There are some traditions in the sport that Although they are aesthetically pleasing, they are not really enjoyed by the players. The handshake line in the NHL playoffs comes to mind. While we enjoy what we believe to be the ultimate act of sportsmanship, talk to many players privately and they would tell you they could do without it. If you’re the losing team and you’ve just tested your body for six or seven games – not to mention previous rounds – and you’re exhausted and beat up and in pain and totally devastated, there’s really nothing wrong with wanting to get out of there as soon as possible. Although it’s odd that when NBA players do the same thing at the end of a playoff series, only in a more unstructured way, some media outlets and fans use that as an excuse to yell, “THIS JUST PROVES THEY DON’T CARE FOR WINNING.” CARE AND WANT TO JUST CASH CHECKS AND HANG OUT WITH THEIR BUDDS ARGH ARGH ARGH!” Wonder how that works.
Football’s honor guard is different. For the uninitiated, when a team clinches the league title before the end of the season, it’s common (though not universal) for their opponents to form an honor guard in the remaining games before the game and cheer them on the field as the champions. It looks cool, it gives the fans of the champion a warm feeling inside (Man City had to do this for Liverpool in 2020, was one of the highlights of Liverpool’s triumph, even if City beat Liverpool 5-0 in that game because the Reds were still half drunk. And “half” is probably friendly). But it’s probably another instance where, if you have players’ real take on it, they’d rather not. Still, tradition and pomp and stuff.
Well, Atlético Madrid are no slouch in the game against current champions and crosstown rivals Real Madrid when the latter travel to the Wando Metropolitano on Sunday. Not only do Atlético have no plans to form an honor guard, they bomb the whole idea:
“Some people want to turn what started as a show of respect for the champions into a public tribute to be paid by their opponents with the aim of humiliation,” Atlético Madrid said in a statement.
“Under no circumstances will Atlético Madrid participate in this attempt at mockery, which completely disregards the true ideals of the sport. It also creates rivalry and conflict among fans.”
“We’ve been in a few circumstances like that in recent years after winning various trophies, including two league titles, and sometimes the other side have honored our Champion while on other occasions there hasn’t been.”
The Atlético statement then goes on to whine that nobody gave them an honor guard when they won the title last season, ignoring the fact that they won it on the last day of the season and when the new season rolls around , well, nobody gives an honor guard, because no you are still a champion.
But spraying all the fields and keeping a thumbs-in-the-eye of tradition and respect is at the heart of what Atlético Madrid is today. They are the zig to zag of the football world and that is what makes them so wonderful. While the game has evolved into a faster, more offensive style, Atlético revel in defending and stopping things. With fans increasingly anti-jumping, Atlético’s players took to the pitch only to get a reaction from their opponents and the media alike. No one complains to a referee anymore hoping to get a call later. Every part of an Atlético game is more about everyone reliving high school than it is about football.
Of course, they won’t give an honor guard to their biggest and most hated rivals. If there’s a team on earth that won’t stick to anyone’s idea of tradition, it’s Atlético. They will not do it just because they have been asked to. It would go against everything they stand for. Peeing on people’s cereal is their raison d’être. In fact, when Real Madrid think about it, Atlético’s kicks and shouts and condemnation for the mere suggestion is probably a bigger show of respect than the honor guard would have been in the first place.
To describe Atlético’s words and actions as immature, unsportsmanlike or irritable, while superficially correct, misses the point. Someone has to stand out and call all this bullshit, whether it’s really bullshit or not. Someone has to be true to their colors and not give an inch to those they detest, which in Atlético’s case is basically the whole world. Atlético is neither above nor below the customs of the rest of the sport. They’re just off the beaten path, living in their own underground world and spitting at every convention from the outside. Every arena needs a rebel. And we should love her for it.