History: The kidnap of Enrique ‘Quini’ Castro

History: The kidnap of Enrique ‘Quini’ Castro

In a new series, each month totalBarça’s Jason Pettigrove will examine one of the many facets of FC Barcelona’s intriguing and storied history. In the first edition of the series, Barça’s long standing rivalry with Real Madrid was examined in two parts. In this month’s post, Jason looks at one of the darker moments of the blaugrana’s past – the kidnap of forward Quini.

Surely one of the most unsavoury episodes in the history of FC Barcelona was the kidnap in 1981 of star striker Enrique Castro González, also known as ‘Quini’.

FC Barcelona was a contender for the La Liga title that year (19080-81), due in no small part to the goals of ‘Quini’ who, despite missing a month of the season, still ended up as the Pichichi with 20 goals during that season.

A hero at Sporting Gijón, ‘Quinigol’ was eventually signed by Barcelona in 1980 after many years spent trying to poach one of Spanish football’s greatest ever marksmen.

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Hércules had just been put to the sword 6-0 at Camp Nou, including two from the man himself, when disaster struck and the event that was to define Barcelona’s campaign came to be.

The date was March 1, 1981 and a group known as the “Batallon Catalano-Espanyol” kidnapped Quini from his own car at gunpoint. To put this event into some sort of context, it would be like Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi being captured today.

The day after the kidnap, La Vanguardia would receive a call from one of his captors claiming the reason was because they did not want Barça’s leading scorer to play in the next match and “the team cannot win the ‘separatists’ league“.

That game, on 8th March, was against Atlético Madrid, who were leading La Liga at that point with Barça in 2nd place, only two points behind and the form team going into the match.

The shockwaves felt throughout Spanish football were palpable and police were unsure at first if the call had come from pranksters or far right terrorists such as the ETA, the Basque separatist movement who were very active at the time.

There was also a very tense political atmosphere in Spain at that moment and all sorts of conspiracy theories began to surface until, on the third day after his capture, Quini’s wife Maria Nieves received the most important phone call of her life.

At 11:30 that evening, the kidnappers detailed their reasons for her husband’s capture, and the ransom for his safe return. Club President Núñez, along with team-mates Alexanko and Segura would stay with Maria and her children, fearing for their safety.

The influential Bernd Schuster had already made up his mind not to play the match against Atlético, and he wasn’t alone. The team was badly affected by events and wanted to play no part in football matches until their friend was released.

In the event, and against their will, Barcelona travelled to the Vicente Calderon whereupon they were defeated 1-0. Schuster immediately blamed coach Herrera and President Núñez for the defeat in the first of many falling outs between player and club.

Understandably, Barcelona’s form did not improve sufficiently over the next games and they went from genuine title contenders to also rans in that time, taking just a solitary point from six La Liga matches.

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Each day, Maria Nieves would receive a call from the kidnappers making their ransom demands. The same conversation was played out day after day but in the days before the digital age, the police were unable to trace the callers’ whereabouts.

Eventually, on March 23rd, some three weeks after his capture, and in a conversation with team mate Alexanko, his kidnappers finalised a ransom of 100 million pesetas – to be paid into a Swiss bank.

Chief of police Francisco Álvarez Sánchez, nicknamed ‘The Brain’, took charge of the operation and with the co-operation of FC Barcelona and Swiss company Omega, a trap was set to apprehend the kidnappers.

The money was transferred into an account for a Victor Manuel Díaz Esteban and on March 25 in Geneva he tried to make a withdrawal of just one million pesetas. The trap had worked!

It transpired that Quini’s captors were actually three unemployed Spaniards who were, by that time, out of funds having had to keep Quini fed and watered during his time under their control.

The Police were led to a garage in Zaragoza and the player was released, unharmed. There was unbridled joy on the streets of Catalonia – their hero would return.

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Despite his ordeal, the player refused to admonish his captors and indeed refused to press charges against them, saying he had been treated well. The same cannot be said for FC Barcelona who decided to pursue the case.

Three months after his kidnapping, fate would decree that Quini would line up in the Copa del Rey Final against his former employers Sporting. In a masterclass of football, the story of the season was written as Quini scored in the 45th and 59th minutes to help his Barcelona side to a 3-1 win.

He would finish that season and the following one as the top scorer, including scoring the landmark 3,000th goal for FC Barcelona on January 20, 1982, just five days after the whole sorry episode was concluded.

January 15th, 1982 was the date that the captors were sentenced to 10 years imprisonment and to pay 5 million pesetas to the player. This was much less a punishment than the club hoped for, however, in the interests of putting one of their darkest moments behind them, FC Barcelona let things be.

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Quini played for Spain in the 1978 and 1982 World Cups, as well as the 1976 and 1980 European Championships.

Trofeo Pichichi:
Real Sporting – 1973/1974 – 20 goals – Primera División
Real Sporting – 1975/1976 – 21 goals – Primera División
Real Sporting – 1979/1980 – 24 goals – Primera División
FC Barcelona – 1980/1981 – 20 goals – Primera División
FC Barcelona – 1981/1982 – 26 goals – Primera División

- Seasons at club: four (1980-84)
- Appearances: 178
- Goals: 101
- Honours:
1 European Cup Winners’ Cup (1981-1982)
2 Copas del Rey (1980-1981 & 1982-1983)
1 League Cup (1982-1983)
1 Spanish Super Cup (1983)