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Atlético take centre stage at last

Club Atlético de Madrid and Fulham FC have both been overshadowed by more fashionable neighbours, but it was the Spanish side who made the most of their moment in the spotlight.

Atlético fans at the Hamburg Arena
Atlético fans at the Hamburg Arena ©Getty Images

It was a suitable precursor to the inaugural UEFA Europa League final that first the Club Atlético de Madrid supporters, then the Fulham FC fans took their turn at a celebrity led pre-match sing-a-long.

Not just because Hugh Grant, perhaps the London club's most famous follower, starred in the film Music and Lyrics. Rather as a nod to that particular music-hall quality each team arguably possesses – either could be likened to a popular speciality act on the European football stage.

Indeed, Fulham were once the propriety of Tommy Trinder, a theatre, radio and screen actor whose catchphrase was "You lucky people". Fulham enthusiasts have hardly ever been that, given they came to Hamburg in search of their side's first trophy in 131 years of history.

This return trip to northern Germany after their semi-final success against Hamburger SV marked only the second final they had been to. The previous one – the 1975 FA Cup defeat by West Ham United FC, in which they were marshalled by Bobby Moore – inspired the release of the record Y Viva El Fulham, based on the better-known paean to Spain.

It was pain that Atlético had experienced the year before Fulham's Wembley outing, when, having been 60 seconds away from winning the European Champion Clubs' Cup in extra time, they lost the replay 4-0 against FC Bayern München.

That reverse in Brussels represented a fresh stop on the trail of broken dreams that had followed the Rojiblancos' 1962 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup triumph against ACF Fiorentina in Stuttgart – Rotterdam (1963 Cup Winners' Cup v Tottenham Hotspur FC) and Lyon (1986 Cup Winners' Cup v FC Dynamo Kyiv) being the others.

Playing this, their fifth UEFA final, back on German soil offered hope that Quique Sánchez Flores's men could end a 14-year wait for a title of any description at the Vicente Calderón. So did the 32nd-minute opener scored by Diego Forlán, a fifth goal of this UEFA Europa League campaign for the hero of the semi-final against Liverpool FC.

Atlético being Atlético, however, it was perhaps inevitable they should leave the back door open for Simon Davies to equalise for Roy Hodgson's unfancied charges five minutes later. As their club anthem goes: Qué manera de sufrir (what a way to suffer). At least Fulham were wearing away shirts – their regulation white might have been a reminder of Atleti's always problematic neighbours.

Colour, of course, is seldom lacking beside the river Manzanares: Jesús Gil, Atlético's late former supremo, had celebrated their last trophies – the Spanish league and cup double of 1996 – by riding an elephant through the streets of the capital.

Fulham's owner Mohamed Al-Fayed has lent a similarly picturesque trait to the Craven Cottage outfit, who also boast a riverside address on the banks of the Thames. His Harrods store in central London once hired a live cobra to protect the shoe counter.

As time ticked by at the Hamburg Arena it became a question of which of the teams could better safeguard their country's reputation in the new UEFA Europa League. Three clubs apiece from Spain (Real Madrid CF, Valencia CF and Sevilla FC) and England (Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and Ipswich Town FC) had lifted the UEFA Cup, this competition's predecessor.

Atlético, being watched by Crown Prince Felipe, might have provided the decisive moment through Sergio Agüero in the first half of extra time. The No10 made amends five minutes from the finish, though. His cross was perfectly measured for Forlán to settle matters from close range. Joy at last for Atleti, but a sad end to Fulham and Hugh Grant's awfully big adventure.