He was the first big star of Spanish football and in the modern day he would probably be vying for the headlines with Cristiano Ronaldo and Leo Messi. He started his career at Español (as the club was called until 1995) and later played for both Real Madrid and Barcelona. This year is the 100th anniversary of the debut of Ricardo Zamora, who played his first professional match in April 22, 1916. Representing Español, the match was against Madrid at the old O´Donnell ground in the capital. The sides played two friendly matches in two days, the first ending 1-1 and the second a 2-0 victory for the Parakeets. Santiago Bernabéu played for Real in both matches.
The story behind Zamora’s debut is fitting for the epoch, a time when football retained the romance of amateurism and sportsmanship. Español’s starting keeper at the time was Pere Gibert, “The Clamp”, but he elected not to travel to Madrid to attend to business in Barcelona. And so it was that Español approached a 15-year-old keeper at Universitari. Despite his family’s reservations about their son travelling to the capital with so many older players, Josep Maria Tallada, the club treasurer, persuaded them to let Zamora join the team on the understanding that he personally would act as tutor and guardian to the boy.
The squad travelled to Madrid on third-class train tickets with Zamora in their ranks. The 15-year-old was obliged to wear trousers to hide his callow years. “As the trip was organized at the last minute, I had to wear the trousers I had worn at my first communion, which were the only ones I had,” Zamora later recalled in his autobiography “Memories of my Life, 10 years keeping goal at Español.”
The side lodged in a hostel in the central Sol district and Zamora has to ask a teammate, Armet, to share his room due to his fear of sleeping alone.
Zamora shone against Madrid and played in goal for Español until 1919, and then again from 1922 to 1929, winning a Spanish cup, and was subsequently signed by Madrid in 1930 for 150,000 pesetas, a fortune at the time. He became the most revered keeper in Spain and the national team stopper at the 1920 Olympics, where La Roja were runners-up. The saying about Zamora passed into legend, and his name adorns the trophy for the best keeper in the Spanish league each year to this day: “There are only two keepers; Saint Peter in heaven and Zamora on earth.”