Bruges, Santiago Bernabéu's last away trip with Real Madrid

Real Madrid's trip to Belgium for their European Cup Last 16 tie in November 1976 was the president's last European trip with the team. He passed away in 1978.

Santiago Bernabéu, descendiendo de un avión en el aeropuerto de Madrid.

Real Madrid return to Bruges for the first time since 1976, when they were eliminated from the 1976-77 European Cup at the Last 16 stage. That trip to the Belgian town known as being one of the Venices of the north was also the last time president Santiago Bernabéu travelled with the team for a european tie. Just over a year and a half later, in June 1978, the legendary president passed away.

Madrid travelled to Bruges on 2 November 1976, just three days after beating Valencia 2-0 in LaLiga, a Valencia side who had made several reinforcements over the summer and who were candidates to win the league. That result helped to created a positive mood within the squad, and the idea was to come away from Bruges with a win or a draw from the second leg (the first leg at home had ended goalless).

On arrival in Brussels, the Madrid party were met by scores of Spanish fans at the airport. The team were driven the 100 kilometres to Bruges where they were to spend the night. Brugges fans were euphoric because three days previously the Blauw-Zwart had thrashed Eendracht Gerhees Oostham 10-1 in the second round of the Coupe de Belgique, and they were hopeful their team could gain a similar rout at home to Madrid.

For Real Madrid coach Miljan Miljanic, his big doubt was whether Pirri would recover from the pulled hamstring he suffered in the Valencia game. Pirri was ruled out at the last minute.

Within the Madrid party, president Santiago Bernabéu already had a bad feeling about the tie. He was highly supersticious: "Every time we have played a tie in Belgium we have been elimintade, and it always happens every seven years. First by Anderlecht (in 1962) then Standard Liège (in 1969)". A fact that the local media had also noted...

Adding to the ominous mood was that the referee for the game was English match official Ken Burns, who they felt had made contentious decisions which went against Madrid in their meeting with Red Star Belgrade in March 1975 (Red Star levelled the tie and won the penalty shoot-out): "I'll never forget that performance from the ref. It was strange becauase English refs are usually amazing - I am a big fan of English refs. But there are always exceptions…" Bernabéu said. The players however, felt optimistic: "We are the better and we'll show it", exclaimed Paul Breitner.

After leaving their belongings at the hotel, the squad were taken to the stadium to take a look at the pitch and check the flood lighting. Something unsettled the players on the day of the game, just as the players were getting off the team bus, a Brugge player, Paul Courant arrived at the same time - on a bicycle. The Madrid players were astounded.

One the game was underway (it was broadcast all over Europe - apart from Spain), Santiago Bernabéu started to get nervous. Some players were not wearing boots with long studs which meant they skidded when in possession or challenging the opposition. Added to that, Brugge were playing out of their skin. Ulrik Le Fevre put them ahead with a fierce volley into the top corner on 18 minutes then Rubiñán turned the ball past his own keeper trying to clear a corner just before the half-time whistle. That left Madrid two goals down and with a mountain to climb in the second half. Then, to make matters worse, Benito hobbled off injured on  60 minutes but Miljanic was unable to replace him because he'd already used up all of his subs (Del Bosque came on for Velázquez and Roberto Martínez entered for Chupete Guerini).

On the final whistle, Bernabéu was furious with the ref: "He spent the whole game talking to their number 8, (ex-Derby County player Roger Davies), his compatriot, I don't know what they were cooking up. He started but I knew it was just a question of time before he would award a penalty against us; then wouldn't you know it! Just our best moment of the game he gives a pen against us (Miguel Ángel saved from Lambert). He spent the whole game on our players' backs, especially Camacho's.."

To add insult to injury, the following day Madrid had their flight home delayed by four hours due to an air traffic controllers' strike. Worst of all, Bruges mayor Michel Van Maele's house was burgled during the game - thieves making off with goods worth several thousand Belgian francs. So in the end Madrid earned 87,000 pesetas (540 euros)... for losing. That season (1976-77), Madrid ended ninth in the league and didn't qualify for the following season's European competitions. Luis de Carlos would be president for the team's next game in Europe - against Luxembourg's Progrès Niedercorn in September 1978. A game they won easily by five goals to nil.