Unanimously recognised as the first football club to act as ambassadors for Colombia, Club Deportivo Los Millonarios are one of the country’s most successful and popular teams. FIFA.com tells the fascinating story of their 64-year excellence.
The birth of an institution
Millonarios have their roots in a team called Club Deportivo Municipal, which was set up in 1937 by a group of students from the Colegio San Bartolome and the Instituto La Salle, situated in the Colombian capital of Bogota. The new club enjoyed instant success and represented the country at the Central American and Caribbean Games held the following year in Panama City, going on to win the bronze medal.
Good results continued to come over the next few years until a new club was founded on 18 June 1946 by a group of fans headed by one Alfonso Senior, who would become its first president. Inspired by the growing trend of Colombian clubs signing players from outside the country’s borders, the adoption of the name Club Deportivo Los Millonarios was somewhat ironic.
The making of a legend
Having grown accustomed to winning, Los Albiazules were rightly confident of success when Colombia’s newly founded professional league opened for business in 1948. However, the inaugural season ended with cross-town rivals Santa Fe taking the title, prompting Senior to search for new recruits to bolster the squad. He found them in Argentina, where a players’ strike meant stars such as Adolfo Pedernera, a member of La Máquina (the famous River Plate side of the early 1940s), were available for hire.
“They called me mad,” recalled Senior a few years ago. “They asked me how we were going to pay a $5,000 dollar bonus and a salary of $500, and they said that if I wanted to go ahead with it, I’d have to take full responsibility. But when we presented him to the fans, in his suit and tie, we took 35,000 pesos at the gate, which was seven times what we were getting for the average game. That was almost $18,000, so it turned out to be a great deal.”
Pedernera also played his part in compatriots Alfredo Di Stefano and Nestor Rossi joining the Millonarios ranks, along with other well-known international stars such as Scotland’s Bobby Flavell and England’s Billy Higgins.
Under the stewardship of coach Carlos Aldabe and latterly Pedernera as player-coach, the team played some delightful football, earning the soubriquet El Ballet Azul (The Blue Ballet) and winning the championship in 1949 and again three times in a row between 1951 and 1953.
Millonarios’ triumphs lit up a glorious period in Colombian footballing history that would become known as El Dorado, an era characterised by entertaining football and vast crowds. As their fame spread, so the Bogota club began to receive offers to play all over the world.
The team was a footballing machine.
It was on one such trip overseas that the entertainers in blue would acquire legendary status. Accepting Real Madrid’s invitation to compete in the Campeonato de las Bodas de Oro in 1952, Millonarios thrilled the Spanish crowds in beating Swedish champions IFK Norrkoping 2-1, before seeing off the mighty hosts 4-2, with the incomparable Di Stefano scoring two of the goals.
“The team was a footballing machine,” said Di Stefano, who would join the Spanish giants not long afterwards. “Nobody got the better of the European sides back then.”
In the years that followed Millonarios would play Los Merengues on five more occasions, winning two and drawing three of those games and earning the nickname of El Embajador (The Ambassador) in the process. “We showed that we really were better than them,” the team’s goalkeeper, Julio Cozzi, would later say.
Millonarios would write a second glorious chapter in their history under Gabriel Ochoa Uribe. Between 1959 and 1964 Los Albiazules won five more league titles, the last of them coming in Efrain Sanchez’s first year in charge, and also took part in the first Copa Libertadores competition, taking a creditable fourth place.
Uribe’s return as coach in 1970 triggered yet more success. Inspired by the goals of Wellington Ortiz, Millonarios reached the semi-finals of the Libertadores the following year and again in 1972, when which they also secured league championship number ten.
Though an 11th title would follow six years later, Los Embajadores would have to wait the best part of a decade before dominating the domestic scene once more. Their 1987 triumph was achieved in style, however, as they won each and every phase of the competition and also added a couple of international friendly trophies for good measure.
Their 13th and last championship crown came 12 months later and though the last two decades have proved barren ones for Millonarios, only America de Cali have won as many league titles.
“It’s the fans that make Millonarios a big club,” said Argentinian midfielder Mario Vanemerak, who scored the goal that clinched their last championship win. “I remember winning that title like it was yesterday. When we returned from Barranquilla we travelled back to the training camp and there was just a sea of people everywhere. A lot of players never realise the support this club has behind it.”
Since then Millonarios have endured a number of crises on and off the pitch, with second-place finishes in 1994 and 1995 and a Copa Merconorte win in 2001 providing little in the way of consolation. For the seventh consecutive season Los Albiazules have failed to make the championship play-offs, a run that stretches their title drought to 22 years. Though that winless streak is far too long for their loyal set of supporters, they still proudly point to the fact that the club has amassed more points and wins than any other team in the history of Colombian football.
Since their foundation 64 years ago Millonarios have played their home games at the Estadio Nemesio Camacho. El Campin, as it is also known, was built to host the 1938 Bolivarian Games and was officially opened on 10 August that year. A series of ground improvements raised its capacity from an initial 10,000 to 63,000, although it currently holds 46,000. Millonarios have shared thevstadium with arch-rivals Santa Fe since 1951, though it has been used by other clubs for Copa Libertadores ties. A venue at the 2001 Copa America, El Campin has also staged several FIFA World Cup™ qualifying matches.