24-09-1983: Valencia 3 Real Betis 1 (La Liga) Estadio Luis Casanova, Valencia, Spain
Plaza del Ayuntamiento, Valencia, 1983: A short walk from the company apartment the Plaza del Ayuntamiento was an ideal place to sit and enjoy the evening sun, have a cold beer and people watch after a hard day at the office, a day at the office at any rate. I’m sitting there minding my own business when suddenly a ruckus starts in the middle of the plaza, people are running around in all directions and the police are wading in with batons and anyone in their way, including a couple of elderly ladies, get a couple of good thwacks for their troubles.
Unbeknownst to me a few days earlier a statue of Spain’s late dictator Francisco Franco had been removed from the plaza and the space it had occupied had been covered over with tarmac. This had quickly become a rallying point for pro-Franco supporters who, that evening, had decided to build a makeshift shrine and the police had moved in to stop them.
A couple of days later I’d arranged to meet up at exactly the same café believing the shenanigans of the previous evening would not be repeated. How wrong I was. We’d just settled down, ordered drinks when once again a cry went up from the plaza, people were scampering here there and everywhere followed by truncheon whirling Guardia Civil. This time we decided discretion was better than valour and made a quick exit down a side street to escape a thwacking of our own.
It transpires that the statue, depicting the right-wing general on horseback, had been moved to an army barracks in the city and there it had sat until earlier this year when it was once again on the move this time to comply with a 2007 law ordering the elimination of all public symbols of the regime. Wrapped in a large white sheet it is pictured here being hoisted by crane onto the back of a truck which then transported it off for storage in a military warehouse. Something akin to the large government warehouse in the closing scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark I would imagine.
Campaigners claim that symbols of the dictatorship are not being removed fast enough and that there still some six-hundred of them in Spain, mainly adorning public buildings half of which belong to the defence ministry!
Estadio Luis Casanova (aka Estadio Mestalla), Valencia, 1983: The Estadio Mestalla is a long way from being the largest in Spain and back in 1983 its capacity was somewhat less than it’s current day all-seated capacity of 55,000. For the game against Real Betis the atmosphere was electric with the noise funnelled down onto the pitch from the steeply banked terraces. A veritable cauldron. Crowds at Real Madrid’s Bernabeu and Barcelona’s Nou Camp generate just a fraction of the noise and intensity that I experienced during my ninety minutes in the Mestalla.
An intimidating atmosphere for visiting team and fan’s but an enjoyable one if you are seated with the home support. I’d agreed to meet up with a group from work and had turned up earlier at the ground to get a ticket but could only get one for a seat on the opposite side of the ground from were they, all season ticket holders, would be watching the game. No problem I was told and was guided to the area where they sat, breezing past turnstiles, ticket inspectors, etc, and offered a seat in the middle of their group. Despite the stand having a sold out look to it everyone around us shifted along one seat to make room for the Englishman.
I can’t lay claim to remembering much about the game and my only other recollection from the evening is of the huge TV screen/scoreboard that sat at the rear of the bank of terracing to our left. Mightily impressed I was too and I’m quite certain this was the first time I’d seen such a thing in a stadium!
Construction of a Nou Mestalla began in August 2007 but was halted following a financial crisis at the club. If and when it is complete I can only hope that it captures some of the intimacy and ambience of the old Mestalla and doesn’t become another soulless concrete bowl.