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.
11/8/2015 – Atlético de Madrid vs. Sporting de Gijón
My friend Spoos was spending the semester studying abroad in Stockholm. He decided to swing by Madrid after a week´s vacation in Mallorca. In exchange for a spot on my couch, he’d purchased a pair of tickets to Estadio Vicente Calderón to see Atlético de Madrid – a team I still was wholly unfamiliar with – play Sporting de Gijón. Diego would be proud.
At my school’s watercooler, I asked José Miguel – the school’s PE teacher, and consequently one of the people upon whom, in my biases and normativity, I had mentally assigned the quality of sports fandom – which team he was for, Atleti or Madrid. After confirming that he was for Atleti, I told him that I was going to the game on Saturday.
“You’re going to like the Calderón,” he told me, nodding with conviction. “You’re way closer to the action than the Bernabeu of Real Madrid. It’s the better experience.”
Spoos and I got to the game early, sporting a green flannel shirt and a grey Ultimate Frisbee jersey, respectively. After glancing around into the red and white throngs packing the ring-shaped road surrounding the Calderón, people chanting, screaming, swirling into a madness - all this for a (seemingly) nondescript league game in November against a seemingly awful Gijón side - we decided to assimilate. Frequenting one of the street’s bootleg memorabilia booths, Spoos – an actual longtime Liverpool fan – purchased a cheap Fernando Torres jersey, and I, aping him, did the same.
We entered the stadium and found our seats. Wandering through the bowels of the Calderón, we noticed that the players’ cars were on display across from a concession stand, roped off and lazily guarded by two or three halfhearted security personnel. Based on the players’ rides of choice, Audi may as well be an official sponsor of Atlético de Madrid.
Moving toward our seats, we realized that we had purchased tickets in the de facto “old man” section. We were at the very bottom right of the sideline seats, close to the non-ultra end of the stands. Hazy, thick, sweet-smelling cigar smoke clouded the air, and various grey-haired Atlético elders – some actually leaning on walkers, most sporting cardigans and Spanish-style mustaches – greeted each other, having arrived at church for the day.
Before the match, Spoos pulled out his phone to do some research. We learned that Antoine Griezmann was leading the line for Atlético, with Diego Godín – a player Spoos described as “absolutely world class” – marshaling the defense. Just before kick-off, Griezmann dribbled casually and jauntily over towards our sideline, flapping his arms, urging the afición to get loud. In a few minutes, the Atleti hymn began to play, the old men in our section bellowing along, every word seeming to emanate from deep in their souls.
In the early going, Koke or Carrasco or Gabi was cynically hacked down by a Gijón midfielder, the referee electing to swallow the whistle. Springing to life, the old men in our section rose as one, faces purple, leaning up against the rails, walkers waving, smoke billowing, cardigans unbuttoning, Spanish swear words flying towards the impassive referee. Spoos, whose only previous live soccer experience was an MLS game the past summer, and I – who had only experienced live soccer as a member of the aforementioned Maroon Silver Bullets/Royal Pain in 6th grade – were taken aback. This was real.
Though Jan Oblak made some incredible saves, the next 90 or so minutes passed unremarkably. No goals, no excitement. As Atlético plodded and the Gijón supporters relegated to the nosebleed sections of the stadium grew bolder and bolder, it seemed like it just wasn’t Atlético’s day. I felt bad for Spoos, who had traveled all this way and wasn’t even going to see a goal. Soccer seemed boring.
As the final minute ticked away, Tiago played a hopeful, searching long ball. Diego Godín rose above a pack of yellow jerseys, flicking on for Griezmann, who bravely slid between two Gijón defenders and Gijón keeper Pichu Cuellar to head the ball into the net.
Atlético manager Diego “Cholo” Simeone – whom Spoos had primed for me with accurate descriptors such as “always wearing all black” and “the most masculine person I’ve ever seen” – roared up and down the touchline, pumping his fists and going absolutely bonkers as the crowd followed suit.
At the final whistle, Diego Godín knee-slid across the grass, pumping both fists as the crowd chanted his name:
“DIEGO GODÍN…DIEGO GODÍN…DIEEEEEGGGOOO GOOODDDDÍÍÍNNNN!”
Spoos commented on the remarkable passion the crowd and the team had displayed for an unremarkable November fixture.
I was hooked.