Spanish football was thrown into turmoil today when players from troubled club Racing Santander refused to play in their Copa del Rey second-leg tie against Real Sociedad. The unexpected strike action was a protest against the club and its board of directors, who have not payed players or staff in several months. Shortly after the match was abandoned, club president Angel Lavin was fired and replaced by former player Tuto Sañudo.
The match began normally, with players making their way onto the pitch for the second leg of their quarterfinal tie. However, instead of kicking off, the players gathered around the center circle with their arms on each others shoulders, a gesture that was mirrored by substitutes and staff on the touchline. The players remained motionless around the center circle for a minute, until finally the referee asked if they wished to concede the fixture. The captain agreed and the match was abandoned.
The third-division side had already overcome top-flight competition to reach the quarterfinals, beating Sevilla and Almeria on the way. Racing were playing at home, looking to recover a two goal deficit after Sociedad had taken the first leg 3-1. If they had succeeded, they would have found themselves in a lucrative semi-final tie with league champions Barcelona.
Instead, they find themselves not only booted out of this year’s cup, but next year’s as well. Real Federación Española de Fútbol, the Spanish football federation, confirmed in a statement on its website that the club would be ineligible for next year’s edition of the Copa del Rey, Spain’s most prestigious cup competition, which is currently held by Atlético Madrid.
Their recent run in the Copa del Rey was a rare highpoint in the life of a club that has struggled in the past few years. Racing Santander were promoted back to La Liga in 2001 after a brief spell in the second division. Since then, they have been a fairly secure mid-table team. However, like so many other European teams, they have recently found themselves unable to sustain their debts. The financial instability led to back-to-back relegation, and now brought the club to the point where the players are on strike and the President has been fired.
With the existence of the club still hanging in the balance, the players and staff of Racing Santander find themselves now with just one demand: the resignation of club president Angel Lavin. Lavin has repeatedly promised to resolve the immediate financial crisis but, as it stands, nobody at the club has been paid since September of last year. Players had previously announced that they would boycott the cup fixture unless Lavin quit before midnight, but few expected that they would honor their word in such a dramatic fashion. A few hours later, it was confirmed that the president had parted company with the club and former player Tuto Sañudo would be taking his place.
Outside of the club, the response has been a mix of support and sympathy. Fans at El Sardinero vocally expressed their support for the player’s bold move, with the Spanish player’s union also expressing their support for the strike. Racing Santander’s players may have got what they wanted in terms of having the President fired, but whether they will actually get paid remains to be seen.
by Bernard O’Leary