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Madrid 'friendly' with Man City descends into a bloodbath

Seven goals, four sent off and missiles hurled from the stands at coach Malcolm Allison; there was little festive spirit in the December 1979 'friendly'...

Madrid 'friendly' with Man City descends into a bloodbath

Just a few days before Christmas 1979, Real Madrid entertained Manchester City in a friendly that turned out to be anything but amicable – if the truth be told, it was an infamously savage affair. Madrid coach Vujadin Boškov had put in a request to the club to arrange a friendly over the festive period, asking then-president Luis de Carlos that he would like the team to face a British side in preparation for the quarter finals of the European Cup as there was a chance that they could be drawn against either Nottingham Forest or Celtic. The club agreed.

Manchester City were chosen because they were one of the more economic options, and as opposition they were neither too strong nor too weak (they entered the holidays in 14th place in the English First Division); but they had also relatively recently won the European Cup Winners’ Cup and they had two players who aroused interest: one was Kazimierz Deyna, a widely-respected player, who, with his career coming to an end had been granted permission to leave Poland; the other was a certain Mike Robinson, a young 20-year-old lad who had been signed the previous summer from Preston North End for 756,000 pounds – a club record. That Mike Robinson is known today as our very own Michael Robinson, the reputable radio/television commentator and producer.

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The friendly took place on Wednesday 19th December, on a bitterly cold night. Madrid went into it on the back of a 4-1 away win at Málaga three days earlier – which involved a controversial handball by Benito that the ref didn’t see. At the end of the match, Juanito admitted the handball and added that Málaga should have been given a penalty. His admission didn’t go down at all well with Boskov, Benito or anyone else back in Madrid. It was even discussed whether he should be fined. The Madrid team bus was pelted with stones on leaving La Rosaleda and one director, Manuel Mestanza, was hit. So the mood was strained even before City had arrived.

To attract the public, ticket prices were slashed: 100 pesetas (1.66 euros) for the cheapest seat, 700 pesetas the most expensive – almost half the usual entrance fee. Kick-off was set for 9pm. Unfortunately, on the eve of the game a cold snap hit the capital, bringing with it heavy rain.

Robinson recalled: “I’d been in Mallorca the previous summer but this was my first visit to mainland Spain to play football – and at the Bernabéu! I couldn’t have been more excited. I remember my Dad telling me as a boy that there was only one place where they played better football than in England - the Santiago Bernabéu. At Preston the manager was Bobby Charlton and the coach, Nobby Stiles, and they both spoke wonders about Real Madrid. So I arrived with all of these images going round my head of Di Stéfano, Puskás, Gento… When we were in the changing room I imagined that I could well be sat in the same place where Bobby Charlton had once sat, but…”

It was a night to remember for other reasons. Everything that could go wrong did. It rained cats and dogs and the turnout was poor. Madrid started with: Miguel Ángel; Sabido, Benito, Sol, Isidro; Ángel, Del Bosque, García Hernández; Juanito, Santillana and Laurie Cunningham. (Stielike was on international duty with Germany). On six minutes, Santillana opened the scoring, City appealed for offside, but the referee, the Madrid-born Augusto Lamo Castillo let it stand. Juanito wound the visitors up even further, overdoing his flashy skills, showboating and nutmegging City’s players. “We had players with very strong characters", Robinson told me years later, "and that didn’t go own at all well with them”.

Then the vindictiveness and the kicking started; when City equalised directly from a corner kick on 10 minutes things were already getting out of hand. Isidro (Madrid’s versatile wild card who could play in defence or out wide on the wing) retaliated after Steve Daley and Dave Bennett took it in turns to give Juanito a thorough booting. City upped their aggression a few notches after Juanito made it 2-1 on 25 minutes; Isidro takes up the story: “Boskov would forgive  anything - but he wouldn't forgive you for not getting stuck in when things turned nasty”. Almost instantly, the coach took Cunningham off as a precaution – he was already carrying a knock to his ankle; Poli Rincón took his place - and gleefully joined in the on-field hostilities.

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Lamo Castillo's performance was cowardly to put it mildly – he’d allow the most eye-watering challenges to go unpunished - he wanted the game to flow without interruption. Ángel and Daley came to blows and both should have been ordered off but the two of them were allowed to carry on. On 36 minutes Juanito found the net again and Boskov immediately took him off, because it was obvious that if he didn’t, City would. Boskov hoped that this might calm the situation down... Then, just two minutes before half-time, Shinton pulled a goal back; Boskov breathed a sigh of relief. The following day he told me: “A physical game is one thing, but what was going on was something else entirely”.

The nastiness escalated when the game resumed. The ref had completely lost any kind of control or authority – it descended into a free-for-all, an orgy of violence. I was present and I can safely say that out of the 50 most violent kicks I have witnessed in years as a spectator, half of them occurred that night. I’d seen a few horrific tackles in South America, but never in Europe.

Poli Rincón made it 4-2 on 52 minutes, clearly yards offside - that only infuriated the English players even more. Isidro recounts the story: “They went right for us and we responded. It was every man for himself. I remember a corner, both of their centre-backs came up for it. Benito and myself had to mark them. They had that look in their eyes. I said to Goyo: ‘Hey, these two have come to get us’. And Goyo replied: ‘Well let’s do them first then’. Almost as soon as the kick was taken, we’d taken them out and both were on the floor. We couldn’t let it show that we were afraid”.

On 57 minutes Isidro made two consecutive, blood-curdling challenges, which Lamo ignored. He’d permit the most terrifying challenges, and stop the game for moderate ones. City manager Malcolm Allison was gesticulating wildly to the public - they responded by hurling objects or spitting at him – and at his players whenever they got too close to the touchline.

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Slap bang in the middle of the mayhem, there was a moment of incredible beauty: García Hernández found the top corner with the sweetest of strikes - 5-2 - magical.

Then the butchery started up again. Sabido, Benito, Isidro, Ángel and Rincón were the chief culprits on the madridista side; Ranson, Booth, Bennett, Daley and Shinton gave as good as they got for City. Robinson remembers the repeated kicking Benito gave him: “[Nobby] Stiles, who was a notorious hatchetman, used to jokingly say that he never acted with bad intentions, just that his eyesight was poor. Benito was a bit cross-eyed, so I thought that must be the reason why I kept getting kicked. Sol though was far more relaxed; we made gestures to him as a way of asking him to calm things down. Of course I didn’t speak Spanish at all then but he understood us. It was like: What’s going on here? We’re going to end up killing each other! or: What do you want me to do about it?”

On 64 minutes Benito and Booth were at each others throats, almost strangling each other, smacking the hell out of each other… Finally, Lamo intervened by sending both players off. But it remained just as heated on the field. Bennett took a swipe at Rincón who miraculously emerged unscathed then followed up by sending Ray Ranson flying into the air. A City director was asked to leave the VIP box by the authorities because he was becoming “increasingly aggressive”.

On minutes 70 and 72 Lamo fished out his red card again, sending Ranson and Ángel back to the changing rooms. For 20 minutes I watched, I believe for the first and only time in my life, a match with nine against nine, both playing 3-3-2, and both still trying, despite the pain, to kick the living daylights out of each other. Luckily, as both teams had been numerically reduced, at least they were now further away from each other.

Anyway, as it turned out in the European Cup draw, Madrid were indeed pitted against Celtic. Boskov’s lot lost 2-0 in Glasgow but fought back to win 3-0 here, in another bad-tempered bloodbath. So at least their dress rehearsal against City served for something…


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