Founded in 1903 by three Basque students at university in Madrid, Atlético Madrid were initially closely linked with Athletic Bilbao – even copying their blue and white striped shirts. It was in 1920 that the club became fully independent. By then, the playing strip had changed to its now famous red and white – and there’s a story behind the reason why. Officially, the reason for the change was given as being that the director charged with going to England to collect a new kit in 1911 had not been able to find shirts in blue and white and so had bought red and white shirts instead. The more plausible version – especially considering this is Atlético – is that the red and white strips were the cheapest to manufacture as that particular cloth was used in making bed mattresses. Hence Atlético’s nickname ‘Los Colchoneros’ … the Mattress Makers!
In 1923, a new stadium was built in Madrid by the company in charge of the underground and this was rented by Atlético, who moved from their initial ground in the working class suburb of Ronda de Vallecas. This was the home ground until the Vicente Calderon Stadium was completed in 1966. The club joined the inaugural ten team Spanish League in 1928, managed by the Englishman, Fred Pentland, known as ‘El Bombin’ (the bowler hat). The club was relegated in 1930, returning to the top league in 1934. Two seasons later they were due to be relegated again but the suspension of the league because of the civil war meant that this was avoided.
When the league started again after the war, Atlético, who had suffered a significant loss of players during the conflict, had merged with a Spanish Air Force team, becoming Athletic Aviación de Madrid. Suspicions about ‘help’ from the authorities abounded at this time and, although the league title was won in 1940 and 1941, the military associations didn’t fit well with all of the club’s supporters.
In 1947, the club reverted to Club Atlético de Madrid and, in 1950 and 1951, repeated its feat of winning the league in successive seasons. Since then, Atléti have been champions five more times, won the Spanish Cup 9 times and, in 1962, won the European Cup Winners Cup – being runners-up to Tottenham the following year and then runners-up again in 1986. After an infamous victory over Celtic in a semi-final in 1974 (infamous because the Madrid side had three men sent off in the drawn first leg in Glasgow), Atlético lost in a replay to Bayern Munich in their only appearance in a European Cup Final.
Jesús Gil Era
Undeniably the most controversial figure in the history of the club has been Jesús Gil, the president and erstwhile mayor of Marbella. Gil, who could have well been the original Fat Controller, became president in 1987 when the club were in a perilous position and he immediately ‘diverted’ funds from his other interests to Atlético. His impatience with coaches was notorious – he got through 16 in 17 years; one can only speculate about how he got on with Ron Atkinson. Despite all this, they only managed one league title in Gil’s time in the 1995–96 season when Radomir Antic’s team won ‘El Doblete’ … the league and cup double. Glory was short lived and in 2000 Atlético were relegated to the second division where they spent two seasons before returning to the top flight.
Many Coaches & Some Great Players
Many famous managers and players have been connected with the club over the years – Luis Aragonés in both categories. The best-known player of the recent past, of course, has been Fernando Torres, who achieved a god-like status within the club but whose departure, ironically, helped both the player and the club to benefit. After he left, the shrewd Mexican coach Javier Aguirre – despite many criticisms about his manner and selections from the fans – accumulated a varied array of talent, most of it in the form of strikers including Diego Forlan who won the European Golden Boot as Europe’s top scorer.
In addition, Atlético managed to sign the player they claimed was possibly the best teenage prospect in world football – the Argentine El Kun, Sergio Aguero who scored some spectacular goals before moving on to Manchester City.
Atlético have long had a reputation as Spain’s ‘nearly team’, a team that can find amazing ways of throwing away winning positions; new methods of shooting themselves in the foot. They can beat anyone but can just as easily be totally outplayed. The arrival of Quique Flores as coach did a lot to bury this reputation at least as far as European football is concerned by winning the 2010 Europa League.
In December 2011 Diego Simeone returned to his beloved club as coach having won the double with them back in 1996. He led them to more European success by winning the 2012 Europa League by convincingly beating fellow Spaniards Athletic Bilbao in the final thanks to two brilliant goals from the Columbian Radamel Falcao. Falcao went on to score a hat-trick against European Champions Chelsea in the 2012 UEFA Super Cup.
The club has always enjoyed a great following and once again tickets for Atletico Madrid are in great demand as the club attempts to assert itself as a powerhouse in La Liga. Before the recent derby against Real Madrid an astonishing 20,000 fans turned up to watch an open training session.