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Born: Monday 21 January 1901, Barcelona, Spain
Died: Monday 18 September 1978, Barcelona, Spain (aged 77)
Spanish goalkeeper Ricardo Zamora was one of the game's earliest stars in that position and was a regular member of the national team for more than 15 years. He also enjoyed a long and successful domestic career with several of his country's biggest clubs, and the cloth cap and jumper he wore on the pitch became a common style among goalkeepers of his era. Often a controversial figure, he frequently found himself in trouble for his off-field activities and his political views attracted widespread attention during the Spanish Civil War.
Born in Barcelona on 21 January 1901, Ricardo Zamora Martínez was the son of a doctor, and his father had high hopes that Ricardo would follow him into that profession. His son however was far more interested in sports than academic study and was a keen pelota player in his teenage years. Eventually, football became his main sport and he initially played as a forward before being converted to playing in goal after joining RCD Espanyol in 1916. His style was at times unorthodox, being the first goalkeeper to be noted for clearing the ball with his elbow.
Zamora stayed at Espanyol for three years, during which time he established himself as the club's first choice goalkeeper and helped the team to win the Catalan league championship in 1918. His family still retained hopes that he would return to his studies and pursue medicine as a career, but a meeting with the directors of Espanyol's rivals FC Barcelona in 1919 put an end to any such plans. The temptation of moving across the city to Barcelona was too great to resist, and Zamora went on to spend three years there. Barcelona were then, as now, the dominant team in Catalonia and took the regional title in all three of Zamora's seasons with the club. In both 1920 and 1922, they won the Copa del Rey as well and the double success of 1919-20 brought Zamora to the attention of the selectors for the new Spanish national team ahead of the Olympic Games in Antwerp.
The opening game against Denmark was not just Zamora's debut but Spain's first ever international, and he kept a clean sheet in a 1-0 win. Spain's gold medal hopes were ended with defeat by hosts Belgium in their next match, but from there they went into the consolation tournament, which they won with victories over Sweden, Italy and the Netherlands. Zamora was sent off late in the game against Italy for punching an opponent, but was still allowed to play in the final match. Ordinarily, winning the consolation tournament would have given them bronze, but in the gold medal match Czechoslovakia amazingly walked off the pitch against Belgium and were disqualified, giving Spain and Zamora the silver medals.
His return home from the Olympics would prove to be highly eventful. Zamora was arrested, imprisoned and fined for attempting to smuggle Havana cigars on the journey back from Belgium. He would find himself caught up in further controversy in 1922 when he moved back to Espanyol for a second spell and failed to declare that he had received a signing-on fee. His punishment was to be banned from the game for a year.
Following his ban, Zamora appeared in the Olympic Games for the second time in 1924 but Spain's involvement was short as he was beaten by a late own goal which took Italy through. His second spell at Espanyol was short of success until 1929 when he helped the club to claim another Catalan title as well as their first cup success, beating Real Madrid 2-1 in the final. That summer, he played in a historic 4-3 win for Spain over England despite breaking his sternum early in the match, earning his a reputation as one of the bravest goalkeepers in the game.
In 1930, Real made a move for Zamora and he left Catalonia for the first time. Despite the fact that he had played in Catalonia for nearly 15 years and represented the regional team many times, his move to Real caused some considerable resentment in his home city. He was accused by some in Catalonia of rejecting Catalan nationalism. During his time with Madrid (as Real were known during the 1930s), he won the Spanish league in both 1932 and 1933, and added another cup success in 1934.
Like many European countries, Spain had not entered the first World Cup in 1930 but did appear in the second and those 1934 finals gave Zamora his only experience of World Cup football. The tournament was a straight knockout, and in the first match against Brazil Zamora made a crucial penalty save with his team leading 3-1, ensuring their progression to the last eight. The quarter final against hosts Italy was drawn, and went to a replay. Zamora had been injured in the first game did not play, and Spain were beaten 1-0. He won just two more caps after that tournament, finishing with a total of 46 appearances for Spain, 31 of them on the winning side.
Zamora's club career continued until 1936, when his last match would be the Spanish cup final against former club Barcelona. With Madrid leading 2-1, Zamora made a remarkable save late on to deny Barcelona an equaliser, possibly the most famous moment of his playing career in the closing minutes of his final game. Shortly after that match, he was reported to have been killed in the Spanish Civil War, something which the Nationalist forces led by Franco attempted to make propaganda from. Although the rumours were false, he was taken prisoner by Republicans, surviving in part by playing football with guards in the camp where he was held. Following his release, he was exiled in France and spent some time with OGC Nice, but return to Spain to play in a benefit game for Nationalist soldiers.
Following the war, he moved back to Madrid to coach Atlético, then known as Atlético Aviación. In seven years at the club he led them to their first even Spanish titles in 1940 and 1941. Those would be the only major trophies of his managerial career, despite spending time with Málaga, Celta Vigo (who he took into the cup final in 1948) and his first club Espanyol. In 1952 he also coached the Spanish national team for two games and spent a brief period with the national team of Venezuela. His coaching career ended in 1961 at the age of 60, following his second spell in charge of Espanyol - the club where he had started out some 45 years earlier.
Zamora died in 1978, at the age of 77. Despite very little footage of his career existing, he is still remebered as one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time, with the International Federation of Football History and Statistics placing him fifth in their list of the finest keepers of the 20th century. In Spain, he is remembered through the 'Ricardo Zamora Trophy', given to the goalkeeper with the lowest average of goals conceded across a league season. If the award had been given retrospectively, he would have been the winner in three of the first five seasons of the Spanish national league.
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- Published on Wednesday, 07 December 2011 21:25