It is scarcely believable — and competition rules would not allow it today — but in the 1980 Copa del Rey final, Real Madrid played against their own reserve team, Real Madrid Castilla.
What is even more surprising is that there seemed to be more excitement around the reserve players than the first team.
Perhaps the club were worried about that, too, because, according to some of those who took part, Madrid directors paid a visit to the Castilla dressing room before the match, played at the Santiago Bernabeu, advising them to go easy on the senior pros…
Castilla lost 6-1, but that was not the end of their journey. Thanks to their appearance in the final, they qualified for the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup the following season — and they are still the only reserve team to play in European competition.
Here, The Athletic speaks to several of the players who took part in that unique Copa del Rey final. This is how they remember it (their comments have been lightly edited for clarity).
Castilla enjoyed a remarkable run to the final, eliminating four La Liga teams and attracting impressive crowds. Real Madrid beat Logrones and Real Betis in the round of 16 and quarter-finals respectively before defeating city rivals Atletico Madrid on penalties in the semi-finals.
Agustin Rodriguez (starting goalkeeper for Castilla, who went on to play for Real Madrid for 10 years): In getting to the final, we’d played some great games, like coming back from 4-1 down in the fourth-round first leg against Hercules. We had wins over Athletic Bilbao, Sporting Gijon and Real Sociedad, who were the surprise package in those years and finished second in the first division that season. The following year they won the league.
At that time, we at Castilla were fourth in the second division. It’s true it was a reserve team with mostly 18- or 19-year-olds, but we still attracted a good bit of attention, although maybe not as much as we would have done now.
We had good players. There was Ricardo Gallego, Paco Pineda, (Jose Manuel) Espinosa, (Javier) Castaneda, who was the veteran of the team because he was 22. And we had a coach who gave us a lot of confidence, Juanjo. He told us that we could achieve whatever we wanted.
Vicente del Bosque (Real Madrid midfielder who would play for the club for 11 years and was later Madrid and Spain manager): It was a great day for the club. To have your reserve team reach the cup final with your father club is something that will never happen again.
They had a good team, a very good team in fact, who had made more of a run in the cup. We were motivated because the first team hadn’t had a good season, and for the Castilla games, there was a bigger crowd than for the first team.
But we couldn’t lose against Castilla. We weren’t thinking about it.
Despite the strange circumstances around the final on June 4, there was all the usual pomp before kick-off as the Spanish national anthem rang out around the ground and the king, Juan Carlos, was welcomed by fans.
Real Madrid wore their usual white kit while Castilla were dressed in purple. Madrid captain Pirri offered his reserve team counterpart Castaneda a warm handshake when they met for the coin toss, as well as a mischievous smile.
But it seems as if there were fears Castilla could beat Madrid…
Rodriguez: On Thursdays in training every week, we played against the first team at the Bernabeu, and some days we beat them. Other times we lost, but they were very evenly matched games.
When some directors came in before the match, they were telling us to calm down. I remember I said: “Calm down? But we have to play the game!”
That Castilla filled the Bernabeu was affecting the Madrid players. We came out of the dressing room looking at them like: “What’s going on, lads?” And they were saying: “Let’s go get them!” For a team that was very aggressive, from 1 to 11, we didn’t give a kick. We were like little lambs to the slaughter.
Real Madrid’s strange Copa del Rey relationship – and a chance to ease the pain
Javier Castaneda (Castilla captain who later became the most-capped Osasuna player in La Liga before Patxi Punal broke his record in 2011): I understood that we couldn’t beat Madrid and there were some instructions — not to lose exactly — but to say that we shouldn’t kick them, that we should take it easy.
If we had played Atletico, Castilla would probably have won the Copa del Rey. We were a very strong team, with a lot of quality — otherwise, we wouldn’t have knocked those teams out.
I remember (then-Atletico manager) Luis Aragones was asked which team he preferred to play against and he said “everyone except Castilla”.
Jose Antonio Camacho (Real Madrid left-back who would spend 16 years at the club and later coached Spain and Madrid): We were used to playing together during the week. It was bizarre to play with bibs on a Thursday and in a final on Sunday.
From the federation or even from the club itself, there was a comment as if to say: “F***, don’t play the match during the week just before the final, it doesn’t make sense.”
Regardless of how we did in that final, we knew that three or four players from Castilla were going to play in the first team the following year. You could see them. Bear in mind that I had to mark the best players in the world and many times the best players were from Castilla.
Inside ‘La Fabrica’: How Real Madrid’s academy turned into a talent factory supplying Spain
It was in the back of our minds that if we were beaten by the reserve team, it was normal that measures could be taken. It’s clear that we had to come out well from the start because it was father against son, they had eliminated all the teams and we knew Castilla’s potential, so if we didn’t come out at 100 per cent they were going to get on our nerves.
Real Madrid did not go easy on their reserve team. Castilla looked overawed by the occasion and Real legends Juanito and Santillana both scored to make it 2-0 by half-time. The first team also had a point to prove after a season in which they had not sparkled, despite winning La Liga.
Juanito (Castilla defender who was good friends with the late Madrid forward of the same name still idolised by fans, and who also played in that final): There were more people in the stadium supporting Castilla at the back, but the reality is that if Madrid lost, it would have been chaos.
They were team-mates with whom I was training and there was a lot at stake. A group of players who were finishing their careers were up against a group of kids who wanted to take on the world. It was a bit of a battle.
I had a very good relationship with all of them (the first team) because I trained with them. I wanted to transmit the fury of Camacho, even if the style was different, or the on-field personality of Del Bosque, who was a player who would put a ball 40 metres out to you and all he would say was: “Boy, you run”.
I also liked the charisma that Juan Gomez (the forward Juanito) had. Madrid had a very united dressing room.
If the board went down to the dressing room? The board at that time didn’t want to influence, but they wanted it to be an entertaining game, a nice game, and they didn’t want the reserve team to provoke a violent situation by playing Real Madrid. The words were always: “This is a prize, you’ve already won everything…”
They conveyed calmness, they didn’t tell you that you had to win the game.
Camacho: If the directors went down to the dressing room of Castilla to ask for calm? I don’t see that very clearly, the thing is that if we went out at 100 per cent, it was us. We went a lot to see Castilla’s cup games against Sporting, against La Real and man, the stadium was full.
The gap grew wider after half-time thanks to goals from Andres Sabido and Del Bosque. Castilla pulled one back through Ricardo Alvarez in the 80th minute, but an effort from Francisco Garcia Hernandez and a penalty converted by Madrid’s Juanito confirmed Castilla’s drubbing. Players from both sides paraded the cup and swapped shirts at the end of the game.
Jesus Paredes (Castilla’s second coach and physical trainer who later worked for Real Madrid and the Spanish national team): In the final, we were all a little bit cold after winning against teams like Athletic and La Real. People expected a bit more from Castilla.
We fell apart as the goals started to fall, especially when they scored early. The team didn’t cope with it, there was too much pressure, too much expectation, while the first team players had their pride challenged, which was a motivation for them.
It was not an exercise in diplomacy on the part of Castilla. Castilla wanted to win and so did Madrid. Some (players) were unconvinced, but we didn’t live up to the expectations we had.
Castaneda: We got on well with everyone in the first team, but I remember I said to Juanito: “Hey, stop it for a bit”. It didn’t seem right to me, not so much because of the 6-1, but I think they could have taken it easy.
Juanito: When the first team scored the third, they relaxed. And we were like little brothers, like when your older brother comes and tells you: “Come on, kid, it’s been a happy day for the family”. And you believe it and you stand there as if you had won the cup. Then you get home and you realise that you haven’t.
Castaneda: The truth is that we were happy just to reach the final. You have to play the final because you have to play it. But our objective was not to play against Madrid, for us the cup was over before we played the final.
Camacho: Lifting the trophy together is something that comes spontaneously and in a natural way. Regardless of how the result turned out, we had played and played together for many years.
Ricardo Gallego (Castilla midfielder who went on to play for Real Madrid and Spain): In the photo with the cup, where we are all together, I’m the only one with the Castilla shirt. It took me a while to change the shirt because, at the end, I was very angry. And four days later I started training with the first team, just when I finished my compulsory military service.
Castilla may have lost the final, but they qualified for the Cup Winners’ Cup the following season. They faced West Ham United in the first round, winning the first leg 3-1 at the Bernabeu. But they crumbled in the return fixture, played behind closed doors at Upton Park due to crowd trouble in Madrid, going out 6-4 on aggregate.
Even so, there is unlikely to be another reserve team who matches the achievements of that Castilla side.
Paredes: In London, you could hear the voices echoing and they won in extra time, 5-1. It is also true that it was an English first-division team and that Juanito was injured.
Years later, we all met up for lunch or dinner and there were still a few reproaches: you should have passed it to me here or there (laughs).
It was more of a choral team than a team of individuals but, in the end, they all played in the first division. There were good players in all the lines, but without playing as a team, you don’t achieve anything.
This story is the fruit of a job well done, the work of a cantera (youth academy).
(Top photos, left to right: Oscar J. Barroso / AFP7 / Europa Press Sports via Getty Images, Gianni Ferrari/Cover/Getty Images, Gianni Ferrari/Cover/Getty Images, Peter Robinson – PA Images via Getty Images; designed by Eamonn Dalton)