Why do I support Atlético Madrid? It was quite difficult to put into words then, but two years removed from my first visit to the Calderón, the reasons are now as clear as the Rio Manzanares in winter.
Racing Santander was in town for the ida of a semi-final Copa del Rey match. Atlético had strung together a few impressive victories that 2010 season, but there remained a pessimistic feeling amongst the supporters that it could all go terribly wrong at any given moment. This was to be my first opportunity to physically see why I had moved 9,000 kilometers from Los Angeles to Madrid.
Months earlier I had accepted an internship offer to work for Atlético’s Fundación department. It’s relatively safe to assume that this association with the club was enough for me to become a fan of the team, but this connection in and of itself was not enough to convince me to support the team. I needed justifiable convincing.
There was something different about this club. I could see it in the way the supporters prepared for the match. Rising out of the Pirámides metro station, the afición ascended onto the streets of Southern Madrid. Half-time bocadillos de jamón in one hand, cans of Mahou beer in the other it went. Vocal chords stretched to their limits with every song sung, never missing a beat or a lyric. Te Quiero Atléti had been put on loop. This was standard protocol, and one got the sense that these people waited all week to partake in this spectacle, and for good reason. They lived it.
It was distinctly visible how appreciative the supporters were of every tackle, every through ball, and every brilliant switch of play. These were the nuances of the game that I recognized and loved, but that many of my American compatriots back home failed to notice or simply did not care about. The pitos towards opposing players and referees were always deafening and always in unison. Sometimes justified and other times not so much, but the message was always the same. This was the Vicente Calderón and Atlético reigned supreme, for good or ill.
I was twenty-four, living in Madrid, single, and in love. That 2010 season will always be etched in my mind as the year I finally found a team worthwhile to support and call my own. The extreme highs and lows of that fútbol season paralleled my personal life in Madrid. I experienced life’s highs and rode out the lows with an Atlético bufanda around my neck and the Puerta del Sol as my backdrop.
The season culminated in an unimaginable appearance in two finals. As fate would have it, Atléti would be facing a rival in the Europa League final that I was directly familiar with. Fulham was a team I had previously considered “my European team,” and my loyalties were to be put to the test. ¿Was Atlético a passing fad, or had the team truly won my heart? My support of The Mattress Makers never wavered that week, as my Fulham shirt remained buried deep into the closet. It was de verdad, and I knew it.
I thankfully was fortunate enough to get entradas for the Copa del Rey final just a week later in Barcelona against Sevilla. I somehow squeaked my way through an interview in Spanish about why I supported Atlético and how the match would play out with a local television station. My prediction was wrong, but my initial impressions of Atlético’s loyal fan base were not. I stayed behind with the other 45,000 Colchonero supporters at the stadium that night well after the final whistle had sounded. It had been a gut-wrenching night, but even with that defeat I knew that I had found the reason why I came to Spain in the first place. Por eso soy del Atléti.