BY MARK GODFREY
Season 1980-81 – La Liga’s 50th renewal – was fully expected to end with yet another party in the Spanish capital, and although Atletico had triumphed a couple of times during the 1970’s, as ever the dominant force were the colossal Real Madrid who had been crowned champions on five of the previous six occasions.
However, Los Merengues had serious opposition from the provinces – and not just from their old adversaries Barcelona.
In what was one of the tightest and most-thrilling La Liga campaigns ever seen, with half a dozen different clubs putting themselves into contention at various stages, the season came to its crescendo in April 1981 with just two left standing on the final day of fixtures.
Real Socieded – from the Basque heartlands of San Sebastian – had emerged as credible title challengers during the preceding year, missing out on their first championship crown by a solitary point to Real Madrid (themselves winning their 20th). Having lost just once in 34 games, it was their 14 draws that ultimately cost them.
With the tightest defence in the division from 1979-80 still intact, Sociedad crept gradually into the race and went to Gijon in their last game, while rivals Real Madrid were also on their travels – to Valladolid.
The reigning champions did what was expected of them and won 3-1 with goals from Spanish international striker Carlos Santillana and another from La Liga’s ‘Best Foreign Player’, German defender Uli Stielike. In Gijon, Sociedad’s dream of championship glory seemed to be evaporating yet again as they trailed 2-1 to Sporting as the match – and season – entered its dying seconds.
As misleading reports of a Gijon victory reached the Real Madrid contingent in Valladolid, celebrations began. However, there would be one last, gut-wrenching twist for Vujadin Boškov’s side and their legion of supporters.
With Real Madrid’s win and the knowledge that a draw would be enough to win the title should the two clubs finish on the same number of points (head-to-head records between the two being used rather than goal difference which also favoured Sociedad), Alberto Ormaetxea’s players laid siege to their opponents’ goal.
On the rain-sodden pitch at the Estadio de El Molinón, the clock ticked down, and with just 15 seconds of normal time remaining, Sociedad’s pounding of Gijon’s area finally paid dividends.
After several attempts to get the ball into the danger zone, it finally slithered its way into the path of one-club-man Jesus Zamora. The midfielder lashed home the equalising, and ultimately title-winning goal from 10 yards out to realise a last-gasp miracle that pre-dated those of Arsenal’s Michael Thomas and Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero by eight and twenty-one years respectively.
As Zamora and his team mates ran off to celebrate with the pockets of Sociedad support scattered around the ground in Gijon, the Real Madrid team and fans learned of their heartbreaking fate by radio.
The early 80’s was an unprecedented period of post-civil war La Liga dominance for the Basque country; the following year Real Sociedad repeated their feats of 1981 while Athletic Bilbao continued the region’s success in 1983 and 1984.