(This is a new segment of the blog. Anytime I, or any of the future writers, go to games, an article will be written about our experience at the game. Biased as it may be, this segment is called “The View” and once the website is updated – which is soon by the way – then it’ll have its own little corner on it. It doesn’t have to be a match report, but rather like a whole game experience type of thing).
Alongside a very good friend of mine, who is a Real Madrid supporter, we got tickets for Atletico Madrid’s first Europa league match of the season vs Celtic. It was my first game at a Spanish stadium and I had been told previously that Atletico Madrid supporters usually create a good atmosphere at the stadium, contrarily to their fashionable neighbors across the city. The game was initially supposed to be versus FC Sion (Cup Winners in Switzerland) but because Sion had fielded ineligible players during the qualification phase, they were disqualified from the competition by UEFA as a punishment, and Celtic (who had lost to Sion during the qualifications) were re-instated instead.
Walking to the Vicente Calderon stadium is a bit different to other stadiums I’ve been to. There was a very positive and familial atmosphere to the whole thing. There wasn’t the flood of people I’m used to seeing when I go to other games; and everyone seemed so relaxed. No tension, no pressure, easy and happy – typical Spanish. Pretty much every Atletico supporter was wearing red; not only Atletico’s red. I saw quite a few supporters wearing Liverpool jerseys with “9 – Torres” at the back. There were fans wearing jerseys of the recent stars that left the club - Forlan, De Gea and Aguerro. Very few supporters were actually wearing jerseys of the current squad or the current jersey.
The Celtic fans’ reputation preceded their arrival, as their every move was being closely monitored by the Spanish police. I felt almost sorry for them, as they had been allocated only 1500 tickets for the game and I think there must have been 150 at most at the game. At one point a Spanish speaking Celtic fan walked in between the whole sea of red of Atletico Madrid fans and all of sudden, in less than 30 seconds, there were 2 police vans surrounding the poor fellow. He hadn’t done anything wrong and yet he was being surrounded by everyone and everything as if he had committed a crime. Fair enough, he was completely drunk, but he was still a harmless old 60-something year old Scotsman. A bit of an overreaction by the police (either that or they were really bored and looking for some action).
When we walked into the stadium, I got that killer feeling some of us Football fans get when we walk up the stairs into a stadium only to see the grass and all the people appear all around us. It’s difficult to explain why something so simplistic affects us so stupidly – but I love it. Every single time I go to a game and that moment arrives, I get the goosebumps all over (except when I went to Stamford Bridge for some reason). The seats and infrastructure at the Vicente Calderon Stadium are so old that it gives it a special feeling. None of the new corporate or commercial nonsense we see at other more popular grounds. Even the food & beverage areas are old (not what you consume though!).
The game itself wasn’t very entertaining and just proved to me why Scottish football is so far behind the rest of Europe. Their players looked like a bunch of amateurs and many of them looked overweight. James Forrest and Gary Hooper mainly looking overweight (either that or their shirts were huge) and tumbling over a few times. The Altetico fans made all the noise, of course, and despite the stadium not being full there were some glimpses of what their fans are capable of during a bigger game; though it wasn’t as noisy as I’d expected. Only a section dedicated to their “Ultras” was bouncing and singing for the entire 90 minutes. Their chants, like most chants, were to the same tunes we hear in England or France, and those “Ultras” seemed to be having a blast. The rest of the supporters were cheerful, but not too noisy.
Atletico got off to a flying start with Falcao, their new Columbian striker, scoring with a header from a Diego corner kick in the 3rd minute to give Atletico the lead. You’d expect Celtic to conjure up some sort of reaction, but they barely kept possession of the ball for more than 20 seconds to do so. Atletico’s midfield was extremely tight and run by the Brazilian maestro Diego, who was by far the best player on the pitch, and the ball-winning number 4, Mario Suarez. Very little chances were created during the first half besides a few long distance efforts by the home side, but the second half looked a bit brighter as Celtic did try and actually play football (as opposed to running like headless chickens in the first half). Itt didn’t count for much though as Diego showed up to kill any hopes of Celtic doing anything. His performance deserved a goal and in the second half he got his reward for his constant efforts with a neat move which he started and finished off. His class was clear for all to see with long balls and tricks that most of team-mates weren’t even ready for. I get the feeling that he’ll be able to blossom properly with his new Atletico team-mates.
The game ended 2-0 to Atletico Madrid and it wasn’t much a contest from the start. The difference in class was evident as Celtic’s fans had only their chants and some booze to keep their spirits up. It was a great experience regardless of the competitively of the game. It’s the first game of the group phase and you can already tell that Celtic won’t qualify. But all in all, it was a good first Spanish stadium experience. I will be glad to return to the Vicente Calderon stadium to watch games again in the future. Not only because of the Spanish ambiance which makes you appreciate the footballing culture they have there, but also because in Madrid, unlike in some other parts of Europe (England, hmm hmm) – you can drink alcohol at the stadium!
(for Highlights of the game, click here)