Barcelona v Real Madrid: The curious incident of the pig’s head at the Nou Camp
Essentially this is a love story, just one that happens to involve the severed head of a suckling pig.
You may already know how it all began, when Barcelona’s most admired player of the time, Luis Figo, left to join Real Madrid in 2000.
Two years later, the Portuguese midfielder’s return to Barca in the white shirt of their bitter rivals produced one of the most dramatic evenings in Spanish football history.
That Saturday, 23 November 2002, emotions ran high and a pig’s head – among many other things – was launched on to the Nou Camp pitch in Figo’s direction as Barca fans lashed out at a man they had once so adored.
Here, witnesses to the match recall an extraordinary evening.
8:50pm: Kick-off approaches
There is heavy rain in Barcelona, drenched leather jackets and umbrellas are dripping in the stands, but still the atmosphere is electric. The players are about to take to the field.
It is Figo’s second match at the Nou Camp since leaving Barcelona. Returning for a league game in October 2000 he was jeered for 90 minutes, and he missed two subsequent fixtures through injury and suspension.
Hostility has only grown with time – tonight will be something else entirely.
Anna Blasco, Barcelona fan:
I’ll never forget it; it was a spectacular night. That kind of noise, that atmosphere – I’ve never experienced anything like it before or since.
We’d built up an enormous affection towards Figo during his five years at the club. I was actually kind of in love with him, and there was a real feeling of betrayal around his move to Madrid.
We were all expecting some kind of reaction towards him but we weren’t expecting what happened.
To start with, there was the stadium announcer, Manel Vich. He worked for the club from 1956 and died in 2016. He was always a very proper, polite person, but before this game, when he read out the names of the players, after Figo’s name, he left a space, intentionally, for the fans to whistle. That noise…
Michael Robinson, former Liverpool, Republic of Ireland and Osasuna striker, now a journalist and broadcaster in Spain:
We had a programme that went out for 16 years on Canal+ in Spain called El Dia Despues (The Day After). Before the match, we put microphones by the side of the pitch. When Figo’s name was read out, the decibel reading we got was equal to a jumbo jet taking off.
Sometimes in Spain, rivalries go beyond sport. We’re talking about a country that not too long ago had a dictatorship. Barcelona is ‘Mes Que Un Club’ for its place within Catalan culture, and there’s political connotations over the bad treatment the region experienced under Franco.
So Luis Figo appeared to make the greatest betrayal possible by signing with Real Madrid. These were the conditions that created the most visceral reaction I’ve seen in my life in any sporting arena.
Joan Gaspart, then Barcelona president:
The Barcelona fans adored Figo, and because they felt so close to him they couldn’t understand how he could leave them in that way.
They conveyed this to him in their reaction in the stadium that night. To this day they still feel affected by it.
Ignacio Gil, photographer for ABC newspaper:
When I arrived pitch-side the fans were already whistling loudly as Madrid came out of the tunnel to warm up before the match. Some of those near me were holding up placards with big dollar signs on them.
It was an extraordinary night but it’s also true that in other grounds on several other occasions fans would jeer and throw things at Madrid’s players.
The big difference is that to throw a pig’s head you really need to come prepared.
The whistles and jeers increase in volume as Figo is shown a yellow card for a late challenge in the opening minutes. Team-mate Raul goes on a mazy run and wins a corner.
Figo goes over to take it. Objects are thrown from the stands on to the pitch around him.
Officials in yellow rain macs hold back supporters leaning over the front row and shouting abuse.
Figo drifts the ball expertly to the far post where Esteban Cambiasso draws a save from Roberto Bonano. Another corner, and the volume rises again.