It’s May 2014. Thousands of Atlético fans patiently wait in the queue to get their tickets for the Champions League final that Atlético was about to play in Lisbon.
Suddenly a rumour spreads like wildfire. José Eulogio Gárate, living legend of the Atlético Madrid team that played another European final in 1974, is waiting in line to get tickets.
Soon, a club employee sees him and the club offers him an invitation to watch the final with the rest of Atleti veteran players.
They did not know that he wanted tickets because Gárate does not like to take advantage of his status to get favours. Not very surprising for those who were lucky enough to watch him play.
Gárate was born during 1944 in Argentina while his parents were visiting his grandfather, exiled since the Spanish Civil War. They returned some months after and they settled in Eibar, where he would start his footballing career for SD Eibar.
He later moved to Bilbao to begin his Industrial Engineering studies at the same time that he was playing for Indauchu, an amateur team from Bilbao.
Scouts from Atlético Madrid discovered the youngster and quickly signed him. He had not finished his studies yet, but he later did, earning his nickname “El Ingeniero del Área” (The Engineer of the Box”).
Atlético had signed a very talented striker, one who could create a chance and finish it on his own. He was neither specially tall nor hefty, and that was a handicap during a time when defenders used to play very physical and the referees were not as protective as today.
Fortunately, he was able to compensate these alleged issues with lots of skills, creativity, and goals. His legs used to be bruised after every match, but he never hit back. After every foul he silently got up to keep playing.
During his eleven years playing for Atlético he got only three yellow cards; two of them during the same match, being the only time that he was ever sent off, and it was a controversial call anyway.
He became one of the Atlético most important players of the 60s and 70s, doing what he knew best: scoring goals. He won three “Pichichi” Trophies for the best scorer in Liga and scored 137 goals.
He is usually overshadowed by Luis Aragonés as the icon of that team, although to be fair, Luis Aragonés’ shadow is huge. Gárate was a player liked and respected by everyone, even rival teams, because of his class, humility and good manners on and off the pitch.
He won two Ligas (1969/70 and 1972/73), two Copas (1971/72 and 1975/76) and the Intercontinental Cup (1975). He was also member of the team during the Liga 1976/77 that was won by Atlético, but he featured sparingly.
Gárate appeared in the 1974 European Cup final, where an uncalled foul on him lead to the Bayern goal that doomed Atleti. Even so, this final was probably not Gárate’s worst moment as football player. It may be shocking, but the worst match of his career was another final – one where he scored the winning goal.
Atlético played against Zaragoza in the 1976 “Copa del Generalísimo” final, the last one before the name changed to “Copa del Rey”. During the match, Gárate was fouled by the Zaragoza player Heredia, who left him with an open wound on his knee. That seemed to be just one more of the many injuries that Gárate had during his career, but this time was different.
The medical services of the day, not as advanced as modern sports medicine, were not able to figure out why Gárate’s injury was taking so long to heal.
They later discovered that the wound had been infected by a fungus that was literally devouring his knee, living on the cortisone that they were mistakenly giving Gárate. At one point they even considered amputation the knee, although it was not necessary at the end. However, he was to never play a football match again.
Spanish football lost a gentleman and Atlético lost an icon, but they won a legend. Atlético paid homage to Gárate with a tribute match at the Vicente Calderón between Atlético de Madrid and a team formed by players from Athletic Club and Real Sociedad.
The stadium was overcrowded, and not only by Atlético fans. It is said that many fans of different teams (including Real Madrid) wanted to bid farewell to Gárate. He would have loved to play that match, but he could only thank the fans from the pitch, wearing a suit and leaving aside his crutches to receive the 1977 Liga trophy and take an honorary kick of the football.
After retiring from football, he worked as Industrial Engineer until his (second) retirement. Nowadays he is focused on his family while he still enjoys Atlético Madrid, his second family.
He was the idol of an entire generation of Atlético fans that suffered for him during his injuries and compensated with joy his modest celebrations.
He thought that an excessive celebration was disrespectful to the rivals. This is how humble Gárate was. A gentleman, an idol, a legend. El Ingeniero del Área.