Racing Santander players halt cup tie with on-field protest
Unpaid players refuse to take part in game as hard times hit Spanish football
IT WAS only last week that Deloitte released their football rich list in which, once again, Real Madrid and Barcelona led the world's clubs in wealth. The Bernabeu club were first, having raked in €518.9m during the 2012-13 season, while Barca were in second place with a revenue of €482.6m for the same period.
But, oh, how different life is at the other end of Spanish football. On Thursday night Racing Santander refused to contest their Copa del Rey match against Real Sociedad because they have not been paid, apparently for months. Instead, reports The Guardian, "once Sociedad kicked off, the Racing players moved in and stood arm-in-arm around the centre circle, with substitutes and coaching staff lining up in solidarity on the touchline".
For a few moments the Sociedad team passed the ball between themselves but when it became apparent their opponents were intent on sticking to their protest, they kicked the ball off the pitch and the referee suspended the match.
Sociedad may have suspected the tie would end this way. On Monday the Racing squad released a statement warning club president Angel Lavín that unless he resigned they would boycott the second leg of their cup quarter-final. He remained defiant, so Racing decided on a more dramatic course of action. The squad trained together on Thursday and showed all the signs that they would go ahead with the match, only to launch their protest when the whistle got the game underway.
Racing were last in La Liga in 2008 but recent seasons haven't been kind to the club and they are now in the third tier of Spanish football. Trailing Sociedad 3-1 from the first leg of their quarter-final, the Racing players decided to protest rather than try and fight back to a semi-final clash with Barcelona, the prize that now awaits Sociedad, assuming the match is validated.
"Right now we have mixed feelings of sadness and a kind of joy but it is a shame it had to come to this," Racing midfielder Javi Soria said after the protest. "We have had things clear in our minds since Monday and we have showed tonight we are a team. We hope things get sorted out because we just want to get back to playing and try to make Racing the best it can be."
Racing have the "complete backing" of the Association of Spanish Footballers but the League authorities have yet to react to the protest. "We hope there are no legal consequences because we have done this for the good of football, for the good of a city and for the whole of Spain," explained Soria. “There are lots of similar cases and we wanted to set an example."
Meanwhile, further up football's food chain, Real Madrid are expected to reveal later today plans for a €400m renovation of their famous old stadium. Once the refit is finished, Real expect the buffed up Bernabeu to raise at least €50m extra per year in terms of ticket sales and corporate revenue.
Perhaps they'll be able to spare a few euros to rescue Racing.