Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid: Spanish capital picks sides for the Champions League final

The team of the Establishment faces the working-class heroes of the Spanish capital in a game which has captivated the city and beyond

Madrid

When Real and Atlético Madrid battle it out in the Champions League final on 24 May in Lisbon, the game between the Spanish capital’s two biggest teams in football’s top annual tournament will be much more than a battle for supremacy between two sides whose stadia are separated by just four miles.

Real – Los Blancos – are true football royalty. With a record nine European titles to their name already, the club may have a far superior track record to that Atleti – 32 domestic league titles compared to Atlético’s nine – but both garner widespread support throughout Spain.

For decades, Real Madrid has been regarded as the traditional favourite of the country’s elite. Atlético’s fans (with some notable exceptions like Crown Prince Felipe) are traditionally more working class: less well-travelled and less-well-off, maybe, but perhaps less snobby, and at least as passionate.

The all-Madrid duel and what some see as a sporting battle between two different strands of Spanish society became inevitable last week after Atlético blew Chelsea away at Stamford Bridge. Just 24 hours earlier, Real had crushed defending champions Bayern Munich.

For two teams from the same country to vie for top honours in La Champions, as it is known here, is not unusual – it has happened four times since 2000, most recently last year with Germany, but for two teams from the same city to fight for the Champions title is unprecedented in its 59-year history of Europe’s premier club competition.

Atlético and Real Madrid, despite their markedly different track records, are so closely linked geographically that supporters’ traditional assembly points for celebrations, the Cibeles and the Neptuno fountains in central Madrid, are just a few hundred yards away. Only one will be busy with celebrating fans come the 24th.

The game will split some families of Spanish football supporters, in and outside the capital, neatly down the middle. “We’ll lay in the beer and tapas and then spend the evening sitting on opposite sides of the living room table watching the game, like as not wearing our respective teams’ shirts” Jose Luis Ballesteros Ramos, a 31-year-old Spanish doctor who supports Atlético, and whose father backs Real, told The Independent.

 

“There won’t be much tension, at least not on my part. I’m pleased we’ve got that far, it’s only the second time we’ve reached the Champions’ final in our history. It’s Real – battling for their tenth title – who’ve got more to lose.”

Many Spanish ‘neutrals’ will be backing under-dogs Atlético. “My father-in-law usually roots for Barcelona, but he’ll be supporting Atlético in Lisbon in the hope Real don’t get that title,” taxi driver Antonio López Sanchez, 43, a keen Real Madrid supporter, says.

“Though if it was the other way round and Barcelona were playing Atlético, I’d be supporting Atletico for exactly the same reason. What else are we supposed to do?”

But while passions run deep, fears that trouble, rather than good-natured banter, may flare between supporters during the month-long build-up are thankfully low.

“There is not nearly the same degree of violence in Spanish football as you might get in some other European countries” Madrid-based freelance journalist Mark Elkington tells The Independent.

“Both clubs have their sets of diehards, the Ultrasur [for Real Madrid] and the Frente Atlético and I’ve seen some nasty incidents. But it’s more like between rival gangs, not general.” Wales’s Gareth Bale joined Real for a world-record £100m Wales’s Gareth Bale joined Real for a world-record £100m

Fans could be hard pushed to deny, though, that although Atlético and Real play in Spain’s top league, La Liga, in terms of image and finances they remain poles apart.

Last year in the midst of Spain’s worst ever modern-day recession, for example, Real’s budget of €500m saw them spend a widely reported €100m, football’s biggest ever transfer fee, on Welsh player Gareth Bale. That’s nearly 80 per cent of Atlético’s total budget of around €120m. And whilst Real Madrid’s finances are solid, Atlético reportedly owes the Spanish government millions in back taxes. The fact that they have reached the Champions’ League final at all is astonishing – the club’s wage bill, for example, is less than that of second-tier Queen’s Park Rangers.

“Real Madrid are often seen as the Establishment team,” points out Mr Elkington, “the fact they won the first five European Cups [between 1956 and 1960] set them up as a default version of the national team.” Furthermore, back in that era where any international sporting success was immediately hijacked by General Franco and his regime, in 1956 when Real won the short-lived Latin Cup tournament the entire line-up were awarded the insignia of the Spanish Fascist Party.

Those extreme-right associations have long faded, but polls these days still show that left-leaning Spaniards are twice as likely to prefer Barcelona, whilst those voting for the right-wing Partido Popular are three times more likely to support Real Madrid. The PP’s former Spanish premier Jose Maria Aznar, for example, is a card-carrying Real Madrid fan.

Atlético on the other hand have all the feel of being the team from the wrong side of the Madrid tracks. Whereas Real’s Santiago Bernabeu is in the heart of a central business district, Chamartin, the tattered-looking Vicente Calderon stadium is to be found in the blue-collar Arganzuela district next to a demolished brewery factory.

Traffic rumbles constantly underneath one corner of the Calderon, too, in a tunnel carrying the M-30 motorway.

“It [Atlético] is the working man’s team,” said captain Gabi Fernandez in a magazine interview.

For the most high-profile cliched image of an Atlético supporter, look no further than Inspector Torrente, the cigar-chomping, overweight police officer anti-hero, starring in a series of four box office cinema smashes by Madrid director Santiago Segura. In Torrente 2: Mission in Marbella, Torrente drives around the glitzy coastal resort – whose former mayor, property tycoon Jesus Gil, just happens to have once owned Atlético – in a red Ferrari plastered in red-and-white Atlético shields, before deciding, in a fit of chest-beating patriotism, to blow up Gibraltar with a guided missile.

Both Torrente and Atlético have the reputation of being ever-optimistic yet doomed losers, and the team even made a tongue-in-cheek television advert in 2006, where a young child asks his father “Dad, why do we support Atleti?”– to which the father is stumped for an answer.

In recent years, Atlético have been breaking with their own traditions for inconsistency, and winning, even against Real. Argentine manager Diego Simeone – best known to English football fans as the recipient of a kick from David Beckham in 1998 World Cup – is credited with the transformation of the club’s track record.

Not only could they win the 2014 Champions’ League, Atleti are ahead of Barcelona at the top of La Liga. And as Sports Illustrated pointed out recently, “one of Simeone’s greatest achievements has been to end his team’s curse against Real Madrid: a run of 25 games and 14 years without a win.”

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
News
i100
News
Prince Harry is clearing enjoying the Commonwealth Games judging by this photo
people(a real one this time)
Extras
indybest
Sport
Lionel Messi looks on at the end of the final
football
News
Richard Norris in GQ
mediaGQ features photo shoot with man who underwent full face transplant
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Your picture is everything in the shallow world of online dating
i100
News
The Swiss Re tower or 'Gherkin' was at one time the UK’s most expensive office when German bank IVG and private equity firm Evans Randall bought it
news
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on