Derby Night at the Mestalla
It should come as no surprise that the most popular sport in Valencia is football. This is Spain, after all. Of the twenty teams in La Liga, Spain’s First Division, three are from the Comunidad Valenciana (at least in the 2015-16 campaign). And two of these are based in the city itself: Valencia Club de Fútbol and Levante UD. We attended a Monday night derby between them.
A note of apology to my American amigos on the matter of this sport’s name. I’ve simply been overseas for too long to continue referring to football as “soccer.” The rest of the world agrees that the game played with the foot is “football,” and I can’t continue pretending that they’re wrong, and that football is really a sport in which an oblong object is held in the arms.
The city’s regional powerhouse is the Valencia Club de Fútbol, abbreviated VCF and nicknamed Los Ché or Els Blanquinegres. They’re historically one of the best teams in Spain, on a tier right below Real Madrid and Barcelona, and usually compete for third place with teams like Atlético de Madrid and Sevilla. They won the league in 2004, and have been Champions League runners-up a couple of times, most recently in 2001, when they went down to Bayern Munich on penalties.
Levante Unión Deportiva has a more humble reputation. This is a team which is constantly battling relegation, bouncing frequently between the first and second leagues. But the 2015 campaign was their third consecutive season in the top flight, and in 2012 they even finished sixth — good enough for a spot in the Europa League. They play their matches in the northern Valencian neighborhood of Orriols, at the Estadi Ciutat de València.
For the derby, however, we would be visiting VCF’s much-larger venue: the Mestalla. Located in the center of the city, with capacity for 55,000 spectators, the Mestalla is one of Europe’s noisiest and most atmospheric stadiums. Originally built in 1923, it was used during the Spanish Civil war as a makeshift prison compound. It has been expanded various times, reaching its current size in 1998.
To get to the highest seats in the Mestalla, you practically need mountain climbing experience. The stairs ascend almost vertically, and anyone suffering from vertigo will want to sit closer to the earth. I’m being serious. Some people climb up, only to panic when they turn around and see the how high they are, and how steep the grade is. During the VCF-Levante match, I saw one terrified woman sitting on the stairs, clutching the rail; unable to move on her own, she had to be escorted back down with the help of security.
But we love these highest seats, particularly those in the Grada del Mar. You’re awfully far away from the pitch, but the view of the city from here is incredible, especially when the sun sets. This is where we sat for the derby, which was great fun… at least for Valencia fans. Los Ché won handily, 3-0, with a wonderful final golazo in extra time by Álvaro Negredo.
The Mestalla is a stadium with atmosphere and history, it’s central to the city, and Valencia almost always win here… so, naturally, the club is planning on abandoning it. A new stadium, the Nou Mestalla, is being built near the Palacio de Congresos. It will be larger and more modern, assuming it ever gets done. Construction began in 2007, but has been halted since 2009 because of the financial crisis.
As far as we’re concerned, the longer the delay, the better. The current plan is to have the stadium ready for the 2019 season, when Valencia celebrates its hundred-year anniversary. So if you’re a football fan or just a fan of great stadiums, there’s still some time. Get to the real Mestalla while you can.