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.
Selfishly, it would’ve fit my story perfectly - spending a post-graduate year in Spain, adopting a soccer team that caps off the whole experience with a championship that would serve as a sort of time marker in my life, a hook upon which to hang my narrative. The Champions League final was devastating, to be sure; however, it would’ve been a bit too convenient, almost oddly unfair to long-suffering fans for me to slide in during the club’s golden age. It would be unfair to co-opt years of suffering - soccer clubs and fan bases are much bigger than a single nascent fan. It’s funny how we think about these things in terms of ourselves.
It seems like this is how sports fandom works. Stories like mine are a dime a dozen - a fan falling totally and completely for a team due to his or her station in life, interests, family or some other tenuously-related reason.
In a literary world, Real Madrid’s hubris - complete with the Champions League motto “a por la undécima,” which translates to “let’s go get the eleventh (European Cup trophy),” almost the embodiment of excess - may have led to its undoing. It may have been a tragic flaw. However, in the real world of sport, Madrid went and got the 11th, and deservedly so.
These days, Atletico Madrid are looking as strong as ever, with “Antoine the Grease Man” - as Alex and I refer to him - looking absolutely world class. Simeone seems to be opening things up more in the midfield, leading to more comfortable wins and high octane displays - they hung seven on poor Granada last month. People wonder if they’re the best team in the world.
Currently working as a high school Spanish teacher, I find myself working pictures of Griezmann and Diego Godín into quizzes and hunting down sketchy Internet streams on matchdays, downloading god-knows-what kind of viruses onto my laptop, exhorting pixels that I can only assume are Gabi, Koke and Saúl to play better.
You only get to fall for a team once, and there’s something about the whole process that’s objectively pretty ridiculous. Looking at sports fandom from the outside, it can seem almost disingenuous - living and dying on the results of a team that you don’t even play for. However, being a sports fan allows one to be wholly unselfconscious, to completely dive into something. It also provides a lot of conversation starters.
And Atleti - in all its cursed underdog glory, constantly struggling along Melancholy Walk - were the perfect team to fall for.