Although it’s been firmly categorised as the immovable beautiful game we’ve all come to know and love, there is more to football than just silky-quick feet producing free-flowing moves amidst a gentlemanly atmosphere of both honour and integrity.
Much more indeed.
Football is about passion, an uncompromising desire to win, a never-say-die attitude that even the most demanding set of fans could be immensely proud of. It’s about hunger and devotion, how far you’re willing to go before that all-important final whistle rings out for all to hear.
For every elegant playmaker out there, wowing their respective audiences with a range of well-worked technical feats inside the final third, there are plenty of hard-lined destroyers and no-nonsense enforcers. Plenty of self-confessed football hard-men who certainly aren’t scared of leaving their foot in – eager to halt their quick-footed opponents with as much aggression and fervour as possible.
We’ve all seen the likes of Diego Costa, Luis Suarez and Joey Barton among the Premier League – and how some players seemingly condone the use of underhanded, subversive tactics no matter what the cost – but compared to Spain’s very own Andoni Goikoetxea, the unrelenting ‘Butcher of Bilbao’ – such immature and almost childlike actions merely pale in significance.
Just ask Diego Maradona. Throughout the mid-1980’s Argentina’s most prolific gift to the footballing world was residing somewhere near the very height of his powers. The pundits were on his side, his adoring fanbase, too – even the multitude of dejected England supporters who had just seen their side exit the 1986 World Cup at the hands of so-called divine intervention – couldn’t help but admire Maradona as an out-in-out powerhouse with the ball at his feet.
Yet it wasn’t all smiles and adoration for the famed Argentine attacker. In late September of 1983, amidst an otherwise forgettable fixture between two of Spain’s most dominant outfits at the time, Diego Maradona would witness his ankle almost snap in two as his proud Barcelona side came up against the dogged and mulish Athletic Bilbao. The perpetrator, was none other than the aforementioned ‘Butcher of Bilbao’ – Andoni Goikoetxea.
Maradona could be seen dropping deep to receive the ball, desperate for his side to assert their supposed dominance and eclipse Athletic Bilbao among the upper echelons of the Spanish top flight. Yet his opponent in red & white stood idly by waiting for him – and with one knowingly late swoop of his stud-cladded left-boot – Andoni Goikoetxea watched his South American counterpart fall to the floor in a fit of anger and pain. Maradona would be ruled out for almost four months consequently.
It wouldn’t be the last incident involving the unmistakably combative pair, but that’s the image people still remember today when discussing the infamous ‘Butcher of Bilbao’. Legend has it that ‘Goiko’ still has the boot that struck the initial blow against Maradona tucked away among a decorative display case within his Spanish home. A fine place of rest for one of football’s most coveted family heirlooms.
“I felt the axe’s blow from behind. I felt my leg seize up, and I knew that everything was destroyed…”
Despite receiving widespread condemnation from the hordes of Barcelona supporters left understandably aggrieved with the defender’s openly aggressive nature, Goikoetxea’s unrelenting tackle has since gone down in Spanish folklore as one of the most brutal fouls the supposedly beautiful game has ever seen. After hearing Maradona’s ankle bones snap and subsequently crumple underneath the striker’s own body-weight, it’s easy to understand why…
But it seems the notorious ‘Goiko’ took a certain amount of pleasure in his newfound status across the European scene. He was a clear transgressor, someone who didn’t mind potentially ending the career of some of the world’s very best players just to see his beloved Athletic Bilbao come out on top. Nine times out of 10, the defender’s cold-blooded tactic was an effective one.
The tall, imposing centre-back proved more than worthy of his staunch, unwavering nickname two seasons prior with a similar attack on Barcelona’s German maverick – Bernd Schuster. The golden-haired attacker effectively saw his once promising La Liga career ruined after colliding with the Spaniard, subsequently missing out on a place among the 1982 World Cup due to the intensity of the challenge. Unfortunately for Schuster, he was just another unfortunate victim of the ‘Butcher’s’ ruthless philosophy.
Some have since labelled ‘Goiko’ something of a terrorist out on the pitch, an ambassador for ‘anti-football’ and everything that is wrong with the beautiful game we all know and love – whilst others point to the ongoing Basque separatist movement at the time, highlighting the wider social and political scene as reasons behind Goikoetxea’s transgressive nature.
Say whatever you want about Maradona. Guy had to face difficult defenders and refs as compared to now. The Butcher of Bilbao is one of many.
— Binary (@siwachamancr7) June 19, 2017
Yet in the eyes of most, the resolute Spanish centre-back was simply a winner – neither a hero nor a villain. Just a player with sheer conviction and an unyielding desire to succeed. He may have been the ‘Butcher of Bilbao’, but the name Goikoetxea is one that still resounds profoundly among the Spanish footballing community who were there to see him play.
Rightly or wrongly, this was a man who captivated his crowd – revealing an unapologetically uglier version of the (not so) beautiful game for future generations of diehard destroyers to come. For every Diego Maradona-inspired talisman, there is always an Andoni Goikoetxea type figure waiting patiently in the background, ready to deliver that all-encompassing blow when his opponent least expects it…