A Season in the Spotlight - La Liga 1980-81

Background – At the start of the 1980’s, Spain was a country that was experiencing huge economic and political change. Following the death of Franco in 1975, the country had witnessed a transformation in many areas of public life. On the face of it however, football appeared to be oblivious to the change, with Real Madrid winning four of the five titles since the passing of the military dictator. Whilst this appeared to be the case outwardly, football in the provinces was on the march, with Sporting Gijon and Real Sociedad in particular, proving to be a thorn in the side of Los Merengues.
Real Sociedad - Provincial pretenders to the throne
Story of the Campaign – 12 months earlier, Real Sociedad had missed out on a chance to secure their first title when they lost on the penultimate week of the season to 9-man Sevilla. Erreala’s start to the 80-81 campaign was at best mediocre, lying as low as ninth by the end of week six. Real Zaragoza made the early running but fell away, before Atlético Madrid took control, remaining top for 25 weeks. In truth, it was a strange and compelling season, with everybody seemingly capable of beating each other. However it was Atlético’s spectacular capitulation that left the door open. After beating Barcelona in week 27, Atléti failed to win any of their final seven fixtures, leaving the door open for their cross-city rivals and Real Sociedad. Both Real Madrid & Erreala finished the season with a surge, and with one match to play, it was Real Sociedad who led Los Merengues by a point.
The showdown for the title would be played out at the Estadio Jose Zorrilla & El Molinón
Significant Matches – In the end it all came down to the final day and Real Madrid’s trip to Real Valladolid and Real Sociedad’s match at Sporting Gijon. In the event of a tie on points, head-to-head records would be decisive and Erreala held the upper hand, thanks to a 3-1 victory at Atotxa in week 27. The final days proceedings are part of La Liga folklore, with the destination of the title unresolved until the very last minute of the season. Real Madrid was expected to win against a Real Valladolid side that had nothing to play for and was viewed as sympathetic towards its opponents. Real Sociedad and the Basques as a whole did not have many friends in Asturias, and Sporting’s home form at El Molinón was particularly impressive. Real Madrid did chalk up a relatively easy 3-1 at Valladolid, with two goals from Carlos Santillana and a decisive third from German Uli Stielike. With Real Sociedad losing 1-2 up in Gijón, and the match at Valladolid’s old Estadio Jose Zorrilla finished, the Real Madrid players, officials and travelling support began to celebrate, egged on by erroneous reports that Sporting had won 2-1. Then with less than 15 seconds of normal time remaining in Gijon, midfielder Jesus Mari Zamora latched on to a desperate cross-shot, and fired the ball into the roof of Sporting’s net. The Basque contingent erupted and when news filtered through to Valladolid, the revelling Real Madrid players fell to the floor. You can watch the final day's action here.
Jesus Mari Zamora's crucial strike
Extras - Real Sociedad’s win heralded a short period of Basque dominance, with Erreala retaining their title a year later, before Athletic Club won back to back titles from 1982-84. Real Madrid experienced a particularly wretched end to the season, beaten in Paris by Liverpool in the European Cup final then knocked out of the Copa del Rey by Sporting Gijón. At the tail-end of the table, the relegation places had been pretty much decided by mid-season with Real Murcia, UD Salamanca & AD Almeria finishing adrift at the bottom. Sporting Gijón continued to figure prominently, in what was arguably their most successful era, reaching the King’s Cup final, where they lost 3-1 to Barcelona.

For the Record – Barcelona & Real Madrid topped the scoring charts with 66 goals apiece, with Barca recording 6-0 home victories over Almeria, Hercules & Osasuna. Real Madrid beat Athletic Club by seven goals to one, to record the biggest victory of the season, whilst Athletic were the team to watch if you wanted goals, scoring 64, but conceding 53.

Pichichi - Barcelona’s Quini finished top scorer on 20, despite missing four weeks of the season after being kidnapped at the beginning of March. This was the fourth of Quini’s five Pichichi’s and his total of 219 top-flight goals places him fifth in the list of all-time scorers in Spain’s top division. Quini started his career at Sporting Gijon, before joining Barcelona in 1980. He also played 35 times for La Selección, scoring 8 goals and playing at two world cup tournaments.
Top Shot - Quini
Zamora – This was the second of three consecutive Zamora Trophies for Real Sociedad’s talismanic goalkeeper, Luis Arconada. A native of San Sebastian, Arconada joined the club at the age of 16, clocking up a total of 414 league appearances. His sheer athleticism and shot-stopping ability earned him the nickname of ‘El Pulpo’ or the octopus. Arconada won a total of 68 caps for the national side, captaining them on many occasions, always wearing his trademark white club socks when turning out for La Selección.
The Octopus - Arconada in action
The Clubs Today – Twelve of the 18 clubs feature in this season’s La Primera. Hercules, Real Valladolid, UD Las Palmas and Real Murcia can be found in La Segunda, whilst UD Salamanca has had a season to forget in Segunda B. This was AD Almeria’s second and last season in the top flight and a year later, following a further relegation from La Segunda, the club was wound up with an accumulated debt of 223 million pesetas.

The Final Table 1980-81