A street of prostitutes. That was mine and Clare’s (my girlfriend) introduction to Madrid last Friday night, as we strolled down Calle de Montera from Gran Via metro station to our hotel. Our first impression of the Spanish capital was of a wild, slightly unnerving city. I hoped that I hadn’t let us in for something similarly wild and unnerving for the Sunday evening. That particular evening involved a jaunt to the south of the city, and the Estadio Vicente Calderon, to see Atletico Madrid play Sevilla (I’ll cover the game itself in a separate blog post).
When Sunday came round, we left the city centre (Plaza de Oriente) early to soak up some pre-match atmosphere. Kick-off was at 7pm, but as we made our way along the Calle de Toledo (Toledo Street) at 4:30, there was a fair number of Atleti fans doing exactly the same. By the time we were nearing the ground itself, the surrounding bars were packed with supporters of Los Colchoneros (the Mattress-Makers), most of them watching Fernando Alonso in the final grand prix of the season and supping a pre-match beer.
On arriving at the stadium itself, from the outside it appeared to be a pretty impressive beast, all smoked glass and reinforced concrete. One particularly interesting quirk of the Calderon is that the main stand (where we would end up to watch the match) sits over the M30 (the Madrid equivalent of the M25) and indeed has its own slip road off the motorway for the team bus.
We moseyed round, along the motorway slip-road, to the excellent club shop, where something in Clare’s handbag sent their security system a bit wild, and I got myself an official scarf. At 6 we then decided enough was enough and it was time to head in through Puerta Cinco (5) to our seats in the Main Stand (La Preferencia). Inside, the stadium perhaps looks a little tired, with no roof on three sides and La Preferencia itself looking its 40 years. Still, I liked the fact they had red and white seats in the upper tiers and blue in the lower – shirt and shorts.
Soon the players came out to warm up, and then the Ultras (sometimes controversial, and the weekend was no exception) came to life, booing the Sevilla players as they came on for their final preparations. It was a cracking bit of gamesmanship by Atleti, in fact – the Sevilla players had to warm up next to the Ultras, while the home players were able to calmly warm up next to the (at that point) mostly empty Preferencia and the Fondo Norte (north stand).
At this point, we got our first glimpse of the home fans’ current hero, Colombian striker Radamel Falcao Garcia (usually just “Falcao”), warming up alongside his teammates. They went through a number of someone interesting contortions until five minutes or so before kick-off. At this point, the Ultras unveiled their piece de resistance – an enormous banner reading “Glory is Achieved Through Fighting”. The noise then began to rise and the old heart was starting to pound a bit. Bayview on a dreich Saturday afternoon in Fife this was not.
The Ultras continued in that vein for much of the match, though without the slightly sinister banner. They were noisy, passionate and took the rest of the stadium with them. Having watched Spanish football on the telly for years, my desire to shout “Golllll!” rather than “Yeeessssss!” was soon fulfilled, along with singing “Gollllllll, Gollllll” to “7 Nation Army” by the White Stripes. The Ultras had quite the repertoire – it was only after the game that I discovered part of that repertoire involved asking Jose Antonio Reyes (current Sevilla and former Atletico player) to kill himself. Not so good.
As well as the fantastic atmosphere created by the self-styled “bad boys” in the South Stand, what also struck Clare and me was that, certainly in our stand, going to the game was very much a family pastime and something to be enjoyed civilly by both men and women. Old boys and their grandsons turned up and embraced one another whenever the home side scored. A chap wearing yellow chinos and a body warmer was quite happily playing about with his iPad and puffing on a Cuban cigar for the entire game. At half time, having munched on sunflower seeds for the first half, the family sitting next to us brought out their foil-wrapped pieces ready to settle in for the second 45. Nobody batted an eyelid when some kids a few rows back came several forward for the second half to get a better view of their heroes. I can’t imagine any of this happening too readily at most grounds in Scotland (the last point in part, admittedly, because Rock Steady and their ilk would be in there before you could say “but these seats were empty”).
In all, the Spanish football experience was an eye-opening one. The atmosphere and the camaraderie was palpable, the rest of the ground being led on by the irrepressible Ultras. That said, there was a friendly collective feel to proceedings – the crowd quite easily dissipated back up to the Puerta de Toledo and the city centre once the 90 minutes were up. So much for being wild and unnerving.