Pyro On The Pitch #12: Real Madrid vs Athletic Club Bilbao, La Liga Primera División, 27/11/1983

After a brief mid-Summer break, we’re back and once again have rotated around to our original flagship series. In the last installment we checked out one of Romania’s unsung supporter communities of the early ’80s, in Universitatea Craiova and their fixture with Hajduk Split in 1983. Now we are going to revisit an encounter that we touched on back in Pyro On The Pitch #9: – Anderlecht vs Real Madrid 1984, while talking about the latter’s immediate prior history.

Background:

In 1920 Madrid FC were given the title “Real” by King Alfonso XIII of Spain, as an officially dubbed royal club of the kingdom. Having  been formed 18 years earlier after a split from a university team, they would go on to represent one of Europe’s great capital cities and become the favoured team of Spanish dictator Franco, who restored the “Real” title after it had been stripped during the years of the Second Spanish Republic, along with the crown on the club’s crest.

On the pitch Real were officially a continental powerhouse since the 1950s when the European Cup began. Success in this competition was appropriate, as the club’s president from 1943-1978, Santiago Bernabéu Yeste, was one of the three men to organise the start of the Cup for UEFA in 1955.

Considering all this, it is no wonder that the club became hugely supported and to house this support was also one of Europe’s biggest stadiums. In that same year of 1955, their Nuevo Estadio Chamartín was renamed to Santiago Bernabéu by the club’s board in honour of their chairman and was expanded from 75,000 capacity to a mammoth 125,000 (over-crowded to nearly 130,000 for a visit of Milan the following year, the ground’s record attendance).


Some of the record breaking 129,690 supporters in the freshly redeveloped Bernabéu, Real Madrid vs AC Milan, European Cup semi-final, 1956.

With their history of royalist-fasicst connections, it is also not surprising that the club’s support base swings to the right. In contrast, Madrid rivals Athletico were formed by Basque students as a feeder club for Athletic Bilbao, who’s Basque-only player policy marks them as a de-facto separatist Pays Basque team in the Spanish league, although there is a strong right-element in the Atheltico Madird support also.

By 1980, the movement of organised young supporter units that had been spreading in Europe reached Spain and Read Madrid’s Ultras Sur were formed. The group were based in the stadium’s South Stand terraces (sur of course meaning south), but rabid, colourful support was common on all sides of the massive ground. An especially large attendance was of course most guaranteed for big European ties.


Home fans celebrate a goal in what would be a 3-0 victory, Real Madrid vs Glasgow Celtic, European Cup quarter final, 1980.0.

100,000 in the Bernabéu for the visit of Spartak Moscow, European Cup 80/81.

A respectable crowd of 65,000 even came to see Real effectively play themselves in the 1980 Cope Del Rey final, also in the Bernabéu, when amazingly they ended up against their B-team Real Madrid Castilla. Unsurprisingly the A-team won 6-1, but hopefully there were a handful of hipster types disgusted by Madrid’s success who staunchly supported Castilla only, akin to a modern wrestling fan preferring NXT over WWE.


Real Madrid vs Castilla, Copa Del Rey final, 1980.

There would be a crowd of nearly twice that of the cup final for the following seasons visit of Internazionale – a slightly more challenging European Cup semi. En route to a 2-0 victory that would help win the tie (ultimately followed by defeat to Liverpool in the final), the home players could be seen scaling the pitch-side fence and saluting the packed Ultras Sur enclosure.


Players celebrate a goal at the South Stand, Real Madrid vs Internazionale, European Cup semi final 1981.

As mentioned, other areas of the ground were also home to passionate supporters. A particular section at the opposite end to the ultras and to the left of a dividing fence in the terrace was often eye catching as a sea of waving flags. But Ultras Sur, with their overtly right-wing leanings, had arrived as the dominant group at the in the stadium and would soon make their presence felt on the pitch as well as in the stands.


Home support in the North Stand enclosure, Real Madrid vs Barcelona, Primera División 83/84.

The Match:

The apparent earliest evidence of Ultras Sur’s ire being directed towards the pitch would feature the visit of the aforementioned Basques of Athletic Bilbao, now long divorced from Real’s crosstown rivals. By the time the two were to meet in a November 1983 league encounter, the Bernabéu stadium had been redeveloped again for the 1982 World Cup and as a result had it’s capacity reduced to “only” 98,000, and then 85,000 for the 83/84 season.

Before the match report we see a cartoon image – accompanied by fantastic classic ’80s theme music which really is worth checking out at the end of the article – of what  appears to be an Athletic player with a flaming torch pulling back a Real player, who’s holding a sign containing the following cryptic message in Spanish:

Today we bore more than yesterday but less than tomorrow.

Unfortunately we only have black and white footage of the match, which makes it  look far older than it is. But as always, the Madridistas are unmistakable with their mostly white tifo material, which is the first sight we see from the stadium:

While we don’t have an attendance figure, the ground seems as packed as for any big game. Indeed Real had finished 2nd the previous year to Bilbao and the two were again main competitors for the title in 83/84. At the north end, the section to the left of the goal is even more densely flagged than as seen above against Bacrelona in the same season:

But of course the main action was to occur at the other “Sur” end of the ground, as while Real attack at some stage in the first half, at least one “Bengal” flare from the crowd lands near the penalty spot. The goalkeeper immediately points an accusatory figure towards the packed terraces behind him and the camera pans up following suit:

The black and white footage makes it hard to see what has happened at first, but the definite billowing of smoke from the pyro gives it away:

We have previously seen a situation at a Spanish home international fixture where a foreign referee happily allowed a match to go on around pyro on the pitch, but in this case the native official stops the game and runs to the touchline to alert the authorities that trouble is afoot:

The announcer of the footage possibly gives an explanation for the action as part of a protest of some sort, but unfortunately as we are not fluent in Spanish this is more of a guess. However if you do understand what is being said, please get in touch!

Back in the stand, fighting among the supporters has also broken out. Whether this is rival factions clashing over the flare being thrown, or something else, is again unclear. On the other side of the parameter fence below, the press quickly assemble to document  the unfolding drama:

Before long, a hand-full of local constabulary are on the scene. But displaying the obvious unreadiness for such an occurrence, they have to sprint from the main entrance to the pitch by the dugout – a common scenario in the era that we have seen several times before:

There may have in fact been more officers already on hand though, as quite quickly the first alleged perpetrator emerges and is forcibly escorted away from the mass of bodies at the front of the stand:

Even in black and white, the fashion of the time is evident by the supporter’s big hair, flared trousers and possibly heeled shoes. He is led away out of the stadium (presumably destined for a physical beating), swiftly followed by another captive who is more obviously a football fan due to his long scarf:

The next arrest is not so easy for the police. It appears an entire regiment have surrounded the Sur-suspect and are leading him away, when a Christ-like fall occurs, quite possibly resulting in some harsh treatment to get him back on his feet:

The football has been continuing as this is going down, but after a half-hearted scan back to the game the cameraman shows that the action off the field is far more captivating, much like the ethos of this very blog. Well done, sir (or should I say, sur):

Also ignoring the match – and in a scene you would be unlikely to see today (partly because most supporters would be taking their own videos and pictures anyway) – the press form a neat phalanx to get the best shot for Monday’s papers:

Having been sufficiently subdued and back on his feet, the supporter is finally led away as the journalist jackals scurry to get one last vantage point of the pathetic, defeated face of football crime:

This was the end of the off-field story, but the remnants of the situation can still be seen later in the game as a slight gap in the crowd is visible in the same section of otherwise congested terrace:

Those of you paying attention earlier will have noticed that the report opened with a spoiler that the match ended 0-0. It would be one of many instances of dropped points for Real Madrid that season that would ultimately cost them cruelly, as Athletic Bilbao took their second consecutive championship only by goal difference. But what may have hurt most for the capital city club was that including Real Sociedad’s two title wins at the start of the decade, it was the fourth year in a row that the title went to a Basque side since Real Madrid themselves had last won it in 1980.

Youtube link.

***

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