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These days, Liga managers name a squad of 18 for all away trips. But football has not always been like that. Back in the 1930s, they would typically name their starting eleven before departing and everyone else stayed at home. Remember, there were no substitutions in those days, so there was no point taking anybody else.
Teams did sometimes take an extra player just in case, but Barça boss Ferenc Plattkó clearly didn’t do that for the trip to Santander in February 1934. And when forward Luis Miranda got injured the night before the game, he was left in an emergency situation.
An urgent call was made to Barcelona (not an easy thing to do in those days), but somehow or other they managed to get 20-year-old medical student Mario Cabanes onto a train to Bilbao, from where he would have to take another train to Santander.
Unfortunately, the second train was horribly delayed. Cabanes started pacing up and down nervously. He wasn’t going to make it.
A gentleman sat in the same carriage asked the young man what he was so worried about, and when Cabanes told him he burst out laughing.
“Don’t worry, lad. The game won’t start before I get there” he said. “I’m the referee!”
It was the curiously named José María Steimborn Ludeuvik, the same man who a few years before had refereed the first ever Liga Clásico between Barça and Real Madrid.
Bad game, bad season
When the two men had finally arrived, the game got started, somewhat later than expected. And by all accounts it was a stinker, with the fans jeering the teams for the poor quality of the football.
“Awful, dreadful, one of the worst games ever played in Santander” wrote El Mundo Deportivo. “It’s hard to say which of the two sides played the worst.”
Racing won the game 3-1. That 1933/34 season was possibly FC Barcelona’s worst ever. They lost every single away game and ended up second-to-last in the 10-team division. In fact, under normal conditions Barça would have gone down to the second division. Luckily La Liga was being expanded to 12 teams the year after and so there was no relegation that season.
As for Cabanes, he never became a first team regular and when the Civil War broke out he went to France to play for FC Metz under a false name. Back in Spain, he would become a highly distinguished specialist in sports medicine.
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