A pig’s head on the pitch: Remembering Luis Figo and the rage of Barcelona

You’re familiar with the severed horse head in Jack Woltz’s bed in The Godfather, but do you remember the severed pig’s head at Luis Figo’s feet?

The 2002 edition of El Clasico saw Barcelona defector, Luis Figo return to Camp Nou. Needless to say, the faithful were less than thrilled and protests abounded.

Figo had left Barcelona amid hysteria in the summer of 2000 for a then world record 10 billion peseta (£37.5 million) to purchase the Portuguese midfielder. Madrid president Lorenzo Sanz promised all 70,000 season ticket holders refunds if Figo didn’t join the squad, lending some credibility to a rumor few believed.

Figo had laced up his boots for 172 games in La Liga for Barcelona and seemed to be a fixture at the club. Barca’s president Joan Gaspart had made keeping Figo on the squad a priority. Needless to say, he wasn’t happy about the transfer.

“I’ll not forget this. Whoever is responsible for this will pay for it. We’ll see how and when. Figo gave me the impression this morning that he wanted to do two things – make more money and stay with Barcelona. He thinks money can do everything in this life.”

Joan Gaspart

Figo’s signing was the beginning of the mega-transfer to Madrid. Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo, David Beckham followed in his wake. He made his first return to Camp Nou in a Real Madrid kit in October of 2000 in front of 105,000 fans. By all reports, the jeers were unprecedented and the banners bitter and inspired: “We hate you because we loved you so,” read one.

The most famous pig head in sports history. (Photo source/Twitter)
The most famous pig head in sports history. (Photo source/Twitter)

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Following Real Madrid’s table-topping performance in 2001, the bitterness toward Figo was magnified. When the sides met at November 24, and it was decided Figo would take corners, fans were elated to have the opportunity to jeer and hurl trash at their former hero from close range.

During the second half of the contest, the appointed moment arrived and Figo headed to the corner for a set piece. Bottles, lighters, even golf balls were hurled at the midfielder. In his slow effort to remove the debris from the pitch, Figo only seemed to draw more ire. When he eventually took the kick, the ball was tipped out by Barca’s keeper, resulting in…another corner from the other side.

As Figo again prepared to take the corner, projectiles rained down like the Luftwaffe. And it was at this point that the most famous missile in soccer history landed on the pitch: a severed pig head.

It took nearly 15 minutes to clean the rubbish from the pitch, and the match ultimately ended in a 0-0 tie.

Regardless of the incident, Figo went on to be a great success at the La Liga giants, as Real Madrid continue to be in one of the most valuable sports teams in the world. But, who else joins them?