Why are Real Madrid known as the ‘Vikings’?
Real Madrid, who meet Barcelona in LaLiga on Saturday, are regularly referred to as ‘Los Vikingos’. Where does the Spanish giants’ nickname come from?
Given that Real Madrid play in an all-white home kit, club nicknames such as ‘Los Blancos’ (‘the Whites’) and ‘Los Merengues’ (‘the Meringues’) don’t require all that much explaining. However, another common moniker for the Spanish and European champions, who take on arch rivals Barcelona in the season’s first Clásico on Saturday, does need some unpacking: ‘Los Vikingos’ (‘the Vikings’).
Viking imagery a Real Madrid regular
It is not uncommon to see Madrid supporters at games wearing the horned helmets traditionally associated with Vikings - the seafaring Scandinavian pirates and traders who, between the ninth and 11th centuries, raided and settled in areas across Europe and beyond.
Viking imagery is also often used by Madrid fans on the large tifos they are known for unfurling inside the stadium on big occasions. Before a Spanish-capital derby against Atlético Madrid in 2017, for example, supporters in one end of Madrid’s Bernabéu home ground unveiled a banner depicting a Viking sitting on a throne, with broken shields bearing the red and white of Atlético at his feet. The image was accompanied by the message: “The throne is ours.”
The names of a number of Real Madrid’s official supporters’ clubs - e.g. Orgullo Vikingo, Perú Vikingo, El Quijote Vikingo - also make reference to the club’s nickname.
So where did the nickname ‘Los Vikingos’ come from?
There appear to be two chief theories as to its provenance.
One credits the UK newspaper the Times with launching the nickname, and dates back to Real Madrid’s famous European Cup final win in 1960, when a side led by Alfredo di Stéfano and Ferenc Puskas thumped Eintracht Frankfurt 7-3 to secure the club’s fifth consecutive continental title. In the aftermath of what is considered one of the tournament’s greatest ever finals, an article in the Times - which AS USA was unable to track down - is widely quoted as having compared Madrid’s domination of Europe with that of the Vikings.
The second major theory behind the adoption of the nickname relates to Real Madrid’s transfer dealings in the 1970s - a decade in which they made Henning Jensen the first ever Dane to play for the club, and also brought in a trio of big-name Germans in Günter Netzer, Paul Breitner and Uli Stielike. Partly owing, it seems, to Germany’s geographical proximity to Scandinavia (and Spaniards’ slight tendency to refer to any pale-skinned, fair-haired northern European as being ‘nórdico’), the arrival of such players is said to have prompted the moniker ‘Los Vikingos’.
According to this theory, it was Atlético’s fans who coined the nickname, seemingly encouraged by physical traits that fit stereotypical notions of a Viking’s appearance. Lighter-skinned than their Spanish and South American team-mates, the German and Danish players all had long, voluminous hair - a look that was fashionable at the time - and, though Breitner and Stielike were darker-haired than the blond Netzer and Jensen, both tended to sport a prominent, bushy moustache or beard.