Police, public take over Madrid for UEFA Final

Story by Ian Debevoise // Photos by Maria Amasanti

MADRID – Hovering several feet over chanting Atlético Madrid fans, a group of Madrid Police, atop horses, made sure that their presence was known to the thousands of supporters that crowded outside Vincente Calderon Stadium.

A police officer surveys the scene outside Vicente Calderón Stadium from atop his horse prior to the UEFA Final. Photo by Maria Amasanti.

A police officer surveys the scene outside Vicente Calderón Stadium from atop his horse prior to the UEFA Final.

It was the night of the biggest soccer game in Madrid history – even if the game was taking place in Portugal – and the authorities were prepared.

“There will be more people than a La Liga game and even with the game in Lisbon the stadiums are filled so there have to be more cops to prevent accidents,” said Javi Seria, a sergeant in the Madrid police who was stationed by Vincente Calderón Stadium.

With a population of more than 3 million people, Madrid is Spain’s biggest city and also has the largest municipal police force in the country. On a typical Saturday, 850 officers are on patrol. On this night, another 400 were added. They were on hand both to direct traffic as well as prevent match-related incidents. About 100 officers were on trains going to Lisbon or stationed in towns on the border of Spain and Portugal.

“Most cops are at the stadiums or fountains but others are all over the city. It’s a city game,” said Seria, whose main job was directing traffic away from the stadium but was also expected to keep an eye on the tens of thousands of fans swarming around him.

Rules had been relaxed. Fans all over the city were drinking beer and cocktails in the streets, normally a crime punishable by a fine.

“Everyone does it. We can’t punish everyone,” said Seria.

There was a line, though, on behavior.

“No drugs, no fighting,” he continued.

Neither were visible as fans from both teams congregated at their respective fountains, Atlético Madrid at the Fountain of Neptune and Real Madrid at the Plaza de Cibeles. The followers of the teams typically meet at these places to celebrate their team’s victories.

After their 4-1 win, thousands of Real fans gathering in front of City Hall at the Plaza de Cibeles triumphantly danced to music blaring from a DJ.

At the Fountain of Neptune, the scene was less festive, with fewer than 100 Atlético fans gathered for the post-game meetup. In the beginning officers outnumbered the Atlético crowd so  some police officers were sent to Plaza de Cibeles to handle the onslaught of Real fans.

“The Real celebration is more dangerous than the Atleti fans. Few will come,” said Raul Diaz, a police officer setting up barricades around the Fountain of Neptune.

Even as he said this though several Atleti faithful showed up to show their support for the team, their chants mixing with those of Real fans making their way to the neighboring fountain. There was some tension, as a group of Real fans approached the rival Atleti fans, who were quick to let them know they were not welcome. Some pushing and shoving as well as some harsh words were exchanged, but no police involvement was required.

“Maybe some Atleti fans who drink too much will look for a fight but most will go home,” said Diaz, one of a dozen or so officers around the fountain.

The scene was much different a quarter mile or so away as Real fans poured in from every street and metro stop to celebrate their team’s win. A 10-foot space between police barricades separated fans from the actual fountain while police patrolled this space to stop any over-zealous fans from jumping the barricades. Along the streets that ran into the Plaza de Cibeles, police had set up checkpoints to search every bag and throw out any liquids that they contained.

Police and barricades lined the path to Plaza de Cibeles, where the official Real celebration took place.

Police and barricades lined the path to Plaza de Cibeles, where the official Real celebration took place.

The trash bins stationed by these checkpoints filled quickly with full bottles of liquor. The strangers would stay dancing, drinking and singing till the early hours of the morning so that they could welcome the team as heroes. The officers who had spent days preparing for this night would stay with them to the end, some just as fanatical as fans as those they watched over.

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