Wednesday, February 7, 2018

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Football Passions: Atlético Madrid

Peter Anderson writes on his love of soccer.

Like many people on our fair isle I have been crazy about footy from a young age, 7 to be precise, the 1974 FA Cup final between Liverpool and Newcastle. The next month came the World Cup and I was introduced to Cruyff and Rep and Beckenbauer and the love only deepened. From then on I played and watched footy as often as possible on TV. As my dad wasn’t interested I relied on my maternal grandfather to fuel the interest and he started taking me to see the odd Linfield game. The first were derbies against the hated Glenmen from East Belfast and a minor cup final at the Oval. Big games, big atmosphere, trouble on the terraces etc and very exciting.

Then he took me to see them playing Newry on a wet winter’s day. No atmosphere and nobody on the terraces. I realised that football in an empty stadium is just another game. I was so jealous of the English and Scots who had real football every week. Apart from the derby, cup finals and Northern Ireland games our footy was pretty lame. After starting working I would go to a few matches in Scotland and England every year, Ibrox, Wembley, Stamford Bridge, Anfield, Upton Park and that jealousy I had for those that could buy a season ticket for a big team in a big league only deepened, but spending a small fortune on going across the water was no longer sustainable. I met my wife, who hates footy, and got Sky Sports and so gave up on live football altogether.

Then after a curious turn of events in 2005 I found myself living in Madrid. I only planned to go for 2 years, learn Spanish and finish my OU degree but ended up staying for 6. For those of you who have never been to Madrid you are missing a European classic. Forget Barcelona, Madrid is superior in every way. Once I had settled in I decided that I should take advantage of my situation and get a season ticket at Real Madrid. Historically I never really liked Real but I wasn’t going to pass up the chance to regularly see top quality footy. They had Beckham, Zidane and Roberto Carlos in their team so I headed up to the Bernabéu to watch a game. They were at home to Malaga in their beautiful 80,000 seater stadium and there was a full house for the game. What a disappointment. The fans were very quiet and after Malaga opened the scoring they were completely silent. Where in the UK fans would get behind their team after going behind, the Real fans only whistled and shouted abuse. Real ended up winning the game but I was so disappointed with the atmosphere. I was even more disappointed to hear that there was a 10 year waiting list for season tickets. After recounting all of this to a Spanish lad that I had got to know he laughed and recommended that I go to the Calderon and watch Atletico. The next week I did just that.

That Saturday the mid-table Atleti were playing Bilbao. Before the match started the Atleti Ultras, known as El Frente, raised an anti-ETA banner. The police moved in to take it down and were attacked. Then the riot police arrived and all hell broke loose! The whole stadium of about 50,000 got to their feet and started singing the Spanish equivalent of “SS RUC”. Electric atmosphere, fighting on the terraces, I was loving this! On the pitch a young buck called Fernando Torres was ripping it up with his side-kick Maxi Rodiguez and Atleti won 3-1. I was hooked. I then met a lad from Wexford who was also an Atleti fan. He was a socialist activist and Irish history buff and he and I got season tickets for the new 2006-07 season. We would go and watch Atleti and then go to the Towers, an Irish pub near the stadium, to drink the black stuff. More times than not we would get drunk and fall out over the pros and cons of the Cuban regime or Irish unity and then have to sheepishly make up at the next game! But they were 5 super seasons at the Calderon.

During those 5 seasons Atleti rose to become a European power. I got to see Champions league and Europa League games. I got to see Gerrard and Carragher in the 1-1 draw in the CL. I got to see Lampard and Drogba in the 2-2 draw with Chelsea. I got to see Beckham and Ronaldinho, Ronaldo and Messi, Xavi and Iniesta, Kaka, Riquelme, Henry and a host of others, but best of all was watching Sergio ‘Kun” Agüero every week. The 5 seasons he was there coincided with my 5 seasons and to watch a young 18 year old develop into a global superstar was pure joy.

Apart from the European games I looked forward to the Barca games the most. The Barca team of Pep Guardiola were, in my humble opinion, the greatest club side ever and they loved coming to the Calderon. Most teams parked the bus against them, but Atleti traditionally had a right go and this made for open games, something Barca weren’t used to but welcomed. Almost every Atleti-Barca game I went to was a classic, a 4-2 game when Ronaldinho scored a bicycle kick, a 1-3 game when Messi scored a hat-trick, a 2-1 game when Jose Antonio Reyes set up Diego Forlan for a screamer of a winner. The best however was the 4-3 game in 2009 when Messi mesmerised and put Barca 2 nil up only for Agüero and Forlan to bring it level, Messi scored again as did Forlan only for Agüero to get the winner in the last minute. The Calderon went bananas. A classic of a game with end to end football, great goals and missed sitters. Easily the best game I’ve ever been to.

Having a season ticket to watch top football is a wonderful experience and hopefully sometime in the future I can experience it again. You get to know the team so well, the players and tactics become so much more interesting, as the TV camara only follows the ball you miss what is happening off the ball and the tactical set-ups of both teams. You also miss how the home support are really feeling. Watching your team over consecutive seasons you get to know the fans seated around you and their attitudes towards the President, board manager and players. You feel part of the club. I have never studied fixture lists and league tables with such gusto!

But the good times, as always, came to an end and I had to give up my beloved seat and the great nights of footy, drinking and political arguing to move back to this football backwater. Atleti have since won La Liga and got to 2 CL finals (losing to Real both times!) and have left the wonderfully ambient Calderon for a brand new 65,000 seater called the Wanda Metropoliano, but alas I have had to watch the games on Sky barring the odd trip to Madrid for a game. I still love to visit Madrid, it has it all, good weather, grand architecture, gastronomy, historical sights but above all it is a footballing city. Posh, rich Real from the north of the city and not forgetting plucky Rayo and their hard left supporters from Vallecas, but my heart will always lie with Atletico, the team from the south of the city and their fanatical working class supporters.

Forza Atleti

4 comments :

Christopher Owens said...

Really enjoyed that.

I'm not much of a football fan, but I have been to a few matches:

03/08/01 - Leeds United vs Dublin City (Tolka Park). Ended up 6-1 to Leeds (unsurprisingly). Always remember laughing at the amount of times Leeds fans shouted anti Manchester United chants. I thought they'd have been more interested in cheering their own team! Undisputed highlight was Nicky Byrne from Westlife coming on as a substitute for Dublin City and Leeds fans shouting "kill him!"

22/09/01 - Celtic vs Aberdeen (Celtic Park). Ended up 2-0 to Celtic. Wasn't a particularly memorable match (I seem to recall it was mainly midfield play), but the atmosphere was astonishing. Everyone on their feet chanting and singing.

13/12/03 - Manchester United vs Manchester City (Old Trafford). Ended up 3-1 to United. Amazing match, everyone giving it their all (particularly Roy Keane). United fans were utterly vocal in their support (more so than the Celtic fans).

marty said...

Enjoyed that well written piece , I grew up with two heroes, Yashin and Harry Gregg , and of course the Munich air disaster which co incidentally would have made me 7 years old also, I loved Harry Gregg,s bravery as a goalkeeper and tried to emulate his style in my playing career,was lucky enough to watch him and Best play , yesterday was the 60th anniversary of that fateful day that destroyed possibly one of the greatest teams of all time ,what it has done was install a love for the game of football that has not diminished over the years that and Hurling and Gaelic football, has given me many hours craic over pints so cheers,slainte to that post ,,

Steve R said...

Ah, nostalgia for a wee quarter bottle of bucky on the old West Stand at a dilapidated Windsor Park, freezing my gonads off with a baltic wind coming off Belfast Lough, and watching the Blues play water polo on a pitch that you could have put to sea a fleet of ships on (Still far better than the Oval Shithole)! FTG...

Speaking of young players, I watched a young Messi play for the Argies when he was 17, he was unbelievable then. I remember commentating to a mate that he's one to watch and he agreed. Nobody could touch him. He was on a different planet even back then.

Saw Cristiano Ronaldo play for Real against Man City a few years back in Australia, I think he's a ponce but without doubt one of the greatest there's ever been. We're lucky to see two of the best in their prime in my opinion.

Big regret was never seeing Zidane play, one of my all time favourite players, though I was lucky enough to see Bestie play and even though he was an old fart then, he still had it. Such a shame the booze got the better of him.

Peter said...

Christopher
Thanks. The atmosphere at a live game is arguably more important than the quality of football. My mate couldn't attend a derby against Real one year so my footy hating wife asked him for his ticket. She didn't watch any of the game and just sat watching the ultras singing and bouncing. She loved the atmosphere.

Marty
I never got into GAA for obvious reasons but the hurling looks like a great sport. It seems there's more violence on the pitch than in the terraces!

Steve
I saw Bestie too playing for NI in a testimonial around the time he retired. I don't remember much about it but at least I can say that I saw him!