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.
5/28/2016 - Atlético de Madrid vs. Real Madrid, Champions League final, Milan
After Atletico Madrid dispatched Bayern Munich in the semifinals, “my” team had reached the Champions League final mere months after I’d started following them. The team they’d face? Real Madrid.
In Spain, every restaurant is a bar and every bar is a restaurant. Work-life balance is central to who the Spanish are. Perhaps as a result, food and eating together are huge, and at street level in Madrid, it seems like you pass a bar every couple of seconds. They’re generally small and crowded, they usually serve the same tapas and they almost always have TVs.
We ended up watching the game in Alex and my neighborhood, in an “old man” bar that doubled as a merengue stronghold. The owner of the bar was draped in a Real Madrid flag, handing out t-shirts celebrating Real Madrid’s basketball team’s recent accomplishment.
As we found a rickety table next to an older, neutral fan he asked us which team we were cheering for.
When I said I was for Atletico, he looked at me with an appraising glance and asked, “Has sufrido?”
Have you suffered?
The way that the evening played out seemed so tragically and unfortunately scripted for Atleti. Conquering Barcelona and Bayern only to lose to the odious crosstown rivals - in the midst of a tumultuous season, no less - on penalty kicks seemed about right. Juanfran - one of Diego Simeone’s most trusted deputies, a direct creation of “Cholismo,” Simeone’s all-encompassing philosophy - missing the decisive penalty also seemed about right in its symbolism.
The old man had a point - I hadn’t really suffered through any of Atleti’s cursed past. It would’ve been almost too pat for a team to immediately shoot to never-before-seen heights as soon as I started following them - especially a team with such an intense, unique bond between supporter and club.
One more Nick Hornby reference - he writes that he didn’t necessarily feel a part of Arsenal’s double winning season in 1971 because he hadn’t gone to the game. Similarly, I’m not sure that as a fan I would’ve truly deserved a Champions League trophy in my first year (although Atleti and the players more than earned it, and I’m sure any soccer gods that exist don’t script their stories around my personal fan narrative).