30 January ~ Should reigning champions Barcelona take maximum points from this evening's trip to Sporting Gijón, Real Madrid will find themselves eight points behind the leaders by the time their late match at Deportivo La Coruña kicks off. If recent history is anything to go by, that gap is likely to remain unchanged by the end of the night. Madrid have lost on their last six trips to the Estadio Riazor and have failed to win there in 18 visits, a run stretching back to November 1991.
And though Deportivo fans are unlikely to be throwing pigs’ heads at Manuel Pelligrini’s players or waving pro-ETA flags in their faces, they can be relied upon to offer their rivals from the capital a hostile welcome.
It was not always that way. Prior to Deportivo’s last promotion to the top flight in 1991, La Coruña was home to a sizeable contingent of Madrid supporters. Depor’s subsequent elevation to the Spanish elite changed all that however. Swayed by legendary nights such as the Bebeto-inspired 3-2 win over Los Merengues in 1992, a game Deportivo fans still love to talk about, locals got behind their newly successful hometown team, quietly dropping other allegiances.
As the sporting rivalry intensified between the two sides over the seasons that followed, so too did hostility towards Real Madrid as an institution, a hostility stoked by the perceived arrogance of the club and their galáctico recruitment policy.
Like the supporters of other provincial teams around the country, Depor fans have embraced anti-madridismo, adding a local dimension to it by expressing their Galician identity whenever Madrid come to town. Though a decaffeinated version of its Basque and Catalan counterparts, that nationalistic sentiment is palpable nevertheless, and goes some way to explaining Real’s travails at the Riazor over the best part of the last two decades.
Successive Deportivo sides have harnessed the animosity in the stands effectively, recording several crushing wins during the course of the remarkable 18-year hoodoo. The reverence with which successful Brazilian imports such as Bebeto, Mauro Silva and Djalminha are regarded in La Coruña is founded to a significant extent on their contributions to that record.
Aside from his two goals in that legendary 1992 victory, Bebeto is also idolised for his hat-trick against Los Blancos three years later. And no retelling of the riotous 5-2 win in 2000 is complete without reference to Djalminha’s outrageous lambretta (rainbow kick), a sublime piece of skill that wrong-footed the entire visiting defence and has come to symbolise Depor’s enduring hold over Madrid on home turf.
Though the Galicians are a diminished force these days, with richer clubs now tapping into the pool of Brazilian talent that once served them so well, their dominance of the fixture remains unchecked. Logic says that dominance will end one day. For the club that once prided itself on being Spain’s team, it cannot come soon enough. James Calder