Atletico says goodbye to Calderon, its red & white fortress
Atletico Madrid's Antoine Griezmann, right, celebrates after scoring the second goal of his team, during the Champions League semifinal second leg soccer match between Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid, Wednesday, May 10, 2017. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
TALES AZZONI, AP Sports Writer
MADRID (AP) — Atletico Madrid is bidding farewell to its beloved Vicente Calderon, the modest stadium that for five decades produced one of the greatest atmospheres in soccer and faithfully symbolized the team's persevering spirit.
The Spanish league game against Athletic Bilbao on Sunday will be Atletico's last at the old-fashioned venue.
"It hurts a bit to leave the Calderon," said 25-year-old Atletico fan Carlos Diaz, a regular at the stadium. "We had grown used to it."
The stadium will still host the Copa del Rey final between Barcelona and Alaves on May 27, and a day later an exhibition match involving former players will officially close the venue before it is demolished to give way to a modern housing complex.
Nearly all tickets have been sold for the league game that will mark an emotional farewell for Atletico fans who have always been proud of the Calderon's simple looks and humble surroundings, a venue that bears no resemblance to the posh Santiago Bernabeu Stadium owned by crosstown rival Real Madrid.
One of the old-style stadiums still left in Europe, the Calderon carried a close connection with Atletico, much like Fenway Park and the Boston Red Sox, Old Trafford and Manchester United, the Maracana and Brazil's national team.
Atletico's teams fed off the high-intensity crowds that packed the 55,000-capacity Calderon through the years, creating an atmosphere of constant support no matter the competition or the opponent.
It was known as the team's red-and-white fortress.
"The atmosphere at the Calderon is like no other, you can't repeat that anywhere else," said Diaz, the longtime fan. "The energy and the intensity from the crowd were always amazing and helped motivate the team. Maybe the stadium wasn't in great shape, but in the end you were going there to watch a match and cheer for Atletico, nothing else mattered."
Atletico will move into the Wanda Metropolitano, a modern 68,000-capacity stadium on the outskirts of the Spanish capital, far from the Calderon's neighborhood.
The move is part of Atletico's attempt to expand commercially and become a bigger force in European soccer.
"We will have even more people cheering for us and I hope that is going to help us take another step forward," veteran Atletico striker Fernando Torres said.
It will be a significant change for a club always true to its traditions, although most fans seem to have embraced the move, having already made more than 50,000 requests for season tickets at the new venue, a record compared to the numbers for the Calderon.
"The sentiment of the fans will carry on to the new stadium," Atletico coach Diego Simeone said. "The same people who were here today will be at the Metropolitano tomorrow, and their passion for the club will continue to exist in the new stadium. It will be our home."
Atletico says the Metropolitano will have the same type of atmosphere as the Calderon. In addition to accommodating some 13,000 extra fans, the design of the new stadium is expected to bring the team's supporters even closer to the field.
The new venue will have three levels of seating sections circling the field, all fully covered from the elements, unlike at the Calderon, where only one of the stands has a roof. Fans were constantly exposed to the cold breeze coming from the nearby Manzanares River, making for some chilly nights.
The run-down Calderon has an unusual "D'' shape, with one block of stands separated from the rest of the seating sections. Outdated video screens and scoreboards are at the two corners between the stands. Inside, obsolete facilities all around create a difficult experience for fans and vendors.
Atletico says its supporters will enjoy the "highest standards of comfort" at the Metropolitano.
The new stadium was built around the La Peineta complex, which was originally supposed to be upgraded into an Olympic Stadium if Madrid had won its bids to host the games in 2012, 2016 or 2020. Atletico is already bidding to host the 2019 Champions League final at the new stadium.
Atletico moved into the Calderon in 1966 after playing since the 1920s in the Estadio Metropolitano, whose name was added to the new stadium along with the brand of the Wanda Group, the Chinese company which has a stake in the club.
The Calderon, named after a former club president, hosted several Copa del Rey finals, as well as games in the 1982 World Cup.
The inaugural match at the stadium was a 1-1 draw against Valencia, with Atletico midfielder Luis Aragones, who later became Spain's coach, scoring the opening goal.
The team's most recent successes at the stadium include Champions League victories over Barcelona, Bayern Munich and AC Milan. A 4-0 rout of Real Madrid in the Spanish league two years ago also will stay in the fans' memory.
Atletico won 30 of its last 36 European matches at the Calderon, losing only twice. After its last Champions League match at the venue, a 2-1 win over Madrid this month, some fans ripped off their seats and took them home as souvenirs.
The club said it is going to allow other fans to keep their seats after the final game, if they make a formal request for them.
"What better memory than to take your own seat home?" said Diaz, who already has a new seat reserved for the new stadium. "I'll find a nice place for it at home and I'll save it forever."
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