Atlético Madrid have a magnificent new stadium to call home as they look to challenge their arch city rivals Real.
Nick Davies reports on his visit to the historic first La Liga match at the marvellous Wanda Metropolitano.
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Estadio Vicente Calderón
For half a century, few stadiums in European football symbolised the unique character of its club as strongly as the Estadio Vicente Calderón.
Despite having won ten league championships, ten Copa del Reys, five European trophies and even a world title, Atlético Madrid remains a club defined as much by their heroic failures as by their successes.
The old Estadio Vicente Calderón’s location in the city centre physically connected the club with the people of Madrid. The stadium – a gloriously brutalist concrete structure typical of the 1960s – still looks as if it grew almost organically out of the Arganzuela district, wedged so tightly between the Manzanares river and the residential neighbourhood streets around that the congested multi-lane M-30 road has to run directly underneath the main stand.
Understandably then, for a club so embedded in their community, the decision of the Atlético board to sell the Calderón as prime real estate and move out of town towards the city’s Barajas airport was greeted with bitterness and anger. In the middle of 2017, that day finally came and Atlético moved east to the Wanda Metropolitano…
Metro to Wanda Metropolitano
I couldn’t have been more excited though when I returned to Spain’s capital to attend the first match at the Wanda Metropolitano, against Málaga.
The first big difference from the old experience, of course, was the distance we were required to travel to the ground. As we filed on to a busy but cheerful Metro and contemplated the hour-long journey, I couldn’t help but sympathise with the residents of Arganzuela who would no longer be able to stroll past the cafés, their walls plastered with portraits of Rojiblancos legends, on their way to see their local team.
We set off early from Atocha Renfe, contemplating big crowds and potential delays. As it was, there was a steady stream of red and white but the trains never became especially congested. The noticeable number of young families, some with babies whose parents would no doubt be telling them about their first visit to the new stadium well into their teens, reflected the relaxed, cheerful atmosphere.
From Atocha Renfe, Madrid’s main train station, take L1 (blue) Atocha Renfe to Gran Via, L5 (green) Gran Via to Pueblo Nuevo or L7 (orange) Pueblo Nuevo to Estadio Metropolitano (formerly Estadio Olimpico). Tickets are 1.60 euro single. I would recommend that you buy your ticket back from Estadio Metropolitano before the match as queues for the ticket machine are very long afterwards.
Atlético Madrid new stadium
By the time we reached the newly refurbished Estadio Metropolitano Metro station, there was a real hubbub of excitement as we ascended the escalator and stepped out into glorious late-afternoon sunshine.
The first view of the ground did not disappoint. For all the inconvenience of the long journey out of the city, the stadium could hardly be closer to the Metro station. There were gasps of appreciation from fans as we saw for the first time this futuristic spaceship of a construction looming over us. Its stylishly curved roof reflected the brilliant afternoon light as if the sun was shining directly on it to mark the occasion.
Along with the glare of the pristinely white paving snaking up to the entrance, it was impossible not to squint as we took our first proper look. The image that will no doubt appear in thousands of Atlético fans’ photo albums was capped by an enormous flag bearing the Atlético Madrid badge fluttering majestically in the breeze.
There was an eclectic range of food and drink on offer in the stands surrounding the stadium with paella, hot dogs and burritos all available for under four euro along with beer and soft drinks.
Inside, the atmosphere was at fever pitch as Atlético fans stared in awe around the three-tier structure while seeming desperate to retain the famously raucous atmosphere of the old Calderón.
With half an hour still before kick-off, the hardcore supporters in the North Stand were in full voice, the old songs of the old stadium sung as passionately as ever.
Atlético stadium opening match
The atmosphere crackled throughout the first half but the match didn’t live up to the expectation. Diego Simeone, a manager who sums up the Rojiblanco spirit with his constant remonstrations, provided the best entertainment, gesturing to the North Stand to renew their efforts after a momentary pause in the singing.
With nightfall showing the stadium in its floodlit splendour as the second period began, the only missing ingredient was an Atlético goal. But who would be the first to score at the new ground and emulate the club’s greatest legend Luis Aragonés whose first goal at the Calderón is still remembered so fondly?
When Simeone indicated for Fernando Torres to warm up and then take his tracksuit off, the perfect scenario was written.
But then, before their favourite son could enter the fray, Antoine Griezmann deftly converted a low Correa cross and the stadium’s first ever goal was scored by Atlético’s current prince. The almost surprised, slightly delayed roar that greeted Griezmann’s finish indicated a sense that the team had gone off script, but then perhaps the Frenchman was an apt scorer given the ground’s embracing of a bright new future. The club’s most bankable global star had christened their new world-class home.
A slightly tepid 1-0 victory seemed almost a sideshow to the big event of toasting the new stadium, yet there was a sense of relief at the final whistle that the Wanda Metropolitano had started life with an Atlético win.
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This is an edited version of a feature that first appeared in Football Weekends magazine, the fan’s guide for great trips in Europe and the UK. Visit www.footballweekends.co.uk for more details.
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