When the G14 group of football clubs was expanded in 2002 to include four teams, the obvious choice from Spain was FC Valencia. Already in two European Champions’ League finals in the new century, with some of Europe’s most coveted players on the books, and with 45,000 season ticket holders and a waiting list of 20,000 more people, the right to be identified as one of Europe’s key clubs seemed apparent.
It wasn’t always like that, though. Firstly, one surprising aspect is that Valencia aren’t even the oldest football club in the city. Both Levante and Gimnástico football clubs were already established by the time Los Che was founded in 1919 by people who worked in the business of exporting citrus fruits to Britain and had discovered an enthusiasm for the sport.
For its first four years, the club was based at the Algirós Stadium but moved to the present site, the Mestalla, in 1923. The Mestalla is a mighty stadium, seeming to rise steeply out of the city streets, and it can have an awe-inspiring and highly intimidating atmosphere. The Valencian supporters must have very mixed feelings that they might one day be moving to a new 75,000 seater Nou Mestalla on the outskirts of the city. However, Spain’s financial crisis means that the proposed new stadium will not become a reality any time soon.
The second match to be played at the original Mestalla was against Dundee United; a friendly which the visitors won by 3 goals to nil. At this time, Valencia played in the regional league but, for the 1928/29 season, they were admitted into the newly formed ten-team Spanish Second Division. Just three years later, they were promoted to the First Division, which they won for the first time in season 1941/42.
Since then, the club has gained many honours including 6 La Liga titles, 7 Copa del Rey victories, 2 Supercopa de España victories, 2 Second Division successes, 3 UEFA Cup wins, 1 Cup Winners’ Cup, 2 UEFA Super Cups and the Intertoto Cup. It was during the period from 1999 to 2004 that the club had its ‘purple patch’ – winning 3 domestic trophies, the UEFA Cup and Super Cup and, of course, reaching two successive Champions’ League finals.
There have been a few famous battles with British teams along the way. During the run to the UEFA Cup success of 1962/63 (it was called the Inter City Fairs Cup at the time), Valencia had to defeat Celtic, Dunfermline and Hibernian in the early rounds. The previous season, when Barcelona were beaten 7 – 3 in the final, there was an incredible 5-1 victory at the City Ground against Nottingham Forest in the first round. The same team were conquered, thanks to the away goals rule, in the first Super Cup victory in 1980.
Arsenal followers will probably still shudder when they remember the Cup Winners’ Cup Final of 1980 when, after a goalless 120 minutes, Graham Rix’s ‘sudden death’ penalty was saved by Pereira in the Spanish goal. Arsenal were also beaten on the way to Valencia’s first Champions’ League final, where Leeds were overcome in the semi-final.
Great Valencia FC Coaches and Players
Valencia has had a few famous managers and coaches over the years. Perhaps the most surprising name amongst the list for British supporters will be that of Alfredo Di Stéfano, always associated with Real Madrid in our eyes. Manager during the early 1970s, Di Stéfano produced one of the most vibrantly exciting teams in the history of the club. Other names of note to have sat in the hot seat include Claudio Ranieri, Gus Hiddink, Luis Aragonés, Héctor Cúper and, of course, Rafa Benítez.
The club has had some great players as well – Mario Kempes, Rainer Bonhof, Didier Deschamps, Romário, Roberto Ayala and Johnny Rep, for example. David Silva (Man City) and Jordi Alba (Barcelona) are two of their more recent exports. They’ve also had two of Spain’s greatest ever goalkeepers – Andoni Zubizarreta and the crazy-eyed Santiago Cañizares, who missed out on a World Cup in 2002 because he dropped a bottle of after shave on his foot!