Many football fans these days pick their games, whilst many have become disillusioned with the game due to outrageous ticket prices, astronomical player wages, live games schedule and even the boredom of facing the same old teams in the UEFA Champions League.
Thus, when Chelsea drew Atletico Madrid in the group stage of this seasons competition it was a match I wanted to attend mainly due to Atletico playing at their newly opened Estadio Wanda Metropolitano. The club played there previously from 1923 to 1966.
The flight was booked with Ryanair at a cheap price of £50, the match ticket cost more at £55, although the trip was in doubt at one stage due to Ryanair cancelling flights due to staff rostering – alas we were lucky our flight was going both ways.
My previous visit to Madrid was a 2-2 draw in 2009 at the Vicente Calderon- it was a cauldron of noise that night with an intimidating atmosphere, but what stood out was the sheer brutality of the Spanish police. Whilst leaving the metro near the ground before kick off Atletí fans were throwing missiles at us from the other side of the road, but it was the Chelsea fans that bore the brunt of the baton wielding police, cracking heads of innocent fans for it seemed with no reason except that they could. I had seen the Spanish police in action previously at the Real Zaragoza – Chelsea, European Cup Winners Cup tie in 1995 when again for no real reason they attacked us in the ground and took no prisoners.
This trip to Madrid saw no violence. The majority of fans these days are out for a good time whilst abroad, but the way Chelsea fans were treated after the match was something I thought was in the past. After the unforgettable few weeks at Euro 2016 in France with Wales, even with a real threat of terrorism, the French police – who I did have bad experiences with in the past whilst following Chelsea at Marseille and PSG – were excellent and kept their distance.
Chelsea had given us instructions to meet at an arranged point where we would be escorted to the ground in a 25 minute walk, with bars awaiting us at the meeting point. I don’t know of any fans who took up the club and police offer. The instructions read:
“The police strongly advise using the Metro’s Line 5, which runs from the city centre, and to get off at Metro Canillejas. They do not recommend using Line 7 which will be crowded with home fans.
The police have designated a meeting point outside Metro Canillejas, Plaza Del Cefiroline, which has a few bars close by. They recommend fans arrive there three to four hours before kick-off.
From the meeting point there is a 25-minute walk along Avenue Luis Aragones. It should be noted the stadium is located on the outskirts of the city and as such, adequate time should be allowed for the greater distances involved in travelling to the stadium compared with our previous visits to play Atletico. Police will accompany fans along the route to the stadium.”
Nevertheless, we made our own way to the ground without any issues, even arriving at the Metropoloitano metro station with the Atletico fans. After the match we were locked in for 45 minutes. This I can accept, during Wales’ recent visit to Serbia the lock in lasted an hour but you were free to find you own way back after. Instead of taking us to the metro station by the ground, by which time there were no Atletí fans in sight, the police proceeded to march us along a main road back to the pre match meeting point metro station. Despite repeated questioning by fans, there was no explanation why, there had been no trouble before, during or after the match. I finally managed to break away from the escort and found a bar which was supposedly near the pre match meeting point. 15 minutes later, lo and behold, the Chelsea escort turned up at the metro entrance. The bars were basically two small bars. Just imagine if the 2500 Chelsea fans had taken up the offer of the pre match meeting point.
I struggle to understand why football fans are still treated this way, it’s frustrating and needless, and it basically beggars the question why we bother. Could there have been Chelsea stewards with the police to convey information, perhaps?
Many supporters of clubs from abroad take it upon themselves to walk miles to their stadiums in a show of solidarity, that’s their choice. British fans like to stay in bars until as late as possible and make their own way to and from stadiums, it seems that the Spanish police have other ideas. When will this stop?
Fan organisations are in place these days with supporter liaison officers, Chelsea need to take the actions of the police up with the relevant authorities to prevent innocent supporters being denied their civil liberties as happened last week in Madrid.