If you mention ‘The Invincibles’ to most football fans, they will probably think you are referring to the undefeated Arsenal team that won the Premier League in 2003/04. Or, if you happen to be speaking to a Preston North End fan, they will be convinced you are paying homage to the undefeated double-winning side of 1889. But as great as those teams were, their seasons were far from perfect – Arsenal drew 12 of their 36 games and Preston drew four from 18.
In Spain however, there once existed a team of true invincibles – a team that played a perfect season of 30 games without losing or drawing a single match. This incredible feat was not achieved by a famous club with a great reputation, it was achieved by CD Ourense, a small third division outfit from Galicia in the North West of Spain, formed in 1952 from the ashes of Unión Deportiva Orensana.
It was the 1967/68 season and Ourense were still hurting from missing out on promotion the previous season. They had won the league but failed to progress in the play-offs. Their Coach, Fernando Bouso, kept the same group of players in the hope that they could maintain their momentum from the previous campaign. Their preferred line-up for that season consisted of Roca, Varela, Astigarraga, Paredes, Ángel, Pito, Cortés, Seara, Carballeda, Pataco and Túnez.
The third division was split into regional groups, so Ourense would only face teams from their local area. This level of football rarely received any coverage outside of the respective regions but during the course of the season, after many consecutive wins, the national media started to take an interest. After all, completing a perfect season is rare in any sport and had never been achieved in Spanish football.
Eventually, after winning 26 games in a row, scoring 89 goals and conceding just seven, the team were invited to the Spanish capital to play a mid-week friendly against Atletico Madrid. Bouso, who was born in Madrid to parents from Ourense, had previously played for Atletico and had kept strong contacts at the club. This fixture ensured that the club would really hit the headlines.
They won the game 3-1 and suddenly everyone in Spain knew about these minnows from Galicia who were just four games away from creating history. The club and the city itself had become obsessed with achieving the perfect season and a large section of the Spanish population were following their quest.
Previously unheard of players such as Pataco, Túnez and Carballeda, suddenly became household names and started to attract interest from Spain’s top clubs. Representatives from Barcelona and Valencia made huge offers to try and prize them away, but club President, Florencio Álvarez, insisted he would not discuss business until the season was over. These were unwanted distractions at such a crucial time for the team.
It was the job of Fernando Bouso to keep the players focused on the task in hand. The perfect season had become an obsession but it did not guarantee promotion, only a place in the play-offs. The pressure was mounting – the whole of Spain was watching, expecting.
For the next match, they travelled away to Vigo to face Rápido de Bouzas. A full stadium and large media presence added to the already high level of pressure on the players. In the end, a solitary goal from Seara secured a hard-fought victory and all eyes turned to the next fixture.
The tension at the next game was incredible. The stadium was packed well beyond capacity, as bitter foes Lugo arrived in town intent on spoiling the party. By the 90th minute, the scores were level at 1-1 and the game was heading into injury-time. It looked like the dream was over and the Lugo fans were revelling at the prospect of raining on their rivals parade. Then Ourense won a corner.
The set-piece was delivered into the box and disappeared into a mass of bodies. Somewhere amongst the scramble, Carballeda managed to engineer a shot on goal and it looked like it had crossed the line, but as the mass of players cleared, the keeper appeared with the ball in his hands. Carballeda was adamant that the ball had crossed the line and the referee, who was just a few yards away, agreed. The goal was given. The Lugo players protested in vain and seconds later, the final whistle was blown, sparking jubilant scenes at El Estadio de O Couto.
The next game was much easier as they cruised to a 5-0 victory against city rivals Atletico Ourense, leaving them just one game away from history. For the crucial fixture, they would have to travel to second-ranked Santiago de Compostela, who were enjoying a good run of their own, having suffered just one defeat all season.
Ourense took a large amount of fans and headed north to the famous city, where they were greeted by newspaper reporters, TV crews and huge crowds who had gathered to witness this event of national importance. Ourense had captured the imagination of the Spanish people, and nearly everyone outside of Santiago de Compostela was willing them to succeed.
In the end, the game was decided by a single goal, once again scored by Carballeda – his 38th of the season. The packed stadium erupted as the final whistle blew and even the Santiago fans gave the history-makers from Ourense a standing ovation.
The perfect season had been accomplished: 30 games, 30 wins, 98 goals scored and just eight conceded. The newspapers lauded them as heroes and their achievements were hailed in sports media all across Europe and beyond. They were even awarded the Silver Medal for Sporting Merit by the Spanish National Minister for Sport.
Despite the plaudits, CD Ourense still had to compete in the play-offs to secure promotion, and were eventually beaten over two legs by Club Deportivo Ilicitano. Bouso later admitted that the team had become burnt-out and overwhelmed by pressure. They had become so obsessed with remaining unbeaten in the League, that once that had been achieved, they had nothing left to give.
The following year they finally achieved promotion, suffering just two defeats all season. There was little fuss in the media and the memory of the perfect season was already starting to fade. The team gradually went their separate ways, most notably Carlos Pataco, who made the big move to Atletico Madrid where his career faltered due to injury; and Elidio Cortés, who went on to make more than one hundred appearances for Deportivo La Coruna.
So next time someone mentions ‘The Invincibles’ remind them of CD Ourense, the team that played the perfect season.