The Club History of Atlético Madrid


La Liga: 1939/40, 1940/41, 1949/50, 1950/51, 1965/66, 1969/70, 1972/73, 1976/77, 1995/96, 2013/14
Copa del Rey: 1959/60, 1960/61, 1964/65, 1971/72, 1975/76, 1984/85, 1990/91, 1991/92, 1995/96, 2012/13
Spanish Supercup: 1940, 1951, 1985, 2014
Liga Adelante: 2001/02
Intercontinental Cup: 1974
UEFA Europa League: 2009/10, 2011/12
UEFA Cup Winners Cup: 1961/62
UEFA Super Cup: 2010, 2012
UEFA Intertoto Cup: 2007

Founding of Atlético de Madrid in 1903

Club Atlético de Madrid was founded on 26 April 1903, but not under that name. Basque students decided to found a new club in Madrid, as a branch of Athletic de Bilbao from the Basque Country in Spain. The students named their team Athletic Club de Madrid. Just like the original club, Athletic de Madrid played in blue and white. Four years later, on 20 February 1907, Athletic de Madrid became a financially independent club.

When a representative of Athletic de Bilbao couldn’t find Blackburn’s blue and white striped shirts on a trip to England in 1911, he decided to bring shirts of Southampton back home. Athletic de Bilbao decided to fully switch to Southampton’s colours, while the Madrileans stuck with their blue shorts. On 22 January 1911, Athletic de Madrid play the first match in their famous colours: red and white striped shirts and blue shorts.

First Atlético shirt

First Atlético shirt

At the time, colchónes (mattresses) in Spain were made with red-white stripes. With their new colours, Atlético soon earned the nickname los Colchoneros (the Mattressmakers).

In 1913, Athletic de Madrid contested the final for the regional Championship against Madrid Foot-Ball (later renamed as Real Madrid). If Athletic de Madrid won, they would have qualified for the Copa del Rey, however Spanish rules disallowed two connected clubs from participating in the same competition, and Athletic de Bilbao had already qualified.

Los Colchoneros went on to lose the regional Championship, but decided to cut ties with their Basque counterparts anyway, and Athletic de Madrid became a fully independent football club.

Period before the Civil War

Athletic de Madrid celebrated their first success when the regional Championship was finally captured in 1921, qualifying for the Copa del Rey.Real Unión de Irún is beaten, but Athletic de Bilbao prove to be too strong in the final. The club from which Athletic de Madrid originated wins 4-1 in a very friendly game and lift the King’s Cup.

Two years later Atlético moves to its own stadium: Estadio Metropolitano.

In 1925 Athletic de Madrid win the regional Championship for the second time, without losing a game. The team qualifies for the semi final of the Copa del Rey, but lose to FC Barcelona.

A year later Athletic de Madrid finish second in the regional Championship, and changes to the format means the club does qualify for the Copa del Rey. The team reaches to the final for the second time in the history of the club, but lose to Barcelona again, this time in controversial fashion.

At the end of the decade, Athletic de Madrid, like many other football clubs, were having financial difficulties. To gain more income the Spanish clubs decide to found a domestic system, consisting of three leagues. Athletic de Madrid plays in the Primera División, along big clubs like FC Barcelona, Athletic de Bilbao and Real Madrid. Meanwhile the regional championship is also still played, which Athletic de Madrid win for the third time in 1928. In the second season of the Primera División, Athletic de Madrid are relegated on the last day of the season.

In the seasons after the team would often finish second, but never gain promotion. This changed when the Primera División is expanded by two teams and Athletic de Madrid, which again finish second, gain promotion because of the expansion. Athletic battled against relegation in the next few seasons, until the league is stopped for four years because of the Spanish Civil War.

Period after the Civil War

When the Primera División resumed after the Civil War, Athletic de Madrid had lost eight players due to the war. The club decided to merge with Aviación Nacional, and was named Atlético Aviación de Madrid.

Under charge of the legendary former-goalkeeper Ricardo Zamora, Atlético Aviación win the Primera División in 1939/1940. And at the start of the next season, the club also wins the Spanish Supercup. Atlético Aviación dominated the league and were again crowned champions.

In 1947, the Spanish air forces requested that Atlético Aviación remove the military association in the club’s name (Aviación is the name of the airforce). The club is renamed and becomes Club Atlético de Madrid.

On the last day of the season Atlético de Madrid lose the title to Valencia because of a home loss against Real Madrid. Atlético continues to be a challenger in the  following seasons, but can’t beat Valencia, Barcelona and Real Madrid.

In 1949 Atlético plays two friendlies against Stade Rennes, which is coached by Helenio Herrera. A year later Atlético signs the coach, who joins two of his former players in goalkeeper Domingo and forward Ben Barek, who had impressed in the double encounter.

In Herrera’s first season, Atlético wins the title, after some spectacular matches, including a 6-6 draw against Athletic Bilbao. In the last game of the season Atlético plays against Valencia. The final result is 4-4, which sees Atlético finish first in the league, just one point ahead of Deportivo la Coruña.

The following season was one to remember, and the players from that year have gone down in club history as the Golden Team. Herrera plays a 3-2-5 formation and Atlético again win the Primera División.

Atlético were flying high. Rule changes had an affect though, and the club were no longer allowed to play foreigners in the side. The next season the team won the Spanish Super Cup, but important players are forced to leave. Atlético slumped and woulld have to wait a long time for the next piece of silverware.

European debut

Ten years later and Atlético are improving. In the 1957/58 season, Atléti finished second behind Real Madrid in the league and reveal plans for a new stadium. Because Real Madrid had won both the league and the European Cup, Atlético qualify for European football as the runner-up in Spain.

In the semi final of the European Cup, Atlético face Real Madrid after beating Irish, Bulgarian and German opposition. After two matches the tie was drawn, and after a playoff match, Real Madrid advances.

Atlético were to get revenge on their city rivals over the next few years. In the following season, 1959/60, Atlético won the Copa del Rey for the first time in their history. A year later they add a second. Both times the mighty Real Madrid is beaten in the final.

The domination of a Real side with Puskas and Di Stefano continues, with Atlético also lifting the Spanish Super Cup at the expense of los Merengues.

Atlético can’t quite usurp Real Madrid yet in the league though, and once again finish runner-up in the Primera División, qualifying for the European Cup Winners’ Cup.

Los Colchoneros made it all the way to the final of the competition and in May 1962 face Fiorentina in the final. The match was tight and ended 1-1 after extra time. A replay match was scheduled in Stuttgart, and Atlético take home their first European title with a thumping 3-0 win.

Dominance in the Cup Winners’ Cup looked on the cards and Atléti made it through to the final for the second season running, but English opposition Tottenham Hotspur are too strong, and Atlético slump to a 5-1 defeat.

Vicente Calderón

Despite the success in Europe, Atlético found themselves in trouble. A financial crisis forces Atlético to sell the Estadio Metropolitano.

In 1964 Vicente Calderón is appointed as new club president. He brings in new players, like Luis Aragonés, and Atlético reach the final of the Copa del Rey. A year later Atlético reach the semi-final of the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, but are knocked out by Italian giants Juventus.

The Copa del Rey is claimed again after an impressive run to the final against Real Madrid, Valencia, Real Sociedad and Zaragoza.

Atlético waved goodbye to the Estadio Metropolitano in 1966, celebrating another league title, finishing a single point ahead of Real Madrid.

The following season, Luis Aragonés scores the first ever goal in the new stadium, Estadio Manzanares.

Glory years

After appointing former-goalkeeper Marcel Domingo as new first team coach, Atlético continues winning and captures the league title with some impressive displays. A season later the title is lost on the last day of the season against Valencia.

That year Atlético expands its stadium and renames it after one of the most successful presidents in history, Vicente Calderón.

Atlético is knocked out early in the European Cup in 1972/73, which allows the team to focus on the league. With an impressive run of games, the team wins the title, two points ahead of Barcelona.

A season later Atlético appoints a coach from Argentina: Lorenzo. The club signs many South Americans and earns the nickname Los Indios, because the tanned South-Americans remind the Spanish people of Indians. Lorenzo’s defensive tactics prove successful, because Atlético reach the final of the European Cup.

Atlético’s first proper European Cup final is a dramatic affair. 1-0 up going into the dying seconds, Bayern defender Georg Schwarzenbeck thumps the ball from 25 yards into the back of the net past Atléti goalkeeper Miguel Reina. Heartbreak. In the replay two days later, Bayern take advantage of a tired Atlético side and win 4-0.

Bayern refuse to play against a tough Independiente side in the Intercontinental Cup, so Atlético gets the chance to win the competition now known as the Club World Championship, and so Atléti does. It’s the first success of Luis Aragonés as coach.

A year later Aragonés’ men win the Copa del Rey, a title which was controversially lost to Real Madrid the season before. In 1976/77 Atlético win the Primera División for the eighth time after a thrilling title race with Cruyff’s Barcelona.

Dry years

It would be the last title Atlético would to celebrate for a while. The performances went downhill and 1978/79 would be a disastrous year. After just five matches coach Núñez is fired and Luis Aragonés temporarily returns to coach the team, but was later replaced by Hungarian Szusza.

Atlético as a club are moving downhill, and during the season the players go on a strike, hoping to force circumstances to be improved. As a result the club controversially suspends player Ayala.

It would be a long time before Atlético got to celebrate success again. In 1984/85 the team wins the Copa del Rey in Aragonés’ third spell as first team coach (he has a total of seven!).

At the start of the next season Atlético also wins the Spanish Super Cup. And in the same season Aragonés would lead the team to the final of the European Cup Winners Cup, but Dinamo Kiev are too strong, and Atlético fall to a 3-0 defeat.

Gil y Gil Years

The following period is one of much turmoil, with Jesús Gil y Gil taking over the club in 1987. The fans were desperate for a new la Liga title and Gil gained power by promising to sign Paulo Futre.

This lead to success in the Copa del Rey – Atlético won the cup in 1990/91 and 1991/92 – but in the meantime Atlético became a graveyard of coaches.

The controversial club president closes Atlético’s cantera in 1992 and slowly seems to lead the club toward bankrupcy, signing expensive players the club cannot afford.

However, Gil’s actions did lead to success in 1995/96. After nearly twenty years, Atlético finally win the Spanish league again, and also win the Copa del Rey to make it a fantastic double. Even today, every fan remembers the famous Doblete, with players like Caminero, Simeone, Pantic and Kiko, all lead by coach Radomir Antic.

In the following seasons Atlético would sign big players like Christian Vieri, Juninho and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, but eventually Gil’s reign lead to Atlético’s demise.

In 1999/2000 Gil and his board were suspended pending investigation by the Spanish government regarding financial issues. It was one of the many lawsuits against Jesús Gil y Gil, but surely one with huge consequences for Atlético.

With the club in turmoil, the performances on the pitch dropped to an abysmal level. Despite reaching the final of the Copa del Rey, Atlético were relegated on the final match of the season, after Pichichi-winner Hasselbaink failed to convert a penalty against Real Oviedo. Then manager Claudio Ranieri resigned as Atlético were heading for the Segunda.

Atlético spent two seasons in Spain’s second division, which were described as dos años en el infierno – two years in hell.

A new hope

In the first season in the Segunda División, a young Fernando Torres made his debut for Atlético. The club narrowly missed out on promotion, but a new star was born. In 2001/02 Torres led Atleti back to la Liga, under charge of who else than Luis Aragonés.

For years the club finished in mid-table positions, before the icon for many fans Fernando Torres was eventually sold to Liverpool. With the money gained from the transfer, Atlético was able to reinforce the team with star players like Diego Forlán, Luis García, Simão and Reyes, which led to Champions League qualification in 2007/2008. Javier Aguirre, as Atlético manager, was improving the squad all the time and it seemed only a matter of time before more silverware was won.

Forlán formed an illustrous pairing with Sergio Agüero, who was signed the year before Torres’ departure. The young Argentina grew up to become a superstar, while his Uruguayan compatriot took care of the goalscoring.

In 2008/2009 Atlético again qualified for the Champions League, with Diego Forlán winning the Pichichi-award as topscorer of the Spanish league. The team seemed to have built a solid foundation for next season, but at the start of 2009/10 everything seemed to go wrong. Javier Aguirre, deemed to be the root of Atlético’s misery, was controversially sacked, and replaced by legendary goalkeeper Abel Resino.

Resino didn’t last until the end of the year. Following a heavy 4-0 defeat to English club Chelsea in the Champions League, the manager was sacked and replaced with Quique Sánchez Flores. At this time, Atleti had just crashed out of the Champions League and were second from bottom in the league.

It took a while before Sánchez Flores was able to turn things around, and while the performances in the league were inconsistent, the team were magnificent in the cup competitions, going all the way in the Europa League and Spanish Cup.

On 12 May 2010 Atlético played the final of the Europa League, which was reached after beating Galatasaray, Sporting Lisbon, Valencia and Liverpool. The final was against English club Fulham, which Atleti won in extra time (2-1), with two goals from Diego Forlán.

A week later Atlético played the final of the Copa del Rey at the Camp Nou versus Sevilla. This final was lost, but for the first time since El Doblete the fans had had something to dream about, and celebrated the Europa League win, like always, at Fuente de Neptuno.