The last time Atletico won a local derby against their city rivals was back in 1999. They’re a successful club with a glorious past but will always remain in the shadow of their bigger and richer neighbor.
I ended up getting my tickets from an online agency not unlike stubhub but the prices were a lot cheaper. I found them through the Real Madrid site so figured that this was as official as I was going to get. I paid 186 euros for two tickets (there were no two seats together but my friend was a row behind me and 2 seats over) that were located in the northwest corner, perpendicular to the goal line about half way up. Decent seats and a decent price considering it had been sold out for a long time (at least I was happy with it).
We decided to get there a couple of hours early for two reasons. 1. I was a little paranoid that I had fallen prey to some elaborate internet scam and wanted to get my hands on the tickets and 2. my friend Loren had spent his senior year in college in Madrid and had gone to a game or two back then and said that everyone participates in Botellon. This generally refers to the activity of standing around with your friends and drinking outside. There are no open container laws (as far as I could tell) and as long as you are 18 or over or at least looked it, no one bothered you. Unlike British games where everyone meets at the pub(s) around the stadium, or US games where people tailgate in the parking lot (no parking lot at the Bernabeu), Real Madrid fans just mill about the stadium, chatting and drinking.
We emerged from the Madrid Metro, directly in front of the stadium. The first thing one notices, aside from the vastness of the Bernabeu, is that its not confined within a small neighborhood like Estadio Teresa Rivero but located just north of city center in the business district of Madrid. I, armed with credit card and Loren with a bottle of Honey Rum (most amazing hard liquor ever, unfortunately only found in Spain and the Tenerife islands), we proceeded to will call. One swipe through a circular ATM looking device and SUCCESS!, our tickets dropped into a slot. This called for a swig of rum! Paranoia depleted as I swallowed the tasty alcohol and we proceeded toward a large crowd that was lining up along the street that entered the stadium. Real Madrid and a lot of other top clubs around Europe spend the night before every game (home or away) in a hotel and everyone was waiting for the bus, hoping to get a glimpse of their heroes. As the coach approached, everyone went wild. Not just young boys trying to catch a glimpse of their idols, but men and women of all ages chased after the coach as it made it’s way to the entrance. I even omitted a school girlish yelp of glee when I saw Xabi Alonso (still angry that Benitez sold him and treated him so terribly) through the tinted windows of the bus.
As the crowd dispersed, a series of loud bangs erupted from near the southern entrance of the stadium. We walked over to investigate. On the other side of the street opposite the entrance, the Ultra Surs, Real’s most “hardcore” fans, were participating in Botellon. They had left off a couple of smoke bombs and were amping up for the game by singing songs and shouting pro Real slogans. We walked up to the street and I started to take some pictures until one of them signaled that it might be best if I put my camera away. The atmosphere here was exciting and infectious but also made one a little tense. Alcohol and pent up excitement is not always the best combination – but throw in hatred and a sense of self righteousness and a dash of crazy, in a mob like scene and well…you get the idea. We finished our bottle of rum here and proceeded to make our way to out seats.
The pitch was immaculate (not at all like Rayo’s field) and the stadium rose a mile or so high, yet even the highest seats loomed over the field and offered great views of the match. In the top north east corner, the Atletico supporters could be heard chanting away but as the Ultra Sur’s poured in and filled their spot behind the south goal, they were slowly drowned out. The seats were tiny and I was crammed in between a chain smoking lady who had possessed season tickets for the past 10 years and an elderly gentleman who just kept saying “Joder” whenever Real did anything wrong.
The whistle blew and the game was under way. Immediately one could tell the difference between Primer and Segunda division football. Everything was quicker, more fluid and the sheer division in skill was clearly evident – but from the get go, Real looked out of sorts. They were not in sync with each other, passes were going astray and they were not winning any of the 50/50 challenges. Atletico were dominating the game and sure enough at 10 minutes Sergio Aguero received the ball in front of the 18 yard box, turned to his right and gave a well timed pass to the former Real and Arsenal winger, Jose Reyes, who curled his shot beyond the diving Casillas. It was nice goal but atrocious defending from the home side. The stadium quietened down to a low hum as the Atletico Madrid supporters were jubilantly stomping up and down and screaming songs.
This was a wake up call for Madrid and they slowly began to play in the manner from which they are known. Spurned on by the chanting of the Ultra Surs, the crowd began to get louder as well. Alonso and Dutchman Rafael Van de Vaart were beginning to gain control of the midfield and left fullback Marcelo was doing his best to imitate fellow countrymen and Real legend, Roberto Carlos, with mazy penetrating runs down the wing and cannon like shots at goal whilst completely ignoring any defensive duties. But it was Real’s star signing, Critiano Ronaldo who shone the most. Petulant and disinterested at times and lazy in the beginning, he began to control the game. Almost every other pass went through him. Defenders gravitated to him as he got the ball but he glided past them with ease. There was one run when he dribbled 3 players as the crowd gasped with excitement and anticipation and then groaned as his shot flew just wide. Toward the end of the half he missed an easy diving header as my neighbors clasped their heads in disappointment. Higuain also had a simple shot saved off the line by Tiago.
The half ended and everyone around me brought out sandwiches. The crowd went to buy drinks or discussed the events of the first half. They seemed especially displeased with local boy Esteban Granero and other recent signing Xabi Alonso, but 4 minutes after the restart they were cheering his name. The second half started with some renewed intensity from Real. This lead to a corner taken by Granero, headed down by Albiol and slotted home by Alonso. The crowd erupted. Cheers were sung and insults hurled at the two Atletico Madrid supporters sitting in our general area. 6 minutes later, Alonso sent an exquisite pass over all the defenders to fellow ex-Liverpool teammate Arbeloa who controlled the ball beautifully on his chest, juked his defender not once but twice and shot past the hapless Atletico keeper. It was a gorgeous goal and the crowd went wild. More insults were thrown at the two guys in red and white striped jerseys. 7 minutes later, following a defensive mistake, Higuain (always at the right place and at the right time) latched onto the deflected ball and sent his shot past the keeper. The crowd were in ecstatic smug mode, singing and dancing. Real were playing beautifully and effortlessly but became a little too smug themselves and gave way a stupid penalty. Diego Forlan stepped up and sent Casillas the wrong way, 3-2 with 20 minutes left!
With 15 minutes left, Van de Vaart departed with cheers and clapping but it was nothing compared to the adoration received by the entering player. Raul, captain of Madrid, icon for Real and Spain for so many years, in the twilight of his career ran onto the pitch as the crowd whistled and screamed his name. He looked old though. His desire and determination were still fully evident but he had clearly lost a step. No matter, he was still Raul and the Atletico defenders still had to treat him with the utmost respect. Some minutes a later another Real Madrid icon, Guti, made his way on for Granero. This time the cheers came mainly from the ladies! The woman next to me breathlessly whispered to herself…”Guti”.
The end of the game was a bit of a let down. Real were too strong and were in constant possession of the ball. Ronaldo was unstoppable and he clearly wanted a goal. He took every free kick (even one from 35-40 yards) and one spectacular run where his shot from an impossible angle was kept out by the woodwork but nothing was going in. Casillas aside from being scored on twice had nothing to do. There was one scary moment deep into extra time, when Forlan sent a stinging shot which just went wide but other than that Real won the game comfortably. The final whistle went off and the Ultra Surs unveiled a banner which read something to the effect of “you haven’t won a derby in 10 years, todays score 3-2, the nightmare continues).
We left the stadium and walked back to our hotel, stopping on the way at a restaurant at 11:30pm to have dinner (I LOVE SPAIN). It was an incredible time and an amazing game. The atmosphere, the stadium and crowd were all more than I expected. The game the previous night was a lot more intimate, cozy as well as fun and exciting but not compared to this. This was excess in every way from the size of the stadium to the rabidness of the fans to the quality of football. I came home with full intention of immediately writing a recap, but took a sip of honey rum, lay in bed and passed out!