And so, another season of the Champions League has kicked off and we head in to another season of exciting football. It's a time for celebration and excitement, the usual frustration and the familiar routine of another league start. But something is going to be different this year. In the south of Madrid, some things will never be the same again.
The famous stadium, Vicente Calderon, will never again open its gates to welcome Atlético Madrid and all of its fans home. The curious stadium, located just by the river and with the highway, all of the cars breezing by under one of the stands, will never again be filled up to the brink by men and women, spreading sunflower seeds all around their seats and discussing the game loudly in Spanish. The selfie sticks will not be seen pointing in every angle and people will not ask total strangers to take sweet pictures of them, pitch in the background and exciting faces. The vibrant atmosphere that the Calderon was so known for, with the colourful tifos, the singing and the passionate gesturing, is now gone forever.
Despite the many devoted foreign fans, coming to see their team play, it is very clear that this is a Spanish team of the people it coexists with. These are the neighbours of the Vicente Calderon, who hang out at their favourite local bar just by the stadium, like they’ve been nurtured to do and have been doing for most of their lives, a routine they passed down to their children as the circle is closing. After a caña or two everyone goes the 200 meters over to the stadium, chatting up other neighbours, outside of the arena as well as inside of it. These are the working-class people, not showing off with anything fancy, just coming as they are and with what they have. They hate Real Madrid with a passion only a city rival can do, but their different views on, for example, politics and money, adds an extra element of hatred to the mix.
It is a stadium that have seen great talent growing up. Big football stars like David De Gea, Antoine Griezmann, Diego Costa, Sergio Aguero, Diego Forlan, Fernando Torres, David Villa, Thibaut Courtois and Mario Mandzukic have all played in Atléticos colours in that stadium. It has also hosted great footballing events like group stages games in the World Cup 1982 and a few Copa del Rey finals, last ones in 2016 and 2017. Vicente Calderon has only been there for 51 years, but it has seen so much. I say “only” because there are football stadiums much older, much more famous and grandiose, but with its curious and open design, and thanks to its tenants, it has managed to put itself on the map.
The question remains – how is this area, previously so full of life thanks to their majestic stadium, going to survive? What is going to happen to all of the local bars, depending on their football fans coming by every so often before and after the games, and pouring their hearts and their money out at their tables? What is going to happen to the fans themselves, being used to the short walk over the river or down the street to reach their second home, whereas they now need to choose from a variety of means of transportation out to the suburbs to see their “local” team play? It is a question that only time can answer, and I hope with all of my heart that this wonderful area of Madrid can find the strength to go on in the midst of this, undoubtedly sad, situation.
On my usual morning walk along the river, I pass the majestic home of los Colchoneros, the mattress makers, and peeking inside through the side, I can see row after row of seats, clean and sparkly, creating the familiar red and white striped pattern. I get sad, it’s sudden and like getting stabbed in my chest. But then I just close my eyes and for a moment, I am back under the flood lights, with the frustrated yells from the agitated crowd pressing against my ears and sunflower seeds covering the floor, and I smile at the thought of the beautiful memory.