The Ups and Downs of Following Depor (2013-Present)

Last time out I looked back at my experience of visiting Estadio Riazor for the first time, and the start of my time following Deportivo La Coruña.

So now it’s time for the rest of the story, it’s a bumpy ride, with a fair few more downs than ups, but writing this has brought back plenty of good memories!

2013/14: Crawling to Promotion

After that first game, I was hooked. I couldn’t wait to go to another game and watch Fernando Vazquez’s swashbuckling team waltz to promotion. How wrong was I…

Just before my Christmas break in 2013 I made it back to another game, this time Alavés were the opponents and it would be my first game under the lights at the ground.

Initially things followed the pattern of the Mallorca game. Depor took the lead through Juan Carlos and looked home and hosed when Borja Bastón doubled their lead after half time. But there was a nervy ending after Alavés pulled a goal back from the penalty spot and Depor shut up shop to try and defend their advantage, always a risky move. At least I got to see Kaká playing – no not that one obviously, but a journeyman defender best known for his stint at Braga when he helped them reach the Europa League final.

I went back after Christmas for what was the final round of the first half of the season. Relegation-threatened Girona were the visitors to Riazor and I (and pretty much everyone else in the stadium) expected a comfortable victory. Instead we got 90 plus minutes of Depor being unable to break down one of the most unbelievably defensive teams I’d ever seen, one that was so concerned about not losing that when they won an injury time corner, they barely committed anyone forward, played the ball short and held it rather than risk losing it and facing a counter-attack. Coincidentally, this is the only game I ever watched from behind either goal there. I think the experience of this game was enough to put me permanently off sitting there ever again.

So, with half the season played, Depor were top and well-placed to win promotion, but all was not well. “Lider sin gol” declared one of the sports papers after the Girona stalemate.

A poor run of form saw Depor knocked off the top spot as we entered February so when third-placed Sporting Gijon arrived in A Coruña on the 16th only a point behind, it was the very definition of a six-pointer.

This was definitely the first thing close to a big match atmosphere that I’d experienced at the Riazor, undoubtedly helped by the presence of so many Sporting fans, who had made the relatively short trip over from Asturias to cheer on their team. And in my first experience of Spanish football’s rather lax attitude to segregation, a lot of them were sitting in the same section as me.

And for most of the game, they had more to cheer about. They took an early lead after Depor had only half cleared a corner and then stood off, allowing Sergio Álvarez all the time he needed to square it to Bernardo, totally unmarked who fired home.

Depor were awarded a penalty in rather controversial fashion – a handball given against a Sporting defender as he clearly tried to tuck his arm behind his back – but Borja Bastón couldn‘t make the most of this slice of luck, tamely rolling the ball wide of the target.

A second Sporting goal was ruled out for a marginal offside but things were getting desperate. So much so that when Depor won an injury time corner, everyone – including goalkeeper Fabricio – was thrown forward. The four minutes that has been allocated were already up so this was really it, do or die. The corner came in and Fabricio launched himself at it with a diving header, he missed it, but fortunately he had attracted enough attention from the defenders that no one was marking Toché behind him and he headed into the net. There was pandemonium in the Riazor. Fabricio celebrated so much that I left the stadium convinced that he had scored the goal and it was only through seeing the highlights later on that day that I saw what had actually happened.

And the day after the game, local sports paper DXT had some scathing words about Borja’s performance.

They certainly didn’t pull any punches with their analysis. Borja would go on to finish as Depor’s top scorer that season, but aside from one outstanding season in La Liga with Eibar, which convinced Swansea City to spend a club record fee on him, his career has largely been one underwhelming loan spell after another.

As the campaign went on, Depor took turns occupying top spot with Basque side Eibar. Their mid-May meeting at Riazor was billed as a potential title decider. And after a long absence, dictated by awkward kick off times, me travelling to other places and typically Galician weather, I was back in attendance. Although I probably shouldn’t have been as I’d just come down with an absolutely stinking cold and as such, don’t have much memory of the game beyond that.

Anyway, watching highlights told me that Diego Ifrán put Depor ahead, but a second half equaliser from Jota (the one currently playing for Alavés) gave Eibar a point and the following weekend they capitalised on a Depor slip up at Numancia to retake top spot.

With two games left, a win over Real Jaen in their last home game would ensure Depor won promotion. Alas, getting tickets was pretty much out of the question and I had to watch the momentous occasion from a bar in Santiago. Carlos Marchena scored the only goal of the game and Depor were back in the big time!

2014/15: The Great Escape

2014/15 began with a new-look Depor getting ready to take their place back in the elite of Spanish football. Despite winning promotion, Fernando Vazquez had been replaced as manager, his complaints about the club’s transfer policy led to his dismissal in July. In his place came Víctor Fernández, a vastly experienced La Liga manager, mostly with Real Zaragoza, who he managed to their famous Cup Winners’ Cup success in 1995.

My first top flight game at Riazor was Depor vs Almería in late September and it was to prove a very frustrating afternoon.

Not initially, as I enjoyed being back beside the sea, having lunch in the old town and soaking up a bit of pre-match atmosphere. Then the game started and Depor missed chance after chance. Chief culprit was new number nine Hélder Postiga, one of a number of Jorge Mendes clients the club had signed over the summer, who would ultimately only score one goal in 16 league appearances.

The game looked to be petering out to a 0-0 draw but two minutes into injury time, Depor lost the ball high up the pitch, Almería swarmed forward and Édgar Méndez’s shot took a massive deflection off Laure and loop past Lux and into the net. Urgh.

When I returned on 19th October, Fernández was already under pressure after just one win and four points from seven games. So big changes were made for the visit of Valencia. Notably, Lux was dropped after a poor run of form which had seen him concede eight against Real Madrid and four at Sevilla, with Fabricio given a chance to claim the number one position and up front there was a debut for Lucas Pérez.

Growing up in A Coruña as a Depor fan, Lucas had somehow been overlooked at youth level by the club and instead had taken a somewhat unusual route back home. After playing for the academy teams at Atlético Madrid and Rayo Vallecano, he made his first appearances in the Segunda for the latter, before a move to Ukrainian side Karpaty Lviv. After a spell on loan at Dynamo Kiev, he moved on to PAOK in Greece before the chance of moving on loan to Depor came up. He’d been forced to wait for his chance, but now he grabbed it with both hands.

Combining with Ivan Cavaleiro and Luis Fariña in a dynamic front three, Depor posed Valencia problems from the outset and went close to taking the lead on a couple of occasions before forcing an own goal, variously credited to either José Gayà or Shkodran Mustafi. Then Cavaleiro’s flick on put Lucas through and he drilled in a low shot to double the lead and oddly celebrated by kicking the advertising hoarding behind the goal.

Unfortunately his great debut came to a premature end when he was forced off through injury in the 58th minute.

Valencia had their chances, but Toché eventually clinched the victory with a late third. A first home win of the season, but it didn’t prove to be the start of a winning run, it would be nearly two months before Depor next tasted victory.

In February 2015 I took advantage of a long weekend for the Carnival holiday to go to Madrid for the second successive year – I probably would have gone somewhere else but for the fact La Liga’s fixture schedulers had been kind to me and handed Depor an away game at the Santiago Bernabéu that weekend.

I couldn’t really resist the opportunity to finally tick off one of the most iconic stadiums in world football with the added bonus of making it my first Depor away day too. I wasn’t really hopeful of any kind of positive result, Real Madrid were top of the league at the time as well as the reigning European champions and Depor were in the midst of an injury crisis, which forced them to field 39-year-old Manuel Pablo at centre back.

It wasn’t really a surprise that Depor lost 2-0 to goals from Isco and Karin Benzema, In fact it was probably more of a surprise that they’d had a few decent chances to score. But this game will always stick out in my mind for being the day the Bernabéu turned on their entire team for losing to Atlético the week before and having the audacity to still go out and celebrate Cristiano Ronaldo’s birthday.

I also learned how warm it is in the Bernabéu when they have the heaters turned on overhead, knowledge that would serve me me well when I eventually moved to the capital!

I kicked off March with the visit of Sevilla to the Riazor and this turned out to be one of the most exciting games of the season.

January signing Oriol Riera gave Depor a first half lead, but it only lasted for around five minutes as Vitolo fired Sevilla level. Seven minutes into the second half, he put them in front and then a penalty from Kevin Gameiro looked to have put the Andalucían side out of reach. But Riera scored his second to cut the gap to one goal again before an own goal from Sidnei finally did seal Depor’s fate. An injury time penalty converted by Lucas was too little, too late.

Later on that month I was back again, with Espanyol the visitors. In contrast, this would turn out to be one of the worst games I ever witnessed in A Coruña. Espanyol came to defend their 0-0 draw and a largely clueless Depor attack created few opportunities to break them down.

In between my last two visits of the season, Fernández was finally fired, failing to beat relegation-bound Córdoba at home sealed his fate, with Víctor Sánchez del Amo, one of the heroes of the Super Depor days, taking charge.

My next visit was a big one – Atlético Madrid came to town in late April.

All smiles before kick off

It only took five minutes for Atlético to take the lead, a superb scissor kick from Antoine Griezmann, left unmarked as the Depor defence pushed up to try and play offside, left Fabricio with no chance and he was equally helpless to keep out the Frenchman’s second 17 minutes later. It was a devastatingly simple goal, long throw, flick on, bounce, shot on the half volley, goal.

At least Depor made a game of it. Oriol Riera scored a header to make it 2-1 with 12 minutes left but this particular Atlético side were masters of killing off tight games

Despite the defeat, the Atlético performance was extremely encouraging and I felt reasonably optimistic about the rest of the season. However, this rapidly evaporated when I finished class one day the following week and checked the score of that evening’s game: Elche 4-0 Depor. Ouch.

But no one in A Coruña lost hope, a couple of tough games against Villarreal and Athletic saw important points won from losing positions before, at last, a win over Levante which meant that they were still alive going into the final day.

The last game of the season saw Depor away to newly-crowned champions Barcelona. Their task was simple – a draw would be enough to keep them above Eibar and preserve their La Liga status. Easier said than done against a Barcelona side boasting the terrifying MSN (Messi, Suarez, Neymar) frontline, and who were on the way to a Treble.

As it happened, Barça did rotate their starting XI quite a lot for the game, but unfortunately they did include Messi, who scored twice inside the first hour to put them in control and with Eibar already 3-0 up against Córdoba, things looked very bad indeed…

But on 67 minutes, Lucas scored to give his team some hope. Then nine minutes later a Depor free kick was blocked by the Barça wall and with everyone else slow to react, it fell to Portuguese winger Diogo Salomão, who lashed a first time shot into the net. From out of nowhere, Depor were alive again. Now they just had to hold on…

Watching this game on TV was an extremely stressful experience. Even though there was the sense Barcelona weren’t really too bothered by the result, they still had players who could make something happen out of nothing. So when the final whistle went, the feeling was one of immense relief. As Barcelona prepared to receive the La Liga trophy, Depor held their own celebration on the pitch.

Surely this was just the first step to rebuilding Depor as a major force in Spanish football? Or at least re-establishing them as a credible La Liga side?

Autumn 2015: A Last Hurrah

I was quite excited going into the 2015/16 season. A few new players had arrived in A Coruña over the summer and with a bit of momentum from the “great escape” behind them, Depor got off to a good start. Well, not initially in a bore draw with David Moyes’ Real Sociedad, but in going to Mestalla and taking a point against Valencia and then winning 3-1 away to Rayo Vallecano. As soon as I could I was back at the Riazor, for the fourth game of the season against Sporting Gijon.

The Riazor had received a bit of a facelift over the summer, with new seats and a fancy new scoreboard which would be seriously tested on that particular afternoon…

Depor line up a free kick against Sporting

The first half of that game was one of the craziest I’ve ever witnessed. The visitors had only scored a single goal in their opening five matches of the season, but within seven minutes they had scored two. 20 minutes later, Depor were level with goals from Juanfran and Luis Alberto.

Sporting then scored a third against the run of play on 34 minutes but surely Depor could come back again? The game continued its frantic pace for the entire 90 minutes, but remarkably there were no further goals. The Asturians’ goal led a charmed life as Depor peppered it with shots to no avail.

I was able to go back the following Sunday – a midweek away game meant Depor had two home games in a row – and this time it was a much more straightforward afternoon.

Espanyol were the visitors and in contrast to the utterly insipid contest I’d seen back in March, Depor produced probably the best performance I ever saw from them. An own goal gave them the lead before Lucas Perez and Luis Alberto took over. Playing either side of lone forward Oriol Riera, they tortured the Espanyol defence for the entire game, with Lucas getting on the scoresheet twice.

Lucas takes the plaudits after one of his goals

The only surprise was that it only finished 3-0. Depor were far superior all over the pitch.

A beautiful sunny day, a walk on the beach, lunch in one of my favourite places in town and most of all, Depor were good again! All seemed right with the world.

However, that late September game would turn out to be my last match at the Riazor to date. Familiar problems, mainly evening kick-offs and clashes with trips elsewhere, meant I wasn’t able to make one final return visit before I left Santiago for good in December.

2016-2018: Exiled in Andalucía

My Galician adventure was now over. From January 2016, I would call the southwestern corner of Spain and the city of Huelva home.

Over the next two and a half years I’d only get to see Depor four times in person – all in the city of Sevilla – without much to cheer about – one draw and three defeats being the results over that period.

The first of those games was the only time Depor managed to emerge with a positive result and it was also my first visit to the Estadio Ramon Sánchez-Pizjuan.

I found plenty of other Depor fans there, making this a very different experience from my previous away game. Not only was the away section packed out, but there were blue and white shirts dotted all around the ground.

A packed away section

This was a very different Depor from the one I’d seen back in Autumn. Having entered the new year in contention for a European spot, they had won only once since, against an already-doomed Levante, and were in danger of getting dragged into the relegation battle.

Sevilla were a few weeks away from their third consecutive Europa League triumph

Fernando Llorente headed the ball back across goal and a diving header from Vicente Iborra beat Manu Fernandez in the Depor goal.

On a baking hot April afternoon, both teams toiled without much of an end product, but crucially, Depor stayed within touching distance and got their reward on 81 minutes, breaking down a Sevilla attack in midfield and releasing Lucas on the break, who crossed for Oriol Riera to equalise with a tap-in.

Depor eventually stayed up by four points, but with the joint-fewest wins of any side in the league. A season that had looked promising in December had gone badly off-track.

The following season I missed the chance to go to the Betis game at the Benito Villamarín as it was in Matchday 2 and I was still back in Northern Ireland. So I had to wait again until an April fixture on the other side of Seville to see them again.

And April saw Depor in the midst of another relegation battle. Gaizka Garitano had replaced Víctor in the summer, but the former Eibar coach never seemed a good fit at Riazor and January saw the arrival of Pepe Mel, whose appointment brought a bit of new manager bounce, including an unexpected win over Barcelona.

Things didn’t exactly look promising in Seville when Stevan Jovetic put the hosts ahead after less than a minute, squeezing his shot past Lux at the near post. But Depor went on the attack immediately and equalised through a cool finish from Gaël Kakuta.

Sevilla went in front again when Lux palmed a shot straight to the feet of Pablo Sarabia and he knocked the ball into the empty net – all this happened inside the first ten minutes.

The game did calm down a little and Depor gradually got a foothold again and scored a second equaliser again through Kakuta – this time a superb free kick curled right into the top corner. Alas it was all downhill from here.

Parity only lasted another seven minutes as a Sevilla free kick was headed in by Joaquin Correa. Depor gave it a good go and almost equalised again on a couple of occasions before Wissam Ben Yedder wriggled free of his marker to confirm the defeat late on.

Sevilla’s ultras finished the game by singing their support for Depor in their battle against the drop. There aren’t many places where you can watch a team lose 4-2 and see a large part of the opposition fans singing their songs.

Despite that setback, Depor did just about enough to stay up in 2016/17 and so I was able to see them again in Seville during the following season. And this time, the Betis game was timed better so I could go!

Alas, when I took my seat, I found that I was right next to the plexiglass partition between two sections of the stand, meaning that when I was sitting, my view of the far end of the pitch was either limited or non-existent thanks to the glare from the setting sun.

Alas this meant I missed Fede Cartabia’s equaliser after Joaquin had put Betis ahead and then the evergreen winger’s match winner in the 75th minute.

Mel didn’t last much longer and when I returned to Seville at the start of December for their game at the Ramon Sánchez-Pizjuan, it was former Fabril coach Cristobal Parralo who was in charge.

There’s an obvious joke here

This was a Depor team that actually looked good on paper but on the pitch the reality was quite different. They produced a horribly disjointed performance, falling behind on the stroke of half time to Wissam Ben-Yedder’s opener and then conceding a laughable second when goalkeeper Rubén let Kron-Delhi’s daisy-cutter straight through his body and into the net.

Parralo didn’t last much longer, his fate being sealed by a horrific fortnight in January and February when his team lost 7-1 at the Bernabéu (despite taking the lead after 23 minutes), threw away a two-goal lead to draw with Levante and then lost 5-0 at Real Sociedad. His replacement? Former AC Milan, Real Madrid and Ajax legend Clarence Seedorf!

The appointment of Seedorf looked bizarre at the time. He had very little management experience outside a half-season in charge of AC Milan four years previously and none of taking charge of a side in the thick of a La Liga relegation battle. He would probably have been more use in the midfield than on the touchline.

There was to be no new manager bounce, it took until April for Depor to record their first win under the Dutchman, a 3-2 win over a similarly-doomed Málaga and although a win at San Mames briefly raised hopes of an implausible escape, relegation was confirmed on 29th April with a 4-2 home defeat by Barcelona. I had hoped to see one more game that season, I was in Madrid over the Easter weekend and had my fingers crossed for a suitable kick off time for Atlético-Depor, which would have been my first visit to the Wanda Metropolitano. but of course, the powers that be scheduled it as the late kick off on Sunday, meaning I was already well on my way back to Huelva by the time the game kicked off.

So near but yet so far…

2018-Present: From Bad to Worse

That summer I actually ended up moving to Madrid, but with Depor’s relegation, my chances of getting to a few more of their games took something of a hit.

Staying in Andalucía, I could have made away trips to Málaga, Córdoba and Granada, all wonderful stadiums I would have loved to revisit. In Madrid, my options were severely limited by the fact Madrid had five teams in La Liga that season and only two (Alcorcón and Rayo Majadahonda) in Segunda.

Under new boss Natxo Gonzalez, Depor had actually got off to a decent start to life in the Segunda and were near the top of the table when my opportunity to see them live rolled round.

Rayo Majadahonda, a tiny club from an affluent Madrid suburb had surprisingly won promotion the season before and were playing their home games at Atlético Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano as their regular home ground (actually Atlético’s training ground stadium) was not deemed up to Segunda standard. I had already went to a couple of their home games there and expected I would be able to do the same when Depor came to town.

But only a few days before the game, they announced that Cerro del Espino was ready to host matches and so, the game was switched from a stadium with over 68,000 seats to one with a capacity of less than 4,000. My heart sank. But help was at hand in the shape of friend of the blog Brendy Boyle who contacted me through Twitter to offer me one of his Rayo Majadahonda season tickets for the game.

Where’s the stadium?

We caught the bus to Majadahonda from Moncloa, although when we arrived at the ground we did half think the game might be at risk of being called off as the stadium was enveloped in a thick fog which made visibility more than a little difficult. Once inside we ended up meeting Lester Drake, another person I’d previously only known through Twitter, and we had plenty to talk about as the fog cleared and we were treated to what I still insist was the best 0-0 I’ve ever seen.

It could have finished 5-5 and neither side would have had any complaints about the result. It was something of a reality check though. The once-mighty former Champions of Spain playing a tiny club at another club’s training ground. It has to be said though – Rayo Majadahonda have a much better himno than Depor.

No way through

After Christmas however, Depor were dogged by inconsistency and slipped out of the automatic promotion picture. Natxo was fired after a particularly humiliating defeat at home to good old Rayo Majadahona in the spring but his replacement José Luis Martí managed to put a late run of form together to earn a shot at promotion through the play-offs. Málaga were dismissed in a thrilling semi-final before they control of the final with a 2-0 home win over Mallorca.

But on the fateful night of 23rd June 2019 in Palma de Mallorca, the world came crashing down for Depor as they squandered their 2-0 lead and lost 3-0 on the night, 3-2 on aggregate and missed out on an immediate return to La Liga.

This was more than just a defeat, it was a catastrophe for a club which had invested a significant amount of money in putting together a quality squad which shouldn’t even have had to be relying on the play-offs to get up in the first place. A significant number of the players involved that night would never pull on a Depor shirt again, with loan deals expiring and others exercising escape clauses to ensure they were playing in La Liga the following year.

As a result it was a very different Depor which took to the field at the start of the following season under yet another new manager, Juan Antonio Anquela. His first game was agains his old club Real Oviedo and although I was back home in Northern Ireland, La Liga’s deal allowing fans to watch live Segunda matches on YouTube meant I was able to follow all the action, as Depor squandered a 2-0 lead, before a late winner to get off to the perfect start.

It was to prove the falsest of false dawns.

Football fans are a superstitious lot and with the team’s form being so bafflingly bad, many blamed the club’s new home kit which had, for the first time ditched vertical stripes in favour of a hooped design.

My eyes!

Anquela didn’t last long but his successor, Luis César Sampedro, failed to inspire any kind of revival. Defeats piled up and the gap to safety widened. Midfielder Peru Nolaskoain tactlessly claimed they would “lose to a blind team” after one game.

Things turned around and gathered pace when Fernando Vázquez returned over the Christmas break. Against all odds, Depor strung together a run of six successive wins going into their game with Alcorcón, which I was fortunate enough to get a ticket for.

Maybe fortunate is the wrong word as it was a truly dreadful game – until the very latest of late winners!

The game itself might have been dreadful, but the atmosphere was fantastic. It felt like over half the stadium was populated by Depor fans, certainly there was hardly an Alcorcón scarf or shirt to be seen in my section of the ground. As I was staying in the area for another game that afternoon (Alcorcón B v Unión Adarve) I ended up mixing with some other fans who stayed behind to have lunch in one of the nearby bars and watch the Basque Derby on tv.

At that point, things looked extremely positive, but we all know how last season ended. After the Covid-19 lockdown, Depor initially enjoyed an unbeaten run, but their form deserted them at the worst possible time. Three consecutive defeats in the run-in, combined with other teams at the bottom suddenly finding form saw them slip into the bottom four ahead of the last game of the season, knowing whatever they did, they still needed favours from elsewhere.

And then Fuenla-gate happened. I’ve covered that elsewhere and it’s no fun to constantly go over it. My only word on it is that it shouldn’t have come to that in the first place.

What now?

And so 2020/21 sees Depor in Segunda B and not in a very pleasant situation. Fans were allowed to attend the early season games – the crowd of about 1,000 at the victory over Salamanca may well end up being the largest crowd anywhere in Spain this season, but there’s next to no chance of me being able to keep up my run of seeing them at least once every season I’ve lived in Spain. I did see the women’s team (Deportivo Abanca) play in Madrid in December, but I’m not sure if I can count that.

At time of writing (the end of February 2021) life in Segunda B has been extremely rough for Depor. They led their group early on, but all semblance of form deserted them after their first defeat of the season in December against, of all teams, Celta’s B team, which may just rank as the most humiliating result in the club’s history.

Vázquez was replaced in January but his replacement, Rubén de la Barrera, has so far failed to improve the quality of the side’s football and results have continued to get worse. So much so that immediate promotion back to the Segunda looks out of the question and they may even miss out on qualifying for the new ‘Primera RFEF’ third tier which is due to be implemented next season.

Finishing in the bottom half of their group would leave them scrapping to avoid falling into the Tercera, which from next season will be the fifth tier of the Spanish football pyramid. Should the unthinkable happen, it isn’t out of the question that the club in its current form would cease to exist.

I hope it doesn’t come to that. I do feel a genuine connection to this club and it hurts that much years following them have mostly been marked by bad decisions on and off the pitch, financial mismanagement and mostly terrible results. But I have faith that one day, they’ll get it right and Depor will be back. Maybe not Champions of Spain, Cup winners or Champions League semi-finalists ‘back’ but at least a solid, respectable force in La Liga again. It might take a long time, but I’m on board for that journey.

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