Cádiz fans have seen Jeremías Conan Ledesma out of his goal and sprinting across the grass before, just not like this. It was Saturday evening and he had been beaten twice, first by Frenkie de Jong then by Robert Lewandowski, but this was something else entirely and they were on the same side now. The goalkeeper set off in silence and ran towards the bench – the Barcelona bench – where Carlos Nogueira, the physiotherapist, threw him a small, red box. He caught it, turned and headed back again, as fast as he could, holding tightly. When he reached the end, pulling up alongside his goal, he threw it into the stand. Inside was a defibrillator, urgently delivered by hand.
Briefly Ledesma raised a thumb, an enquiry, a hope, looking up at the stands, but it was not returned. His eyes fell. And so he stood quietly, helpless and just waited not knowing what else to do now, like almost all of the other 20,000 people there. It was a long wait. By the time they restarted the game and played out the final minutes, it had gone dark and Antonio, a 68-year-old Cádiz season-ticket holder, had been taken to Puerta del Mar hospital less than a kilometre down the road. He had suffered a cardiac arrest and had been dead for 10 minutes, but they had revived him. He is stable, in ICU.
On a weekend of 30 goals, including Lewandowski but also Nico Williams’s thunderous first ever, two from José Angel Carmona – the youth-team defender – which might have rescued Julen Lopetegui from the sack at Sevilla, and Fede Valverde’s comic-strip strike against Mallorca; on a weekend in which Villarreal conceded for the first time this season and Real Betis scored it to go top of the other league for everyone else, it was the image of Ledesma’s run that was perhaps the most lasting. Another portrait, one of many, of what unfolded in Cádiz, which could have been anywhere.
There had been about 10 minutes to go when the whistles started going round. That might have seemed like a pretty standard response from fans frustrated at another defeat – Cádiz have no points and no goals – but as Barcelona kept the ball, from the south stand there were chants of “Red Cross! Red Cross!” Arms were waving frantically. Silvia, the daughter of the fan who suffered the cardiac arrest, later said she hadn’t noticed at first. She had been talking to her dad and then turned back to the game. It wasn’t until a fan behind alerted her to the fact that his head had slumped that she called for help and the rest of the supporters called for her.
The Red Cross didn’t respond immediately, and it was not clear what was happening but the referee Carlos Del Cerro Grande did – and fast. Decisive where others would have doubts, he stopped the game, ran towards the benches to tell the delegates and officials. In the stand was a Cádiz fan called Cristian Cornejo. A nurse with one leg encased in an orthopaedic boot, Cornejo was the first on the scene where Antonio had no pulse. Medical staff from Barcelona and Cádiz set off round the pitch towards them.
At the side of the pitch, cameras captured Ledesma shouting to Sebastián Jiménez, the Cádiz club doctor. They saw the look on his face and heard him saying: “He revives and then falls again.” Then came the sprint: the defibrillator he ran for was actually the second supplied. There was applause at the hint of good news, anxiousness occasionally allayed, but it didn’t last. Time passed. A Barcelona fan and a cardiologist from Badajoz called Carlos Aranda was sitting next to a former Cádiz player: they rang the matchday delegate and Aranda set off to the stands. About 15 minutes had passed. Something was seriously wrong.
There was hush, all these silent images. Pacha Espino stood, hands over his face, fingers crossed. Ronald Araujo on his haunches praying. He wasn’t alone: Momo Mbaye prayed too. Players talked, or mostly just stood in silence. They were taken down the tunnel, where discussions about what to do now went on. Many of them stayed out, sitting on the bench or on chairs staring into space. Midfielder José Mari ran, carrying a stretcher into the stands, where a space had been opened to allow medical staff through, room to work.
It was chaos, Cornejo said. The Ambu they had was designed for a child. His wife rushed there with an adult’s one – her car, left outside in her hurry, got towed, a €140 fine. They couldn’t get a line in. They worked shifts on the CPR. Antonio was dead for 10, 15 minutes. The protocols say you stop CPR after 25 minutes, but they didn’t. They kept going: after 40, he was carried out with a pulse. Amidst it all, a TV cameraman collapsed. They went to his aid too. When Cornejo departed, walking round the pitch in that boot, there was applause, a true hero.
A statement from Cádiz said Antonio was stable. His daughter explained the following day that doctors were happy but that they had to be patient. She said thank you – “to everyone”.
It had been long, silent, strange and scary. When the referee brought the teams back out and restarted, it was 55 minutes after the game had first been stopped. Barcelona scored twice more – Ansu Fati said sorry for his – but Cádiz were barely there any more and nobody cared.
Only, they did of course. Sort of. Episodes like this do humanise, yes. They last, they have a special significance. Last season Ledesma made more saves than any goalkeeper in primera except Maximiano, but none of his actions were as important as this. And yet it’s also all played out through football, where players are people too, and where everything is magnified. The put things into perspective line is always expressed as all of this football stuff isn’t important, but sometimes what actually happens serves to do the opposite, instead somehow underlining how important it is. People pass away, games play.
It doesn’t really matter, no: it all felt pretty irrelevant when it started again on Saturday night and lots of people had gone. But it matters because people make it matter, and they had come back out – not so long ago, they wouldn’t have stopped at all. The fact that they could do so was a sort of signal of success, an escape, a way of carrying on and saying it’s OK, he’s OK. Football is people’s life, or part of it. For many, it articulates it, celebrates it. They will be back next time. Now they hope Antonio can be there with them. One of the doctors there, another fan answering the call, said if it hadn’t happened here, at a game, in this place, with these people running to help, he couldn’t have been.
• The cartoon Rodri had drawn on his shin pads was beaming and the real Rodri was too. This was the gameand Betis had struggled to start with, but he had slid in at the far post to give them victory, 53,276 people erupting. Villarreal really could and probably should have scored three or four in the first half, but Rodri’s goal took them to third. “We deserved more,” said Unai Emery, which might have been true, and to make it worse Gerard Moreno was forced off injured.
• “I saw red shirts and I started to run,” said Fede Valverde, the man with four lungs. Started and didn’t stop. He’d gone 67 metres, sometimes hitting 30kph, picking up the ball deep inside his own half and going round three players into the light beyond, before he saw a white shirt heading across his field of vision, opening a little space. That, he said, was when he decided to shoot – left footed – the ball flying into the top corner from the edge of the box. It was absurd, cartoonish, and it changed the game. Having gone a goal down to Mallorca, Madrid were now level and the proud holders of the best goal scored this season – even if Rodrygo and Vinicius would both do their best to challenge that on the way to a 4-1 win.
• If those three were brilliant there was more. Enes Unal’s outrageous free-kick set Getafe up for their first win of the season. Williams junior came in from the right and sent a belting effort into the top corner for Athletic against Elche, where the furious fans sang that their players were still on holiday. Erik Lamela’s touch for Sevilla’s opener at Espanyol was very neat. And Atlético’s opener against Celta, finished off by Correa, was a gorgeous team goal. Carrasco’s third in the 4-1 win was pretty tasty too.