Michigan native Jake Larioza fell in love with Atlético Madrid in 2012, when he spent a few months studying abroad in the club’s home city. Since his return to the United States, he’s been bent on further promoting and fostering the club’s fan culture in whatever city he’s been in.
For the 25-year-old former college athlete, it was Atlético’s fanbase that really solidified his allegiance to the team. It was also the distinguishing factor between larger-market teams like Barcelona or Real Madrid.
“For me, Real Madrid fans are a completely different ballgame,” said Larioza. “I really resonated with the Atlético Madrid fanbase. We would hang outside their stadium and mingle with the supporters, because we were too poor to afford tickets.”
Larioza states that it was especially hard for him to become a fan of los rojiblancos during his stay, because his host mother from his study abroad program, “madré” (as he called her affectionately), was a die-hard Real Madrid fan. According to him, she was incredibly upset when he came home one night with a soccer scarf from the wrong part of town.
“I bought a bufanda, and came home with it,” Larioza said. “She was super upset, she didn’t even want to look at it, I had to kind of hide it for a while so that she would still feed me and not kick me out of the house.”
Apart from the supporters, Larioza says Atlético’s blue-collar mentality “from the top, down” is another facet that only helps to strength his bond and love for the team. Citing his Michigan background, Larioza says it’s helped him relate even more to manager Diego Simeone and the rowdy bunch he came in contact with, week in and week out, outside Estadio Vicente Calderón.
“Anyone that’s not from Michigan always hears about Detroit and Flint; it went through rough times,” he said. “In a sense, to relate it back to Atlético, the money wasn’t there, but the heart and passion was. The cohesion and the spirit was still there.”
Since leaving Madrid, Larioza has actively tried to pass on his feverish fandom in the Dallas area, where he now lives.
In addition to avidly watching every Atlético game, whether on his phone or on his TV, Larioza says he’s slowly drawn members from his circle of family and friends to Atleti.
“What I try to do is transfer that passion that drove me into being a fan, to others,” he said. “That’s why I try to find more fans here, because regardless of where you’re from, or who you are, when you’re an Atlético fan, you kind of click on the same level when it comes to certain things.”
Larioza admits it’s hard to create a tight-knit group of fans where he’s living, because he’s never in one place for a long time.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” he said. “I was trying to meet people, but I have to travel a lot for work.”
However, he remains optimistic about the future of Atlético fans in America, mentioning the Peña Oficial Atlético de Madrid in New York City, a supporters’ club with a decent following on Twitter.
“Football, or soccer here, is growing in the U.S.,” Larioza said. “There’s more and more fans every year.”
Larioza says he’s suspended most of his personal social media accounts, and he currently manages a Twitter account devoted to “all things Atlético” under the moniker @atleti_XI, where he says he hopes to connect with more fans in the Dallas area.