Why do Madrid's football-mad wish to destroy the gods?

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The Independent Online
"DUEL OF the Gods" is how they are billing this afternoon's derby between Madrid's great rival football clubs, Real and Atletico, writes Elizabeth Nash.

But they are not referring to idols like Real's striker Raul. Match posters show a nose-to-nose confrontation between the marble profiles of a pair of 18th-century statues. One or the other is likely to be the worse for wear before the night is out, and the city authorities are up in arms.

The monuments to Cibeles and Neptune, which between them dominate Madrid's finest boulevard, the Paseo de Prado, have been appropriated since the dawn of Spanish football by the capital's top teams: Cibeles belongs to Real, Neptune to more-proletarian Atletico. Sculpted in 1777 by Ventura Rodriguez from Toledo marble, they have dominated this part of town since ladies with mantillas and caped gentlemen strolled the unpaved promenades.

Isn't it time, fumed the authorities last week, football fans stopped trampling the precious symbols of our city, chipping bits off every time their team wins? And so tonight boards will go up in an attempt to stop fans from leaping upon their favourite god as if he or she personally had scored the winning goal.

Cibeles, the goddess of plenty, who commands a lion-drawn chariot flanked by soaring fountains, suffered most from over-enthusiastic fans. She lost a hand when Spain beat Switzerland in the 1994 World Cup. It was found days later in a dustbin and reattached with resin and fibre glass.

Last May, Neptune suffered when Real ripped off his hand after winning the European Cup. For Real's last title, to prevent further damage, the club permitted only members of the winning team to mount the statue. But what example does that set our youth, preservationists grumble, to see their heroes sprawling over national monuments, wrapping purple-and-white, or scarlet-and-white, scarves around their necks?

"The damage caused by people clambering over the monuments is much worse than that caused by traffic pollution or acid rain," said the city's culture spokesman, Juan Carlos Doadrio. Fifty years ago in the Civil War, he recalled, Madrilenos flung themselves into the defence of their deities, packing them in sandbags so that they suffered no damage from Franco's bombardments. "Why should they now suffer at the hands of those celebrating a sporting victory? Imagine if Italian fans scrambled all over Michelangelo's Pieta every time their team won."

The city proposes to declare that stretch of the Paseo de Prado a heritage site, and to put up barriers to keep the fans at bay. But it could be a doomed attempt to curb the passions for present-day gods.