Enrique Castro ‘Quini’ – Sporting Gijón’s Riveting Striker
Enrique Castro González, also known as ‘Quini’, was a spectacular striker during his time at both Sporting de Gijón and FC Barcelona. He not only gained legendary status due to his supremacy in front of goal, but he also exhibited his bravery on and off the pitch.
“The Era Quini”
Born on 23rd September 1949 in Oviedo, Spain, the young Quini later moved with his family to Llaranes as a result of his father working for the Ensidesa company. At 18 years of age, Quini joined Third Division side, CD Ensidesa in 1967. After just one season, he was signed by Sporting de Gijón, who having noticed this splendid forward, brought him to the club in the latter half of ’68. The club must have been delighted to see how, shortly after his début, he had already started scoring goals.
By the end of his first season, he had netted 15 goals, which was only the beginning – Quini was to go on an 11-season goal scoring spree! Over his period at the club, only once did he score under double digits (9). No surprise as to why his time at the club is often referred to as “the era Quini”!
By the end of his second season, his team finished first in the league and was promoted to top-flight football in the Primera División. Quini received his first major acknowledgement at the end of the ’73-’74 season when he won his first Pichichi Trophy in La Liga, having scored 20 goals.
Nothing Short of Captivating!
Quini’s abilities as a striker earned him the nicknames ‘Quinocho’, ‘Quinigol’ and ‘El Brujo’, which means ‘the warlock’. As the epitome of goalscoring superiority, he was fast, elusive, vibrant, had predacious skills, finely-tuned alertness, and had an impeccable finish. His most lethal weapon though was his commanding headers! He just had a knack for placing the ball exactly where he desired it to be.
On the tail end of his accomplishments at Sporting, having scored a whopping 215 goals in 380 appearances, and parting with them comfortably in third spot in La Liga, he was ready for a new chapter to be penned. After multiple attempts by FC Barcelona to secure this sensation’s signature, they finally sealed the deal in the summer of 1980. The transfer was valued at 82 million pesetas and, although Quini was 31 years of age, nothing had changed – he was as sharp as ever and still had the poacher’s scent for goal! Quini even announced his desire to become the league’s top scorer at Barça, and he wasn’t joking!
Quin gave his everything on the pitch, and swiftly became a fan favourite. Of all the great memories he generated in his Blaugrana shirt, the most unforgettable are: during his first campaign at the club, in lining up against his former club, Sporting de Gijón, he scored a double and secured the Catalans 3-1 victory in the ’81 Spanish Cup (Copa del Rey) final; he was top goalscorer in his first 2 seasons (’81 and ’82); in the ’82 European Cup Winners’ Cup final he scored the winning goal in Barça’s comeback over Belgium’s Standard Liège, 2-1 on home soil; and he recorded Barça’s 3,000th La Liga goal on 24th January 1982, outclassing CD Castellón at the Camp Nou, 4-3.
But, for Quini, things were not always roses and smooth sailing. On the evening of the 1st March ’81, as players and fans reveled in the blaze of Barcelona’s pulverisation of Hércules CF by 6-0 at home, with Quini scoring two of those goals, a catastrophic incident overshadowed the evening. While at his car, the striker was approached and kidnapped at gunpoint by two men. It was horrifying, and as news spread, chaos and panic erupted. The following day, the Spanish daily newspaper La Vanguardia received a phone call from one of the captors, explaining that the reason for Quini’s abduction was that Barça’s leading marksman was not to play in the next match, and that “the team cannot win the ‘separatists’ league”. Reference had been made to Barça’s match against La Liga leaders, Atlético Madrid, to be played a few days later. Barça were undeniable title challengers and favourites going into the game.
Amidst uncertainty and confusion, the authorities were unsure if the call had come from pranksters or from far right terrorists. To make matters worse, due to the anxious political atmosphere in the country at the time, there were many conspiracy theories surfacing. On the third day after Quini’s abduction, his wife, Maria Nieves, received a call from the kidnappers detailing their ransom demands. Fearing for Maria and her children’s safety, Barcelona’s club president, Josep Lluís Núñez, and two of Quini’s teammates, remained with Quini’s family.
As Barcelona’s match was fast approaching, the influential player Bernd Schuster was adamant that he would not play against Atlético – and he wasn’t the only one. Football was the last thing on everyone’s minds, and the players wanted no part in any matches until their friend’s safe return. Against the players’ will, Barça travelled to the Vicente Calderón, which was where they realised a 1-0 defeat. Clearly Barça’s form dropped significantly and the next few games proved destructive to their title hopes.
Predictably, with each passing day, Maria received a call from the kidnappers, who continued making ransom demands. Three weeks after Quini’s capture, on the 23rd March, a breakthrough was made – a conversation between Barça player Alexanko and the kidnappers finalised the ransom at 100 million pesetas, which was to be deposited into a Swiss bank. With the cooperation of both the Spanish and Swiss law enforcement agencies, a trap was set to apprehend these criminals. In Geneva, on March 25th, as one of the men attempted to withdraw 1 million pesetas, the police got their lead – the trap had worked! They were led to a garage in Zaragoza and, after a gruelling 25 days in captivity, Quini was rescued and returned home in good health, but mentally exhausted. As this exhilarating news made its way throught the streets of Spain, there was rejoicing in Quini’s homecoming!
Upon the kidnappers’ arrests it was discovered that they were unemployed Spaniards, contrary to what was initially presumed. There was also speculation over Quini having developed Stockholm Syndrome, which demonstrates an irrationality on the part of a victim in their sense of empathy for their captor. Quini chose to not press charges, saying that they seemed to be good people who had treated him well. FC Barcelona, on the other hand, pursued the case intensely and sought justice. On the 15th January 1982 Quini’s captors were punished with 10 years behind bars and had to pay 5 million pesetas to Quini. Although the punishment was less severe than the club had hoped for, as they intended to rapidly put one of their darkest experiences behind them, they accepted the verdict. Interestingly, Quini has never claimed his personal damages settlement of 5 million pesetas.
In defending the Blaugrana colours for 4 seasons, Quini scooped: 2 Spanish Cups (’81and ’83), 1 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup (’82), 1 Spanish Super Cup (’83) and 1 Spanish League Cup (’83). Thereafter, at the age of 35, Quini retired, and in honouring him, FC Barcelona arranged a testimonial match. But, a mere few weeks later, Quini couldn’t resist but to put on his boots again, and he rejoined Sporting de Gijón for 3 more seasons, before finally retiring in ’87.
Pride of Spain for Over a Decade
Quini played for Spain in the Under 18s squad in ’68, followed by periods with the Under 23s and the amateur side before joining the senior team for a 12-year spell. His senior team début, in October 1970, was in Zaragoza against Greece in a friendly. Quini immediately made his mark by scoring in the 69th minute, in their 2-1 victory. He also represented his country in 2 FIFA World Cups: In ’78 hosted by Argentina and in ’82 on home soil. In the interim, there was the 1980 UEFA European Championship in Italy. After a decade with La Roja, with a tally of 35 proud caps and 8 goals, his time with La Selección was over.
As one of the most celebrated forwards in Spain’s history, he won a record of 7 Pichichi Trophies: 5 in La Liga – 3 with Sporting (’74, ’76, ’80) and 2 with FC Barcelona (’81, ’82). And, 2 more with Sporting in the Secunda División (’70, ’77). Those 5 priceless La Liga awards make Quini one of 3 players – along with Alfredo Di Stéfano and Hugo Sánchez – to have achieved this feat, with only Telmo Zarra on a glorious 6!
Quini was also the recipient of the Don Balón Award as the Best Spanish Player in the ’78-’79 season. The Spaniard was also ranked as the 7th highest all-time top La Liga scorer (219) in the history of Spanish football, sharing the top ten list with other legends: Zarra, Hugo Sánchez and Raúl, as the top 3. And it was Messi who surpassed Quini’s 6th spot to claim it! Even his Barça record of 2 Pichichi trophies was broken by Messi, who now has 3 of his own. In reference to Barça’s most recent legend on the block, Quini once said (as mentioned on fcbarcelona.com): “Messi is not from this world, he’s from another planet. I had goalscoring records, and he’s broken all of them!”
Earlier this year, Quini displayed his film El Brujo Frente al Espejo to the world, after it was presented during the International Film Festival of Gijón last year. The film’s focus was not on Quini’s athletic accomplishments, but rather his life – it covers his kidnapping ordeal, the death of his brother Jesús, who attempted to save two children from drowning, and his successful battle against cancer. As mentioned on fcbarcelona.com, Quini said of his ordeal: “I talk about things that I have always considered taboo, doing this film has given me strength and I feel more comfortable and calm.”
Inspired Gift of Giving
In early 2012, Quini launched a charitable initiative: the Quini-Hermanos Castro Foundation. It’s a non-profit organisation which is aimed at assisting children from needy families, in social, cultural and sporting activities. Quini also dedicated the foundation to the memory of his brother. During its presentation, Quini explained: “with the memories of my brother Jesús who gave his life helping others and with the support of my other brother, Falo; I would like for everyone to enjoy all that football has given me.”
As the icon of an era, and role model for a generation, Quini is the greatest illustration of what it means to be a true champion by way of overcoming all the obstacles in his path, and in achieving all he has over the years. Respect and admiration for this calibre of player is spontaneously reciprocated in the most genuine of ways.
As noted on UEFA.com, Quini once proudly said: “In my day you had great forwards like Mario Kempes scoring lots of goals, but here was this kid from Oviedo called Quini who managed to be the league’s top scorer with Sporting.” And, it was his radiance in football coupled with having his feet firmly on the ground, that allowed him to exceed beyond all expectation. And, he did, not once, or even twice…but an awesome seven times!
- By Gemma Simolo – Follow @gemblossom178