Atletico fans join huge victory party
Tens of thousands of Atletico Madrid fans poured into central Madrid on Saturday night in a giddy, red-and-white striped celebration of their first Spanish Liga victory in 18 years.
In the warm evening, friends and families chanted "Atleti, Atleti" as they packed Neptuno square featuring a fountain with a statue of the god of the sea, their traditional victory party venue.
Savouring a draw against Barcelona in the Camp Nou that delivered their first league victory in nearly two decades, fans beeped car horns, set off firecrackers, draped themselves in flags, drank beer and danced in the streets of the Spanish capital.
"After waiting 18 years, we have won the league again," said a beaming Javier Requeno, a 48-year-old economist and ardent fan of the club that once nicknamed itself "the cursed ones".
Like many fans, he was already looking forward hopefully to the May 24 Champions League final in Portugal when Atletico face their rich city rivals Real Madrid
"We have had some hard years, we have put up with a lot and now we have to celebrate. So, we are very happy. This is a historic moment for Atleti, especially if we win the Champions League. The truth is, history owes us that," Requeno said.
Police cut off traffic along the main Paseo del Prado avenue and checked party-goers entering the city centre, also deploying vans in nearby sideroads.
But in the early stages of the party, the mood was one of joy.
Fencing and police prevented anyone diving into the waters of Neptuno, but many fans simply took a dip in nearby fountains instead.
"I feel pure happiness, nothing else," said a smiling 25-year-old Fran Martin, an insurance company employee, who was trying to photograph the dense crowd in the city centre with her smartphone.
"Being an Atletico fan is a day-in-day-out job, going to the ground and then you get the excitement of this."
Atletico Madrid say the team will hold an official party for fans at Neptuno on Sunday afternoon so that children can join in.
"We will be waiting for them to come with open arms," said 19-year-old student Esmerelda Moreno, wearing the red-and-white flag of Atletico Madrid over her hair.
"It is happiness and emotion. We have suffered so much but in the end we deserved to win and we did it," added her student friend Sonia Lucendo, also 19. "That's the great thing about Atletico, whether we win or lose, we are united."
Just a few minutes walk up the avenue stands the Cibeles square, where Real Madrid hold their far more frequent victory celebrations.
"When you don't have many titles you have to celebrate it," said 45-year-old butcher Victor Elipe, who joined the celebrations with his family.
"The fans are pretty special, unique," he added. We are used to taking knocks and so we live the joy with more passion. More over the top."
"This is great, huge," said Patrocinio Sanchez, 87, a fan for more than 60 years who joined the festivities in her wheelchair along with her family.