The day the goalpost came down – the last Real Madrid-Borussia Dortmund semi-final

There is a saying in Spanish whenever a team needs their fans that goes “el estadio se tiene que venir arriba” which would translate as “the stadium has to come on top”, although the literal translation would be “the stadium has to come up”. Well, on April the 1st 1998, it was the fervent ‘support’ of Madrid’s Ultra Sur radical section that instead of bringing the stadium ‘up’, they brought it down.

It was the first leg of the 1997-98 Champions League semi-final and a story that could easily be deemed an April fool’s joke, was far from it. After the Madrid ultras climbed onto the metal fence and vigorously shook it, said fence that was holding the goalposts came crashing down, folding itself like a deck of cards. This happened as the players were lining up to the Champions League anthem and what was to come next was nothing short of an odyssey.

First of all, the quality of the goalpost came into question, as it was the same goalpost that had been up since the 1982 World Cup, a total of 16 years standing at the Santiago Bernabéu. Up to UEFA standards? Perhaps not. Another of UEFA’s standards that was not met was that Real Madrid didn’t have a replacement goalpost in the stadium. So what could they do? First, some club workers tried to put it back up again with wooden poles, although they were clearly not strong enough to hold it up. Dutch referee Mario van der Ende communicated to the Real Madrid captain, Manolo Sanchís, that this could not go on and those in charge, people who would have not looked out of place in a Benny Hill movie, decided to take away the goalpost and bring a new one in from Madrid’s training ground, some two miles down the road.

The show was still far from finished. The question was how they were going to bring it from there and into the stadium? Well, a club member put his truck forward to transport it. The time was now well over 9pm and the match was late starting. Everyone was in disbelief as to what was going on. There was a precedent of a similar incident happening in the 1994 World Cup, when a goalpost fell down, although that time, Soldier Field in Chicago did have a spare goalpost and it was replaced in five minutes. However, in Madrid, four years later, it was already 30 minutes and no sign of goalposts.

Suddenly, TV cameras switched to an image that was borderline comedy and bad joke: down the Paseo de la Castellana, Madrid’s largest and most famous avenue, was this old Pegaso truck transporting a goalpost, escorted by police on motorbikes. It was a story that Federico Fellini would have been proud to put in any of his films.

After much angling, awkwardness, shouting and swearing, the goalpost managed to find itself inside the stadium and onto the pitch, where it was placed in the Fondo Sur where the old one stood. All of this took no less than 1h 15 minutes, for which Dortmund filed a complaint, as the match started at 10pm. They asked for the match to be forfeited 0-3 in their favour. It didn’t prosper.

As for the match, it wasn’t a good result for Dortmund but one that were it to be repeated this year, it would get Klopp’s men into the Wembley final. Goals in each half by Fernando Morientes (25’) and Christian Karembeu (67’) put Madrid in the driving seat to reach the final that year, which was played at the brand new Amsterdam Arena.

The return leg was a dull 0-0 affair and the men coached by Jupp Heynckes went on to win the competition by beating Juventus 1-0 in the final with a clear offside goal by Predrag Mijatović.

The consequences for Madrid in all of this goalpost fiasco were a fine of 115 million pesetas (691,000€) and the closure of the stadium for one European match, which turned out to be their opening Champions League game of the following season (a 2-0 victory against Inter Milan that was played at the Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán in Seville).

Dortmund fans will be hoping for a match with a lot less drama this time around.

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Aleix Gwilliam

Is a 27-year-old living in Barcelona who gets more pleasure from watching German lower-league football than from going to watch his hometown team at the Camp Nou every other week. Passionate about European football, its history and culture, you can follow him on Twitter at @AleixGwilliam

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