In the richest and greatest history of Real Madrid, there is a Man who stands out among all the other extraordinary personalities. Don Santiago Bernabeu Yeste. A Real Madrid player since childhood. Captain of the first team. Coach and director. And finally, the President. Don Santiago Bernabeu is the builder of the current Real Madrid, which, many years after his death, was recognized as the best club in the 20th century. Two-thirds of this achievement belongs to this irrepressible personality who has devoted his entire life to Real Madrid.
Don Santiago was born in Almansa, Albacete, on June 8, 1895. He was the son of Don José Bernabéu Ibáñez, a Valencian lawyer, and Dona Antonia de Yeste Núñez. Little Santiago had three brothers, Jose, Antonio and Marcelo, and a sister, Isabel. Don Santiago, a lawyer by profession, was above all a man of soccer. Educated and refined, he devoted all his free time to the study of various sciences: he learned languages and liked to read German philosophy in the original.
When the Bernabeu family moved to Madrid, Santiago was very young. He started at St. Augustine College, where he began to play soccer, “because it was the best way to stay warm in the yard.” He wanted to be a goalkeeper, but his brothers, who knew him well, advised him to play at the forward position. After college, Don Santiago enrolled at an institute in Madrid. Ever since he was a child he was obsessed with soccer and especially Real Madrid. He attended all the matches. In 1909, at the age of 14, Don Santiago fulfilled his dream by joining the Real Madrid junior team
When his family leased land on O’Donnell Street in 1912, Don Santiago was one of the Madrid volunteers who came to the club every night to take care of the pitch, and when Don Pedro Parajes paid out of his own pocket for the wooden gates that defined the field boundaries, it was Don Santiago who painted them. At the age of 17, after the 1912/13 season, he made the first team, where he became goalkeeper and later captain of Real Madrid, for his unquestionable charisma, recognized by all his comrades; he was an indomitable footballer who never gave up. Then, when he was only 20 years old, it is not difficult to recognize qualities that, years later, will remain in the history of Real Madrid and become the philosophy of Don Santiago. For most of all of those years, he didn’t score a single duro for his game, while scoring 1,200 goals from the moment he joined the club until the end of his career.
Don Santiago liked medicine, but to please his father he studied law at the Central University on San Bernardo Street, where he became a lawyer. Despite being the captain and center forward of Real Madrid, and one of the best Spanish players of his time, Don Santiago Bernabéu never played a single game for the Spanish national team, although he did get into the Red Fury once, but was expelled for having publicly criticized the regional quota system by which players were recruited for the national team. His independence and honesty, the hardest of his virtues, were often displayed along with defiance.
THE BERNABEU AND THE CIVIL WAR
In 1927, after 15 years of playing for the first team, Don Santiago left soccer and was elected team delegate. Then he found himself in the offices of the club, serving as technical manager, replacing Don Jose Berraondo himself. A year later he entered the director’s office. Until 1935 he held different positions at the club, from second coach to director.
The Civil War of 1936-1939 paralyzed Spanish soccer. Don Santiago, who was on the CEDA side, was blacklisted by the Communist Party to be detained, but he escaped death because he was warned in time and was able to flee to the “national zone”. This is why he was not killed in Paraculos like other Spaniards whose only crime was to have ideas different from those of Lenin and Stalin. When he turned 42, he enlisted in the National Army, in the 150th Infantry Division, which was under the command of General Muñoz. Don Santiago participated in the “Catalonia” military campaign and received an award for his courage.
THE BEGINNING OF AN OFFICE CAREER
After the fratricidal massacre was over, the soccer clubs returned to the soccer world as best they could. For Real Madrid, however, the situation was worse than ever. The civil war had devastated Madrid, destroying even the playing field. There were no players to form a team, no money, as the club’s property was looted (among which were stolen several cups won at the beginning of the century), and besides, there was no official help, as the Army and Franco chose to call Atletico Madrid their team, and all their help went to benefit this club.
In every sense: property, administrative and sporting, Real Madrid was a dead club. But Don Santiago did not let up, spending several months in a full-scale reconstruction and putting Real Madrid back on the rails of everyday life. He stopped at nothing, establishing links with former sosios and players sympathetic to the club, until he made sure that Real Madrid, considered by many to have disappeared from the Spanish soccer landscape, took part in the Spanish La Liga as a team with special circumstances, without a single duro or its own stadium. But the extraordinary personality of Don Santiago raised the club again, saved it from extinction and imbued it with its best qualities: tenacity, sacrifice, a vision of the future…
From his personal chronicle… In 1940 he married Dona Maria Valenciano…
September 15, 1943 is an important date for Real Madrid: in the midst of a crisis stemming from the match against Barcelona (in which the victory of the capital team provoked a wave of violence that was ended by a wise and not entirely fair government decision that obliged the dismissal of the presidents of both teams), Don Santiago was elected “temporarily” president of Real Madrid, a position which he would hold until his death on June 2, 1978.
Don Santiago’s years as president of Real Madrid were marked by his impressive personality. A straightforward and disciplined man, he did not trust anything that was not work, strength and sacrifice. A fervent Spanish patriot but politically independent, he always supported Real, and even the interventions of the victorious Civil War failed to command the home of Madrid thanks to Don Santiago’s almost heroic toughness.
BERNABEU AND MILJAN ASTRAI
That firmness might have cost him his life when he confronted not just anyone, but General Miguel Astray, founder of the Spanish Legion and a comrade-in-arms of General Franco; among Astray’s “exploits” stands out his intention to shoot Don Miguel Unamuno during the opening of the University of Salamanca or his attack on Carlos Gardel. Miljan Astray was present among the invitees in the stands of the Chamartina stadium during one of Real Madrid’s home games; at one point, Astray went beyond decorum with the wife of one of the invitees. When Don Santiago heard what had happened, he went up to the invitees’ box and threw Miljan Astray out, forbidding him to appear in the stadium. Astray threatened Don Santiago with death, and only the intervention of the same General Muñoz Grandes, under whose orders Don Santiago had served during the Civil War, saved the club from losing its president.
This act of Don Santiago, impossible in Spain in the postwar era, raised his figure to the level of a true hero. The constant interference of the victors of the Civil War in Spanish sports provoked that Don Santiago had several high-profile clashes with the Franco regime, with the full support of the Madrid fans, which prevented the regime from carrying out repressions against him, such as firing him. For Don Santiago, politics and soccer were akin to water and olive oil, so he never allowed himself to artificially mix the two. Another example of Don Santiago’s unconventional personality was vividly displayed at the Raimundo Saporta Sports Palace. Raimundo Saporta. During a basketball game between Real Madrid and Maccabi Tel Aviv, when representing both teams, Don Santiago took off his gold Real Madrid badge and presented it to the Israeli general Diane, who felt a sense of pride and considered it an honor to be a loyal Madrid player. This unprecedented act provoked the anger and resentment of the government, since General Franco’s regime did not recognize the state of Israel, and he made many Francoists swear eternal hatred of Don Santiago.
THE DONA SANTIAGO BERNABEU PROJECT
The club that was in the hands of Don Santiago at the time was not even a shadow of today’s Real Madrid. But this incredible man had his own cherished dream to make his beloved club the best in history. To do so, he used all his experience as a fan, player, coach and director to bring to life the greatest sports project ever undertaken for a soccer club, one that would transform a humble Real Madrid into the Best Club in the World.
I. Administration. Don Santiago’s scheme of managerial organization for Real Madrid evolved, many years later, into the standard scheme of organization for a European club. Don Santiago formed a cabinet of directors, where each was responsible for a specific area of activity; independent technical corps for each branch of the club as well as for each category of soccer; full institutional support for the Madrid affiliates that began to emerge first throughout Europe and then around the world. In addition, Don Santiago directed every effort to the opening of new branches such as basketball, handball, volleyball, tennis, gymnastics, etc. People like Raymundo Saporta, his faithful right-hand man for decades, were responsible for making Don Santiago’s dreams materialize.
II. Property. Under Bernabeu, two “wonderful crazes” were built: the new Chamartin, which became the main stadium in Europe, and the sports base where players could train in peace without fear of spoiling the stadium field, where the cantera was gradually developing.
III. Sports. Being above all a man of pure soccer, Don Santiago already had the best stadium in the world, now it remained to fill it with trophies… and to get them first it was necessary to fill the stadium with spectators. “Too big a stadium for such a small club” or “the best stadium in Europe for a club that hasn’t won the national championship for 20 years,” the envious said. But Don Santiago was just waiting for the right opportunity, which he finally got the day when the blond Argentine striker, who was no longer young and played for Milonarios of Bogota, scored two goals in the final of the club’s 50th anniversary tournament, leaving the entire Madrid public with their mouths hanging open in admiration as they saw and were deeply impressed by his performance for the first time.
BERNABEU AND DI STEFANO
“I want this player,” Don Santiago said. – “No matter how much he’s worth, this Argentine must play at Real Madrid. Only the unwavering determination and action of his confidant, Don Raymundo Saporta, ensured that the blond Argentine ended up at Real Madrid in the midst of a dispute with other clubs that wanted him. Alfredo Di Stefano, better known as “White Arrow”, made sure that the stadium, with a capacity of 120,000 spectators, was filled to capacity every time he played. The Madrid players went to the New Chamartin to see their Arrow team score tonight.
Don Santiago’s first two dreams had already been realized. Now all that remained was to “only” fill the Hall of Fame with trophies. Few could have imagined at the time that that team, led by Di Stefano, was destined to amaze the entire planet with its hitherto unprecedented ultra-attacking game, which European soccer had not yet known. Over the years, Don Santiago has always remained faithful to his philosophy of the game, left to him from the days when he was still the central striker of a team where attacking soccer prevailed. It was he himself who acquired the great players who ever played at Real Madrid: Alfredo Di Stefano, Hento, Molovny, Miguel Muñoz, Copa, Hoseito, Rial, Pushkash, Amancio, Pirri, Netzer, Santillano, Juanito, Stilike, Del Bosque, Camacho and others. The arrival of only one Di Stefano, who had won five consecutive Pichichi trophies, marked the winning of a third championship after a 21-year drought.
On January 4, 1955, the Junta de Derechos de Real Madrid decided to rename the Nuevo Chamartin stadium to the Santiago Bernabeu, under cries of approval. Don Santiago did not like this idea because he had always tried to hide his and also for him the Chamartin was part of his life. However, it was the desire of the Madridists themselves, so it went above even Don’s own opinion.
This is how the new Real Madrid was born, illuminated by its own light, and all thanks to the indomitable will of an incomparable Man with a capital letter. A club destined to lead Spanish soccer for years to come was born.
But even that could not satisfy Don Santiago. The new Real Madrid was built around a brilliant Argentine, nicknamed “White Arrow”. Nevertheless, Don Santiago understood that La Liga was still too narrow for this team and introduced a new dream or “marvelous madness”: the creation of a new tournament where the champion teams of every European championship would compete. Many people thought this was silly. But thanks to the inspired support of Gabriel Hanot, correspondent of the French magazine Equipe, who gave the Bernabéu idea the necessary international recognition by organizing a meeting at the Ambassador Hotel in Paris between Don Santiago and Bedrignac and Gustave Seves, who secured a historic agreement to explore inviting other European clubs to host the new tournament. UEFA, which had previously ignored the idea, suddenly expressed interest after learning that Don Santiago had already secured the agreement of most of European soccer to participate in that “madness”, and decided to try to organize that tournament without much conviction. That tournament, called the European Champions Cup, now the Champions League, had already become in its first year in the 1955/56 season the most important European competition.
The team built by Don Santiago and led by Di Stefano won the first 5 European Cups, breaking all possible records, which is a real delicacy for fans of statistics. You can pick one hero from that Real Madrid that expresses the fact that this team was a legend: Alfredo Di Stefano, who has been the top scorer for 4 consecutive years in the CEP and is its all-time best striker with 49 goals in 58 games. That’s impossible to repeat.
He was president of Real Madrid for 35 years, during which he won the Intercontinental Cup, 2 Small World Cups, 2 Latin Cups, 6 European Cups, 16 national championships, 6 Spanish Cups, etc.; was a living integral part of Real Madrid for 70 years. Seventy years devoted to Real Madrid with all his body and soul, leaving us a legacy in the sporting aspect of the title of best club in FIFA history, officially recognized, and in the property aspect, the Ciudad Deportiva sports base, which in 2001 was sold to get rid of the debts in which Real Madrid was mired. That is, 23 years after his death, Don Santiago has once again saved his Madrid.
His brainchild was the most spectacular, never to be repeated by anyone else. He was the creator of Real Madrid, now considered the best Club in history. An example of pride and stubbornness, of courage to realize the noblest of ideals. One life forever dedicated to Real Madrid.