Friday Feb 28, 2020. 09:00
African Football’s Graeme Jackson is on the journey of a lifetime as the South African journalist visits Spain to soak up the country’s atmosphere and experience the biggest football match in the world.
“We are the oldest club in town, ” announces Levante UD International Business Development Manager Luca Donati, as we begin a tour of Estadi Ciutat de Valencia.
Home of Valencia’s ‘second team’, it was built in 1969 and has been known as Estadio Antonio Román (1969-1972) and Nou Estadi del Llevant (1972-1999).
The stadium has an odd cut-out on one of the stands behind the goals – deliberately designed because a farmer would not sell his land when the venue was built. Legend has it the farmer was a Valencia fan and refused to acquiesce in honour of his support for Levante’s derby rival.
With a capacity of 25,000, the venue is only mid-sized but Levante have major plans to upgrade and modernise over the next few years. Their work will not greatly increase the capacity, but by the early weeks of next season the Ciutat will boast a new roof (covering all of the stands), new lighting and giant screens, as well as increased VIP and sky-box areas.
It’s an ambitious step forward for a humble but determined club which lives in the long shadow cast by their cross-town rivals at the Mestalla. But because of this, it’s hard not to appreciate the spirit and grit of the ‘Granotas’ (Frogs, their nickname arising out of the proliferation of frogs which had their habitat in the old river running through Valencia).
“Our history is a history of fighting. Second division, third division, bankruptcy. But now we are stable and virtually without debt,” explained Donati.
Yet the highlight of the tour came in their informal museum, curated in classic man-cave style by veteran greenkeeper Raimon Ferrer. In a room underneath one of the stands, Ferrer has amassed a collection of shirts, boots, books… basically any football paraphernalia you can think of.
There’s nothing in backlit frames, there’s no glass separating the treasures from the viewer, this is a truly tactile and immersive experience of a collection casually but lovingly and fanatically put together – with the feature being a Kermit the frog clad in a Levante shirt!
On the tour front, our time in Valencia is up and we have shifted over to the capital Madrid. Immediately the bustling, busy nature of the city is evident and I look forward to experiencing more of it on Friday as we meet with the CCO of La Liga and visit Real Madrid’s famous Estadio Santiago Bernabeu.