Seven Things I’ve Learned So Far In Madrid

IMG_9027It’s an international weekend! Although club football never truly stops, I’ve decided to take a wee break myself this weekend. Having attended at least one match every weekend since I arrived in Madrid at the start of September I feel like I deserve it!

In that time I’ve managed to see each of the teams I profiled in my Picking My Madrid Team post back in August at least once and learned quite a few things about how football in la capital works.

So with this being a weekend off, it feels like a good time to share what I’ve picked up so far.

1. Real Madrid have gone paperless

Tickets of the future at the Bernabeu

It’s probably not the most notable thing to have happened at Real Madrid this season, but when I visited the Bernabeu for the Levante game last month, I was glad to discover that they have consigned the days of print at home tickets to history! No more awkward A4-sized tickets, with the huge amount of wastage that brings, instead it was simply scan your phone on the way in. Much simpler and the sooner more clubs follow suit the better!

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Away from their ticketing arrangements, Madrid’s form has been one of the major talking points of the season so far. With Lopetegui gone, Santi Solari is in charge permanently after winning all four of his games as caretaker, but surely the jury is still out as he’s only had to face Segunda B side Melilla, Viktoria Plzen, Real Valladolid (who were unlucky not to get something from that game) and a Celta Vigo side who sacked their manager immediately afterwards. Much tougher challenges await him.

2. The Wanda is great (but it’s just not the Calderon)

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I’ve been to the Wanda Metropolitano more times than any other ground since I moved to Madrid (twice each for Atlético and Rayo Majadahonda) and while it is an outstanding modern stadium, something just doesn’t feel right.

The old Vicente Calderon was a perfect fit for Atlético. It was a bit rough round the edges, but had real character. Part of the fun of going to an Atlético game was getting off the Metro at Piramides and the walk down to the river, along the streets lined with souvenir stalls, stopping in some of the bars along the way, visiting the bar in the stadium next to the museum and so on. Now, everything is shiny and brand new, when you get off the Metro at Estadio Metropolitano, you actually have to walk away from the stadium to reach the nearest bar (though this can be circumvented by getting off at the penultimate stop, Las Musas) and the whole area feels like it is still getting used to hosting a world-class football team. Inside the ground, the atmosphere travels around well but certain things, like the pre-kick off light show, feel unnecessary.

Just like my current flat doesn’t really feel like home yet, it will take time for Atlético fans to get used to life in their new surroundings. But despite initial concerns surrounding teams often struggling to adapt to life in a new stadium, the move hasn’t really affected Atlético’s form. Indeed, with two trophies won in its first year, things have probably gone better than expected. And after the internationals, the first game there is Atlético v Barça in a top of the table clash. Win a few matches like that one and the Wanda will soon start to feel like home.

3. Life is hard if you want to go and watch Rayo (both of them)

For someone who loves planning in advance, going to watch Rayo Vallecano and Rayo Majadahonda is a bit of a frustrating experience. Tickets are not available online, so the only option is to go to the stadium.

I’ve already complained at length about the massive queue I had to endure at Rayo Majadahonda v Extremadura, so no more on that here. They appeared to have learned their lesson in time for the Real Oviedo game around a month later and things ran a lot more smoothly.

With Rayo Vallecano, the main frustration of not being able to buy tickets online is that for the two games I’ve been at this season, the cheaper sections have already sold out by the time I can get to the ground.

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Rayo’s Bukaneros in full voice against Villarreal

As if the ticket situation wasn’t stressful enough, Rayo’s defending this season has no doubt left a lot of fans tearing their hair out. They threw away a 2-1 lead late on against Barcelona and when I went to see them against Villarreal last week they looked like a disaster waiting to happen. Going forward they could have scored four or five, but it wouldn’t have been a shock if they’d conceded that many too. We’re almost at the end of November and they’re yet to record a home win in La Liga. That needs to change or their return to the top flight could be a fleeting one.

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4. Leganés lived up to the hype

When I was preparing to move to Madrid in the summer, lots of people told me how good the matchday experience at Leganés was. Bocatas de lomo, SuperPepino, a great atmosphere and more.

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As I laid out in a previous post, everything I had heard certainly turned out to be true. The match wasn’t a classic, but it was certainly enjoyable with the stars of the show being the two sets of fans, who never stopped for the duration of the game. The sandwich was a cut above the regular football stadium fare and I managed to get a selfie with that legendary mascot. Needless to say, I’ll be back before Christmas, hopefully making use of the early December puente to take in another Madrid derby, this time against Getafe.

5. Alcorcón and Getafe were extremely pleasant surprises

I’d be lying if I said I was particularly looking forward to visiting either of these clubs from the suburbs. Indeed I thought that it would just be a case of visiting both once to tick them off the list and then never going back. But having greatly enjoyed my visits to both, I’m now trying to work out if I can schedule in another visit before Christmas.

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Alcorcón was a real surprise as I had no real expectations of what I’d find there. But what I saw was a really nice compact ground, good views all round, competitively-priced food and most surprising of all, an excellent team on the pitch. No one really saw their strong early season form coming, as they currently sit in one of the automatic promotion places and boast the best defensive record in Spanish professional football, only conceding six goals so far this season (that’s them cursed now.) When I attended their game against Oviedo at the end of September, they also scored two goals of the highest quality.

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It was a similar story around a month later when I finally made it to Getafe. A much shorter trip from the city centre than I expected it to be, the area around the ground offered plenty to do pre-kick off while the stadium itself proved to be excellent for photography and there was a good atmosphere too, undoubtedly helped by the large contingent of Betis fans in attendance.

Luckily it was a reasonably warm and sunny October day though, as I can imagine that the uncovered sections are very exposed in bad weather. The match was good too despite me telling anyone who would listen in the days leading up to it (and even during the game) that it would finish 0-0.

6. Sunday morning kick-offs are the worst

I had hoped to be able to take in a few more obscure grounds in this first part of the season, but that has been largely frustrated by the lower leagues kicking off en masse at 11:30am or Midday on a Sunday.

Any long term readers of this blog will know how much I hated early kick-offs for Recre in Segunda B over the last couple of seasons. They tended to produce dull, stodgy football where the players barely seemed any more awake than the supporters. If you’re visiting a new area, it also doesn’t give you a great feel for the locale, given that almost everything will be shut or only just opening up as you get there.

Look, I understand the thinking behind it, especially at this time of the year. Smaller clubs don’t have big budgets and don’t want their income being eaten up by the cost of floodlights and the fact there are hardly ever any ‘big’ games on TV around that time can only surely help these clubs in trying to attract more punters. But personally, Sunday morning is not a good time for football and I’m struggling to find the ganas to go to lower league games at these times.

7. La Liga is loca this season and all the better for it!

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A typical criticism from someone who doesn’t really watch much Spanish football is that it’s just Madrid and Barça smashing teams 6-0 every week. #laligaisboringanduncompetitive (to borrow a certain podcast’s favourite hashtag.)

Of course, this isn’t true. But this season so far has certainly been more balanced than recent seasons. We’ve already had a full-scale Real Madrid crisis resulting in Julen Lopetegui losing his job far sooner than anyone expected (I thought he’d last until January, but that proved to be wildly optimistic) exemplified by their defeat a home to Levante which I was lucky enough to be in attendance at. Barcelona have been far from invincible either, losing at bottom-placed Leganés in September and then at home for the first time in over two years, against a Betis side who I’d seen only recently be easily dispatched by Getafe.

Atlético haven’t quite managed to take full advantage, a rough patch of form early on saw them with ground to make up and although their home form is excellent (only two points dropped, typically in a game I went to) they’ve slipped up in a few away games by not being able to hold onto leads. Alavés, whose 5-1 demolition of Rayo Vallecano was one of the best games I’ve seen this season, continue to surprise everyone and Sevilla and Espanyol are also exceeding expectations. Meanwhile, the likes of Valencia, Villarreal and Athletic are underwhelming and occupying lower places in the table than anyone would have thought.

It’s been a brilliantly exciting start to the season – long may it continue!

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