See Atlético in Europe’s football capital

If Rome is the jewel in Europe’s cultural and historical crown, Madrid is the jewel in the continent’s footballing crown. The city is a pilgrimage for foreign football fans.

Madrid is one of few European cities where you can see clubs across the whole spectrum of the game. As well as Real Madrid there are ‘off the beaten track’ sides like Getafe, hipster sides like Rayo Vallecano and one of the pre-eminent teams of the 2010s: Atlético de Madrid. Chris Wilson paid a visit to Atlético.

Atlético’s recent history has been one of mixed fortunes; league titles won despite competing with prime Messi and Ronaldo, but two Champions League finals lost at the hands of their most bitter rivals. Nevertheless, they remain Spain’s third most prominent team. Finding himself in Spain with some spare days, the idea of seeing Atleti at their newly built Metropolitano was too tempting to ignore.

Madrid: culture, cuisine and architecture

As with many capital cities in Europe, Madrid serves as the cultural epicentre of the country and the city tasked with preserving this heritage. Despite welcoming an estimated 2.2 million international visitors in 2021, the city has refused to give to the increased Americanisation that plagues many European capitals; you’ll hear more far more Spanish here than any other language.

But while many of Spain’s major cities receive acclaim for architecture, cuisine or museums, Madrid boasts the best-in-class in each of these categories. Nowhere else can you see the art of Picasso and Goya alongside a royal palace or 15th-century squares such as the Plaza Mayor. The magnificent El Retiro park sits close by to these attractions, all easily accessible using the (for once definitely worth the money) ‘Hop on Hop off’ red tour buses.

Gran Vía, the city’s equivalent of Regent Street, was a constant buzz of activity, while popular areas such as Calle de Alcala and Puerta del Sol were constantly full of people, cars and those classic red buses. Plaza Mayor, often the main attraction for a visitor, played host to an enormous market that, while impressive, did take away some of the character from the usually bustling square.

Metropolitano in Madrid

The Metropolitano - officially named the Cívitas Metropolitano for sponsorship reasons – is another impressive work of architecture itself, the roof constantly lit up red with a view reminiscent of being outside the Allianz Arena in Munich.

Although only opened in 2017, the stadium is not built near a shopping centre as most newly built stadia tend to be. Nonetheless, there’s a wide range of bars and places to eat, and both national (Goiko and Lizarran) and international chains (Taco Bell and Dominos) have set up stalls outside. Families and friends arrive early to catch up at these stalls, waiting until the last minute before going into the stadium.

The ground’s interior is impressive. The concourse is not cramped like older stadia, while the 68,000 capacity and the seats’ close proximity to the pitch add to the sense of grandeur. The views from the seats all look excellent, as would be expected from a recent Champions League final venue.

The game I saw was a perfect reflection of Atlético. Facing bottom-of-the-table Elche, Atleti struggled to produce much of an attacking threat for a lot of the first half, although Felix, Griezmann and Morata did combine for some nice passages of play. The game finally sprung into life when a red card was given. This time, however, it was to an Elche player, Verdú having taken down Morata when he was last man.

When the two teams came out for the second half, there was a spring in the step of the Atleti players. They were dominating until the 53rd minute, when a challenge from Mario Hermoso earned him a second booking and the game’s second sending off. Despite the setback, Felix scored the opener three minutes later.

Morata scored and the game finished 2-0, but not before Elche were able to get another red card in the dying embers.

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Flying to Madrid

Madrid is a popular destination with both Easyjet and Ryanair, with three Easyjet flights per day from Gatwick and one from London Luton, plus Bristol and Edinburgh, while Ryanair operates between three and five everyday from Stansted as well as Bristol, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Liverpool and Manchester. BA and Iberia touch down from London Heathrow, and Aer Lingus from Dublin.

The journey from the airport into Madrid is 25 minutes by car - taxis cost around 30 euros – or 35 minutes if using the metro – a line connects the airport with Neuvos Ministerios in the city’s financial district.

Commuter trains C1 and C10 run from Terminal 4 through to Chamartin and Atocha, with single tickets costing 2.60 euros.

Train or ferry to Madrid

Reaching Madrid by train from the UK would be a long journey, but if you get a Eurostar to Paris then you can get a straight train to Barcelona before changing and carrying on to Madrid (with an overall time of roughly 20 hours, though night trains are available). If you really fancied an adventure or a summer roadtrip, catch the ferry to Santander from Portsmouth (roughly 24 hours) and drive to Madrid via some of Spain’s other excellent cities (roughly 7 hours straight driving from Santander).

Getting to Atlético stadium

The 12km journey from the centre is a 20-minute drive (an Uber or Cabify is strongly recommended, as they’re not charged by metre), but the stadium can also be reached using Madrid’s extensive metro system.

The nearest stop is the aptly named Estadio Metropolitano on Line 7, although both Las Rosas (Line 2) and Canillejas (Line 5) are a 15-minute walk away. From the centre, the metro journey will take roughly 45 minutes, although due to post-game traffic it’s definitely the best bet for getting back into town.

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