There are certain footballers who left such an impact on their clubs during their playing days that those fanbases still pay tribute to them during LaLiga Santander matches. In some cases, these moments of respect take place at every home game because the player died at a young age. In others, the supporters simply want to remember the good times. Here’s a look at a few examples of the tributes that take place across LaLiga week in, week out.
Juanito (Real Madrid)
No one embodies Real Madrid’s never-say-die-attitude quite like Juan Gómez González, better known as Juanito. Even 30 years after his tragic death in a road accident, the tough-tackling midfielder still symbolises Real Madrid’s remarkable capacity for comebacks on the European stage.
After a 2-0 defeat to Inter Milan in a UEFA Cup semi-final first leg, Juanito famously warned a rival player, in his best Italian, that: “90 minutes at the Santiago Bernabéu is a very long time.” His words rang true as Real Madrid won the second leg back in the Spanish capital 3-0. Ever since then, whenever Los Merengues have fallen behind in a European tie, local media talk of summoning the ‘spirit of Juanito’.
Juanito’s legacy lives on among fans, who chant “Illa Illa Illa, Juanito Maravilla” (“Illa Illa Illa, Wonderful Juanito”) in the seventh minute of every game at the Bernabéu in his honour. Considering the likes of Raúl and Cristiano Ronaldo also wore the No.7 shirt after Juanito, the fact that he is the one who gets an ovation each match sums up how highly Real Madrid fans think of him.
Antonio Puerta (Sevilla FC)
The lightning-quick winger was the symbol of the thrilling Sevilla FC side that took the nation and continent by storm. Born in Seville, Puerta joined Sevilla FC’s youth system aged nine. When he broke into the first team, he soon established himself as one of the most talented and decisive players and scored a crucial goal against Schalke in a UEFA Cup semi-final, helping the club win their first European trophy in 2005/06. He also scored in the penalty shootout win over RCD Espanyol in the final the following year to lift the UEFA Cup again.
However, Puerta’s promising career and life was cut painfully short. In August 2007, aged 22, he suffered a cardiac arrest during a match against Getafe CF in an incident that shocked world football. Puerta’s legend lives on, though, in Seville and beyond. Not only do the club’s supporters hold a stirring minute of applause in minute 16, that of his shirt number, during every home game, but his death also led Spanish football’s authorities to oblige clubs to install defibrillators at stadiums. This ended up saving the life of Salamanca player Miguel García when he collapsed during a match in 2010.
Dani Jarque (RCD Espanyol)
The RCD Espanyol captain was also cruelly taken from the world due to a cardiac arrest, passing away in 2009, aged 26. He had played for RCD Espanyol’s first team for seven years, having joined the club’s youth ht ssystem aged 12, and had been awarded the captain’s armband one month before his passing.
But, his name remains irrevocably tied to the club, whose supporters hold a minute’s applause in the 21st minute of every home match. The club’s training ground and their reserve side’s stadium have also been renamed after the player.
His close friend Andrés Iniesta also ensured the whole world knew about the late RCD Espanyol player. When he scored the winning goal for Spain in the 2010 World Cup final, he lifted his shirt to display a t-shirt saying “Dani Jarque – Always With Us”.
Milinko Pantić (Atlético de Madrid)
The Serbian midfielder is the subject of a quirky tribute by one particular supporter of Atlético de Madrid: Margarita Luengo. The Rojiblancos season ticket holder took a liking to Pantić when he joined, admiring his ability at taking freekicks and corners.
Before a match against Athletic Club in January 1996, she placed flowers by the corner flag as a show of support to the player. The move worked a treat as Atlético de Madrid won and scored from another corner kick, so Luengo repeated the tradition before every match. The flowers proved to be a real good luck charm, as Atleti went on to win a double that season.
Luengo continued the tradition long after Pantić left the club and even after the club upped sticks to the Metropolitano in 2017. Not even the coronavirus pandemic could halt the custom. Although no supporters were allowed into matches, club captain Koke instead laid the flowers by the corner flag, with Luengo guiding him through the process via a video call.