Spain’s domestic competitions have never failed to amaze us with their surprising and shocking results over the years. Earlier, the winner of the Copa del Rey used to qualify for the European Cup Winners Cup, the second-tier European competition behind the European Cup. This European spot was something that allowed all teams to field their strongest lineup in order to play in Europe. That’s what makes the cup competitions exciting.
Until 1991, development teams or B teams of the clubs were allowed to play in the Copa del Rey. They weren't allowed to play in the same division as their senior team but they were allowed to play in the cup competitions (Copa del Rey or Copa del Generalísimo) back then.
A surprising incident happened during the 1979-80 Copa del Rey season as Castilla, Real Madrid’s youth side, managed to beat top-tier Spanish teams to set up a final against their senior side. This was something that had never happened in Spanish football history. They managed to beat the likes of Hercules, Athletic Bilbao, Real Sociedad, Sporting Gijon to pave their way to the final. However, they lost the final against their senior side. But because Real Madrid won La Liga that season and had already qualified for the European Cup, Castilla got the direct spot to play in the European Cup Winners Cup in the 1980-81 season. That makes them the only reserve/development team to ever take part in an official UEFA senior competition.
However, their fairytale run ended soon but it doesn’t mean their European campaign was a disappointment. Castilla had to face English giants West Ham in the first round of the European Cup Winners Cup 1980-81. Trevor Brooking’s West Ham had qualified for the competition by winning the FA Cup while playing in the second division. They defeated Everton in the semifinals and Arsenal in the final to seal the title. This is a notable record because no team from lower divisions has won the FA Cup since. This tie was a match made in heaven. Two underdogs playing against each other.
The first leg was set to happen at the iconic Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid. West Ham scored an early goal through David Cross. However, their celebrations were cut short as Real Madrid Castilla mounted a comeback and scored three goals to end the game 3-1 in their favor. Paco, Balin, and Cidon were on target for Castilla as they mounted an amazing comeback in front of their fans. However, there were some crowd disturbances in Madrid and due to that UEFA banned fans from entering West Ham’s stadium for the second leg. This meant that the Hammers had to bounce back in the second leg, without their fans.
Only 262 people attended the second leg, which is popularly known as the ‘ghost match’. Geoff Pike scored a 25-yard banger to open the scoring for John Lyall’s second division side. David Cross leveled the scoreline on aggregate by scoring from Brooking’s cross. This put the Hammers ahead on the away goals rule. Paul Goddard made it 3-1 and 4-3 on aggregate. The Hammers were flying high at half-time. However, Castilla bounced back with an audacious 35-yard freekick from their captain Bernal. The game went into extra time and Cross scored twice to complete his hattrick (only European hattrick by a West Ham player). The game ended 6-4 in favor of West Ham, who progressed to the next stage of the competition.
Castilla crashed out of the competition but they were welcomed by Madrid with warm hands. Their dream run was over. Sadly, something like this will never happen again as, since 1991, youth teams have not been allowed to play in the cup competition.