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A Madrid derby with 22 World Cup players


Saturday night’s Madrid derby will the first to be played at the new Metropolitano, so it will be a talking point for some time to come. I was a spectator at the final derby at the old Metropolitano and even now I remember many things about it. Above all, how the players went in on one other. This was an era before cards and there was more fuel to the flames, particularly in these fratricidal fixtures, when tackles flew in with a fond, familiar sense of elation. The magic sponge was produced often, sometimes with both sides’ physios sprinting onto the pitch with both sets of fans cheering their man on and rejoicing if he got to his player first. Disproportionate rivalry was the principle characteristic of the derby in those days. The players were tough back then, in every sense of the word.

It was in week six, or thereabouts. Both sides were top of the table, level on points, and a 1-1 draw that day allowed Pontevedra to move into pole position after they won their match. That Pontevedra side was so unaffectedly humble that its captain, the full-back Cholo, was a tram driver. It was said, although nobody was able to produce it, that Pravda published an article praising this group of worker-footballers for rising to the summit of the ultra-capitalist Spanish championship. I remember all of this so clearly of course because we knew that it would be the last derby in that stadium, a crumbling homage to scruffy stadiums of yore that was already condemned to the demolition man’s ball.

The new Metropolitano is a complete contrast, a beautiful ground. And this is another age. The players no longer go in as hard as they did then and they do not treat each other as they used to, heading off after kicking lumps out of each other among embraces and broad smiles, many meeting up at the first available opportunity after the game. Ignacio Zoco [Madrid] and Jesús Glaría [Atlético] even lived together. Now players do not behave as their forebears did, and neither is half of a stadium filled with visiting fans, vying to out-cheer their opposite numbers. But there is nothing to get misty-eyed about. The pitch is perfect, there are 22 players who will be at the World Cup between the two sides, the excitement in the build-up is the same as it has always been and television cameras put the game at the fingertips of the entire world. The derby has come a long way.