When Estadio Vicente Calderón opened back in 1966, it cost less than a euro for a ticket. That figure has grown over 8000 percent, but it’s important to remember. On Saturday night at the Wanda Metropolitano, Atlético Madrid had a chance to usher in a new era without throwing crucial and defining parts of the old to the wind.
On a night when Antoine Griezmann joined Luis Aragonés in the history books as the first scorer of a newly-opened Atlético stadium, there was a blend of nostalgia and openness that was met with both skepticism from the fans and two open and welcoming arms from the club. As Sid Lowe writes, “there has been a conscious attempt to embrace their [Atlético’s] history, to create continuity and recreate community.”
For all Atlético’s faults, they seemed to get the blend just right, and with journalists and commentators alike mentioning how pleasantly surprised they were with the Wanda Metropolitano’s first official match, Atleti and their fans were given the chance to take stock of what a special moment the club is currently in. They got to sit and drink in the success, and sit in that success’ cosy seats and enjoy the spacious surrounds as they left the ground with minimal fuss.
Atlético, more than most, know hard times. But what’s a club if it doesn’t at some point in its history find itself at the basement looking up, wading through the piled-up bodies that were once promising signings and the managerial victims of the worst possible circumstances? As one of my favourite bands Dawes, put it: “Some people were just meant to be a memory, to be called upon to remind us how we've changed, the way the scattered ever-busy bright lights of a city, might look off to a distant mountain range.”
Saturday night was the chance to remember all the managers who never worked out, all those people, all the memories - even Hugo Sánchez.
“I think that it will be quite like a pressure cooker," said one of the architects when the stadium was still seen as a distant fantasy in Enrique Cerezo’s ambitious mind. No more pressure than playing and working, and fans would argue supporting, Atlético during it’s most tumultuous times. As Atleti looked to the future, Saturday night was a chance to look back too.
And what better team to play than Málaga, a team that look like they are in one of the crises that befell Atlético during their history. A team with a mouthy owner who has threatened to kick the ultras out of the stadium and who has told journalists that cover the club they are not welcome. A team that has had three managers in just over a year and internal feuds that would make Atlético under Jesús Gil embarrassed to be involved with.
Atleti were playing some version of themselves from more than 10 years ago — a version of themselves from before Diego Simeone’s appointment. Before los rojiblancos could set roots so strong regarding their position in Spanish and European football that they could pull them up from the side of the Manzanares and move 20 kilometres across town, safe in the knowledge that if they built it the fans would come.
On Saturday, the fans did come, and they left with more than a glimpse of what to expect at the Wanda Metropolitano and a sigh of relief that the club will now, and hopefully forever, compete.
The Vicente Calderón will never be forgotten as that crumbling, old slab of concrete painted red and white, every tiny pore filled with spilled beer, tears and memories both horrible and mildly refreshing to recount. Atlético have been in many states and stages with shortcuts, restarts and dead-ends over their 114-year history. And with Diego Simeone in charge and a new home to travel to every second weekend, they remain in a really good place.