You offered to buy them a house I'm assuming, and they said no.
- Yeah, they have all their friends and and all family around them, they're just comfortable where they are and they just don't want to move. There's been offers! Don't get me wrong, but they're happy where they are.
Golf course at Bale’s house in Cardiff
- I feel like most athletes kind of the you know we were talking to Harold Varner the other day, Tour player, and he grew up with with with nothing, and bought his parents a house and you know they're so excited about it and he put a driving range on the back of their house so they can hang out together. You offered to buy them a house and they said no, so you went and did your own golf thing at your house in Cardiff.
- Yeah, so I'd always wanted to buy my house in Cardiff and I always wanted land and I always wanted to build a golf course, I wanted to put a tennis court... I was a young kid!
- Build a golf course! That's what you just said. That's so exciting.
- It was, it is still. But the thing is I'm never really home in Cardiff so what I decided to do was build three holes first, because if I build 18 and I'm never there's gonna be a lot of maintenance a lot of waste really so I thought if I build three holes, see if I like it, see how it goes, see if I like having it in my house. And then, obviously, if I do move back and that's kind of where we decide to kind of settle down after football, then we can build more we have the land to do it. So, yes, whenever I go home now we play with my friends, we have three par threes, we'll play for drinks or whoever's paying for food whatever and just have a laugh.
- Three par threes. You left out a tiny detail. [Laughs] They're not just any par threes.
- We based them off three holes that I really like. 17th at Sawgrass, which every golfer knows about. We've had to call it "The Replica Of", because it's not the exact same dimensions, because for some purpose we're not allowed to do that.
- They called you and said you can't do that?
- No, you're just not allowed to. Or for some reason. So it's a little bit smaller the green, which actually makes it a bit harder.
- So when I actually went to play Sawgrass, the green felt massive. So I hit the green which was obviously good. So we've got the 17th at Sawgrass, the Postage Stamp at Royal Troon, and we've got the 12th at Augusta, but with the 12th at Augusta we haven't got the water at the front yet, because we didn't want to put the water in until we've moved back. Because it's closer to the house and we didn't want any problems. So there's a place for Raes Creek to go, but we haven't put the water in on at that hole yet.
- Those are three good holes. I'm struggling to think of another one you could add to it. What will the fourth one be?
- Well, the next we'll try and put a par 4 or a par 5... I haven't really got that far. We thought about the par 5, the 15th at Augusta. The one over the water, that you hit down. We have the perfect spot for that, but until I come back to Wales that's not going to happen. We have a few ideas.
- I have to ask you, have you played Augusta?
- No, I haven't, no.
- I'm guessing it's a phone call away.
- I've got ways I can get on. But I feel like I want to be better before I play it. I want to try and be as good as I can. I don't want to waste the experience, hacking the ball around.
- I saw you hitting balls. How much better do you need to get? You're pretty good.
- I know, but I don't practice.
- What's your handicap right now?
- I'm between a three and four. But I don't play in any tournaments. I don't practice. Just, whenever I have a day, I'll go and play 18 holes. With friends, or on my own, or whatever.
Playing golf in Madrid
- So, it's slightly complicated for you to play golf in Madrid…
- You wouldn't think it would be, but it is! A lot of people have problems with me playing golf. I don't know what their reason is. Because I've spoken to doctors and everybody is fine with it. But especially the media [in Madrid], they have this perception that it's not good for me, that you should be resting, it can cause problems, injuries. But I've looked in America and people play... for example Steph Curry plays maybe on the morning of his game.
- You heard that on my podcast! Steph and André Iguodala played in the morning...
- And I've seen other things... and here, if I play two days before a game, it's like, “what's he doing!”
- But the fans of Real Madrid are not interested in your golf game.
- No, not at all.
- Off-season you're fine?
- Off-season is golf every day, two times a day, three times a day.
- You're a golf trip guy? Do you like to travel?
- I do.
- What's your favourite part about travelling?
- Just going to other places, seeing other golf courses, cos courses in America are completely different to courses back home in Wales or the UK, where there are more links-style. In America it's lush green, it's target golf, the sand is just white...
- Your face is lighting up. You prefer golf in America?
- I do, 100%. Cos when I was growing up, I didn't really play too much golf in the UK, I didn't really get into it until I came out here.
- Why did you get into golf?
- It's kind of like, in the UK, every footballer grows up and then they play golf and when you get to that team and there's a group of boys who play golf you kind of just go out with them and that's sort of how I started. And when I moved over here, obviously the weather is a million times better, so you can play golf a lot more. And every time I played I got better and the bug came as everybody knows, the golf bug just keeps going and going. And I've even more got the bug now than ever.
Left-footed at football
- So you're a rightie at a golf, but a leftie at football?
- Yeah, I'm left-footed, right-handed.
- So the story that got me was you're so good with your left foot, that when you were in high school your teacher said you can't use it.
- That's funny. Did that piss you off?
- It was not funny! It was not funny for me.
- That would have pissed me off. “Let me use my left foot!”
- So when in the PE lessons you'd have a couple of groups and as soon as the teacher would turn away, I was like, "left-foot, left-foot, bang, goal". And then they would all moan and I'd say, "No, I used my right". [laughs]
- Are you really that much worse with the right foot.
- You can't use it?
- No, I can use it but it's more for standing on. [Laughs]
- So if you're a leftie your favourite side of the goal to be on is on the left side of the goal.
- I prefer to hit it to the right - I kind of like whipping it.
- That's what it's called, a whip?
- Yeah, kind of,
- In golf that's called a cut.
- It's probably more of a draw...
- Ah, you like to hit a draw?
- Yeah. A draw has more pace on it basically
- What's the nicest thing that you've done now that you're in the realm of anything's possible? What's the nicest thing I've done for someone else?
- I try to look after my family a lot. So, mainly doing things for them. We're in the process of trying to start to do other things now, further afield for charities and stuff like that. But the problem is my time. I don't have a lot of time, and if I'm going to start something I want to be all in. So at the moment we haven't started because I haven't got the time to put into it. That's something that I want to do when I come closer to retirement. So at the moment I'm kind of looking after my family, my sister, my parents, my wife's sister, her parents... Just looking after family and friends really.
- You're not fancy, you're not wearing a watch. Are you a watch guy?
- I have them, but we get them when we win a trophy so...[laughs]
- So they're not really you. You don't say "I want this watch".
- There's not a Lamborghini outside. You've got an SUV, the kind I see all over LA, you're not a flashy guy...
- No, not really..
- It's just golf. You just want to hit a straight ball at some course in America.
- Yeah and spend time with my family, that's all I need, golf, family and friends and I'm happy man. Very simple... I love my golf, I love spending time with my family and my kids and my wife and my friends and, yeah, that's basically all I do, because it's what makes me happy. You have a stage when I was younger I bought some cars and got it out my system very quickly and realised it's more of a waste of money than anything. I just like doing the things that I want to do and enjoy doing. Like I said, we go on holiday every year with my friends. We do a golf tournament every year that I pay for and we all go and just have a laugh. We do every year, then I go on holiday with my family and then, then it's back to training again. [Laughs] So I have a very simple life and I'm very happy.
- What was the last thing you bought? Do you buy clothes?
- My wife buys my clothes. [Laughs] I get them from Zara.
- So she dresses you?
- Pretty much. She'll ask me if I want anything and I'll ask for a couple of pairs of jeans, a few t-shirts.
- She knows what she wants and ultimately you're dressing for her.
- Yeah, I'm not trying to impress anyone.
- You're good with sweats I feel like.
- Yes, every day into training. Why would I want to travel 20 minutes into training in uncomfortable clothes, take them off. Put them back on again, go 20 minutes home and take them off. Just put a tracksuit.
- What shoe size do you take?
- I'm a 10.5, normally I'm a 10, but in golf shoes I seem to be a 10.5
- Your foot is worth a little more than mine.
- Well one is!
- Is the left foot insured?
- It is yes.
- In golf the left foot is the follow-through foot. Cos you're a rightie.
- But all my problems have been on my right foot. All my operations.
- Why is that? Because you stop...
- No, I've just been hit so many times. Because I've always got the ball on my left, obviously I keep the ball away from the other player and they come through on the right and, bang, normally hit my right foot.
- Slide tackle?
- Basically. I have injured my right ankle. I've basically got no ligaments in the outside of both ankles. They've been snapped. So someone hits you and it bends and the ligament snaps.
- Can I feel it?
- No, 'cos it's in your ankle, so you can't notice.
Love of football, being whistled at Real Madrid
What did you want to do?
- All I ever wanted to do was become a professional footballer. I never planned to get to this level, this level. I just wanted to play for Southampton, where I was. I just wanted to be a professional player and make it into the first team. That was my goal. And I've said before, I just seem to keep making the goal and setting the goals so I can reach them and get to the next one. So I've always got something to go for and keep my motivation. It's been helpful to me, because by having a goal, you have that motivation and the drive to get there. Once you achieve it, you have to set the next one. And if you don't set one, you feel a bit lost. Where do I go from here, what do I do. I've always just had those little goals and they've just been getting bigger and bigger.
- I think I get why you love golf, is your love of football the same?
- It's different now, because it's a job. Whereas now with golf, I can go out and just be on my own and smile. I've got no pressure apart from myself. Just hit a ball. It's just fun. There's no pressure, no stress. And it's normally nice weather here... We get a lot of pressure every game. If you don't play well, the scrutiny... I've had 80,000 people in the stadium whistling me because I haven't played well.
- Whistling you? That's bad?
- Yes, it's not great. And I've had it a few times as well! The first time I thought: "What is this?!"
- So the whistling is like booing?
- Yes, here they whistle. It's a thing.
- So it sounds weird?
- It's not nice! And it's not good for your confidence.
- Why would your home fans do that? It's pretty brutal.
- This is the BIGGEST question! I just don't get it. Because if you're not having a good time on the pitch, you would expect your fans to get behind you and try and make you do better because that will make them happy. But it seems to be they do the opposite. They just whistle you, which makes you feel worse, so you lose your confidence. They you play worse, which is going to make them even more upset. It's sort of a Real Madrid thing. Other clubs do it, but Real Madrid are especially known for it… So, I might have just missed an easy chance to score a goal. And the whistles come and you think: "My confidence is already down because I missed an easy goal and now it's just going even more down." And the next time a chance comes the goal seems tiny. It's like a putt. The goal just gets smaller.
- Do you believe golf helps your football?
- I do. A lot of people don't! But mentally it keeps me fresh. If you're playing football, you come home, you're watching football, you're listening to other people speak about football... it can get too much. It can cause you mental problems, for sure.
- No psychologist would tell you to focus 100% of your energy on one thing...
- I feel I've got a good routine, where I'm able to get away from everything. My time on the course, I love doing it, but the added bonus is I can get away from everything. Get away from football, especially if things are going badly I can be out there and not think about anything. Ball, green grass, a few bunkers. It's just nice to get away from everything and have a nice game of golf, with no stress and pressure.
- What's the best thing about football that's not results?
- The problem is everything is based around results... In football, you might play amazing, not score for five games, and everyone is saying, oh, he's having a terrible time. And you think to yourself, I've been playing well, I just haven't scored or assisted, but I've been working hard for the team. But people just like goals, they just like assists, they just like wow things. And sometimes that doesn't always happen.
Now it's just based on results. You can play terribly, but score two goals and it's great! 10 out of 10! It happens to me, I play terribly, but I score two goals and I feel "that was so bad!", but everyone tells you: "Great game!" and I'm like "I played so bad!". It's like a golfer, who may be playing well, but not scoring well. That's kind of how it is in football. Now it's just based on results. You can play terribly, but score two goals and it's great! 10 out of 10! It happens to me, I play terribly, but I score two goals and I feel "that was so bad!", but everyone tells you: "Great game!" and I'm like "I played so bad!". So in football it's just based off results, you can have three tap-ins and not touch the ball all game and you're an amazing player. But for me, so long as I know I've tried my best, people can have their opinions, but if I've tried my best and played as well as I can I'm happy with that...
…When I first came through at Southampton, I made it to the first team, and I was 16 when I made my debut... and I played my first few games and I'd read the newspaper and the match report, and you haven't played so well and it says, "he had a terrible game", your confidence just goes right down. And I remember speaking to my mum and she said, "just don't read anything". Because everyone has their opinion. You might have played well but not scored, someone will write a terrible thing, but you might have played terrible, scored, and they write you were good. But it's just people's opinions. If you know you played well but people think you haven't that's the most important thing as an athlete to know. To have that feeling of: I did well. I don't care what they say. It keeps my confidence up.
Speed v accuracy
- When you kick the ball as fast as you can, how fast does it go?
- I did it a while ago. I'm not sure.
- Is it over 70 mph?
- It's over 100!
- You're looking for speed?
- Yes, but accuracy is more important. Because if you smash it 100mph at the keeper, I'd rather hit it at 80mph in the top corner. He's got no hope.
- What's your favourite corner? Can you say?
- Depends if the keeper is in it! [laughs]. The upper right. All the right-hand side is my favourite side. Because you can hit it harder.