Guards of honour in Spanish football

One of the most eye-catching traditions of Spanish football tends to come up at this time of year, with opposing teams giving a ‘pasillo’, known in English as a guard of honour, to the champions of LaLiga Santander. This occurs ahead of kick-off if one team has already mathematically sealed the championship, with their rivals standing either side of the tunnel to applaud the triumphant squad out on to the pitch.

This has become a very important tradition in Spain and it originates from a Copa del Rey match in 1970, when Athletic Club offered Atlético de Madrid a guard of honour to congratulate the capital city side for their recent triumph in LaLiga Santander, where they actually finished one point ahead of the Basques. For the runners-up to do this unprompted to the champions made it a very sporting gesture and it quickly caught on.

Nowadays, the tradition is most commonly witnessed ahead of matches in the same competition as the one which a team has triumphed in, such as in LaLiga Santander. When a squad manages to clinch the title with at least one matchday to spare, they can expect this special reception ahead of their remaining games, whether at home or away.

As many coaches have pointed out over the years, there is no shame in forming part of the two lines of players who applaud the champions. It is about respecting sporting achievement. Still, when a guard of honour takes place ahead of a rivalry match, it really stands out. So, here comes a look at a few high-profile and recent examples of a guard of honour being bestowed on the LaLiga Santander champions.


Athletic Club’s guard of honour for Atlético de Madrid in 1969/70

As mentioned above, the very first guard of honour in Spain was carried out by Athletic Club, whose English coach Ronnie Allen knew about the tradition from his home country. That historic date was May 17th 1970, as they met again in the Copa del Rey after a tense battle for the league title.

As one of the Basque club’s players José Ángel Iribar later recalled, the idea arose just before the game because the Athletic Club players felt their counterparts in red and white deserved it after what had been a thrilling battle for the league title.


Barcelona’s guard of honour for Real Madrid in 2007/08

One of the most famous guards of honour took place at the end of the 2007/08 season, when FC Barcelona provided their rivals Real Madrid with one at the Bernabéu in Matchday 36, with Bernd Schuster’s side having raced to that year’s championship. That produced a striking image, with the likes of Carles Puyol, Xavi and Lionel Messi congratulating their counterparts in white, ahead of a 4-1 Real Madrid victory that produced a night Madridistas will never forget.

That wasn’t the first guard of honour Barça ever gave to their eternal rivals, as they’d also done so at the end of the 1987/88 season for the Real Madrid of the Quinta del Buitre.


Real Madrid’s guard of honour for FC Barcelona in 1990/91

In total, there have been three guards of honour carried out between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid. As well as the two mentioned above after Los Blancos secured league titles, there was one at the Bernabéu for the Catalan club at the very end of the 1990/91 season, when Barça won the first of their four championships in a row with Johan Cruyff as their coach.


CD Leganés’ guard of honour for Real Madrid in 2019/20

There isn’t a guard of honour every year, as there are so many seasons when the LaLiga Santander season isn’t decided until the final matchday. That was the case when Atlético de Madrid clinched it in 2020/21, so they didn’t have any other fixtures in which to receive the honour.

Therefore, the most recent LaLiga Santander guard of honour came at the end of the 2019/20 season, when Real Madrid secured the title in the penultimate matchday against Villarreal CF. Then, in Matchday 38, they were treated to a guard of honour when visiting CD Leganés. That was an especially sporting gesture from the southern Madrid side, since they were fighting to avoid relegation that day, but still took the time to congratulate the champions. That is the essence of the ‘pasillo’.


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