Not long ago, the Spanish television channel Movistar aired a wonderful documentary called “Football before tiki-taka”. It looked back on a time of defenders who took no prisoners, an era before the TV coverage of today. Now, cameras capture angle upon angle and show every last incident in stark detail, so there's no getting away with what went on back then. Watching such a litany of ferocious challenges now, I was quite taken aback. Former Real Madrid stalwart Goyo Benito, who died on Thursday, belonged to that age. “If a defender isn’t tough, I can’t take him seriously,” he told me once. Héctor del Mar, a commentator known for the nicknames he gave players, referred to Benito as the ‘Wild Axe’.
Goyo Benito was full-blooded but fair
However, the documentary doesn’t show Benito making tackles anything like as bad as some that do feature and have gone down in history, because there weren’t any to show. He was a full-blooded defender, not least when he left his position at the heart of the backline to meet a winger advancing up the field, with the Bernabéu shouting, “Kill him, Benito!” But there was no malice in the way he went in on his opponents. That’s why he caused far fewer injuries than he himself suffered: he had five knee operations, as well as one on his leg and two to repair his nose. Not all forwards were like the saintly José Eulogio Gárate. Others, such as Felipe Ocampos and Molonguita Heredia, certainly knew how to dish it out.
Despite his injury record, Benito played until he was 35, racking up 420 games for Madrid and earning 22 caps for Spain alongside greats like Tonono Afonso and Gallego. His infectious enthusiasm kept him going. After retiring, he opened a gastro-pub in Madrid which, for many years, was a hub of the city’s football scene - and a go-to bar for those who weren’t part of it, too. Recently, ex-Barcelona player Juan Manuel Asensi told me that, since there were no night flights in those days, Barça and Madrid players would get together there post-match to have a beer, talk about the game and have a laugh. A different time, when people understood that the match ended at the final whistle. A time that’s now past. Rest in peace.