Racing Santander coach praises players for Copa del Rey walk-out
Racing Santander coach Paco Fernandez has expressed his gratitude for the support shown to his players, who refused to play Thursday night's Copa del Rey clash with Real Sociedad in protest over unpaid wages.
Fernandez's players, who have not been paid for several months, turned up and completed their warm-up at El Sardinero but, when the first whistle blew, it soon became evident there would not be a contest.
"I want to say thank you for the show of support we've had," Fernandez said at his post-match press conference. "We feel touched. We regret having to make this decision but we have done it out of respect to football, the sport that we love, and to ourselves.
"I want to thank my players for their bravery. Today was the biggest game of our lives and we have done it for our dignity. Without the fans' support, today's decision would have been very difficult to take."
The Racing players released a joint statement on Monday announcing they would boycott the quarter-final second leg unless president Angel Lavin and his board stepped down.
That did not happen, so, Once Sociedad kicked off, the Racing players moved in and stood arm in arm around the centre circle, with substitutes and coaching staff lining up in solidarity on the touchline.
Sociedad passed the ball between themselves in their own half for a while before kicking it out for a throw-in, at which point the referee led the players off the pitch.
Fernandez claimed the demonstration had given his team a closer bond, and felt there should be no question of punishment as they had done nothing wrong.
"We'll see what happens (on Friday)," he said. "In principle, we have to move on. Our heads are not where they should be, but we have to get back to normality as soon as possible for the sake of the team.
"(On Thursday) we had a lot of tension, a lot of emotion and feeling and that has brought us closer together."
He added: "When we got to the pitch we thought we were going to play, but not the conditions dictated that we didn't.
"We are confident that we will face no sanction because we are not the bad guys."
The evening's events meant Sociedad - 3-1 winners in the first leg - advanced to a semi-final against Barcelona.
In the statement on Monday, Racing captain Mario Fernandez said the players had not been paid for a number of months despite promises they would be.
With still no response to that ultimatum throughout the week, Association of Spanish Footballers (AFE) chief Luis Rubiales met with the Racing players and coaching staff in Santander on Thursday, and afterwards he confirmed there had been no change in the team's stance.
Rubiales reminded the Racing players at the meeting that "there are rules and their decision not to play could have consequences, but they are strong and united and we have to be together with them".
As recently as 2008, Racing finished sixth in the Primera Division standings but in the last two seasons they have suffered back-to-back relegations to drop to the third tier.