Some days, some nights
Some live, some die
In the way of the samurai.
Some fight, some bleed
Sun up to sun down
The sons of a battle cry.
I spent the previous days daydreaming even more than usual; not about the numerous student parties that Madrid has to offer every night, not about the countless number of beautiful women navigating the narrow streets of Madrid, but about a unique experience that every follower of football, every passionate lover of the game, dreams of experiencing. Seeing a Juventus game live is one thing, but to have the privilege of seeing a Champions League Juventus game live is something that I’m still amazed I had the fortune of experiencing. It’s hard to think of a time that I was so pumped up for something. But, as with all beautiful things, it required a bit of work to get it done.
It was a sunny Monday afternoon when I went to the Estadio Vicente Calderón to buy tickets for the game for away fans. I asked the kind chap at the ticket office about it and he said that it should be doable for a mere €30 if I come back Wednesday morning at 9 a.m. And so I woke up Wednesday morning excited, but also a touch anxious, thinking that the guy was going to mess me up with the deal. I got to the ticket office 30 minutes early and even met a Barcelona Under-8 youth squad coach. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the chance to ask him too much about the inner workings of the famed La Masia school because I managed to meet someone even more interesting. A young man about my age from Kazakhstan had traveled all the way from his home country to visit Madrid for one day to attend his very first live Juventus game.
Before I knew it, it was already 9 a.m and the ticket office opened up. As I expected, the guy screwed me over and said that the only tickets available were in the Fondo Norte for €60 instead of with the away fans for €30. I figured that I was lucky enough to have this opportunity anyway, so I just bought the tickets. I was too pumped and excited to really make a fuss about it anyway; the time had finally arrived. Looking at the tickets in my hands, I couldn’t help but think of that brilliant Mad Men pitch for Jaguar: "At last, something beautiful you can truly own."
Journey to the Calderón
After a brief workout session in the gym and some dinner, I got a message from my mate telling me that the majority of the Juventini had already met up at Plaza Mayor and were on the way to the stadium, chanting Juventus songs on the way. Because I got the message late I wasn’t able to join them — which was a damn, damn shame — but he did manage to tell me a curious story about the journey.
So, as you probably know, the ultras always have a few "chant leaders" that begin chants for the rest to follow along. Apparently, if I understood the story correctly, a few of the Juventini at the back of the group had started chanting a few songs that the leaders had not instigated. The leader then began singing a chant that was something along the lines of "Hey guys at the back, I’m the one that begins the chants here, not you! Follow my lead!"
After proudly putting on and displaying my Juventus shirt and scarf, I headed towards the stadium (shout out to my boys Silvio and Johannes for joining me to the game!). As I exited metro station Pirámides, I was greeted by a very modest-looking neighborhood. There were few skyscrapers, few corporate offices, and few grandiose houses. It seemed like a lower-middle class neighborhood, with lots of small bars, authentic grocery stores, and some old-looking basketball and football courts. It made me perceive Atleti as a fighting team for the fighting people. As we walked down the lovely Paseo de los Melancólicos, I met a few friendly Atleti fans that I took a few pictures with; I even exchanged my Juventus scarf with an Atletico scarf with one of them (the Atleti vs. Chelsea game scarf from last year), which was a really nice gesture of mutual respect. The feeling of friendliness slowly dissipated, though, as the Atleti chants became louder and louder as we approached the stadium. The real battle was about to begin: the battle cry sounded.
There really is a magic about the Champions League. Watching the players warm-up, desperately trying to find Simone Padoin, figuring he probably got lost at the airport and didn’t make it here, then trying to find Sebastian Giovinco, remembering that since I forgot my glasses at home it was probably a lost cause to even try, listening to that amazingly beautiful anthem, seeing the away section completely packed with passionate Juventini, locating our seats right in the midst of a horde of intimidating Atleti fans: this is football.
The game started in an eerily quiet Vicente Calderón. Though there was plenty of hatred shown towards Carlos Tévez (strangely), Álvaro Morata (obviously), and Michel Platini, it was generally quiet during the first half. For some strange reason as well, there were sporadic, loud "Vaffanculo Juve" chants aimed at the away fans by a group of Atleti fans, but thankfully they remained sporadic. As we all remember, the first half wasn’t a very interesting affair. We dominated possession but there was barely a shot to remember. That enabled me to observe just how absolutely massive Paul Pogba actually is in real life; it’s really remarkable to observe that guy’s physical properties in a live game. Tactically speaking, it’s very interesting to see how Stephan Lichtsteiner takes up such incredibly aggressive wide positions every second of the game. Every time Gigi Buffon had a goal kick, I would see Lichtsteiner instantly sprinting to the right-sideline always standing on the paint of the right-side line.
Nevertheless, the 1st half ended with relatively little activity. I would have been content with a point anyway so I didn’t mind. In the 2nd half though, everything changed. The minute Griezmann entered the field and Arda began roaming around the center of the pitch more frequently, the pressure was incessant. That was when the Calderón truly came alive. That was when the noise, the pressure, the intimidation, all amplified. That was the moment that, as a fan — and surely as a player — you begin to feel every emotion become scarily tangible. If the stadium was already loud at that point, the dreaded moment when Arda guided the ball past Buffon it absolutely exploded. When I watch Juve games on TV and opponents score, I already feel irritated. In a stadium where you’re surrounded by Atleti fans, it’s a million times worse; the pain, the anxiety, the feeling of being surrounded; everything is intensified exponentially. Would I have celebrated had Juve equalized? I might have been shot for it, but hell yeah I would have. Unfortunately, though, it was not to be.
Sweet Pain & Heartache: Postgame
The one thing I take away from this experience is how extraordinary it is that every emotion is so much stronger when you’re inside a stadium compared to when you’re sitting at home. I can only imagine how it is for the players, but for fans the happiness, the pain, the anxiety, the pressure is so powerfully intense inside a stadium, that I really comprehend the concept of "home advantage" more now. But despite the pain and heartache of the result, I thank God that I have the memory of something that will always remain absolutely extraordinary to me. The elegance of chance that Atlético were drawn with Juventus in the Champions League for the first time in the clubs’ histories at the exact same time that I happened to be in Madrid for my exchange program is something that I’ll never forget.
October 1, 2014: The sound of the battle cry.
Club Atlético de Madrid vs. Juventus Torino:
At last, something beautiful I could truly own.
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