Our Guest Author: Amal Gosh
It has been over 32 years since the 1988 Motín del Hesperia, considered the greatest rebellion from the players against their president at Barcelona. Is there something to be learned and applied to the current crisis at the club?
On 28 April 1988, the clock ticked five on a warm Thursday afternoon. The players of the first team of FC Barcelona gathered at a rather unusual location. It was three kilometers from the Camp Nou, at a hotel in Els Vergós street called Hesperia. Twenty-two players, and the head coach Luis Argonés, sat in front of the press and declared revolution against the club management by denouncing then-president Josep Lluís Núñez and his syndicates for the inhumane and unprofessional treatment of the players and the club.
‘El Motín del Hesperia’ or ‘The mutiny of Hesperia’ is remembered as the most convoluted turmoil in the history of FC Barcelona. Moreover, it was the first time in the history of Spanish football that a professional squad of social and sporting relevance such as Barcelona addressed the public to condemn the management. Thirty-two years later, the club is going through yet another darkened and melancholic period. This demands our attention to revisit the infamous crisis in the past to understand and possibly delve into the context to convene its relevance in this brand new crisis.
Josep Lluís Núñez, son of a customs officer, was born in Barakaldo, in the Basque province, in 1931. Núñez went on to build the biggest construction company in Catalunya, called Núñez i Navarro. He was elected the president of FC Barcelona for the first time on 1 July 1978 and went on to create a legacy for himself and the club. Núñez’s presidential tenure at the club was considered to be one of the most successful in terms of a brimming trophy cabinet.
Having built a business empire, Núñez emphasised more on the business aspects of the club, thereby providing financial stability to transmute the club into a commercial entity. However, the mutiny of Hesperia transformed Núñez into one of the most controversial figures in the history of the club.
There was a long chain of events that both sporting and management resonated in this mutiny. In 1987, Núñez deployed a new business model, which would allow the club to pay fewer taxes on the player wages. Under this new policy, the club was able to transfer half of the player wages into an image rights contract, which were significantly less taxed. This model was highly beneficial for the club and footballers, as they would receive a higher portion of their wage. Since then, everything went peaceful as both the management and players were in terms.
Nevertheless, moving on to next year everything was going wrong for Barcelona. The 1988 season was absolutely irregular and devastating for the team. Luis Aragonés, who endeavoured a counter-attacking style at Barça, took advantage of the fast and agile profiles of ‘el Lobo’ Carrasco and Gary Lineker upfront. But his tactics were out of place on the pitch and results were not promising. Barcelona had already surrendered La Liga to Madrid with a 23-point difference and four matches left to finish the season. Things were not different in the European competition, as they were knocked out by Bayern Leverkusen.
The late Luis Aragonés, legendary Atlético de Madrid and Spain coach, did not enjoy a too bright spell at Barcelona, though he inherited a poor situation from previous manager Terry Venables | Photo by Jamie McDonald via Getty Images
To make matters worse, there was an inquiry by the Spanish authorities into the club’s new business model and the verdict went against the club. The inspections arrived and demanded the club to reinstall the wage contracts in accordance with the La Liga regulations. The players approached the management in good faith, demanding that the club persuade the authority either to validate the set-up or to make the difference. On the other hand, the fans were protesting and inculpating Núñez for the disappointing campaign. Already in a tough position with the fans protesting for the resignation, Núñez managed to overturn the situation to put blame on the players.
Barcelona had lifted the Copa del Rey after beating Real Sociedad in the final. The squad and Aragonés gained confidence back from the fans. Still, Núñez declined any agreement between the management and players regarding the tax violation and demanded the players to repay the tax due back themselves. Furthermore, Núñez had his priorities and he favoured some players over others. Outraged by the decision, the squad mobilised under captain José Ramón Alexanko and coach Aragonés and assembled at the Hesperia hotel to register the discontent openly.
The press hall was crowded with journalists and captain Alexanko presided over the meeting. He presented a seven-point statement in which the management and Núñez, in particular, was denounced of having “deceived, humiliated and disappointed” the club. They were determined for the resignation of the board, thereby establishing tranquillity and stability at the club. They accused Núñez of dehumanising the institution’s values that embodied the idiosyncrasy of Catalan football.
The Motín del Hesperia was a turning point for Barcelona as it led to the return of Johan Cruyff as a coach and the start of a very bright era for the club | Photo by Jasper Juinen via Getty Images
The aftermath of the mutiny was rather unexpected and resulted in one of the biggest restructurings in the history of the club. The mutiny had failed and didn’t accomplish anything since Núñez was able to change the spotlight to the players. The perception of fans changed the fate of the mutiny, as they indicted the squad for the miserable and surreal season. The footballers were considered a bunch of tainted mercenaries and the fans demanded a total restructuring. There were banners from the fans supporting Núñez and rejecting the players for organising such a revolution.
As the fans turned in favour of Núñez, he went ahead for a massive clean-up. This resulted in an exodus of players and the appointment of a certain Johan Cruyff as the new manager. Only ten footballers remained in the team, including two of the main figures of the uprising such as defender Alexanko, who was favoured by Cruyff for his project, and goalkeeper Andoni Zubizarreta. Núñez rebuilt the squad with the help of Cruyff and went on to have one of the greatest eras in the history of the club.
Now, the mutiny of Hesperia may have floundered to achieve its purpose, but it is a reminder of how the collective response from the squad had such an impact on the club. If not for the unexpected reactions from the fans, the board and Núñez may have been relinquished from the power. So what is the relevance of the Hesperia mutiny now?
This ongoing turmoil may have been an entirely different precedent, yet the common factor remains the lack of high-quality management. There are things from the 1988 mutiny that we can learn and possibly not repeat in this new crisis. It is important to examine different perspectives and contexts before arriving at a judgment.
After an astoundingly disappointing season, the players were already threatened and it is impossible for them to denounce the management. Even so, the feud between Lionel Messi and president Josep Maria Bartomeu assembled the fans against the management. At this point, it is important for the squad to mobilise and respond as a collective. It is pertinent for the squad to express their discontent against a management that lacks ambition and diverts away from what the club stands for.
“We have a sporting crisis, not an institutional or club one”Josep Maria Bartomeu, on 18 August 2020 after Barcelona’s debacle against Bayern Munich
In the case of Hesperia mutiny, the fans were divided and some were in agreement with Núñez. Since Messi has become the prime figure in the present crisis, the squad can come out in support of him, which would help them to gain the trust back from the fans. Even though Ronald Koeman was appointed and has already announced a restructuring for the club, it is vital for the club to have a board with ambition and respect for its heritage. Núñez was able to rebuild the squad and had an immediate successful campaign. But is it worth taking any more chances with this board?
Since this board was elected, the club has lacked a high level of sporting quality. There were improper, irrational and irrelevant decisions culminating to this downfall. It is up to the players now to decide whether to defend the badge they are wearing or to stay in their safe zones. While the club is going through a moral and identity crisis, it is in the hands of the players to take the step and expose the disagreements in the open. The history of both Catalunya and Barcelona constitutes the stories of revolution and resilience. It is time for another one.
Ricardo Zamora: The greatest between the posts
Guest Author: Amal Ghosh
Ricardo Zamora has a rollercoaster of a footballing career, flooded with controversies. Despite that, he is said to be arguably the greatest goalkeeper of all time.
“He is alone, condemned to watch the match from afar. Never leaving the goal, his only company the two posts and the crossbar, he awaits his own execution by firing squad.” Eduardo Galeano perhaps wrote the most melancholic description of a goalkeeper’s life of solitude.
The memoir of a goalkeeper lies between the thin line of glorious feats and eternal damnation. There were not many of them in the yesteryears of world football that we still reminisce. In fact, many of those who survived the rushing cavalries of the opposition attack were shot, shun, or shaded by that one slip or misplaced dive.
At the beginning of the 1900s, when the game was a far cry from the sophisticated version of the present day, the football pitch was a grant arena to celebrate the sparring between the defence and offence. Stars and idols were born and illustrated for the knack to score goals or the flamboyant display on the pitch.
In 1916, a skinny sixteen years old from Barcelona, who had a fortuitous debut for Espanyol against Real Madrid, went on to become the first superstar in the history of Spanish football. Moreover, the first goalkeeper to make a name for his style and to become an inspiration for the generations to come. Ricardo Zamora Martinez was one of the greatest goalkeepers both in the history of FC Barcelona and La Roja. He was the first and finest of his kind and left a gargantuan legacy behind.
Born on 14th February 1901 in Barcelona, Zamora grew up and learned his craft in goalkeeping on the backstreets of the Catalan city. What started as a leisure activity in the neighborhood, it maneuvered Zamora’s interest in the game and transformed him into a guardian in between the sticks. Challenging and extreme measures to prevent the opposition from scoring often would end up in frayed clothes and bleeding elbows. His parents were unhappy about his pursuit to become a professional footballer as his father wanted him to inherit his field of medicine.
In 1913, Zamora was sent to attend university, which was a turning point in his life. Along with picking up nicotine addiction, he also joined a local team, Universitari SC, and started playing full-time football.
At the same time, the founder of Barcelona, Joan Gamper (Hans Kamper) was scouting for young and fresh talents across Catalonia to bolster the transitioning Blaugrana outfit. Gamper inadvertently encountered a young Zamora who was delivering a staggering performance in front of the goal. Enthralled by his astounding shot-stopping technique and anticipation along with the aplomb character on the pitch, Gamper encouraged him to pursue professional football. Despite acknowledging his talent, Gamper was unsure about recruiting him due to his age, which would make it difficult for him to serve as an immediate replacement at the club. However, at the age of fifteen in 1916, Zamora signed for the rivals Espanyol and made his debut at sixteen.
Pere Gibert, the starting goalkeeper for Espanyol was absent and the club approached young Zamora to accompany them on their trip to face Real Madrid. Zamora delivered an impressive performance against a Los Blancos led by Santiago Bernabeu. The match against Madrid announced the teenage sensational in the Spanish football and promised the starting spot ahead of Gibert. He safeguarded the Espanyol goal till 1919 and inspired them to lift the Campionat de Catalunya in 1918.
However, a dispute with one of the Blanquiazul directors resulted in him leaving the club and signing for the cross-town rivals Barcelona. Zamora dawned the garnet and the blue for the first time on 31st May 1919 in a friendly match against an international eleven consisting of players from the allied nations that had succeeded in the First World War (France, Belgium, and England).
The mere friendly match at the old Carrer Industria ground was in fact much more. It was a monumental instance for its symbolic representation of diplomacy and the introduction of two of the greatest players in the history of Blaugrana — Zamora and Josep Samitier. Both the players became the Blaugrana legends and defined the history of both Barcelona and Spanish football.
The 1920s witnessed the first footballing revolution in Spain. It was the dormant period for the political insurgencies in Catalonia, where the proletarian uprisings and anti-anarchist movements ceased temporarily. Instead, the populace was witnessing another revolution, the rise of the first golden generation at the Les Cortes. Moreover, it was the inception of the Spanish National Team as a major footballing power in world football. Zamora along with Samitier and Paulinho Alcantara were the three pivots responsible for the transformation of Barcelona in the 1920s. Zamora was selected to represent the Spanish national team in the 1920 Antwerp Olympics.
It was the first-ever Spanish team to compete in an international tournament. He made his debut in La Roja’s first international match with a 1-0 victory over Denmark. Though the rampant Spaniards defeated in the final against Belgium, Zamora’s performance throughout the tournament established him as the best shot-stopper in the world.
It was an eventful tournament for Zamora in some other ways as well, who also grabbed some unwanted attention on and off the pitch. He was sent off in the match against Italy for punching and breaking the jaw of an opposing player. Another time, airport customs officials caught him smuggling Havana cigars across the Belgian border which caused the entire team to get detained and searched before leaving for Spain.
At Barcelona, he earned the nickname El Divino (The Divine One) and his road to stardom surviving the assaults from opposition attacks bagged massive applause from the Culés. He possessed an immense threat in anticipation to charge down attackers in his own box and had all the physical attributes that modern-day football demands from a player. Enormous, build stature, and nonchalant character, Zamora wore the iconic high-necked polo jumper and a hard cap and stood in front of the goal to wait for the unleashing thunderbolts and storm. His style was imitated by many of his contemporaries, who could mirror all but that nerve-wracking stare at your soul.
At Barca, he moulded into one of the athletic goalkeepers of the time. His agility and quick reflexes along with the physical superiority often perplexed the attack. Zamora helped Barcelona to lift two Copa del Rey titles and three Campionats de Catalunya. He led a lavish and celebrity life; in fact, he was the first one to explore the scope of marketing the sporting stardom in Spanish football. The Spaniard spent his time with Tango singer Carlos Gardel, smoking three packs of cigarettes a day and drowning in his favorite cognac tipple. Zamora and Samitier had famous night outs in the 1920s, at the time when Barcelona was becoming one of the fashionable cities in Europe. There were poems and songs flattering his honor, cocktails were named after him. Zamora even acted in a film called ‘Zamora Weds At Last’.
Zamora’s three-year-long stint at Barcelona came to an end under some controversial circumstances. It was reported that in June 1922, Zamora allegedly asked the Barca board for a wage of 50,000 pesetas. He wanted a move back to Espanyol and Barca was reluctant to approve of the transfer. Even though he managed to convince them for the transfer; in 1922, a yearlong ban from the association for deceiving the tax authorities about the transfer fee resulted in delaying his return. Zamora stayed at Espanyol until 1930, guiding them to win their maiden Copa del Rey title, and also played the first La Liga season in 1929.
In 1930, Zamora’s performance with a broken sternum in an international friendly against England at Estadio Metropolitano de Madrid was enough for Madrid to pick him up for an astounding 150,000 pesetas, of which he personally received an enormous 40,000 pesetas, making him the highest-earning player in Europe of the time. Zamora’s eventual move to Madrid resulted in a downfall with his once admired Barça fans, who suspected him of having allegiance with anti-Catalan institutions.
At Madrid, Zamora partnered with the stopper-backs Ciriaco and Quincoces to form one of the best defenses by conceding just 15 goals from 18 matches in the league and lifted the first LaLiga title with an unbeaten record. The following season Los Blancos signed his compadre and Barca teammate Samitier and retained the league title by conceding only 17 goals. In spite of the disappointments in the league in 1934 and 1936, he guided them to lift the 1936 Copa del Rey trophy by playing a crucial role in the final against Barcelona. It was inarguably one of the best and crucial performances of his career.
The Cup final tie played at Valencia between Barcelona and Madrid was the last competitive match before the Civil war. The match was going into the final minutes with Madrid leading 2-1 and Barca was pressing high and surrounded Zamora alone in the box. After receiving the ball in the final third, an inform Jose Escola who already scored one back, fired the ball hard and low aiming for the inside post. The dry pitch was covered with blinding dust and it was obscuring the view. The crowd was already screaming and started celebrating the goal. When the dust was cleared, Zamora stood there indifferently holding the ball in his hand. A photograph that was taken near the post, the dive he pulled off seconds before the stupendous save remains one of the iconic images of a goalkeeper in the world of football. A photograph that broke the heart and soul of cules.
The Spanish Civil War broke out in July 1936. Zamora who had a sound relationship with the Franco regiment was captured by the left-wing militia and imprisoned at the Modelo prison. However ABC, a pro-nationalistic paper reported the execution of Zamora and finding his lifeless body in a canal-side in Moncloa district. Nationalistic forces used this as an opportunity to strengthen their propaganda.
Zamora hailed as a gallant victim of the radical left violence. Nationalists were able to exploit the commotion caused by the alleged death of Zamora and in 1934 he was awarded a medal of the Order of the Republic by his namesake by then president of the second Spanish republic, Niceto Zamora. Whilst all this was happening, Zamora was in fact living his life with his regular three-pack cigarettes and cognac in the town of Nice in France. He was partnered with Josep Samitier who fled the country for the same cause, for the third time to play for the local club OG Nice.
Zamora returned to his native in December 1938 to participate in a benefit match between Spain and Real Sociedad, for the Francoist militia. He was later honored by the Franco regiment by the Great Cross of the Order of Cisneros in the 1950s, an evident validation for the great services to the regime. Zamora died in 1978, leaving behind a rather complicated and memorable career. La Liga honoured his majestic contributions by naming the award (Ricardo Zamora Trophy) for the best goalkeeper in the league after him.
“As with so many figures from the dark ages of football, it is difficult to separate the truth from the misty-eyed recollections, but everyone seems to insist that Zamora was the greatest, better than Yashin, Zoff, Banks, Arconada, and any others you care to mention”.Phil Ball | Morbo: The Story of Spanish Football (2003)
He remains one of the most important figures in the history of Barcelona and in Spanish football. He might have left on bad terms, but the Blaugrana still adorns the impact and legacy that Zamora left behind. The golden generation of the 1920s was the foundation that established Barça as one of the best sporting entities in Spanish football. His magnetic presence in front of the goal not only won them trophies but inspired the generations of talents to pursue the keeping role. The times when goalkeepers were overlooked for their contributions and presence on the pitch, It was the ‘the divine one’ sent by the heavens to finally write a new testament for those who guard the goal post.