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On Melancholy Walk: New Fandom and Atlético Madrid, Part 2

Part two of this week-long series chronicles what it's like to watch the Madrid Derby unattached

Club Atletico de Madrid v Real Madrid CF - La Liga Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Editor’s note: Several months ago, a reader contacted us wanting to pen some guest posts for the blog about his experiences in Madrid and learning just what it means to support Atlético. That reader, Mikeie Reiland, is a high school Spanish teacher who spent a year as an educator in Madrid, and this eight-part series will be published throughout the week as we prepare for Saturday’s Madrid Derby.

10/4/2015 – Atlético de Madrid vs. Real Madrid

A team in all white was playing soccer against a team in red and white stripes on the TV mounted on the wall. I paid little attention, fascinated by my burger. The scene was Foster’s Hollywood, essentially a Chili’s or Johnny Rockets knockoff - diner-style linoleum tile, burgers and fries, an unrelated and unexplained collection of nostalgia-inducing trinkets mounted on the walls - plunked down in the middle of Madrid. A dime a dozen anywhere in the States, but hugely popular nonetheless in a cosmopolitan city like Madrid, romanticized as exotic American food.

I’d been living as an expat in Madrid for a few months, and at that point I was finally ready to forfeit my shaky facade of Spanish authenticity. It was time for a burger.

Most of the restaurant’s patrons were families of four or five, enjoying the routine of their once-a-week dinner out – adults wielding double cheeseburgers in one hand while absent-mindedly checking their phones with the other, kiddos content with their meals – and generally ignoring the derby flickering on the screen behind them. Stereotypical American scenes, almost.

As I stood to leave, happy to finally have a burger in my stomach, the red and white team’s young, blonde #7 missed a penalty kick, the white team’s keeper springing to his left to push the shot out of bounds. The cameras panned to close-ups of fans of both teams, apoplectic and celebrating in the stands.

In the restaurant, there was silence. Burgers came first.

I’ve heard certain sports fans described as “rabid.” Before I was introduced to soccer, I thought I’d seen “rabid” fans. I was wrong. Spanish soccer fans are rabid. As such, I’m sure eating a burger in Spanish Johnny Rockets in a fit of homesickness is about as unremarkable of a fan origin story as there is.

Nevertheless, Foster’s Hollywood was a prenatal stage, the beginning of a sensation that would dominate the next year of my life.