4th of June, 1980. A strange feeling filled the Santiago Bernabéu as Real Madrid faced their reserve team. What looked like a friendly training session was, in fact, a Copa del Rey final.
It was a crazy fixture every madridista wanted to attend: the stadium was, as the Spanish say, ‘lleno hasta la bandera’ (‘full up to the flag’, meaning it was packed). For the first and last time in the history of Spanish football, a team was meeting its reserve side in a cup final. Unlike England, where there’s a separate league for the reserve teams, Spanish B teams compete within the same pyramid as all the other football clubs of the country. Back then, they also took part in the Copa del Rey — and it wasn’t until ten years later that they were excluded from the competition. But Castilla was never meant to face their first team: when reserve sides were drawn against their parent team at the group stages, a second draw was always made. No one however expected a B team to get to the final and meet their first team until it happened.
In the 1979/80 season, Real Madrid’s B team, Real Madrid Castilla, was in the second division but played impressively in the cup. Beating first division sides Athletic Club, Real Sociedad (who would later win that year’s La Liga) and Sporting de Gijón, they surprised everyone by making their way into the final. Their success was crazy in itself, but the fact that they met their first team in the final made it even more extraordinary.
Conscious of the unique situation that the two teams found themselves in, the game kicked off with both captains shaking hands smiling. Madrid wore white; Castilla, purple. There was an air of celebration in the stands: no matter what happened, their club was going to win.
Naturally all the pressure was on the first team, since a defeat against the reserves was unfathomable. The second team was told to simply relax and play, but it was a daunting situation, as a group of youngsters playing competitively against the senior side. Although they desperately tried to hold on, that night they simply didn’t have the same hunger and ambition that they’d shown in the previous rounds. The first team displayed no mercy and convincingly won 6-1. Some Castilla players were visibly disappointed by their defeat, but both sides eventually joined in celebration and lifted the cup together. After all, they did share their trophy case.
This bizarre episode in Real Madrid’s history is fondly remembered by many supporters to this day. For Madrid fans, success is a necessity. They are alien to the concept found in smaller clubs – where victories are welcomed, but not always expected. And that is one of the reasons why Castilla’s magical Copa del Rey campaign felt special for the fans who followed it closely. For the first time, they were at the other side of the supporters’ spectrum; for the first time, their success was not expected, but a genuine fairy tale.
It was not an easy journey for Castilla, they had to achieve some incredible comebacks on their journey to the final which only added to the drama of their story. Looking back, one Madrid supporter wrote to the sports newspaper Marca saying: “Those matches that Castilla played at the Bernabéu against big clubs from the first division are some of the fondest and most emotional memories I have from my 40 years as a season ticket holder.”
But Castilla’s grand campaign was not over after the final. There was an exciting epilogue yet to come. Since the first team was playing the European Cup, Castilla took their place in the European Cup Winners’ Cup and were drawn against West Ham. Despite winning 3-1 in the first leg in Madrid, they did not go through as they lost 5-1 in extra time at Upton Park. Their fairytale was finally over.