This Sunday evening Atlético Madrid bid farewell to the Estadio Vicente Calderón, the ground they’ve called home since 1967. As with any stadium move, there’ll be plenty of nostalgia as the fans take their seats there for one last time, while there’ll be many a tear at the thought of the imminent bulldozing of the hunk of concrete than means so much to them.
Yet there is an additional concern for the red and white half of Madrid. Not only are they sad to see their current home razed to the ground, but they are anxious about what they’ll find at their new stadium, the Wanda Metropolitano. Not only is it named after a sponsor rather than a legendary club president, but there are a number of other worries ahead of this summer’s move, from what the atmosphere will be like to how they’ll get there. So what lessons can Atlético learn from the stadium move West Ham made last summer to make their own transition smoother?
Without doubt, the biggest grievance with the new Atlético stadium is just how far away it is from the Vicente Calderón site. This isn’t a case of moving just down the road or even the couple of miles from the Boleyn Ground to the Olympic Stadium; rather, the new Atlético stadium is a whole 12 kilometres away.
While the current venue is just a 15 to 20 minute walk from the very centre of the city, the new ground will be too far away to realistically walk to. As such, fans will either have to drive or take public transport and it will be important for the club to manage this well. While it hasn’t even gone through a dress rehearsal yet and while they face a race against time to get the access roads completed, the fact that there will be 4,000 spaces does suggest that access options will be better than the London Stadium.
The Metro system will still be the most feasible option for most and, looking at the issues with the London Stadium, Atlético must make sure the stadium atmosphere is felt as soon as fans step out of the station, one which will conveniently have 56 turnstiles to enter and exit. In Stratford, the nearby Westfield shopping centre makes that almost impossible, but Atlético shouldn’t have this problem.
Once at the stadium, the fans’ primary concern is the atmosphere. What West Ham fans have found the most difficult so far is the fact that the most vocal fans have been dispersed and it took a long time for supporters to suss out which parts of the stadium would be leading the noise.
Atlético are likely to face similar issues in establishing sections for the most vocal fan groups, but they do have the huge advantage of their ground being first and foremost a football venue. In fact, the fans will be even closer to the pitch compared to at the Vicente Calderón and the addition of a roof is expected to amplify the atmosphere further. As long as the club can also establish singing sections quickly then replicating the roar of the Vicente Calderón shouldn’t prove too difficult.
PUBS AND FOOD
The fact that the London Stadium is so out of the way means that the ritual of the pre-match pint has been lost this season. Over in Madrid, this is likely to be an issue too as the current stadium is on a street lined with bars and there is even one built into the Vicente Calderón, named El Doblete – a reference to the club’s 1995/96 double-winning season.
That bar will be moving to the new arena, but the rest of the local enterprises won’t. With the Wanda Metropolitano so far away from the centre, the pre-match beers and socialising on the street could become a thing of the past for Atlético too. Compensating for this by making the new El Doblete as treasured as it currently is will be essential.
As for the food, the lack of traditional burger vans and chips shops has been a concern for some Hammers fans, with the posher options simply not feeling like football food. Atlético must be wary of similarly setting up too many pizza chains or fast food outlets and would be wise to invite the current traditional mobile sandwich and snacks sellers to move with them to the new site.
Scuffles between rival sets of fans have marred some blockbuster West Ham fixtures this season, with the policing inadequate. In Spain, they’ll want to avoid such incidents too and they are likely to take this seriously given a recent crackdown in violent and offensive behaviour from football fans.
The lack of a travelling support culture in Spain and the fact that, unlike West Ham, Atlético won’t have as many derby matches against local rivals, means that there is less likely to be fan trouble. Nevertheless, a lesson to be learned is just how important it is to police fans on their way to the stadium, as well as inside it.
Overall, the Atlético move has the potential to be success and the significance of the fact that this should feel like a football stadium cannot be overstated. There will inevitably, though, be some teething problems and 2017/18 could be a turbulent year for the team on the pitch if the move throws up one too many hiccups. With Diego Simeone likely to be at the helm for just one more season, fans will hope this doesn’t jeopardise their push for another LaLiga title.