As a child, John Fist was never taken on holidays abroad. As a young adult, all opportunities to partake in massive lads on tour trips to exotic STIslands were eaten up by Dad’s insistence on spending the summer months perfecting my wood chopping technique with an axe in the woods. This, then, was my first trip to Spain, and what better way to mark the occasion with an afternoon double header: Atletico Madrid vs Eibar, followed swiftly by Rayo Vallecano vs Levante.
With an early morning flight into the Spanish capital, I had enough time to check in and take in my immediate surroundings before heading out to the Vicente Calderón. It wasn’t coffee I sniffed out, however, but rather a kingpin in the Madrid snack scene: Chocolatería San Ginés.
I can assure you, dear reader, the six churros and dipping chocolate I lustfully gorged on were nigh on perfect. Much like Dad says about foreign football imports, if they’ve got some crunch, they’re not greasy, and all round consistent, you’re on to a winner. He usually follows that up with the shout and they need to learn the fucking language!, but presumably that would be beyond even these churros. I didn’t check because very few of the Spanish people here in Spain could speak English.
Disappointingly, no local fans or ultras had decided to indulge their sweet tooth before the game, at least not here, and it wasn’t until I was on the metro that I began to spot the famed red and white stripes.
The short walk from Pirámides station to the stadium was made all the more pleasant by the beautiful Spanish sunshine. Inevitably, though, there was a storm cloud on the horizon.
John Fist is a man of culture, occasionally of class, and any trip to a new city will always be accompanied by my DSLR camera. Unfortunately, I was denied entry with this equipment and told to leave it in consignia on the other side of the stadium. No problem, you might say. Usually, I’d agree, but my double header was already blighted by time constraints. I’d have to sneak out early in order to take an Uber to Rayo Vallecano as it was. Picking up my camera would eat up even more time.
But then I saw this as an opportunity. As my social observations at stadiums over the years have taught me, normal men and women become the most senseless, idiotic, unbearable beings when their football team comes into the equation. This was now my chance to fully absorb myself in that behaviour. I’d been dealt any imagined slight, the kind that sends fans the world over into apoplectic convulsions during which they kick teeth out of mouths, trample over children, and strain with all their might be pour ire over both officials and opposition.
THEY TOOK AWAY MY CAMERA THE ARTLESS FUCKS!
I’m sure the Atleti faithful were firmly in my corner, but still nobody was speaking English so I couldn’t check.
It’s easy to see why the Calderón is both beloved and being consigned to history. It’s three sided, roofless bowl, entirely open to the elements, with gaping gaps between the Main Stand, somehow manages to generate the kind of atmosphere that the most contained of stadia can only envy. But alas, the toilets were a shambles, with no paper nor seats in the cubicles. I’d like to see the records to ascertain when the last time a bowel movement occurred here. My guess is the nineties.
Unfortunately, the game on display was a rather insipid affair. Unlike the stadium itself, the finishing was far from ruthless. Given that the game fell between the two legs of Atletico’s Champions League semi-final with Real, that was hardly surprising. But still, the weather was nice and I was tanning up a treat.
It might be a surprise to the dyed in the wool English football fan who’s been to Magaluf eight times that pies are not a staple of football stadiums the world over. In fact, in Spain, or at least in Madrid, it appeared that the in-game food of choice was sunflower seeds. People were scattered about the place clutching large bags full of them. Crack, crack, crack. Even before half-time the aisles and gangways were adorned with mounds of discarded shells.
Sadly, my newly acquired football fan skin withered away. Instead of complaining at these sounds and sights, I wholeheartedly encouraged it on health grounds. As a matter of fact, I didn’t see any drunk people at all. Could this be a footballing culture where it’s not a pre-requisite to devastate your body with pastry, low grade meat and pissy beer? Possibly, but no one was speaking English so I couldn’t confirm.
A crisp finish from Saúl Ñíguez put Atletico ahead to break up the monotony on the pitch. And that was more or less that. The game dribbled out into nothing. It had been a pleasure to make a visit to this grand old stadium, but time was against me. John Fist made a swift exit to pick up his camera, jumped in an Uber, and made his way across town to Rayo Vallecano.