Like London, Madrid is very much the capital of football in Spain, as well as the country itself. It contains two of the three biggest clubs on the peninsula and the Comunidad area that surrounds the city includes several smaller teams with passionate fanbases that represent different parts of the population. If you time your visit right, you can take in numerous matches throughout the city over one weekend.
History and Culture
Thought to have been named by Muslim settlers during the al-Andalus period, ‘Madrid’ has been derived from ‘Magerit’, meaning ‘lots of water’ in Arabic. This is due to its close proximity to the Manzanares river. Home to the Spanish royal family since the 16th century, Madrid is the largest and most populated city in Spain. The main city branches out into smaller communities to cover a total of 604 square kilometres, roughly the same size as Manchester and its surrounding areas.
Large parts of the city were industrialised during Franco’s dictatorship, leading to a large increase in the workforce. The city has been modernised since the re-installment of democracy and has seen its demographic spread due to immigration largely from South America and Northern Africa. With the city sitting on Spain’s ‘mesa’, its high altitude makes winters especially cold and summers especially hot. Madrid is a football-mad city, with a large chunk of its media coverage focusing on the sport. It’s the base of the likes of MARCA and AS, two sporting papers that follow every move of the city’s football clubs.
The obvious two are Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid – two of the biggest clubs in Europe and the world. Real Madrid, often referred to as ‘Los Blancos’ or simply ‘Madrid’, were granted their royal title by King Alfonso XIII of Spain in 1920 but were stripped of it during the dictatorship. Madrid are 13-time winners of the European Cup / Champions League and are Spain’s most successful club with 33 top flight titles. Like many football clubs during the dictatorship, Los Blancos were suppressed by the dictatorship and, due to the lack of activity at the club during and after the civil war, almost went out of business.
Atletico, meanwhile, pride themselves on their workmanship status in the city and are Spain’s third-most successful team with 10 Primera Division triumphs. Fondly nicknamed ‘Atleti’ by their fans or ‘Los Rojiblancos’ after their red and white strip, they do not have the financial strength or worldwide backing of their neighbours. The club, however, possesses great integrity and authority amongst Spanish football fans. They earned huge respect from a global audience for toppling the Madrid-Barcelona duopoly when they won the LaLiga title in 2014 but are yet to lay their hands on Europe’s premier cup competition. It was their greatest rivals who cruelly denied them a first title in the 2014 and 2016 finals.
Elsewhere in Spain’s top flight, the likes of Getafe, Leganes and Rayo Vallecano all hail from the Comunidad de Madrid municipality. The latter is well-known for their plucky reputation, with their Campo de Vallecas being situated in a renowned working-class part of the city.
Elsewhere, in the Segunda Division, you have smaller sides like Alcorcon and Rayo Majadahonda. Alcorcon, located in the west of the Comunidad, became world famous overnight in 2009 when they crushed Real Madrid 4-0 in the first leg of their Copa del Rey tie, eventually progressing 4-1 on aggregate.
Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid play out the Derbi Madrileno, which is arguably Spain’s biggest city rivalry – although residents of Seville will tell you different. The rivalry has intensified in recent years as Atleti have become more prominent in the latter stages of competitions. Lisbon and Milan staged a Champions League final each between the two in 2014 and 2016 respectively, with controversy rife on both occasions. Sergio Ramos broke red and white hearts in Portugal with a stoppage time header before a penalty shoot-out thwarted Diego Simone’s men at the San Siro.
While you can see two teams full of superstars face off at either the Santiago Bernabeu or the Wanda Metropolitano, the Southern Madrid Derby offers something different to the more hardened fan. The game is played between Getafe and Leganes, both based in cities in the southern area of the Comunidad. Situated just a few miles from each other, the industrial city of Getafe contrasts Leganes’s background in modern technology. Both the Coliseum Alfono Perez and Butarque grounds are the perfect setting for these fiery matches, and don’t forget to watch out for Leganes mascot Super Pepino if you visit.
Real Madrid’s Estadio Santiago Bernabeu is one of the biggest and most impressive grounds in world football and holds around 80,000 fans. Named after the club’s former president, its hosted various club and international finals, including the World Cup final in 1982, the Euro 1964 final and four European Cup / Champions League finals. It also became the first stadium outside South America to host the Copa Libertadores final when it held the second leg between River Plate and Boca Juniors at the end of 2018.
Atletico Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano was opened in time for the start of the 2017/18 season after their move from the Vicente Calderon. It has a capacity of 68,000 and will play host to this season’s Champions League final having hosted the Copa del Rey edition last year. Originally intended for athletics events, the stadium’s foundations were laid in the 1990s as part of Madrid’s bid to host the 1997 World Athletics Championships. The games were awarded to Athens and the ground was sporadically used until it closed in 2004. It was renovated and rebuilt at a cost of €240m. The Vicente Calderon was recently sold by Atletico and is expected to be demolished in the coming months.