A Colchoneric Tragedy
Santiago Roncagliolo did not do anything out of the usual. A young Peruvian writer, playwright, producer and journalist – a man of arts and letter, in a nutshell – emigrated to Spain at the turn of the century in search for a better life, in search of a career that he seemed to have been banned from in native Lima. This is the sort of brain-drain you get all over the world, sourced mainly underdeveloped countries. Santiago was only 27 when he settled in Madrid, aspiring to follow in the footsteps of García Márquez and Vargas Llosa, the ‘corps d’elite’ of Latin American erudite triumph on European soil. Full of ardor, he descended to Barajas ready to mesmerize with pen on paper.
Santiago did something out of the usual… Youthful, full of happiness, with a world of new possibilities unfolding in front of his eyes and waiting to be avidly enjoyed, the young Peruvian performs a ruthless act of unmercy. Being a fan of football, Santiago cannot stay away from the terraces for too long, so he chooses to support a local team. He goes for Atlético de Madrid. A misjudgment or faux pas in a capital city that has contributed to the universe the most glamorous, the most silverwared, the nec plus ultra of football clubs: Real Madrid? Faced with the best team in the world, the footballing equivalent of Márquez and Llosa, Santiago chooses the runner-up, a Cinderella dressed in rojiblanco. And all of this in the same year when Real Madrid won the Champions League for the ninth time in history, third time in six years, making it the most crowned club in the world. Having been tendered with Zidane, Figo and Roberto Carlos, Santiago opts for Luque, Movilla and Del Pinto.
“Tragedy is the sap of football”, self-confesses Santiago Roncagliolo fifteen years later in an interview for French magazine “So Foot”. “Tragedy is what makes the charm of Atletico Madrid. I felt totally incapable of identifying myself with Real Madrid. This team of millionaire winners obviously seemed to me as worthy of respect, but it had a deficiency in tragedy which has put me off”. Having to see his team win all the time is what scared Santiago the most. Soon, not too many years away from that moment, after having established his literary career on the banks of the Manzanares, Santiago came to realize that failures are so many more than successes. “Just that these stories do not transcend, no one knows of them”. So he pumps up his writing and makes a name for himself by using a distinguishing element. “Red April”, “Pudor”, or “The Uruguayan Lover” are all masterpieces with one idea in common: tragedy.
Football follows the same architecture: tragedy is what accounts for unforgettable stories, ups and downs, defeats followed by victories followed by defeats, frustration altogether with joy, frivolity and drama molded with excitement. Football clubs have their own lives for better and worse, and it is often the worse that makes the fans stick to the colors and to the crest. As in love, passion needs some quarrel, and Atlético de Madrid absolutely offered it. In 2002, they were still playing Segunda División and won promotion roughly about when Real’s Fernando Hierro received his Champions League medal, then consequently ended 12th, 7th, 11th, 10th, 7th, 4th, 4th, 9th, 7th, 5th, 3rd until it ultimately secured 1st in 2014. The years of suffering and deceptions made success more enjoyable when it finally arrived. Because, compared to their rivals, Atlético were not accustomed to success. As within economics, there is a law of scarcity: the rarer the resources, the higher the satisfaction when they come to be enjoyed. Tragedy then has the gift to create unforgettable stories and pin them into the souls of football fans forever and ever.
“Real Madrid is the team that everybody aspires to be like, but in reality, for most people, life is not easy”, says Santiago, for whom Atléti symbolizes reality, everyday life, epitomized by strong local roots in Madrid’s districts, such as Arganzuela, as opposed to Real’s globality. Moreover, Atlético has still got some working-class background which always seems to turn heads in football: nicknamed “los colchoneros”, the “mattress makers”, based on a true post-Spanish Civil War story, when local mattresses were produced in red and white stripes textures, just as the team’s kit, the rojiblancos still speak the language of outer-galactic mortals.
For Santiago, Atlético epitomizes what life can bring along, including joy and tragedy.