Bebel García.
Bebel García.

Bebel García

The rebel lefty from Galicia

Enrico Cavalieri
Enrico Cavalieri Istituto Comprensivo Porretta Terme. FMH contributor

In September 1932 Spain had become a Republic for one and a half year and Bebel García García made his football debut with Deportivo La Coruña. He was left footed, but he played on the right side, to show his dribbling skills. He played four years with Dépor, even if he used to start from the bench. He was Galician, from a small village far from La Coruña, anyway in the bustling port city, frequented by people from all over the world, they used to say that nadie es forastero, nobody is a foreigner.

An uprooted family

He was born in Ribadeo, 150 km east of La Coruña, where Galicia ends and Asturias begin. His parents were deeply socialist, as you can guess from the names of some of his brothers: Jaures, France, Voltaire and even he was called under the name of German SPD founder August Bebel. His family was forced to leave Ribadeo because of their political ideas, and they decided to open a small bleach factory in La Coruña. 

Because of this factory, Bebel and his brothers were known as los hermanos de la lejía, the bleach brothers. Their political activity continued on a daily basis, and reached its peak during the diffused insurrectionary strikes of 1934. His football activity continued as well: he rarely played in the starting team, but in four years he collected 28 caps and scored eleven goals.

The civil war gets to La Coruña

When Franco’s troops reached Galicia on 20th July 1936, Bebel’s family participated in the defense of their city and of the Republican institutions. When the battle was lost, Bebel’s brother Pepín was able to run and get to Republican controlled territories, while Bebel and two brothers weren’t as lucky as him.

They were captured some days after. Jaures was sentenced to life, because he was underage (he was killed one year later, they say in an escape attempt). Bebel and France were sentenced to death by shooting. 

A viscerally brave death

It was the 29th of July and his brother France went first. Bebel watched him die, and decided he had a last gesture to do. Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano immortalized what happened next in a poem:

- One moment – he said.
And the soldiers, Galician like him, footballers like him, obey.
Then Bebel unties his pants, slowly, button after button, 
and in front of the firing squad leaves a big piss.
Then he ties back his pants:
- Here you go.

The city of La Coruña dedicated a road to the García bleach brothers in 2002.

Thinking points

Historian Carlos Fernandez said Bebel García was a good player but “he had other things on his mind”, meaning the socialist ideas he and his family professed. What does a footballer which considers politics more important than his career tell us about his historical age and context? 

Find out more

You can find the original poem of Eduardo Galeano on Mundo Esférico site (this rough translation is mine). For Spanish readers again, a nice article on Panenka.org. A page on him in Galician is available on Memoria do Cárcere. The quote of historian Carlos Fernandez is taken from an article on La Voz de Galicia.

A young footballer from a family-run bleach factory.

Life Story 123

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