The weekend’s Copa del Rey final sees a sad day forAtlético Madrid – the last game in the Vicente Calderón before the stadium is knocked down
Farewells are tough.
Especially after such a long and productive relationship between Atlético de Madrid and the Vicente Calderón stadium, that spanned the last 51 years. More than half a century of football, world-class players, mysticism, celebrations and also, let’s not forget, its fair share of drama.
Built and opened in 1966 with the original name of Manzanares stadium, Atleti has always been its home team on an exclusive basis, and only in a handful of dates (Copa del Rey finals, youth team or women’s team games) have the players on the pitch have belonged to other sides. Back in the day, it was the first venue in Europe where all spectators could sit down in their own seats and didn’t have to watch the game standing up
In 1971, after his death, the Board decided to rename the stadium with the legendary president Vicente Calderón’s name. Since then, the facility has fundamentally remained the same, with some construction work giving a facelift months before the 1982 World Cup in Spain. Throughout the decades, it became one of the top stadiums in Spain thanks to its five-star UEFA ranking.
— Atlético de Madrid (@atletienglish) May 22, 2017
However, if the Vicente Calderón is remembered after it is crushed to pieces next year and turned into a huge residential area with over 1,300 flats, it will be because of its amazing atmosphere, fostered and nourished year after year by the local crowd, one of the best in La Liga.
The Colchoneros have proven again and again that they are a special lot, with fantastic chants, huge support for their players and an uncanny bond to current manager Diego Pablo Simeone. ‘El Cholo’, in the same manner as an orchestra conductor, has managed to direct thousands of people at the same time into chanting, booing, clapping and celebrating, in one of the most vibrant examples of a team-stands communion.
El Calderón found itself touching the skies in the mid-90s after that legendary ‘Doblete’ achieved by Radomir Antic’s squad: both La Liga and Copa del Rey trophies were seized by a squad with class players such as Milinko Pantic or Kiko Narvaez, whose ‘archer’ celebration became a worldwide sensation.
— Atlético de Madrid (@atletienglish) May 25, 2017
Similarly, Atleti touched rock bottom in 1999-2000 in the middle of a huge turmoil in their meeting rooms, with the police arresting charismatic president Jesus Gil y Gil. Ultimately, the club’s demise was the obvious end to a chaotic season. However, Atleti’s wandering throughout the La Segunda desert only lasted two seasons, and the club was soon was in full force once again.
Visiting El Calderón was a pretty sweet experience for any away fan or reporter. One of its peculiar qualities relied on its location, very close to the Manzanares river and with a huge highway (M-30) going through its insides. It had enormous stands, very steep stairs, almost 55,000 seats and a roaring noise in any game. Its swan song will be split into two halves, hosting first the Copa del Rey final this Sunday between Barça and Alavés; and one day later, being used as pitch for a friendly game that will be the last to be played on such a famed turf.
The farewell has extended itself more than expected: it seems as if Atleti fans have been waving goodbye forever to their ‘home’. In the last month, many events and celebrations have taken place in order to give the stadium a proper farewell. The last La Liga game played had an insuperable magnetism: Atlético vs Athletic Club, one of the oldest and most traditional games in Spain. And in such a special day, Fernando Torres emerged as the big hero: ‘El Niño’ scored twice in the first fifteen minutes to bag a very unique win for his team.
The future looks bright for Atleti. Their new turf, Wanda Metropolitano stadium, blends in its name the modern habit of sponsoring (Dalian Wanda is a top brand in entertainment both in Asia and the whole world) and the Metropolitano classic nomenclature, used in Atleti’s first stadium back in 1923.
With over 68,000 seats for an ever-growing fanbase, Atleti has resolved to keep improving its squad in order to grow stronger. ‘Cholo’ Simeone has already said he will be on the bench next season, and the club has renewed midfielder Koke Resurrección for a whopping 10 million euro salary per season. The new venue will have all types of bells and whistles, indeed… but recapturing the ‘magic’ that made El Calderón so special will be a tough job, at least as tough as saying goodbye to an old friend.