The dramatic first return of Espanyol

Until their relegation in 61-62, Espanyol formed with Madrid, Barça and Athletic the exclusive club of founders of the League never relegated. His fall, consummated in Valladolid by a goal from inside Rodilla in 90 ‘, reverberated throughout the world of national football.

It was remembered that the other Barcelona founder, Europa, never returned. By then I was in Third. That antecedent was frightening. The technician fell, the president fell, Ricardo Zamora fell. The new president signed Heriberto Herrera, the first iron sergeant in Spanish football, as coach. Born in Paraguay, he had been a central player for Atlético and the national team. As a coach, he was the one who at the head of Valladolid had caused the relegation of Espanyol.

The executioner arrived with full powers. He gave 14 casualties, including those of illustrious such as Argilés, Rial and Czibor, demanded control of the signings and imposed harsh rules of discipline on the players. He even prohibited them from dealing with managers. To compensate for the economy, the promising winger Camps was transferred to Barça and a promotion bonus of 25 pesetas was issued.

Many partners left, but there were enough left to give color to Sarrià. An irreducible group traveled with the team and portrayed themselves behind it with a large banner: “Against all odds, the Spanish to First.” But Pontevedra won in Sarrià three days from the end and remained the direct promotion position of the North Group. Years later Rigo told As that that was the only time they wanted to buy him: someone who introduced himself as a Espanyol fan offered him two million. Over time, I learned that the same briefcase had been offered to Pontevedra. Two million were equivalent to the salary cost of the entire Pontevedra workforce. So desperate was Espanyol to go up.

But they won the Pontevedra 1-2 and thus rose for the first time in their history. He would soon create the legend of Hai que Roelo. Espanyol had to face the difficult process of promotion against Mallorca.

In Sarrià and in Luis Sitjar the result was 2-1 for the local. So they met for a tiebreaker in Madrid, May 23, 1962, Ascension Day, one of those three Thursdays that shine brighter than the sun.

The afternoon was stiflingly hot. We attended (I include myself) 40,000 spectators, more than half from Madrid, mostly Madridistas, attracted by the drama of the game. The Barça players also attended, who the day before had played a Cup tiebreaker against Elche on the same stage. The Madrid public was distributed. There was a love for Espanyol, from which the Madrid goalkeeper Vicente came, and now he had Santos, a youth squad on loan from Madrid. But in Mallorca the popular Pepillo, a brilliant substitute for Di Stéfano, played shortly before.

I still have very fresh the tension of that game, the nervousness that rose from the field to the stands. Much struggle, few occasions. A huge save by Piris from Pepillo’s shot, an incredible shot by Idígoras, with an empty goal in the small area, which went unbelievably over the crossbar. That was the first part. Plus the sweat, the suffering of the faces. The fear was chewed.

In the 75 ‘, a corner for Espanyol launched by Boy and Idígoras, the one with the resounding failure in the first half, jumps as high by a supernatural force and heads the only goal chopped. It was the first time I saw a mountain of players (even Piris came running from the other goal) and I was afraid that the scorer would suffocate. What remained was a wasteful grip from Mallorca, which on the hour enjoys a free kick. Bergara throws it, perfect, and Piris flies and takes it out. I still have those two saves of the Spanish goalkeeper among the best that I remember seeing.

Whistle the final Caballero and explode the contrast of an equally extreme joy and desolation. Heriberto Herrera is carried on the shoulders of his players, Pepillo fights with a spectator and is withdrawn by the grays.

The following morning Espanyol set up a continuous bus service from 11am to take fans to the airport. The team arrived at one o’clock, before a crowd that squeezed the players. From there they went to offer a Te Deum to the Basilica de la Merced. At the end of the summer, a triangular Ascent-Cup Fair of Samples Trophy was held with the Portuguese of Brazil and Athletic, which Espanyol won.

Four more times it has gone down, all four it returned immediately. Two with ease, another not so much and one, against Malaga, after a shoot of 16 penalties until the decisive one marked by Albesa. But no return impacted as much as that of that distant Madrid afternoon when he felt that he had avoided the sad fate of Europa.

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