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The origin of the red & white colours of Atlético De Madrid - and how it links to Sunderland

Are Sunderland AFC the reason why Atlético Madrid still to this day play in red and white stripes?

Bizkaia Provincial Council Digital Archive. Athletic Club. Cup Final (Jolaseta,1911). The differences between the shirts of the Bilbao and Madrid “equipiers” can be clearly seen.

The recent research carried out by Basque sports researcher Borja Valle and the official supporters branch of Sunderland AFC, The Bilbao Black Cats, gives a version that differs quite a lot from the one officially known as the origin of when the red and white shirts by Atlético de Madrid were donned for the first time.

It even brings forward by two months the date on which the Madrid-based team first wore the jerseys.

It has been proven that if a falsehood is repeated hundreds of times it becomes true.

If you look around, from advertisers to some of our politicians, they take advantage of this human weakness. Unfortunately, the past history of our clubs is full of plausible errors that we accept without checking whether they are true or not, either because it was said at the time by an institution on the matter or because it has been heard over the years on thousands of occasions.

In fact, people are willing to believe, even against all evidence.

Until today, the official story was that on 22 January 1911, the team from Madrid wore the red and white shirts for the first time.

According to the late historian Bernardo Salazar, the young Bilbao-born Juan Elorduy had 25 red and white shirts at his grandparents’ house, left over from the 50 he had brought back from his “alleged” trip to England a year earlier.

According to the Madrid historian’s account, it was after Athletic Club’s tribute dinner for his Madrid colleagues following his first visit to Bilbao, on 1 January 1911, that he offered them to Rodriguez Arzuaga, sponsor of the Madrid branch, for the benefit of the team from Madrid.

Just by visually analysing the existing photos of the two kits from that period, it is clear that there are major differences between the two.

The Athletic Club shirts have a white collar, they are tied with buttons and there are two different types of red and white stripes.

One with a central red stripe and the other with a central white stripe. However, the shirts belonging to the Madrid branch are all exactly the same, round red collars, the ties are made with strings and the positioning of the vertical red and white stripes on all of them are the same. Without any doubt, the shirts could not have been brought in the same shipment as there are several distinctions between them.

Author Unknown. Athletic Club Madrid (Madrid, 1911) Cárdenas stood to the right of the goalkeeper and Elordui sat first on the left.

Additionally, the date indicated by the historian from Madrid of when the red and white colours were tried out for the first time is not accurate either. In fact, it was two months earlier, on 27 November 1910. On that day, in a London-like atmosphere, according to the press, the first teams of Madrid FC and Athletic Club de Madrid faced each other in a friendly. The players of the Bilbao branch in Madrid took to the field first in an eye-catching kit with vertical lines of red and white. The line-up for that historic match was Ibarguren; Castañeda, Allende; Arango, Cárdenas, Mandiola; Elorduy, Belaunde, Garnica, Palacios and Smith.

Having demonstrated the mistake in the official version of this story, how did the mysterious origin of the red and white shirts actually come about? Who were the protagonists?

Ramón Cardenas Pastor (Madrid, 1884) was the fourth president of Athletic Club Madrileño, one of its founders and played at the time as a centre half. News came to light from Bilbao that the Basque team had been playing in red and white shirts since January which prompted him to contact his Biscayan counterpart, Pedro Astigarraga Amézaga (Bilbao, 1882), at the beginning of that season (1910-11). They knew each other as the Bilbao-born player had played for the Madrid-based club during his time as a student a few years earlier.

The president of Athletic Club informed him that the Club did not have enough shirts brought from Sunderland at the beginning of January 1910, but he would soon find a solution.

A few months earlier, in May 1910, Juan Arzuaga Anitua (Bilbao, 1880), who had also played with Cárdenas in the Madrid team in 1908, had opened a sports shop in Bilbao. He had been in charge of bringing the shirts from Sunderland for the Bilbao club in January 1910.

He now imported sports equipment directly from England and it would be easy for him to obtain the red and white shirts made by Sunderland AFC. The wealthy sponsor of the Madrid club, Manuel Rodriguez Arzuaga, would be responsible for paying the cost out of his own pocket as well as other expenses the club had to cover during the current season.

Bizkaia Provincial Council Digital Archive. Juan Arzuaga Anitua (Bilbao, 1880) Athletic Club player. Second honorary captain of the Club and owner of the sports shop where the shirts were bought.

It would be Juan Elorduy Saracibar (Bilbao, 1888) who would finally take on the role of transporting the consignment from Bilbao to Madrid, making the most of a trip on personal business. Elorduy, a player in the Madrid third team, had been promoted to the first team and was one of those responsible for the outstanding performances of the Madrid branch that season. As a result of this, he took part, along with other teammates, in the 1911 Cup victory months later in Jolaseta where he would make Athletic Club champions once again. In Madrid, his crosses into the penalty area that were finished off by “Perico” Mandiola Villar (Cuba, 1887) or by Manuel Garnica Serrano (Madrid, 1891) became renowned. Unfortunately, a serious collarbone injury would cut short his career the following season a year later.

As we were saying before, it would be on 27 November 1910, (two months before the date indicated by the official story) when Athletic Club of Madrid wore the red and white colours for the first time. In similar fashion to what happened to the team from Bilbao, the first time they wore red and white stripes on January 9 1910, the final result of that match was not positive as they lost 3-1 against Madrid FC.

The Red and Whites opened the scoring after just ten minutes from a corner perfectly headed in by Juan Elordui and finished off with a quality finish by Manolo Garnica. Up until that point, Athletic Club had dominated the game, but their opponents’ attacking force turned the tide, and the home side went on to score three more goals.

It was therefore from that day on 27 November in 1910 that Atlético de Madrid began to play in the red and white colours of Sunderland AFC.

Author: Borja Valle Sarasketa - Basque Sports Researcher

English Translation: Lee Thirkell - Bilbao Black Cats


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