Name: Francisco Javier Sánchez Broto
POB: Barcelona, Spain
Clubs: Zaragoza B, Zaragoza, Villarreal, Castellón, Málaga, Airdrieonians, Livingston, Celtic, Murcia, Getafe, Hércules
International Caps: 2 (Spain U21)
Unknown when he arrived on these shores the goalkeeper soon made a name for himself with a series of stunning saves. There was no doubting he was unconventional, but it didn’t matter when he had the ability to leave many a forward in amazement as to how their effort had been kept out of the net. Celtic and Airdrie fans have their own fond memories, but it is at Livingston where he is truly revered. In just under two seasons in West Lothian he established himself as arguably the club’s greatest ever goalkeeper.
His craft was honed through many years rising up the youth ranks of Real Zaragoza. Nine years he total he could call himself a Zaragoza player, from boys level right through to the first team. First team opportunities were limited – he would make only four appearances in total – but the club gave him the platform and to learn from one of the world’s best at the time: Jose Luis Chilavert. The notorious Paraguayan stopper was known for his eccentricity and ability to score from set-pieces more than his goalkeeping ability, but he was a terrific distributor with his feet and this was something Broto would take with him through his career.
In search of first team football he went off first to Villarreal and then to Castellon. The former was fighting in the lower reaches of the Segunda Division and yet Broto could not hold his place for too long, forcing another move down to the third tier. At the small club he proved his services worthy enough that a side with La Liga aspirations came in for him. Unfortunately Malaga only wanted him as a reliable back-up and he played only four times over a two year spell, watching on as the club won promotion back to the top flight. This prompted him to accept the call when a small Scottish club came looking for his services.
Broto, instead of being the foreign import that stood out, was one of nine overseas players to arrive at New Broomfield under the guidance of Steve Archibald – the former Scotland international who was both owner and manager of the club. With so many new faces it was inevitable that the list was going to be somewhat of a mixed bag. Immediately David Fernandez, Martin Prest and Antonio Calderon stuck out as exceptional talents at that level, but initial opinions of Broto were mixed. His tendency to punch the ball even when presented with an easy opportunity to catch caused cynical onlookers to dub him a “bombscare” before he’d even been at fault for a goal.
Two weeks after posting a supposedly shaky performance in a league draw with Livingston, the clubs met again in the Challenge Cup Final. The reservations the fans had about their new keeper were soon washed away as he saved three penalty kicks in the shoot-out to win the trophy for Airdrie. In contrast with the triumph their league form was patchy and things were about to get a lot worse. The clubs was suffering serious financial problems off the park and it was clear this Latin revolution started by Archibald no longer had the means to continue. Many players were either released or allowed to leave for other clubs. One such player was Broto, who was snapped up by Livingston general manager Jim Leishman.
It was an opportunistic move from the West Lothian club who were desperately scrambling around trying to find an experienced stopper to fill in for the injured Neil Alexander and Ian McCaldon. Broto made his debut in a 2-0 win over Morton where the new custodian made an impressive save from Robbie Raeside’s header with the final outcome still in the balance at 1-0.
The situation certainly worked out for the goalkeeper from a career standpoint. He went from playing on a side struggling to stay in the division to signing for the champions-elect; watching on as Livingston took the title at the end of the season. It got even better for the new boy in the immediate aftermath of the victory celebrations. Automatic number one (when fit) Alexander was sold to Cardiff City, giving Broto the opportunity to make the jersey his own in the run up to the club’s first Premier League season.
The Spaniard won the position and Livingston started life well in the top division, defeating Hearts in the opening game at Almondvale. Once again his punching tendency was called into question when he gifted a chance to Gary Wales, relying on Gary Bollan to bail him out with a goal-line clearance. Still, there remained enough about his performance to assure the club’s management that he would settle in fine at the top flight level, a feeling he reinforced the following week with an outstanding save to deny Michael Mols in a 0-0 draw at Ibrox. The same scoreline occurred later in the month when the other side of the Old Firm made their first trip to Livingston. Broto was the hero once again with a penalty save to deny Henrik Larsson was looked sure to be a late winner. Another clean sheet arrived the following week in a draw with Motherwell.
Just over a month into his first venture in Scotland’s top flight and suddenly he was the goalkeeper on everyone’s lips. Who was this guy that had sprung out of nowhere to deny the best strikers in the country and deny the Old Firm collectively for over 180 minutes? It helped that he was playing behind Marvin Andrews; a brick wall that opposing strikers struggled to get around and had no hope of going through. Defensively they appeared impenetrable, but the strike-force wasn’t nearly adapting as well. Then, all of a sudden, it started raining goals and Livingston shot up the table and into early European contention.
Unfortunately Broto was unable to play a part in the rise. In a late September meeting with Hibs, a day after the national media had fawned over the suave Spaniard, he broke his leg in a challenge with Alex Orman. It wouldn’t be until March, and the corresponding fixture at Easter Road, where Broto would make his way back into the squad. His timing, from a personal standpoint, could not have been better. Nick Culkin, who had been signed on loan to replace the injured number one, committed an error that cost Livingston the opening goal and set the tone for a comfortable Hibs win at a time when The Lions were starting to stumble in their chase for Europe.
The run of defeats stretched to four in a 2-0 defeat at Dundee in Broto’s first game back. Not only were Livingston struggling to take third place, it suddenly became conceivable that they could miss out on the top four and a European place entirely with chasing Hearts in resurgent form. The ship was steadied with back to back draws against Kilmarnock and European rivals Aberdeen before they finally got the monkey off their backs with a 2-1 win over Rangers. It put them right back into pole position and meant that they only required a win from their last three games to ensure qualification. Following a 3-0 defeat at Aberdeen they bettered Dunfermline 4-1 in front of a packed Almondvale crowd to clinch it. All that was left was to secure third place, which they did with a 3-2 away win at Hearts on the season’s final day.
The following season was in stark contrast to the fairy tale nature of the first. Livingston won their first match at home to Motherwell but then didn’t win again in the league until mid October when they defeated Dundee United by the same 3-2 score-line. David Fernandez – who had arrived with Broto from Airdrie – defected to Celtic after the previous campaign and Livingston missed his guile in attack. Problems were also starting to occur off the park as it soon became apparent that Livingston were living outwith their means with regards to the expensive squad they had assembled. So when Celtic made an offer for Broto in January, five months shy of his contract expiring, the club wasted no time in accepting.
Martin O’Neill had been pushed into the decision by the loss through injury to both Magnus Hedman and Rab Douglas. Despite this the new signing had to be patient. It wouldn’t be until late Febuary when he got his chance in the team and he impressed by making an acrobatic save to deny a Paul Hartley free-kick in a 3-0 win over St Johnstone. When Douglas again struggled with injury issues in April he showed his class with a terrific one-handed injury time stop to preserve a draw away at Dundee.
It was enough to give Broto the gloves for the remainder of the campaign. The problem was that his appearances for Livingston in the UEFA Cup earlier in the season – where they advanced past Vaduz before exiting in the next round to Sturm Graz – robbed the keeper of a chance to feature in Celtic’s memorable run to UEFA Cup final. He was on the park for dramatic last day drama when the title race went down to the wire. Both sides of the Old Firm needed to win big on the final day with the teams locked on the same points total and the outcome of the championship to be decided by goal difference. Broto was a spectator as Celtic routed Kilmarnock 4-0 at Rugby Park, but were second best to a Rangers side that slammed six past Dunfermline at Ibrox to take the title.
Celtic initially offered an extension to the keeper but he stalled on accepting the offer, wishing instead to see if there was any interest back in his homeland. He did finally get his move back home but was first forced to trial for a couple of English clubs after Celtic withdrew their offer having run out of patience with Broto’s indecision. At the very least his form over three seasons in Scotland assuaged the doubters back home that he was a legitimate top flight goalkeeper and he played in Spain’s top flight for the first time since those rookie days back at Zaragoza, featuring for both Murcia and Getafe in successive seasons before retiring as a reserve player with Hercules in 2005.
Where is he now? Having returned to Spain, Broto set up his own online retail store called Solo Porteros, which translates as “Only Goalkeepers”. The shop has everything that a goalkeeper would want: from a wide range of gloves, other equipment and a series of manuals on the position. It’s work he continued after his playing days were over.
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