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Real Madrid, Atletico de Madrid and unique sporting fabric of Spain’s capital city



Real Madrid and Atletico de Madrid make up the fabric of a city which lives and breaths sport. Whilst El Clasico is a rivalry born out of circumstance and success, El Derbi Madrileño runs far deeper and is characterised throughout Spain’s capital city.

The Plaza de Cibeles is iconic as the scene of Real Madrid celebrations. Indeed, earlier this month they surrounded the famous fountain and packed out the streets to celebrate their latest LaLiga triumph.

It was the site of spontaneous celebrations and gatherings for both clubs until Real Madrid’s so-called Quinta del Buitre team won five straight titles between 1985 and 1990 during Atleti’s trophy drought. When Atleti’s glory came in the Copa del Rey in 1992, they deliberately chose to celebrate just a few hundred metres up the road at the Fountain of Neptune, which has become their own iconic site.

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Real Madrid celebrated wrapping up the LaLiga title at the Cibeles Plaza in the city
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It could be expected that there would be a degree of hatred between two clubs who represent entirely different backgrounds, demographics and aspects of history. Certainly in the Premier League and across the UK, local rivalries are dominated by a level of animosity and, on many occasions, genuine hatred. In Madrid, that is largely not the case.

Real Madrid hail from the upmarket Chanmartin area close to the city centre. They have historic ties with royalty and are generally considered a club of the upper class. Further out of the city, Atletico were born from more humble origins, founded by four students from Bilbao in 1903 and bolstered by dissident Real Madrid members.

After the Civil War, there was tension over Atletico Madrid being bolstered by the Spanish Air Force and subsequently winning their first two LaLiga titles before Real Madrid’s European success in the 1950s caught the eye of dictator Francisco Franco.

Atletico de Madrid celebrate their successes at the nearby Neptune plaza
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CURTO DE LA TORRE/AFP via Getty Images)

Atletico de Madrid icon Adelardo, their most capped player having played over 400 games between 1959 and 1976, remembers an era when their fixtures against Real Madrid were the first thing they would look for. He also recalls Real Madrid icon Alfredo Di Stefano corroborating Atletico’s opinion that the Madrid derby was the biggest on the calendar.

“If I remember everything correctly, I think I’ve played 30 matches against Real Madrid,” Adelardo recalls. “For us, at the beginning of the season we would look at the fixture list and the first thing we’d look for is when we would play Real Madrid.

“Now we have El Clasico, but I’ve got great friends who played for Real Madrid, and we used to meet up and talk to each other. I remember Di Stefano, he used to talk about this, and the team that was most impressive for him and used to worry him the most was Atletico de Madrid.

Atletico’s most capped player, Adelardo, knows plenty about the history of playing Real Madrid
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“In those days we won two cups in their stadium, and Alfredo always said: ‘you always ruin things for us’. That’s why I think for us, as well as Real Madrid, the derby was the most important match of the season.”

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Adelardo’s conversations with Di Stefano at a time when both clubs were competing at the top is symbolic of the relationship between the two clubs. Despite being involved in some huge games – increasingly so, in recent years – there is very little hatred and division. Instead, just energy filtered into pride in their chosen team and identity.

When the two clubs met in the Champions League final in Lisbon in 2014, fans shared cars and transport on the trip to Portugal. Despite Real Madrid running out clear winners, there were no reports of police incidents on the route home.

There are plenty of anecdotes of Real Madrid fans consoling their rivals two years later when they snatched the top prize in European club football again on penalties in Milan. Nowadays, an annual race around the city – Derbi de las Aficiones – pits fans against each other in the colours of their team.

Atletico and Real Madrid fans race around the city in an annual 10k
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Over the years, the Madrid derby has generally given happier memories to those from Real Madrid. But, despite having to learn to live somewhat in the shadow of their more successful neighbours, Atletico have had more than their fair share of glory in the process. Unlike in Barcelona, where Espanyol have struggled to keep pace with their neighbours, Madrid is a city where two teams have thrived.

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Real Madrid legend Guti, himself born just outside the city and who joined the club as a kid, recalls the importance of the games against Atletico ingrained in youth players from an early age.

He says: “Real Madrid vs Atletico Madrid, for us, represents the power of Real Madrid. It’s this rival you have right alongside you and you must fight to win this match.

“They’re very important matches, really fabulous, because we face each other every year in the youth teams which we don’t necessarily do against Barcelona. For every player coming through the academy, the rivalry with Atletico Madrid is very important.

“I”m very lucky that in the 14 or 15 seasons at Real Madrid I had some great times against them at the Bernabeu and the Calderon Stadium.”

Real Madrid legend Guti has fond memories against Atletico
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Milinko Pantic, a key part of Atletico’s league and cup double in 1995/96, has less fond memories from a period during which Atletico never beat their noisy neighbours.

“I played in a bad period between Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid, obviously things have changed,” he explains. “But I’ve never beaten Real Madrid.

“He has bad memories!” Guti jokes, demonstrating the playful relationship which exists between both sides.

Pantic continues: “As Guti said, it is the most important match for the city, to see which team is the best in the city. It doesn’t matter where you are in the standings, whether one will win the league or one is doing badly, it’s a very important match and experienced in a special way.

“Especially for the fans, the most important thing is the day after – whoever wins, their fans enjoy it, and it’s a very different match.”

Atletico have had plenty of chances to don the Neptune Fountain in their colours in recent years after a tough spell competing with Real
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Real Madrid’s huge spending in the Galactico era threatened to see Atletico left behind, but things have changed in recent years. Under Diego Simeone in particular, Atletico have experienced much more success and finally been able to disrupt Real Madrid and Barcelona’s dominance. They won the LaLiga title last year and, despite a disappointing campaign, finally won their first game against Real at their new Wanda Metropolitano Stadium, opened in 2017, at the weekend.

“I’d like to say that a derby is not just another match,” Atletico defender Jose Maria Gimenez told us in the build-up. “We always want to win every match but this is a special match. It’s a derby, it represents a lot for our fans and the reality is it’s wonderful if you win.

“The fans really enjoy it and us as players enjoy it a lot, too. It’s a sports rivalry that’s been going on for many years, and we want to win it. There’s been lots of special matches for me (against Real Madrid). I think I’ve enjoyed all the matches, the ones we’ve won and the ones that we didn’t win.”

Atletico beat their local rivals for the first time at the Wanda Metropolitano last weekend
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Last weekend, ahead of Atletico vs Real, there was an increased concentration of replica shirts on display around the city. But on the same day of the city’s biggest game of the year, there was the small matter of the ‘mini Madrid derby’ just half an hour down the road.

If Atletico and Real are the fabric of the city, then Rayo Vallecano and Getafe are amongst the fibres which make it complete.

In the small Madrid neighbourhood of Vallecas, the Rayo Vallecano Stadium emerges from nowhere in the residential streets. Currently, it is home to Colombian icon Falcao, formerly of Atletico Madrid, who has helped them enjoy a memorable return to the top flight.

A 0-0 draw at Getafe, just a few miles south of the city of Madrid, guaranteed them survival in the top flight whilst also moved the home side a step closer to safety. The attendance was around 10,000, far smaller than at the Wanda Metropolitano later that evening, but there was no shortage of passion, particularly from the vocal Rayo Vallecano fans located behind one goal.

Getafe and Rayo Vallecano faced off earlier in the day in the ‘mini Madrid derby’
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Rayo’s ultras, the Bukaneros, have gained a reputation for their left-wing views and strong political messages. A Rayo Vallecano shirt with a rainbow sash was amongst those on display in the away end which is traditionally saluted by its players after every game.

In the shadows created by giants Atletico and Real, they symbolise a unique and fascinating sub-culture amongst the city’s proud sporting scene. Ultimately, their role is one which is vital to LaLiga’s overriding ambition for more successful teams in the middle bracket to grow the LaLiga brand.

LaLiga executive director Oscar Mayo explains: “At the same time as continuing to have the top level of clubs, we need to have the rest of the clubs growing and being close to have a competitive league.

“We are really happy because the league is a matter of competition, so having stronger medium clubs is important for us.”

Rayo Vallecano secured survival after being one of LaLiga’s success stories this season
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Madrid was named the city of sport for 2022 and has big plans for the future. They recognise, however, that Real and Atletico are key to their ambitions, particularly given the funding they provide for grassroots sport and those which generate less revenue.

Sofia Miranda Esteban, Sports Delegate at Madrid City Council, explains: “Of course, we have the derby and as Madrilenos, whether from Real Madrid or Atletico de Madrid, are very proud that two of the best teams in Europe are here in our city. The competition we have between Real Madrid and Atletico is a very healthy one.

“They are two big clubs, and they are the best ambassadors for Madrid, for sure. They also work together with the town hall, they have two different foundations working with kids but not to have the next Messi or next Ronaldo, they work in neighbourhoods with kids with social conditions that are not perfect.

“That’s a big part of the football teams that makes the difference for the city, and the truth is we ask them a lot of help. Being the best ambassadors we have, we want to be partners with them and they always are by the side of the town hall helping us.

Real Madrid and Atletico leave a mark across generations and across all areas of Spain’s capital city
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“It’s true that LaLiga is more than football, they support all kinds of sports and that’s very important for us, because they support the sports that don’t always receive all the money like football does.”

Sofia Miranda Esteban is speaking to us moments after local teenager Carlos Alcaraz defeated Novak Djokovic in front of a delighted home crowd en route to victory in the Madrid Open. It is part of a sporting weekend which sums up what Madrid is all about.

Atletico and Real will always remain at the forefront of a city with sport at its core, but with multiple big events approaching in the year ahead and with hidden gems such as Rayo Vallecano coming to the fore, Madrid has plenty of ways to proudly display itself to the world.

Watch every LaLiga game live on LaLigaTV. Sign up to LaLigaTV with Premier Sports on Sky 427 / Virgin 554 or via streaming with Premier Player and Amazon Prime Video Channels.

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