The truth about the foundation of the European Cup by Madrid: “UEFA was opposed”
With the death of Paco Gento, the last living protagonist of the six European Cups that placed Real Madrid at the top of the football universe. The fast left-footed winger was not only a member of the legendary team, led by Di Stefano and Puskas, that won the first five European Cups, but also survived at the highest level to experience the pinnacle of another legendary team, the so-called «Madrid of the Yé-yé», which achieved the club’s sixth major European title in the 1965-66 season.
The architect in the shadows and in the lights of that golden age that fades in memory was none other than Santiago Bernabéu
, president of Real Madrid from 1943 to 1978. Despite urging his Board of Directors to find him a replacement due to his health problems, the most historic president of the club died in office. Behind him, he left sixteen league titles, six Spanish cups and six European cups in the club’s showcases, consolidating the team as one of the powers of European football. The world’s most prestigious tournament itself, the Champions League, is largely the brainchild of him and the French sports newspaper ‘L’Équipe’.
With two years to go before his death and health problems were already harassing him, this lawyer born in Almansa gave an extensive interview to the ABC newspaper on March 2, 1976 in which he reviewed the main milestones of a club that, like Augusto in Rome , found made of brick and returned with marble floors. Under the title of ‘The eternal president of Madrid in the European Cup’, Ventura Gilera He was for more than three hours of “chatter” with Bernabéu, a man with an “elephant memory”, in a meeting where there were tears, “pouts like a child”, laughter and important revelations. «The Bernabéu, with his explosion of humor and humanity, has been applauded in France, in England, in Germany. It is the award for the simplicity of a man who, in addition, is great, ”said the journalist.
—What memories do you have of your career as president?
—Well, once, in Holland, I was invited to a dinner with all the workers who were in the Philips house. There were so many and I got overly excited. In the speech I was so noticeable, I was so impressed, that I made the women cry. I noticed and said, “Well, ladies, can I tell you some dirty jokes? I know some terrible ones.” I told them and the hell broke out, father. They all laughed out loud.
—There is no money to pay him, nor a scale to measure everything contributed.
—The only thing that compensates me, when I go abroad, is to see the Spaniards there. On the pitch in Brussels, when Real Madrid played and won the final against Milan, the workers and exiles danced in the center of the field, wild with joy, and not even the guards could beat them.
—Our topic is the European Cup. So… inside.
—I am going to tell how the Cup was born, which nobody knows yet. ‘L’Equipe’ and ‘France Football’ wrote to us to find out if Real Madrid was willing to accept the idea of a trophy with the champions of each country. We had to reply within a month. Well, we wanted the National to be the one to answer, saying yes because the idea was phenomenal. Two days before the deadline expired, Saporta called me. [el directivo del club Raimundo Saporta] to find out what had happened. So I went to the Banco de Vizcaya, where Juan Tuzón was the agent. [directivo de la federación]. He was very affectionate with me and, since he was not informed, he phoned the secretary of the Delegation, who was Paco Cadenas, an uncle who had studied with me at the university. He said no, I don’t know he had answered. In short, Saporta and I went to Paris to answer yes, since it was rude not to accept an invitation like that. In three hours, the representatives of the sixteen clubs solved everything. A committee headed by the president of the French Federation was set up. The Hungarian director and I were elected vice-presidents. And there were four members, who were from Switzerland, England and I don’t know where else.
—Continue the monologue.
“Now comes the funniest part.” UEFA was opposed because they thought the idea would be a failure and therefore did not want to recognize the Committee. Later he adopted the European Cup without tolerating the Junta that we had formed in Paris. The sixteen of us from that time met again with I don’t know what pretext and I said that the Cup would be a success. We accepted, despite the fact that some put up a lot of resistance, and the shed was already set up.
—How was the conquest of the first European Cup?
—Already in the first Cup we played Partizan Belgrade. A colossal tie. The Yugoslavs had one of the best teams in Europe and a sensational player, on and off the pitch, who was the center forward, Mihalovic. We had Castaños, a boy from Larache, who scored three goals for them here. We won 4-0 in the first leg. We went to the back and there was a meter of snow on the field. In the morning I went to see the person in charge of the studs, and I told him to find out what the Yugoslavs would use, because I intuited that they would have to be metallic. Well, that’s the least of it. What caught my attention is that all the ministers who accompanied the President of the Republic paid their entrance to the camp. We lost 3-0, and I remember that shortly before the end of the first half, Rial [el argentino Héctor Rial] he threw a penalty into the clouds.
—And the final in Paris, what?
“Oh, it was sensational. The Stade de Reims had a magnificent draw. Man, I remember that I went to the stadium in a taxi with the Count of Casa Rojas. While we arrived I prepared the speech that I would deliver at dinner. It was titled Losing in Paris Is Not Losing. So I had to improvise, that what I had written was useless. It was a very correct game and Madrid left an excellent impression. The French love us very much because, in addition, I brought Kopa. It was a success and I have pleasant memories of that man.
-Plus… [la segunda final]
—When we went to play with Manchester, as we entered the stadium, people made us a gesture with their hands as if to say “we are going to cut your throat”. We tied two and they behaved with extraordinary sportsmanship. At the banquet, the English president gave me a flask that I always carry with me. His name was Harmann and he was a great guy. He also gave me the best fishing rod in England. Years later he asked me how it worked and I told him “first class”, that I fished with it every day. The truth is that I have not released it yet.
—Madrid jumped from England to Scotland, and remember the final with Eintracht Frankfurt, the one in which Madrid scored seven goals.
—All the newspapers in Europe said that the Germans would win because they were the strongest team at the time. I have to say that it was the only time that I have offered money to my players before the game. I took all the retirees who had participated in previous Cups and all, former and active, I said: “If you win, five thousand dollars for each Cup, to pay at the time of retirement.” They have all been paid.
—And what happened in the hotel with a Spanish resident in Scotland?
“Magnificent, magnificent. That man, who must have been about sixty years old, stopped me and told me: “Thank you very much as a Spaniard. I’ve been living here for twenty seasons and the Scots thought that in our country there were only bullfighters and onions. With you they have changed their minds and their jaws have dropped.
“What’s the nastiest thing anyone’s ever said to you?”
“I don’t even want to remember. It is related to the referees and it happened to me in Argentina, a country that I adore. There they love me so much that the Argentine Federation invited me two years ago to a series of beautiful events. Look, I went to a match between San Lorenzo de Almagro and Huracán, which, by the way, was played by that little guy, Ayala, from Atlético. And after a lovely meal, modest, which is what I like, we went to the stadium. And I was surprised that, upon entering the box, the ninety thousand spectators chanted: «Bernabéu, Bernabéu…, don’t go; stay.”
“Come on, the disgusting…”
-Oh yeah. I said that in Argentina, once, a Catalan couple invited me to go with them in their car, not to take the bus. I told them: “Well, delighted.” And when I was going to ride, a guy came up from behind, who had nothing to do with the hosts, and in a loud voice, indignant, he pointed to me: «Escolti: Real Madrid guanya els partits because it buys els arbrits» He sat me down like a shot . Anyway, I don’t want to continue because I’m going to say that Spain hurts.
* The original ABC interview is edited in several parts to fit a question-answer format. Bernabéu, like the dialectical hurricane that he was, was linking response with response in enormous monologues of great interest, but with a structure that was difficult to translate into a written text.