It’s the second match in the Brazil 1950 World Cup. Guillermo Eizaguirre had not been sharp in the opening clash and the media pressures for Antonio Ramallets, the national team third goalkeeper, to debut in such a significant event. Spain wins 2-0 over Chile, a superb first appearance by him. During the match, Ramallets flies from post to post to block, spectacularly and with an aesthetically perfect plongeon, some opponent’s shot. A save for the cameraman like they used to say. Matías Prats, in charge of the radio transmission, dubbed him in an inspirational moment as The Winged Cat, an anthropomorphic resume of his abilities below the posts. The nickname will stick with him for the ages.

He also will be The Maracaná Cat or O belo goleiro (The Beautiful Goalie) as the host country journalists call him, given his refinement. A 1.81 meters stylized height, leafy black hair, a V-neck pullover, an always neatly ironed white shirt underneath it, a sort of Beau Brummell, an elegance epitome, the rightful heir of a Ricardo Zamora whom his generation called him The Divine, among other virtues, because he defended the goal perfectly dressed and neat, as if he were attending a gala party.

Perhaps having the same idea, Antonio Valencia, the praised writer of Marca journal, wrote he thought he had witnessed Zamora’s reincarnation thirty years later. In Maracaná begins and consecrates the fantastic journey of one of the best goalkeepers in history, to whom achieving fame and fortune wasn’t precisely a piece of cake, but quite the opposite. Since then, the satirical sporting press represented by the longed Once wrought on the fruitful imagination of the cartoonist and writer Valentí Castanays, because he drew a winged Ramallets in a never-ending flight, setting that image forever in the eyes of his fans, contemporaries and later generations.

Antonio Ramallets, forever Antoniu, although the Catalan way dictates Antoni, would have celebrated his 91st birthday this year and he well deserves that we acknowledge the appreciation given to his personage, his behaviour, his great personality, that somewhat rebellious character, always endearing, which made him a different footballer committed to the most peculiar role of this game, that of protecting three posts alone and uncomplaining about the ungratefulness of the bestowed task. In the always hateful comparisons, Ramallets has been the best goalie in FC Barcelona history until the appearance of the only one who can dispute him the honor, Víctor Valdés, although the contemporary one is a product of postmodernity applied to the position and Ramallets is a classic.

Ramallets was born in the Barcelonian neighbourhood of Gracia, a fact that by itself grants you character and significance. As it was the ingrained custom at the time, one man named Pepe Samitier laid eyes on him, who was the technical director responsible of bolstering the Blaugrana squad with the good and best of around the globe, without regard if the distance between talent and the club was measured in inches or continents.

Ramallets’ first steps in the footballing world were rather a suffering. He didn’t take up the straight path from earth to heaven, quite the opposite. His journey turned out to be tumultuous. First, he endured a military service in the Navy, beginning in Cádiz, from where he was relocated for his sports merits to the Balearic Islands and he was able to debut defending the Mallorca ranks. The Navy duty at the time was the worst by far because of the length, three years at service without complaint. Back in Barcelona, a sacred wall with amazing height before him caused his loan to Valladolid, a third division club. The wall which stopped him to thrive was named Juan Zambudio Velasco, a Murcian goalkeeper known by his second surname and barely remembered nowadays in spite of his undoubtful category. Velasco, with 12 seasons at Barcelona’s service, was the first great goalkeeper after the Spanish Civil war, the man who guaranteed the defense confidence whereas up front the attacking ranks commanded by the local Cesar Rodríguez prevailed. Winner of the previous two league titles, Velasco didn’t concede any chance for his spot on the starting XI, not even against the quality and drive of the brilliant promise that was Ramallets, who felt the clock ticking away without him experiencing the sweet smell of success.

That was until Velasco suffered a retinal detachment, which opened the door to Ramallets to the starting XI at only 24 years old. From that moment on, Ramallets’ era in FC Barcelona began, first as the goalkeeper of The Five Cups, later continued during the fantastic 50’s decade and suddenly ended after that infamous European Cup final in Bern, when a seasoned Cat was crucified by the critics and was made the scapegoat for the defeat because of two of the goals conceded on that unfortunate afternoon. In Benfica’s first goal, Ramallets made a poor exit out of the penalty area, a somewhat regular flaw in his impressive set of virtues. However, it is worth remembering that back then the goalkeepers didn’t use to abandon the goal line. They were paid or cheered for keeping the net immaculate, without barely moving away from the area, by blocking, saving, diving, clearing and all the other actions relevant to their duty. At most, they ran from time to time to clear a cross with the fist and that was all.

After his retirement, Ramallets lectured until exhaustion the formidable evolution the position has had during the last half century. Now, the new generations of goalkeepers are forced to defend a larger area, to display his passing abilities when before they only had to use their hands and to dispel opponents attacks that for years used to be responsibility of the sweeper, alongside the long list of the already known requirements and abilities. Ramallets considered himself a man ahead of his time in this movement aspect, although it wasn’t always appreciated by the onlookers back then.

Ramallets remarked in an interview the progression of this misunderstood position: “One of the aspects which has changed the most is the equipment the goalkeeper uses. I always played without gloves, unless it was raining. Now, everybody use them because the footballs are made of plastic and they’re lighter, as the footwear. All of this makes it different when you block or clear a ball and also changes the stability on the pitch”. A truthful statement. For these reasons there are plays never to be seen again, such as La Zamorana, when Ricardo Zamora block a shot with his elbow or those singular Ramallets saves with his belly, that nowadays would seem anachronous. These days no one tries to catch the ball with one hand, like Amadeo Carrizo did in River just for his personal amusement. Nor a scorpion kick, unless you are René Higuita, an eccentricity epitome.

Among the good goalkeeper commandments, those which aren’t changed by time or evolution, Ramallets proclaimed as timeless virtues the bravery, focus, game vision, good sight, reflexes, anticipation, positioning, defense compenetration, leadership competence to organize the team based on the confidence your teammates lay on your abilities and the charisma the goalie must demonstrate. With 14 season in the blaugrana first team, more than 500 matches played, the number one in the list among keepers before the 80’s, 35 international caps with Spain, six mentions as the least beaten goalie in the Spanish league, four Zamora Trophy, six league titles, five Spanish Cups, two Latin Cup, two Inter-Cities Fairs Cup among other titles, no one can deny Ramallets’ moral authority to preach and decide what’s necessary to succeed in the curious occupation he chose.

Antoniu was the last lock in several generations of magnificent defenders whom like him were born in the Catalan territory. Usually in the right wing he was supported by another legend, Josep Seguer. As center-backs there were chieftains in defense such as Gustavo Biosca, Brugué, Segarra, Rodri, Olivella and many others. The left flank was in charge of Gracia or Flotats, without leaving out the foreign talent represented by Garay and Foncho, or the defensive aid contributed by the supporting cast such as Bosch, Gensana and Vergés, all foremen of the midfield. Up front he was joined by a constellation of stars worthy of being named The Milky Way and let’s not insist any further. He ran the show whether the coach was Miró, Balmanya, Herrera, Brocic, Plattkó or Puppo. Any of them knew the starting line-up was Ramallets plus 10 footballers.

He debuted with the national team alongside Gaínza, Zarra, Puchades, Basora or Parra; and he ended up his career with an amazing save against Uwe Seeler himself, in his homage game in 1962, a match won by Barcelona 5-1 versus the then powerful Hamburg squad. Among the mellow critiques some referred to his unique persona, there were his absence of gentleness to say what he thought in any given moment, his lack of diplomacy and his rather sulky mood, small shortcomings before the evidence of an enormous humaneness and kindness. His close ones use to say that the veterans friends gatherings livened up with Antoniu’s presence, because he was an inexhaustible well of amusing stories like when he remembered they haven’t paid him yet 35,000 pesetas of the prize money from the 1950 World Cup. Or when he reenacted like a mime, a painful kick the mythical Schiaffino gave him in one of those famous clashes. A pure genius who always claimed that the Barça of the Five Cups was a better squad than Johan Cruyff’s Dream Team. And we will not argue about that.

Congratulations, Antoniu, receive the honor and acknowledgement of the ones who didn’t see jump or save, but know about your huge legacy by the stories of your contemporaries, hats off to you. Ramallets was a survivor of grandiose times, a legend born in glory whom we need to thank and remember to new generations of culés, which must know the kind of heroes we had. Heroes capable of remain in the collective memory as timeless winged cats.

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Article translated from Spanish to English, originally published at the Perarnau Magazine by Frederic Porta. Martí Perarnau is one of Grup 14's partners.