This weekend I’m off to the meeting of Atlético Madrid and Athletic Club at the Wanda Metropolitano.
This fixture holds a particular place in my heart as it was the game I saw on my first visit to the old Estadio Vicente Calderón back in December 2015 and it was a brilliant game!
So join me in the Delorean one more time to relive a pre-Christmas cracker down by the banks of the Manzanares.
Atlético’s history is intrinsically linked to that of Athletic Club. The club was originally founded as a Madrid branch of the Basque club and didn’t become an entirely separate entity until 1921.
The Madrid club inherited both the name (they were Athletic Club de Madrid until the merger with the Air Force side Aviación Nacional in 1939 and then changed to the Spanish Atlético when Franco banned foreign team names in 1941) and kit (blue and white halved shirts, blue shorts and socks) from their Basque counterparts. The first major divergence came in 1911 when both sides switched from blue and white shirts to red and white stripes but while in Bilbao black shorts and socks were used, in Madrid the original blue were retained.
Indeed given the history between the two clubs, it was only fitting that Athletic were Atleti’s final visitors in a league game at the old stadium in May 2017.
But anyway, back to December 2015…
Christmas in Madrid
Part of the reason I booked this trip was a desire to see Madrid in the build-up to Christmas. I do love the build-up to the festive season and had been pretty underwhelmed with how it was done in Santiago. In one of my years there the lights were put up weeks in advance and then turned on one day without any fanfare. I wanted to see how a really big city in Spain did it.
I was also drawn in by promises of Christmas markets – but don’t be fooled, these aren’t exactly the Christmas markets we get back in the UK and Ireland. The one in Plaza Mayor was mostly selling crafts, nativity sets and a lot of stuff which can best be described with the word ‘tat’. There were a few food stalls located around the place, but nothing on the same level as what I was expecting.
Such touristy stuff took a back seat on Saturday afternoon as I stayed in my hostel to watch the online feed of the Euro 2016 draw, something I’d been eagerly anticipating ever since Northern Ireland booked their ticket to a first international tournament since 1986 back in October.
The draw with Germany, Poland and Ukraine wasn’t exactly the stuff of dreams, but it was all about being there and it all worked out well in the end.
“Yo me voy al Manzanares…”
So Sunday night arrived and the time came for me to travel along a familiar route, the short walk from my hostel to Opera metro and along Metro Line 5 to Pirámides. From there it was just a short walk to the river and then along the Paseo de los Melancólicos to the stadium.
It was along here that I first saw the hilarious “Sad Griezmann” scarf (which was still being sold outside the Wanda earlier this year) as well as questionable likenesses of other club icons including Fernando Torres.
I didn’t really care though as I was finally getting to see an Atlético match in the Calderón at the third attempt.
When I first visited Madrid, in March 2014, they were hosting Real Madrid that weekend and I balked at the thought of paying €90 for a ticket, instead settling for a look round the museum and buying the obligatory scarf. Just under a year later, I was back but Atlético were away that weekend, ironically enough playing just down the road from me in Vigo, so I contented myself with the stadium tour. But now, here I was.
Atleti were at full strength for the game, but the most interesting thing about the team sheet was the inclusion of Raúl García in the Athletic team. After spending most of his career at the Calderón, he had left in August in search of more regular football. This was his homecoming and although he was wearing the shirt of a rival, the Atletico fans showed him the respect someone who contributed so much to their cause deserved.
My main memory of the match was the seemingly endless chorus of “Raúl García, lololololololololo Raúl García” which went around the ground on numerous occasions during the 90 minutes.
Atlético knew that thanks to Barcelona dropping points against Depor on Saturday afternoon (those were they days, eh?), they could go level with them at the top of the league if they won but Athletic were in no mood to do them any favours. The match was as full-blooded as you’d expect.
After Luciano Vietto had a goal ruled out for offside, Aymeric Laporte put the visitors in front after 27 minutes, capitalising on some very un-Atlético marking from a corner. They held their lead for most of the first half but with Atlético’s players probably fearing a dressing down from Diego Simeone and Mono Burgos at the interval, they grabbed an equaliser with practically the last kick of the half, Saúl Niguez heading home.
Something tells me Simeone gave them a roasting anyway… Dressed all in black, prowling the touchline barking orders and gesturing frantically, he didn’t look like someone contented with the performance so far.
Early in the second half he made two changes, bringing on Ángel Correa for Carrasco and later, withdrawing Vietto for hometown hero Fernando Torres, who got almost as rousing a reception as García had.
The changes worked, Atlético looked like a much more potent force with them on the pitch and on 67 minutes they went in front. Correa chased a bit of a lost cause, forced an error from the defender and touched the ball on to Griezmann, whose first-time shot on his left foot flew past Gorka Iraizoz and sent the Calderón into raptures. I do remember only just seeing the goal – I looked up after putting my phone back in my pocket just as Correa forced the ball to Griezmann, and I was very glad I did!
Reflections from 2019
At the time I did fear that 2015 might be the end of my association with Spain. I had left my job in Santiago de Compostela and although I was attending a job interview the day after the game, part of me wondered if it would be my last chance to visit La Capital never mind seeing a game at the Calderón.
Of course you know how that all worked out. A month later I got a job in Huelva and returned to the Iberian peninsula. I was back in Madrid within a year as well, visiting the Calderón again for a final time in its last season before Atlético moved. And then last September I moved to Madrid and lived just about 25/30 minutes walk away from the old ground.
It made me feel sad, looking at the emptiness of the surrounding area and remembering how it had once bustled with activity, with the bars packed out and the streets lined with stalls selling their scarves, flags and pipas.
And now, it’s gone. Well, more or less. The demolition was started during the summer and only the main stand remains, demolition of that was presumably complicated by the fact a busy motorway runs under it.
The Wanda may be a fantastic modern stadium, but I’ll always have a place in my heart for the Vicente Calderón.