Saturday, February 01, 2014

Football match abandoned because team refused to play in dispute over unpaid wages

There were bizarre scenes as players of third-tier Spanish side Racing Santander refused to play in their Copa del Rey quarter-final, second leg against Real Sociedad on Thursday in a dispute with the club's president Angel Lavin over unpaid wages. The stricken Cantabrian club, which has spent the majority of its 101-year history in the top flight, is currently in administration following two consecutive relegations.

Despite a cup run that has included victories over La Liga sides Sevilla and Almeria, the players haven't been paid since September. The squad warned on Monday that they would refuse to play the match if Lavin and the rest of his board didn't resign. Both sides took to the field of play and warmed-up as normal.  But after Sociedad kicked off, the Santander players stood arm in arm around the centre circle, with substitutes and coaching staff lining up in solidarity on the touchline.

After Sociedad had kept possession for 40 seconds without any challenge from the Santander players, referee Gil Manzano called the game off when Santander captain Mario Fernandez informed him his side would take no further part. "We have given up what we like most, which is to play," said Racing forward Mariano Sanz. "We wanted to play but we couldn't let them stand on our rights. To play in the quarters was a dream for us, everything had gone so well to get there. It is a shame to end it like this but we were clear in what we were doing."

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Far from being angered by the player's stance, the Santander fans gave the squad a standing ovation as they did a lap around the pitch before heading back down to the dressing rooms. The Spanish football federation (RFEF) on Friday officially confirmed Sociedad as winners of the tie, with the Basque side who led 3-1 from the first leg now facing Barcelona in the semi-finals, and that Santander will be suspended from taking part in the next Copa del Rey. The Cantabrian club were also handed a fine of around 3,000 euros (£2,500).

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