History of Real Madrid Football Club

In 1897 a group of students and lecturers from the Institución Libre de Enseñanza, including several graduates from both Cambridge and Oxford, organised themselves into a football team which played matches on Sunday mornings. Over the coming years a number of other teams emerged and in 1902 Madrid Football Club was officially formed. From the very beginning it was a club owned and operated by its club members. It was only three years afterwards that the club captured its first Spanish Cup by defeating Athletic Bilbao in the final. Real Madrid – as it was to become in 1920 after being given royal patronage by Alfonso XIII – was on its way to winning the FIFA award of ‘the most successful club of the twentieth century’.

Having been a founder member of the Spanish Football Association, Real Madrid played their home matches at Campo de O’Donnell (1912-23) and entered the first ever Spanish League in 1929. They finished runners-up to Barcelona in this inaugural season and the rivalry known as “El Clásico” had begun. Madrid won its first title in 1931-32 and by winning again the following year became the first club to have captured the championship more than once. It wasn’t until 1947 that the club moved to Nuevo Estadio Chamartín which was renamed the Santiago Bernabéu in 1955. Along with Athletic Bilbao and FC Barcelona, Real Madrid have never been relegated from the top flight of Spanish football.

Santiago Bernabéu in 1955
Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabéu in 1955

Real Madrid and General Franco

Few football fans are neutral when it comes to Real Madrid. They are one of those clubs that people love or despise with equal passion. Their ability to manipulate and dominate the Spanish media and their supposed arrogance in their dealings with other clubs has upset many people at home and abroad. In addition there is the notion that Real Madrid was ‘Franco’s team’ which is very understandable if you read Jimmy Burns’ “Barca: A People’s Passion”.

Undoubtedly, when in power, General Franco realised the excellent propaganda to be gained from having a successful Real Madrid side and poured resources into the club to help them become a dominating force – and helped them ‘bend’ a few rules. It’s also true that Santiago Bernabéu had fought for Franco’s army during the Nationalist invasion of Catalonia.

However, in his presidency, Bernabéu is known to have banned the infamous General Millán Astray, founder of the Spanish Legion and a great friend of Franco, from the stadium because of his improper conduct. He also presented Madrid-supporting Israeli General Moshe Dayan with his own gold Real Madrid pin badge during a match with Macabi Tel-Aviv which brought him tremendous condemnation as Spain didn’t recognise Israel as a state at the time.

Real Madrid Conquer Europe

Probably the two most influential people in the history of Real Madrid have been Santiago Bernabéu and Alfredo di Stéfano. The former club captain, manager and director was elected president for the first time in 1945 immediately setting about improving all aspects of the club from its ground to its playing staff. He was a man of immense vision who was responsible for the development of a world-class stadium which would later carry his name and the ground-breaking Ciudad Deportiva training complex.

It was only natural that when the French newspaper L’Équipe began to formulate the idea of a cross Europe cup competition, Bernabéu embraced the notion completely. He combined this enthusiasm with a desire to bring the world’s best players to play for the club. This was initiated in 1953 by the signing of the Argentinian, Alfredo di Stéfano; which is a story worth an article on its own! In essence, the player left his Colombian club, Millonarios, having signed for Barcelona. Bernabéu, however, took advantage of various mix-ups in paperwork to manage to get the Spanish F.A. to declare the transfer invalid and then signed the player for Real Madrid instead. This fore-runner of what was to later happen between the two clubs with Luis Figo is either considered totally unscrupulous or brilliant opportunism, depending on your particular allegiances!

The wonderful Real Madrid team which won the European Cup five successive times from 1956 – containing the likes of Puskas, Gento and Kopa as well as Di Stéfano – was Bernabéu’s greatest achievement; the final at Hampden Park in 1960 when Madrid defeated Eintracht Frankfurt 7 – 3 being, for many people, one of the finest team performances in the history of the game.

Real Madrid Team of 1964
Great Real Madrid of 1964: Vicente, Isidro, Santamaria, Pachín, Muller, Zoco, Amancio, Felo, Di Stefano, Puskas, Gento – Photo: Wikimedia

Although this level of achievement could not be sustained indefinitely, Real Madrid continued to be one of the world’s most successful clubs. It is often forgotten that the team that lifted the European Cup in 1966 was totally composed of nationally-born players; a feat not likely to be repeated by a team from any country, one might suspect. Despite twice winning the UEFA Cup and being runners-up twice in the European Cup Winners Cup, Real were not able to capture the European Cup again until Predrag Mijatovic’s goal earned them victory against Juventus in 1998.

Florentino Pérez and the Galácticos

Having just won their 8th Champions League in 2000 season under Vicente del Bosque, Florentino Pérez became the club president and began to assemble the famous – or infamous – galáctico team. Having been elected largely because of his promise to sign Luis Figo from Barcelona, he also added world stars such as Zidane, Roberto Carlos, Ronaldo and, later, David Beckham. This extravagant spending was largely financed by a controversial deal which somehow managed to have the training ground ‘rezoned’ by the Madrid local government – clearing the club’s enormous debts in a massive political manoeuvre. Pérez also helped expand the Real Madrid ‘brand’ into a worldwide asset by taking the club on a variety of pre and post season tours to help develop their target commercial market.

Despite winning the Champions’ League in 2002, the Galácticos policy never fully succeeded and it was no real surprise that, after a rapid succession of managers had come and gone, Pérez himself was replaced as president in July 2006 by Ramón Calderón. His first actions were to install Fabio Capello as manager and former player Predrag Mijatovic as director of football. Capello managed to repeat his feat of 1997 – winning the league and then being sacked for not producing an attractive enough style of play. His successor, another former player, Bernd Schuster, won the league in his first season – the 31st title for the club; the first consecutive league title winners for 18 seasons; and a record number of points for La Liga compiled in the process.

In 2009 Florentino Pérez again became president and carried on where he’d left off by buying Kaká from Milan and later Cristiano Ronaldo from Manchester United for a record £80 million. Signing José Mourinho as his coach in May 2010 and spending obscene amounts of money on his first team squad reaped rewards in the 2011–12 season when Real Madrid finally managed to beat FC Barcelona to the league title for a record 32nd time.

From La Décima to Zinedine Zidane

Carlo Ancelotti replaced Mourinho in the summer of 2013 with Zinedine Zidane a member of his coaching staff. The arrival of Gareth Bale from Tottenham Hotspur for around €100 million was a new world record transfer fee. In 2014 Real Madrid won ‘La Décima’, their 10th Champions League, beating city rivals Atlético Madrid in the final.

Following a brief stint as manager, Rafael Benítez was replaced by Zinedine Zidane in January 2016. The appointment of their former attacking midfielder who had previously been crowned FIFA’s World Player of the Year on three occasions proved fundamental in bringing further domestic and European glory to the club. His successes included three consecutive Champions League trophies from 2016-18 together with a 33rd league title in 2017. Zizou resigned just a few days after the Champions League victory over Liverpool in Kiev in 2018.

Real Madrid Champions League Winners 2018
Real Madrid Champions League Winners 2018 – Photo: Wikimedia

Cristiano Ronaldo left the club for Juventus that same summer and Julen Lopetegui took charge before being dismissed after just four months. He was briefly replaced by Santiago Solari who lasted until March 2019 when he too was replaced by the returning Zidane who went on to win the club’s 34th league title in 2020.

Throughout their history Real Madrid have won the following trophies:

  • 35 La Liga titles
  • 14 European Cup/UEFA Champions Leagues
  • 2 UEFA Cups
  • 19 Copas del Rey
  • 7 Club World Championships
  • 11 Supercopas de España
  • 4 UEFA Super Cups

Real Madrid’s 13 Champions League Wins

1955–56Real MadridStade de ReimsParc des Princes – ParisJosé Villalonga
1956–57Real MadridFiorentinaSantiago Bernabéu – MadridJosé Villalonga
1957–58Real MadridAC MilanHeysel Stadium – BrusselsLuis Carniglia
1958–59Real MadridStade de ReimsNeckarstadion – StuttgartLuis Carniglia
1959–60Real MadridEintracht FrankfurtHampden Park – GlasgowMiguel Muñoz
1965–66Real MadridPartizan BelgradeHeysel Stadium – BrusselsMiguel Muñoz
1997–98Real MadridJuventusAmsterdam Arena – AmsterdamJupp Heynckes
1999–2000Real MadridValenciaStade de France – ParisVicente del Bosque
2001–02Real MadridBayer LeverkusenHampden Park – GlasgowVicente del Bosque
2013–14Real MadridAtlético MadridEstádio da Luz – LisbonCarlo Ancelotti
2015–16Real MadridAtlético MadridSan Siro – MilanZinedine Zidane
2016–17Real MadridJuventusMillennium Stadium – CardiffZinedine Zidane
2017–18Real MadridLiverpoolOlimpiyskiy Stadium – KievZinedine Zidane
2021-22Real MadridLiverpoolStade de France – ParisCarlo Ancelotti