It’s probably a good idea to start with a ground I don’t have to travel that far to get to. Look out the window of my flat and one of the first things you’ll see is the current home of Spain’s oldest football club, Real Club Recreativo de Huelva.
I moved to Huelva at the end of January 2016 to start a new job as an English teacher and I’ll freely admit that all I really knew about the city before arriving there was its special place in Spanish football history. But having lived there for almost two months, there’s more to it than initially meets the eye. It’s a compact city, the centre is mainly pedestrianised and there are lots of cafés and restaurants lining these streets where you can enjoy a drink and an inexpensive tapa.
Further out from the centre, there are a number of parks and then there’s the stadium itself, situated by the riverside path which leads to the city’s famous Columbus monument el Monumento a la Fe Descubridora and the port.
So, on with the football. Despite their position as Spain’s oldest club, Recre have never been among its elite, having only enjoyed three spells in La Liga (Two one-season stays in 1978/79 and 2002/03, and three years between 2006 and 2009) and never having won any major honours, a Copa del Rey final defeat by Real Mallorca in 2003 being the closest they have come.
Their highest league finish came in 2007, eighth in La Liga, recording a victory over eventual champions Real Madrid at the Bernabeu on the way.
But since relegation in 2009, things have been pretty bleak for El Decano (The Dean). La Segunda is a fiercely competitive league, which many more established top flight clubs have struggled to adjust to following demotion. Following a number of years of mid-table mediocrity, Recre fell through the trapdoor to Segunda B in 2015.
In the midst of a severe financial crisis, the money to fund an immediate return just isn’t there. Indeed Recre now face an altogether more difficult struggle, that of securing the club’s future off the pitch, while preventing relegation to the Tercera on it.
My first game at the Nuevo Colombino came on 31st January, the 12 midday Sunday kick off being a regular occurrence at this level. The result was a vital 1-0 win over fellow strugglers Almeria B, secured by a goal from the only man on the pitch to have won the Champions’ League, (I assume this is true) former Liverpool and Real Madrid winger Antonio Nuñez. Unfortunately Nuñez is now 37, with his best days behind him, but he’s still capable of inspiring the team with the odd moment of magic.
And boy, could Recre do with some magic. At time of writing (9th March 2016) they are sitting 16th out of 20 teams in Group 4, which would leave them facing a relegation play-off come the end of the season.
The Estadio Nuevo Colombino is very open, leaving you extremely exposed to the glare of the Andalucían sun (and I suppose the rain, on the rare occasions it does rain there) unless you’re in the main stand, the only part with a roof. I’ve been going to matches with some of my fellow teachers, who have season tickets in the Grada 20 Diciembre which is the grada animación (the singing section). While some of the people in this section are members of the Frente Onuba, Recre’s Ultra group, most are just regular fans who like the atmosphere and the cheap tickets.
As you can see, when Recre win, it can get a bit rowdy!
The section’s name comes from the date of that aforementioned game against Real Madrid which has a double significance for Recre and their fans.
While travelling to the Bernabéu for the match, one of the Recre supporters buses was involved in an accident. Four supporters were killed (a fifth died of their injuries a month later) but the players honoured their memory in the best possible way, by defeating Madrid 3-0 with goals from Sinama Pongolle, Uche and Viqueira. Also in that side was future Spain international Santi Cazorla and Jesús Vázquez, who ten years on is the only player from that side still at the club.