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Analysis of the historic rivalry between Atlético de Madrid and Real Madrid


Researchers at Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M) who work in the area of history of sport, on the occasion of the UEFA Champions League final, are analyzing the evolution of the existing rivalry between Atlético de Madrid and Real Madrid throughout the last century.


Análisis de la rivalidad histórica del Atlético de Madrid y el Real Madrid

The rivalry between both teams goes back to their first games of regional competitions, when in 1906 the rojiblancos (red and whites-Atlético) won two out of three games.  In 1916, after Real Madrid eliminated Atlético from Cup play, the Colchoneros (Atléticio’s other nickname in Spanish) ceded Luis Belaúnde to Real Madrid in order to play against Barcelona. But relations began to deteriorate after 1924, with the gradual implementation of professionalism.  Real Madrid took it for granted that it had signed on the players Monjardín, Muñagorri and Javier Barroso, but at the last moment Barroso decided to sign on with Atlético.

A very relevant historical event in the history of both clubs was the attempt to absorb Madrid Club de Fútbol after the Civil War by what was then Atlético de Aviación. In that era, the teams were called Madrid Club de Fútbol and Atlético de Aviación, respectively.  “You have to bear in mind that Madrid had been investigated for its collaboration with the Frente Popular during the war and that Atlético de Aviación tried to present a type of hostile takeover, a threat that Madrid avoided by falling back on  its contacts with the Spanish army,” explained Eduardo González, UC3M Associate Professor of Contemporary History.

Atlético de Madrid achieved national renown because of the league championships it won at the beginning of Franco era (1939 and 1941). During this period, the special treatment that the military gave Atlético Aviación exacerbated the rivalry between the Spanish capital’s two clubs.  The managing directors of Madrid were being investigated because the equipo blanco (the white team -Real Madrid) had been under direct control of the Frente Popular during the war.  After that, the first golden age of Atlético during the 1950’s made the relationship between the two clubs tenser, culminating in the semi-final elimination game of the 1958-59 EuroCup, which required a tie-breaking game in Zaragoza.

Relations between both clubs have had their ups and downs according to sporting results: when Atlético de Madrid had its glory days in the 1970’s, Madrid found itself totally in a slump.  “In general, the institutional relations were relatively good until the 1980’s with the arrival of such figures as Ramón Mendoza in the case of Real Madrid and Doctor Cabezas and Jesús Gil in the case of Atlético de Madrid,” explained Eduardo Gonzalez, who analyzed all these issues in his work, published on the 100th anniversary of the Blancos (the Whites-Real Madrid): “Historia del Real Madrid, 1902-2002. La entidad, los socios, el madridismo “(Everest, 2002). The main source of information for this book was the club’s institutional archives, which are found in the holding cells of the Santiago Bernabéu stadium, installations which were originally constructed to control radicals fans during the 1982 World Cup.

Bourgeoisie origins of both clubs

Curiously enough, both clubs have their origins in members of the bourgeoisie who came from outside the center of the peninsula and who had immigrated to Madrid to carry out commercial activities.  On one hand, Juan Padrós, who was the first president Madrid Foot-Ball Club (today Real Madrid) in 1902, came from a Catalan family who were owners of an important textile company in Barcelona.  On the other hand, Enrique Allende, the first president of Athletic Club de Madrid (today Atlético de Madrid) in 1903, had important mining and railway business interests in Leon.  

“The image of Madrid as the team of the bourgeoisie or the regime, and that of Atlético as the socialist team or the team of  the people come from the 1950’s, when Madrid  became internationally relevant, and from  the 1960’s, when the Atlético stadium moved to the banks of Manzanares River, next to the capital’s working class neighborhoods,” González added.

The research lines of this UC3M professor are within the framework of the history of sport.  “It is a discipline still being developed in Spain, but which enjoys an important tradition and presence in the study of social history on an international scale,” he continued.   He proposes that this area go beyond the history of mere football scores to encompass football or any other sport as a total social phenomenon, related to issues such as sociability, social participation, links to political power, collective imagination, and communication media.