Wednesday’s match against Deportivo in La Caruña ended in a 1-1 draw, but it wasn’t the score line that most people were concerned with.
It was Fernando Torres, who knocked skulls with Depor’s Alex Bergantinos in the 85th minute. He fell to the grass, unconscious, his head bouncing.
It was shocking and horrific.
Watching it in real time, there was no way to tell how serious it was, but it was clear from the faces of Atletico Madrid players that it was bad. Gabi and Šime Vrsaljko were at his side immediately, pulling out his tongue to prevent him swallowing it. Their actions were heroic and it was clear where their priorities lay. (But more about that in a moment.)
There’s much to say about the behavior of Depor ultras in the moments after Torres fell, but I won’t waste the space here; Atleti and Depor ultras have a combative history. What matters is that Torres was taken to the hospital by ambulance immediately, where he regained consciousness.
Tonight, he is speaking and lucid.
Initial reports from the Atleti camp reported that Torres had suffered “traumatic brain injury,” but as ESPN’s Dermot Corrigan noted,
Worth pointing out that Atletico’s twitter is not the best place to get reliably accurate medical diagnoses.
— Dermot Corrigan (@dermotmcorrigan) March 2, 2017
The match went on, including seven minutes of added time, but it was clear no one’s head was in it and the score did not change, although plenty of scrap occurred.
Torres is beloved: fact. The response for his wellbeing was instant and swift, from fans to teammates to family (his brother took to Twitter to help update his condition), to other clubs tweeting support, including his former club Chelsea. Notably, several Real Madrid fans tweeted support for him, saying that health is above colors.
Pundits will likely revisit discussions about concussions and head trauma in sport. In 2017, league protocols are much stricter concerning head injuries. But longtime fans of pretty much any sport will remember the days when there weren’t many rules about it—like the NFL in the 1970s, when players would get knocked down, puke, and continue playing (Drew Pearson).
So a knock like the one Torres took, and that he received swift and immediate medical attention with the appropriate amount of attention, isn’t as shocking as it might be in the grand scheme of head injuries.
But that’s not the point of this post. Everyone worries about a player who falls unconscious, and there have been plenty, but this one happened to be Fernando Torres: a man so completely beloved that when it happens to him it sparks real anguish.
It’s not just Fernando Torres, either. It’s Atletico Madrid, a squad that is incredibly tight-knit and close. The fans, too, are supportive. I’ve supported a few clubs in my life, but I’ve never seen love like I do with Atletico Madrid.
A less invested squad of players, or less invested fans for that matter, might not have gone to such lengths of support and instant aid. Perhaps it’s the club, maybe it’s the league. El Partidazo de COPE tweeted that Alex Bergantinos visited Torres in the hospital after the match (one imagines he was sick with guilt). He told COPE:
“Fernando was quiet and even smiling. He told me these things happen and not to worry about it.”
But the Atleti ethos says familia. That’s what they are; that’s the story Diego Simeone tells, that’s the truth the fans live, that’s the method by which the players work. It’s extraordinary and it often shows in the way they play.
“In the end, I do not care about the result,” Antoine Griezmann said after the match. “I really don’t care about football or the result. I am only worried about Fernando’s health, and that he’s ok and he gets back to us soon.”
— GOL (@Gol) March 2, 2017
Atletico Madrid remains in fourth place, and Depor languish in 17th. But who cares, right? El Niño is okay.
— Atlético de Madrid (@atletienglish) March 3, 2017