MADRID, May 28 (Reuters) - Fifty-one thousand supporters bid a final farewell to Atletico Madrid’s beloved Vicente Calderon stadium on Sunday, repeatedly chanting the club’s anthem while watching a team of “Legends” lose a charity game 5-4 to a World XI featuring Ronaldinho.
Current players Fernando Torres, Gabi and Koke represented Atletico alongside past greats such as Diego Forlan.
The game had a far larger attendance than the King’s Cup final between Barcelona and Alaves the previous night and allowed fans to say a last goodbye to their club’s home of 51 years before it is demolished.
The 10-times La Liga champions are leaving their ground named after a former club president in the south of the city at the start of next season for the 68,000-capacity Wanda Metropolitano stadium in the remote San Blas neighbourhood in the north-east of the capital.
The new stadium was planned back in 2004 in a bid to close the gap in revenue between Atletico and Spain’s biggest clubs Real Madrid and Barcelona and to give Atletico a more modern arena than the ramshackle Calderon.
Fans had long complained about the stadium’s poor transport links and a lack of parking space, although the decrepit state of the Calderon was part of its charm and a key aspect of the team’s identity as the underdogs in the city they share with global behemoths Real Madrid.
A banner before the Champions League semi-final second leg against Real last month perfectly illustrated Atletico’s image of themselves, proclaiming: “Proud not to be like you”.
Atletico trailed 3-0 from the first leg yet supporters still created a deafening noise as their team beat Real 2-1 on the night, bowing out of Europe 4-2 on aggregate but with their heads held high.
There are fears that Atletico will struggle to recreate the Calderon’s unique atmosphere in their new stadium, as West Ham United have found with their move from Upton Park to the less intimate London Stadium, where supporters are distanced from the pitch.
Coach Diego Simeone, however, has dismissed those fears.
“The emotions will move with us, the same people that are here will be at the Metropolitano,” he said. “Our passion and hope are not negotiable.”
Atletico supporters’ group Senales de Humo have voiced their opposition to the escalating cost of the new stadium, which has increased to 300 million euros ($335.34 million). Some fans would rather see the money spent on new players or on keeping leading striker Antoine Griezmann.
There were also groans of disapproval when it was revealed that the new ground would be sponsored by Chinese real estate firm Wanda, although supporters seem enthusiastic about the move on the whole, with more than 55,000 season tickets being sold for the first season.
President Enrique Cerezo thinks the move will give the club a stronger identity.
“We are very excited to move into our new stadium, not because we’re tired of this one but because it will be more comfortable, more modern, more functional and more profitable,” he told Reuters in April.
“The new stadium will make the identity we have even stronger. It’s like moving into your own house just after you get married.”
Veteran striker Torres, however, said he would miss the stadium where he made his debut aged 17 and where 40,000 fans came out to watch his presentation when he rejoined the club in 2015.
“My life and my memories all come from the Calderon, my greatest days as a supporter and as a player are in that stadium,” said Torres.
“Whenever I go round the area in the future and the stadium won’t be there it’s going to be difficult.” ($1 = 0.8946 euros) (Editing by Clare Fallon)