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Johan Cruyff was sent off twice in his time at Barça, and on both occasions against Malaga. The second of those, 6 February 1977, was the night of one of the most explosive encounters ever played at Camp Nou.
Barça, locked in tight title race with Atlético Madrid, expected a simple win against bottom-of-the-table Malaga, but they had an additional force to contend with. Referee Melero Guaza was giving nothing their way. Malaga were awarded a goal that was clearly scored with the hand and from an offside position, Barça were denied two very obvious penalties and Cruyff had a goal disallowed for no apparent reason – and to rub salt into the wound was then sent off for dissent.
The referee’s report stated that Cruyff had called him a ‘son of a *****’, while the Dutchman maintained that he had done nothing more than yell at team-mate Manuel Clares, telling him to ‘score a bloody goal now’! Several other theories were floated as to what might or might not have been said, but nobody will ever be sure what really happened.
The Camp Nou was livid. Cushions were thrown onto the pitch, as protesting crowds were wont to do in those days. And one fan even ran onto the pitch to attack the Melero, claiming after that ‘the ref needed to be sent off too’. After the game Melero spent two hours hiding in his dressing room, with enraged fans calling for his blood, and a TV van parked outside the stadium being set on fire during the riotous protests.
Rumours and more rumours
Melero, one of the youngest officials in the league, needed a police escort to the station. Rumours abounded in the press, with one witness claiming he had overheard Melero say before the game that he detested the over-protection afforded to Barça's Dutch superstar, and that he was adamant he was going to send him off.
It was the last time Melero ever whistled a game, citing the constant threats against himself and his family as the reason. In later interviews, he continued to insist that if he had got anything wrong in that game, it amounted to nothing more than innocent mistakes. He even claimed that Cruyff later admitted in private that he had indeed insulted him.
Despite the hullaballoo, Barça went on to win the game 2-1. Cruyff was handed a 3-match ban, and without him Barça would lose their 4-year undefeated record at Camp Nou and would ultimately miss out on the league title by one point.
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