Margarita Luengo is one of Atletico Madrid's most iconic fans
For 24 years she took a bouquet of flowers to the stadium on match days
The club has continued the tradition despite the pandemic
Each bouquet contains a dozen red carnations and a dozen white ones, with two daisies (margaritas in Spanish) in the centre in honour of its creator, Margarita Luengo. They have become the most famous flowers in Spanish football and, for 24 years, no Atletico Madrid home game has taken place, irrespective of the competition, without a bouquet of them being placed next to the corner flag to the left of the goal at the south end.
It all started on 27 June 1996. Atleti were playing at home to Athletic Bilbao and in the bar at the fan club Margarita frequented, there was a vase containing red and white carnations. "I asked the club president for four of them and said I’d toss one on the pitch after each of the four goals we were going to score that day,” Margarita said. And so it transpired. Los Colchoneros ran out 4-1 winners with Margarita's idol, Milinko Pantic, grabbing her side’s second.
"I loved the way he struck free-kicks and corners," she said, which explains why she started placing her flowers next to the corner flag. One afternoon, at the end of a game, Pantic threw the flowers into the crowd, prompting Margarita to leave him a message with the next bouquet. "I put, 'Pantic, please don't throw these carnations into the crowd. They're for you'."
Thus began a bond of friendship that has endured to this day. "Pantic says my husband and I are his 'Spanish' parents." On the day the former midfielder played his last match for Atleti, he presented his shirt to Margarita. Nowadays, it is on display in the club museum.
In all these years, only once has Margarita and her flowers been missing from a home game either at the Calderon or the club’s new Estadio Metropolitano. It was due to the death of a family friend and it resulted in her daughter getting countless calls and texts from fans enquiring after one of Los Rojiblancos’ most illustrious fans.
Moreover, when Atleti played their last match at the Calderon in 2017, the 57,000 fans who packed the stadium that day momentarily stopped cheering on their team to applaud and sing to Margarita. "I was very moved," she said, and to this day has the banner the fans made in her honour.
Ironically, when Margarita first started attending games some 50 years ago, she wasn’t interested in football at all: "I started going when my husband and I began dating. Back then, barely any women went to watch games, and I’d say to myself, ‘Oh boy! Now I’ve got to spend two hours in there.’
"I’d have preferred to go dancing with my friends but then I wouldn’t have seen my boyfriend. So it was either go with him to football or not see him for the weekend." (laughs)
But how things have changed. "I don't know how I got so into it, but no-one comes between me and seeing my Atleti." In fact, these days she is the one determined not to miss a game, now that her husband Dionysus, who has a heart condition, is no longer able for that kind of emotion.
In the 50 years she has been following Atleti, Margarita has changed diapers and bottle-fed her children at the stadium. She has also travelled to many parts of Europe with her fan club: "I went to the Czech Republic to watch an Intertoto game and travelled all over Spain after relegation to the second division." This superfan has even hobbled into the stands with her leg in a cast to cheer on her beloved team...
Only the coronavirus pandemic, which has closed Spanish football grounds to the public since March, has prevented the 73-year-old season-ticket holder from watching in person from her seat in the south stand: "Not being able to go has hit me hard. I don’t know how to live without football and matches, and I’m finding it really tough. That said, the customary flowers are still there on matchdays."
After months of lockdown and no live football, the resumption of La Liga action last June presented an unusual dilemma: if Margarita could not go to the Metropolitano, what would happen to her flowers? Then days before the club’s first home game, she received a call. “They phoned me to ask me what I normally put in the bouquet." What she did not expect, however, was a video call from the team captain on the matchday itself.
"When I saw it was Koke, I started crying like a fool (laughs). He had called to ask me how to place the bouquet, and I had to tell him 'A little more this way, a bit more that way etc...'. And now they keep doing it.
"I told them I'd like them to keep putting it out until I can go there again, and so that’s what they’re doing. They've treated me so well in all this," she concluded with emotion in her voice.
For now, though, Margarita continues to cheer on 'her Atleti' from home, counting down the days until we can see her back placing her flowers once again in that corner on each matchday.