The former club of Shamrock Rovers strikers Alan Campbell and Liam Buckley made history in Spain on Wednesday night by reaching the semi finals of the Copa del Rey for the first time. The seaside town of Santander was home to the two former League of Ireland strikers in the late 1980’s where they had separate spells at Racing Santander. Both followed in the footsteps of Dublin born Paddy O’Connell who had a lengthy career in England, during which he got five caps for Ireland, who became manager of the club fifty years previously..
During the 1922 season O’Connell started a managerial stint at Racing Santander that was to last seven seasons before moving on to Betis, Oviedo and Barcelona, returning to Santander in 1947 for another two seasons. As one of the founding clubs of La Liga O’Connell’s first stint at the club rendered five regional titles the last completed before the new league was formed.
The clubs this week against arch rivals Athletic Bilbao has brought a level of success back to the club and a chance of the big time where along with Valencia, Real Mallorca and Barcelona they hope to go another step. Despite the lack of success Racing has always been a hot bed for great players producing many leading Spanish internationals over the years including Gento, Santillana, Munitis and Amavisca.
Lying sixth this season in the league at the moment the two legged semi final will keep the momentum alive for a few more weeks with the hope of securing one of those prized final places at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on April 16th. The famous Real Madrid were eliminated from the cup a few weeks ago by Real Mallorca the club that was home to Northern Ireland centre forward Gerry Armstrong between 1983-85.
For League of Ireland striker, Alan Campbell the arrival in Spain came only a few months after losing the 1984 FAI Cup to UCD AFC in a replay at Tolka Park. The Northern coastal town was his first step into a professional full time football set up and a major jump from just training Tuesday and Thursday nights with Shamrock River. After two seasons he moved to Belgium and was replaced by his former Hoops team mate, Liam Buckley, who was making the move in the opposite direction from Waregem.
The new head of Sporting Fingal had tasted the glamour of continental football by them with Waregem where he had moved in 1984 when his club reached the semi final of the UEFA Cup in 1986, beating Osasuna, AC Milan and Hadjuk Split on the way. Within sight of a final against European aristocrats Real Madrid, Waregem fell short losing 7-3 over two legs to FC Cologne.
At the start of the 1986/87 season Liam Buckley made the move to Racing Santander where he stayed for a couple of seasons.