If you think life is hard supporting your club, remember this: it could be worse.

November 5, 2009

Part of the reason we all support our teams is the ride they take us on. Whether that ride is to league championships and European triumphs, promotions and play-off dramas, mid-table security, or relegation heartache, we go through an emotional grinder.

As I follow both Celtic and Notts County, I’ve simultaneously felt highs and lows, but the best football year of my life was 1997/98, where Celtic denied Rangers the 10 in a row by winning the championship on the final day and the mighty Magpies secured the Third Division title in March. What a year that was!

However, even in the days of the barren trophy cabinet at Celtic, and Notts fighting against relegation from the football league, I still have some sympathy for another group of fans. I’m imagining most of you think I’m talking about Newcastle, and their newly named sportsdirect.com@St James’ Park stadium. No, not this time. I’m talking about the farce that is Athletico Madrid.

It must be hard to follow Athletico. Your great city rivals are the most successful team in Europe, with 9 European Cups and 31 Spanish championships, and yet Athletico are a mess.

I would argue Athletico are quite possibly the most bizarre club on the face of the Earth. In 1987, they were acquired by Spanish politician Jesus Gil, a man who made his money from the building trade. Gil had been sent to jail in 1967 after one of his buildings collapsed, killing 58 people. It was alleged he was only released after a substantial payment to General Franco. Gil was a controversial figure, and he took some strange steps as the club’s owner. This included closing the club’s youth academy which featured the mercurial Raul, who would go on to become the top scorer in Real Madrid’s history, and even the appointment of Ron Atkinson as manager in 1988!

The shadow of General Franco also hovers over the club’s current leadership pair. Owner Gil Marin and club president Enrique Cerezo were both guilty of a fraudulent purchase of Athletico on the stock exchange in 1992. However, under Franco’s laws, the two escaped a prison sentence, and the farce of Athletico has continued ever since.

As a club, they have had some momentously talented players. Right now they have one of the best forward pairs in the world in Forlan and Aguero, and they are also the club that gave the world Fernando Torres. However, the businessmen at the club have itchy trigger fingers, not least because they are unable to co-exist for the benefit of Athletico.

The club have had a massive nine managers in the past 6 seasons, and most of these appointments have been a direct attempt by one power to anger the other. It is clear then we don’t know who the Super Power is, and I’d be surprised if anybody could answer who is actually in charge.

Indeed, the life expectancy of a snowman in Florida is probably greater than the average managerial appointment on the Red, White and Blue side of the city.

The most recent dismissal was Abel Ressino, who was sacked following Athletico’s Stamford Bridge massacre a couple of weeks ago. What was to follow was typical of the club. In a 24 hour period, nine coaches were announced as club manager, before eventually the role was given to Quique Flores.

Yet the story doesn’t finish there. Flores’ first training session was finished with a group of ultras from the extreme-right Frente Atlético watching, as the group had been allowed in to offer their “encouragement”. A terrifying prospect, I think you’ll agree.

However, with the club now sat in the relegation zone and out of the Champions League, the fans have finally had enough. A campaign is well and truly underway to rid the Vicente Calderon Stadium of the two most hated men in the club’s recent history, and it appears to be gathering some pace.

Perhaps when they’ve finally left, they might fancy buying Mike Ashley out of St James’ Park?

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