Atlético Madrid 0-0 Athletic Club
Estadio Vicente Calderon, Liga BBVA, May 2nd 2015
“Let’s go and get lost in Madrid.” Perhaps, I thought, my fellow hostel-dweller was a reader, copying our signature titles in his own search for adventure. He was not. Instead he was just hoping to find some fun and somewhere showing the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight. My own second Lost in…Madrid of the season- following a February visit to Real Madrid– was book-ended by two travel fails that had my wife and I questioning whether it was time to give up the transient lifestyle we are so priveleged to lead.
First, on arrival at our hotel the day before matchday, a hotel which had been pre-booked weeks in advance, we were denied our room for not being able to provide suitable documentation. Second, 45 minutes before our train was due to leave for San Sebastián on the day after the game, we found ourselves at the wrong station at the wrong end of the city.
Fortunately, we averted a repeat of Matthew’s night in Crewe station thanks to an old friend who kindly gave up his sofa bed to us for the Friday night. Andy, who we knew from our days in South Korea and to whom we are now eternally grateful, had a arranged an evening catching up with some old other friends from Seoul over some decent Korean cuisine. After the hotel drama, it was a great way to spend Friday evening.
Given it was a holiday weekend, we were even more fortunate on Saturday morning to score probably Madrid’s last two hostel beds for that night. Crisis over for now, we were finally able to enjoy the weekend. Saturday began with a visit to the Reina Sofia art museum and continued with a visit to Triciclo, a creative restaurant in the city centre.
By now, we’ve mostly accustomed ourselves to the later lunches and dinners of the Spanish lifestyle, but with a game to get to I insisted on an early booking. Even at 13:30 we were the first diners, but by the time our textures of chocolate arrived for dessert- via five great dishes of which the mustard-glazed beef cheeks were a favourite- the place was rammed. It was an inspired choice by Kathryn, and one that had us believing we are still capable of organising a decent weekend away after all.
We returned to pick up our luggage from Andy’s flat and finally it was game time. From our hostel in Chueca, it was only a short metro ride and shorter walk to the Vicente Calderon.
The near 55,000 capacity stadium has been the home of Atlético since 1966 when it was called the Estadio Manzanares. The name change took place in 1971 as the stadium was renamed after club president Vicente Calderon. It’s a fantastic-looking stadium inside- curved and uncovered- but, despite not having yet reached 50, the stadium seems to be struggling; the seat colours are fading and the ones where I was sat were sprouting mould. The club are due to leave in 2016 for the city’s revamped, 70,000-seater Olympic Stadium. The old ground will be replaced by a park in the club’s name.
The metro and the walk were spent among throngs of red and white-striped supporters. One of my favourite things on the journey to the ground is seeing the shirts from over the years and the names who the fans choose to adorn those shirts with. If the previous day’s sighting of a Tomas Ufaljusi jersey was a bit random, matchday was a reminder that it’s not just the white shirt of Real that attracts the stars of the game. There was Kun Arguero, Forlan, Falcao, Diego Costa and more.
Many wearing the current replica shirt had opted for the #14 of someone who last pulled on the real thing in 1997. Diego Simeone was a double-winner with Atletico in 1995-96 and made 130+ appearances for the club. Now, of course, El Cholo is the club’s influential manager, having led them to the Copa del Rey, Europa League and last season’s La Liga title (the defense of which only became mathematically impossible earlier in the day as Barcelona defeated Córdoba 8-0) in his three-and-a-half years in charge.
If Simeone is the main attraction of this current Atlético, is there anyone among the playing staff who can challenge their manager’s popularity? Well, if shirt sales are any indication of this, then two have a good chance. One is Antoine Griezeman, who I had been looking forward to watching play in my new hometown of San Sebastián. It was always going to be tough for Real Sociedad to hang on to their star French attacker and he eventually joined Atlético in late July, where his 22 league goals- only Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi have more- have helped sell plenty of #7 jerseys.
The other is the returning hero, Fernando Torres. I got to the ground later than I would have liked, but with enough time to get my now usual pre-game, non-alcoholic beer and take my seat in-time for the team annoucements. The loudest cheer was reserved for Torres, making only his sixth home league start since returning in January. Plenty among the crowd had his #19 on their backs, while others wore his #9 in the colours of Liverpool, Chelsea, or Spain. Despite being a Manchester United fan, I really like Torres; I probably didn’t say as much while he was tormenting Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, but it’s hard not to respect anyone that could perform so regularly against such a pairing.
This was not the most exciting 90 minutes of football I have seen this season, but it was certainly not without incident. Torres was involved in the first. From my seat in line with the penalty area, Torres was definitely being pulled as he tamely hit a shot towards Athletic keeper Herrerin. Everyone in the stadium with an Atlético bias screamed for a penalty, Torres louder and more aggressively than anyone else and he picked himself up a booking.
Next up was Griezeman having a goal ruled out for offside, but this decision looked correct to me. Griezeman had one other decent chance in the half, which ended the same way as so many others I’ve seen in Spain have, with the referee being loudly booed off the field.
Atlético’s fans were much more than a horde of jeering referee-baiters, however. Every ground in Spain has its hardcore singing section, who are joined by the rest of the crowd for the booing and the simpler chants of encouragement. The loudest fans here didn’t stop singing for the 90 minutes and at times were joined by large sections of the crowd, even for chants with more words than simply ‘Atléti‘. I liked the one that stopped with a loud ‘Muchacho,’ before continuing with something about how it would be impossible to ever understand their feelings for Atlético.
The second half began with another goal not given for offside, again by Griezeman. This was the opposite end of the ground from me, but others around me were insisting the decision was wrong. The finish came after a lovely scooped pass from Tiago, who was the game’s top performer for me. He was celebrating his 34th birthday on the day, but showed no signs of slowing down, consistently dropping deep to take the all and always looking to raise the tempo. It later struck me as strange that I had been so surprised by the performance of a player who has won four league titles in three countries and was part of Portugal teams that reached a Euro final and a World Cup semi-final.
Simeone sent on Mario Mandzukic and Arda Turan (in place of Torres and Raul Garcia) early in the second half and the Turkish winger had an immediate impact; Arda played in a great pass that Tiago flicked passed Hellerin. Again the assistant’s flag was raised. This one looked the harshest of all, but by now the fans had made their minds up about the referee’s incompetence and the jeering was as much ironic as it was angry. Griezeman had another good chance, but it was well saved by Herrerin.
Bilbao held on for their point, but their play was in stark contrast to how they had played when I saw them at San Mames last month. Spanish teams have recently received some bad press in the British media for some of the players’ on-field antics, notably in the Madrid derby in the Champions League quarter-finals. I have not seen too much of that on my travels in Spain (but I haven’t seen too many games where a lot has been at stake), but I have observed some very cynical tactics from away teams. Valencia did it in Bilbao and Athletic were culpable here, most notably the age it took Unai Bustinaza to leave the field after his late second yellow (I realise these are probably not criticisms that can only be applied to Spain, mind).
It wasn’t a complete write-off in an attacking sense for Athletic, though. Iñaki Williams again demonstrated his potential, but once more was unable to make a truly productive use of his talents against Miranda and Diego Godin, who was especially good.
On the crowded metro back into town, two youngsters- I couldn’t see them, but I would guess they were about 9 or 10- were discussing the varying merits of Atlético and Real Madrid. When the Atlético-favouring child asked the carriage to cheer if they were of the same opinion as him, most people burst into song. The brave little Real supporter spent the rest of the ride being playfully heckled by older Atlético fans.
The rest of our weekend passed without incident until we arrived at Chamartin Station for the train home. We had arrived there two days earlier and I had come in and out of the same station in February. However, today our train was not on the departure board and we realised we needed to be at Atocha Station. Fortunately, we had given ourselves plenty of time and a quick taxi-dash across the city got us to the correct train on-time.
My second visit to Madrid, and last for the time-being, was over. There is perhaps no better footballing city in the world right now. Atlético had the edge over their city rivals until that recent Champions League game, so let’s just hope the stadium move allows them to continue competing with their neighbours and beyond.
GOOD: The Atlético fans and all those red and white jerseys; the drive of Tiago and the effort of Torres; Madrid is a great city
BAD: Our travel problems (which were largely of our own making); no goals due to some very poor decisions.