MADRID – Stadium tours of the world’s biggest clubs are generally filled with excitement, their fans from around the globe delighted at being deep in the bowels and on the benches of arenas they have only previously seen on television.
Last week in England, Manchester United colleagues on tour here were besides themselves at Old Trafford as they snapped away excitedly – posing near The United Trinity statue of George Best, Dennis Law and Bobby Charlton.
The tour of both the Camp Nou and the Santiago Bernabeu were similarly happy events as locals and visitors from outside took in the grandeur of these revered arenas.
In between, though, there was a trip to the Vicente Calderon, the home of Atletico Madrid. Granted the club is not as big as the other two, and thus a tour of their venue was never going to be as grand.
But it was a memorable tour alright!
More emotional really, with the many locals making what was their final trip to the venue they have called home for many, many years.
The Vicente Calderon has since ceased to be Atleti’s home ground and will soon be demolished, the club now playing at the much bigger and more modern Estadio Wanda Metropolitana.
Fathers brought their sons and daughters for the tour, and posed for pictures inside the museum teeming with boots and medals donated by players such as Koke and Juan Fran, as well as legends like current coach Diego Simeone.
And when the tour guides allowed them to have a kickabout on the pitch, most opting to engage in a penalty shoot-out, their elation knew no bounds.
But they were soon reflecting on their pain.
“I’ve been coming here since I was 11 years old, and it is hard to believe soon this stadium will no longer be here,” said fan Jesus Gomez.
The pain is not only felt by the fans though, many of whom have applied to the club to have the seats to keep when the stadium is destroyed.
Some of the men who had brilliant careers at the Calderon are also heartbroken, though they understand the club’s decision to move.
A former star of theirs from them 90s, Milinko Pantic, remembers their championship win fondly.
“My special memory of Calderon is when we beat Albacete 2-0 to win the league title.
“It was a very good stadium, but it is only 55 000 seats and the club needed a bigger one. Wanda is modern and bigger, and it will help the club to grow financially.”
Fernando Torres understands that change is part of life, painful as it is.
“It’s life. That is how it is if you want to grow up, you must make such changes. But sentimentally, it is hard to know that the stadium is going to not be there anymore,” said the man who joined Atletico as a 10-year-old.
“No one will forget the Calderon even after it is demolished. But we will create new memories at the new one.
“I had some special ones at the Calderon. I played my debut there against Leganes. And I also scored two goals there in the last game.”
As they toured the arena, many of the Atletico fans engaged in animated conversations, no doubt reminiscing on their best memories at the venue, while lamenting the fact they can no longer sing “we are going to the Manzanares” as they make their way to the arena on the banks of the Manzanares to support their heroes.