No football shirt is imprinted on the history of the game as indelibly as the immaculate white of Real Madrid.
Los Blancos – the whites – have always worn the same, brilliant, glistening white since the club’s inception in 1902. Madrid took inspiration for their attire from Corinthians FC of London, England, who were supposedly revered for their sportsmanship.
The likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Luka Modric can be seen today kitted out fully in white, but the club did experiment with an off-white top and black shorts during the mid-1920s. However, an unsuccessful campaign was blamed on the change, so the classic design was brought back after just one year.
In the 1950s, when the European cup was first devised and introduced, Real Madrid became the most glamourous and popular team in the world, winning the first five editions of the continental competition, with such legends of the game as Alfredo Di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas and Raymond Kopa making Madrid almost unstoppable.
The success the side from the Spanish capital enjoyed in this period inspired England’s Leeds United, who wore blue at the time, to change the color of their kit to match the pure white of Madrid in 1961. The decision to switch to white was the idea of manager Don Revie, who remains one of the most respected bosses in the history of English football. He thought that the Yorkshire cub would be able to emulate the famous conquerors of Europe if they were dressed the same.
Like any other club to have been founded in the early 20th century or before, the Madrid shirt underwent several technological changes as the heavy, cotton jerseys with lace-up collars evolved into lightweight, round-necked, breathable tops.
The Real Madrid shirt did blaze one particular trail, however, that was soon followed by all other teams, and helped to improve the viewing experience of fans while also aiding the way the game is officiated. When they played cross-city rivals Atletico Madrid on 23 November 1947 at the Metropolitano Stadium, Los Blancos became the first team ever to wear numbers on the back of their shirts.
It’s hard to imagine watching a game of football today without the 22 players out on the pitch being readily identifiable by the number on their back, while the clubs themselves have been reaping the merchandising benefits that come along with selling replica shirts bearing the name and number of their most marketable stars.
Of course, that marketability of players is something that has become a calling card for Madrid and their Galacticos, a business model and the entire identity of the club has been built around it. Whether it’s Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane and David Beckham, or Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez, Los Blancos have made it their aim to kit out the most recognizable stars of the world game in their famous white jersey.
Although, the 11-time champions of Europe haven’t always been the marketing powerhouse they are today. Indeed, Madrid was behind the curve when it came to acquiring a shirt sponsorship deal.
Many clubs around Europe had begun to sport the name and logo of a major brand across the center of their jerseys by the mid-1970s, but Madrid didn’t catch on to that trend until 1982, when Zanussi, an Italian home appliance manufacturer, became their first ever shirt sponsor.
They were a little late to the idea of having sportswear manufacturers produce their shirts for them too, with adidas taking on the task in 1980. Since then, Madrid jerseys have been made by Hummel and Kelme before returning to adidas in 1998.
Unlike many of the shirts discussed in this series, Real Madrid’s has undergone few significant changes. The most glamourous club in the world built their enormous success while wearing pure white and have stuck with it ever since.
Shop for the Real Madrid shirt at World Soccer Shop