Dark money – how did The Guruceta Trophy get its name?

The Guruceta Trophy is an annual award presented to the best referee in Spain – the winner being determined by combining the weekly match evaluations of journalists from Spanish sports newspaper MARCA. But who is Guruceta? And how did the trophy come to bear his name? To find out more, we need to delve into the murky world of match fixing.

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Match fixing in football is by no means a new phenomenon. In fact, reports of players, managers, owners and referees attempting to engineer results for financial gain have blighted the game for well over 100 years.

This particular story involves two games, the first of which took place in Spain in 1970 at a time when tensions between the country’s two biggest teams were running high, both on and off the football pitch. The second was played in Belgium, a full 27 years later.

Game One

Barcelona v Real Madrid – 6 June 1970

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, FC Barcelona staff members and fans would often accuse their rivals from the capital of receiving favourable treatment, either from match officials or from the footballing authorities. Such feelings of disparity were running particularly high around the time of this controversial Spanish Cup quarter-final second leg match in 1970.

With Los Blancos leading 2-0 from the first leg, the Barca contingent knew they would need to be at their very best to stand any chance of progressing to the semi-final stages. What’s more, they would also need to receive fair and unbiased treatment from the officials.

By halftime, they had reduced the deficit thanks to a goal from winger Carles Rexach and as the second half kicked off, the momentum was well and truly with the Blaugrana.

After 51 minutes, the crucial moment of controversy occurred when Real Madrid midfielder Manuel Velázquez chased a through-ball and collided with Barca defender Joaquim Rife. Without hesitation, match referee Emilio Carlos Guruceta pointed to the penalty spot.

There was outrage amongst the Barcelona players who believed the young official had been far too keen to blow his whistle. Not only was it a dubious foul, but the incident took place some distance outside the penalty area and Guruceta, who was over thirty yards away, was not in a position to make the call. The players’ frustrations spread to the crowd and the pitch was soon littered with cushions, thrown from the stands by angry locals.

After the penalty was converted, the referee added further fuel to the fire by sending off Barca defender Eladio for applauding the official and calling him a cheat. Other Barca players walked off the pitch in protest and, as the mood in the stands grew noticeably wilder, more cushions rained down onto the pitch.

Once their cushion supplies had depleted, one group of fans decided to invade the pitch and made a beeline for the referee, forcing him to flee down the tunnel. The already toxic scene then turned even uglier as fires were started and the riot police were called in to gain control of the situation.

Eventually, Barcelona Coach Vic Buckingham instructed his players to return to the field in order to diffuse the situation, the game was restarted and Real Madrid held on for the win.

Emilio Guruceta was never charged with attempting to fix the game – although he was banned for six games for failing to control the match – and many felt sympathy for the young referee who was still in his rookie season.

To those at the Catalan club however, the penalty incident was just the latest in a long line of poor refereeing decisions that had gone against them, and proof of the influence that their rivals wielded over the officials.

It was later reported that shortly after the game, ‘Guru’ – as he became known – paid a visit to a local car showroom and purchased a brand new BMW. So were Barca just being paranoid or was Emilio Guruceta really on the Real Madrid payroll?

To try and answer that question, we need to Jump forward 14 years to the 1984 UEFA Cup semi-final second leg between Nottingham Forest and Anderlecht.

Game 2

Anderlecht v Nottingham Forest – 25 April 1984

Forest went into this game with a 2-0 lead after dominating the first leg and were favourites to progress to the final, where fellow English team Tottenham Hotspur were waiting for them.

However, it was not to be for Brian Clough’s men as Anderlecht triumphed 3-0 (3-2 aggregate) in an incident-filled second leg and progressed to the final.

The game was notable for two controversial decisions – a dubious penalty awarded to Anderlecht; and a last-minute disallowed goal that would have put the English club through on the away goals rule. The Forest Coach was furious with both decisions and blasted the performance of a certain Spanish referee.

The Forest chief first become concerned before kick-off when Anderlecht officials were seen entering and leaving Guruceta’s dressing room. Of course, without any evidence of wrong-doing the result was allowed to stand and the official’s reputation remained intact.

In fact, the Spaniard continued to work as a professional referee until he was tragically killed in a car accident in 1987. Following his death, the Guruceta Trophy, an annual award to honour the best referee in Spain, was introduced.

The truth is out there

In 1997, the truth finally emerged when, in a final twist, members of the Anderlecht board were led to believe by an anonymous source that some private meetings with Guruceta had been secretly recorded back in 1984. The source claimed to still have copies of these mysterious recordings.

Under the threat of blackmail, the club finally admitted that the Spanish referee had been given a significant amount of money to influence the game against Nottingham Forest in 1984. As a result, Anderlecht were given a paltry one-year ban from European football which was eventually overturned on appeal.

While the revelations did not provide conclusive proof of any wrongdoing at the game in 1970, they certainly added some weight to the opposition’s claims. Here was a referee who had shown his willingness to accept a bribe in exchange for influencing the outcome of a high-profile game.

Despite his controversial career and the later revelations of bribery, the Guruceta Trophy still bears the referee’s name today.

Neil Morris is a freelance sports writer based in Spain. You can read more of his articles on his blog and follow him on Twitter

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