Our football had seen better times. Kubala’s long period as a coach, eleven years and 67 games, had just ended with disappointment. Kubala arrived with an optimistic air (“Good guys, good morale”) and won battles, but lost all wars. Now we had just crashed in the group stage at the Italian Euro 80, with a draw and two defeats. There was still talk of ‘the Spanish fury’, a stir that the first Antwerp National Team brought, back in 1920, and that hindered its subsequent history for decades.
Our football wasn’t doing much at that time. It was common for some Thursday of the year the sports press to headline “Black Wednesday”, due to the simultaneous elimination of several of our representatives in Europe. There were exceptions, such as two Cup Winners’ Cups for Barça and one for Valencia, or the European Cup final in Madrid in 1981, but the general tone was weak. Real Madrid, our usual European flag before and after that period, took a scandalous victory every time they went to Germany. In Spain Real ruled, well grouped around Arconada, a goal colossus whose Adidas jersey at that time all Spanish children asked for on Three Kings Day, and they wisely deployed on the counterattack with three pearls, Zamora, López Ufarte and Satrústegui. They were also good years for Sporting.
After that failure at Euro 1980, Pablo Porta chose José Emilio Santamaría as coach. Born in Uruguay, the son of Galician parents, he was part of the most glorious Madrid team as a central defender. Retired, he became a coach. With Espanyol he almost won the League title and then led the national team’s youth ranks decently. His appointment seemed logical.
And it cannot be said that the World Cup was not prepared. As there was no qualifying round to go through, an extensive plan of friendlies was organized that included a tour of Latin America in the summer of 1981. In two seasons we played 19 games with a very famous victory, the first in our history at Wembley. Even more jubilant because that same day Quini was freed from the hands of his kidnappers. In total, there were nine wins, six draws and four losses. As many games were played away and in general the results were better, the feeling was not bad.
The draw gave us a group that was not scary: Honduras, Yugoslavia and Northern Ireland. However, something was not right. Santamaría, who was never a talkative man but was very polite, became sullen, distrustful and unfriendly.
The list did not have too many critics: six from Real, five from Madrid, four from Barça, three from Sporting, two from Valencia, one from Athletic and another from Betis. The exclusion of the only representative of Atlético, Quique Ramos, raised some debate, included in a first list of 23 but separated because only 22 were accepted and Santamaría chose to take three goalkeepers and one less field player. Dr. Guillén, from the Federation, said that he was injured, something that Atlético’s doctor, Dr. Ibáñez, denied.
The big shadow was the raw rivalry between Real and Madrid. There were no doubts about Arconada, but many in the case of Santillana and Satrústegui, competition for the 9 in which sporting player Quini participated. In San Sebastián Juanito was detested, and in Madrid, and not only there, he looked closely at whether or not the Real team left the hem of the stocking visible, with the colors of Spain. Those were tough years for ETA (in 1980 it murdered 96 people, its record), part of the fans distrusted some Real players, either due to lack of conviction, or because they felt the weight of the threat, and that poisoned the atmosphere. That may have been the ultimate cause of Santamaría’s bad mood.
There was concentration in two phases: first in the Pyrenees, to oxygenate, and then in El Saler. There was always an air of boredom or bad coexistence. Nothing loud, but it was noticeable in the atmosphere. Although ETA gave a truce during the World Cup, it was not announced, and the players lived surrounded by armed anti-terrorist guards.
The debut, on June 16, was against Honduras, and Santamaría took out those numbered 1 to 11 on the list delivered to FIFA in advance, giving the impression of very firm ideas. But he forced Camacho’s position: as he had two excellent left backs, he and Gordillo, he placed the Madrid player on the right, where he performed poorly.
Spain played stiff, well below the value of its players and Honduras took the lead in the 7th minute. In the 66th minute there is a penalty against Saura, one of those that is awarded to the home team and not the away team. López Ufarte transforms it. Spain is supposed to improve now, but nothing like that. In the end, 1-1 and a bad feeling.
The days between games are tremendous. What if Satrústegui, what if Juanito, what if the socks, what if why Camacho on the right, what if this one doesn’t give it to the other and if he gives it to him he doesn’t give it back, why doesn’t that one come out…
On the 20th, the Valencian fans, the best of the Honduran night, renew their enthusiastic presence at the Luis Casanova. It’s Yugoslavia, which is coming off a 0-0 draw against Northern Ireland. In the 10th minute he went ahead with a goal from Gudelj and very soon, in the 14th minute, the Danish referee Lund-Sorensen helped us with a penalty for knocking down Perico Alonso a meter outside the area. López Ufarte throws it wide, but Lund-Sorensen makes him repeat it because the goal has moved, a rigor that was not used then. When López Ufarte goes to repeat, Juanito takes the ball out of his hands, throws it, and scores 1-1. An ominous feeling remains. Spain continues to play poorly, but Saura scores from a corner. Spain wins, although without a game. Of his three goals, two have been penalties, one homemade, the other non-existent. Saura has been the providential man twice coming off the bench and Valencia claims him as a starter; In San Sebastián Juanito’s gesture is criticized, in Madrid it is said that Satrústegui blocks the way to Santillana, Gijón vindicates Quini… Spain is a chicken coop.
It’s time to close the 25th with Northern Ireland, who arrives with two draws. The fans try to see the bottle half full: we are classified even though we lose by a goal difference, since the day before Yugoslavia beat Honduras (1-0). But Spain plays terribly again and loses 1-0. The goal comes from a bad rebound by Arconada and that renews suffocating discussions about the socks. He didn’t wear those of the National Team, he always played with white. He also did it with Real, out of cabal, even when they wore blue socks to play against white teams.
Going second takes us to play the second group, of three, against two group champions, the FRG and England. It is not expected, winning our group would have led us to play against two runners-up, Austria and France, but… We lost to Germany and tied with England, the latter when we were already eliminated. We had come too far.
Over time I have spoken with quite a few protagonists about that. The idea that the Basques played poorly due to threats from ETA is not supported by anyone, but everyone lived uncomfortably under the terrorist threat, surrounded by machine guns. On days off they were accompanied by police surveillance when they went home, and not just the Basques. If anyone moved he had to notify the Civil Guard barracks. On the other hand, it is a common idea that the physical preparation was not good. Too much workload caused them to stiffen, they did not feel fast and the loss of confidence increased.
El Corte Inglés had established a prize for the best Spanish in the competition. Journalists had to vote for it. Only Gordillo had votes, five, all from Seville. It was decided to declare it deserted.
They were years of confusion in our football, which still spoke of fury while for each fan the favorite was the skilled or the intelligent. And the National Team didn’t have much heat either: the fans of the big teams were fans of it much sooner than of the national team, which they saw according to how their team played and succeeded more or less. Santamaría, for his part, did not get it right. His Selection turned out to be a dog of a thousand milks, without harmony. The disagreements between the two majority minorities, Real and Madrid, had an impact. Santamaría vanished. For many years he was untraceable, that World Cup changed his life. Today he is a healthy nonagenarian who has long since regained his peace and can be seen, but he never trained again.
Shortly after, La Quinta del Buitre appeared, with its five consecutive leagues and two Uefas, and immediately the Dream Team of Cruyff, with four other leagues and a Champions League. There began the takeoff of our football, burying the fury, heading towards a game of good footing and offensive prominence. But the 1982 World Cup caught us in a phase of confusion and bad agreement.
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