April 13, 2014. Mestalla is hosting Elche CF for the 1st time in decades. Valencia fans have had a terrible season far away from La Liga’s UEFA spots, and they could now see “little brother” Elche closing in on Valencia’s 2-1-lead in Mestalla: Sánchez missed a sitter from half a meter, Suárez has a penalty saved by Guaita, and Barragán was expelled. Yet, in the 85th minute, Valencia fans started singing “Elche es de Primera”, which means that the relegation-threatened neighbours belong to Spain’s top-flight. Elche fan-group “Jove Elx” responded “València, València” for the welcoming words. The Valencian “derby autonómico” is one of Spain’s most friendly rivalries – it’s more than football.
Elche lost 2-1, but managed to survive thanks to one incredibly hard-earned point against Barcelona in the 2nd last round. The green-and-whites, “los Franjiverdes”, were back to stay after almost 25 years in the palm shadow.
Darkness on the edge of town
Elche city, or Elx in Valenciano, seems modest at first glance. The dark industry city fades in contrast to the sunny tourist-pearl Alicante a few kilometres to the east. However, the city is exploring another boom in its industries of especially footwear, including more than 1000 local manufacturers. Generally, Elche is underway in shifting from agriculture to modernized trade and tourism, which employs 20% of the working “ilicitanos” today. The most popular tourist destination is “Palmeral de Elche”, one of Spain’s best well-kept natural parks with more than 200.000 palm trees – and since year 2000 a part of UNESCO’s cultural World heritage. Spain’s 20th biggest city with 230.000 citizens also has its own international airport, universities and such.
Elche’s stadium is named after their popular and longest sitting president Manuel Martínez Valero. Built for the 1982 World Cup, where it hosted Hungary’s record victory (10-1) against El Salvador, Estadio Martínez Valero is one of La Liga’s most modern stadiums. It is ranked as a 4-star stadium at UEFA and can seat 39.000 people – which placed is as Segunda’s biggest stadium before the promotion to Primera. The Copa del Rey final 2003 and Spain national team have visited the stadium. Estadio Martínez Valero includes a training centre, swimming pool, wellness, merchandise shops, five dressing rooms and 26 media boxes. All facilities are handicap-friendly. Furthermore, “Franjiverdes” have rented administrative offices.
Elche were among Segunda’s two best supported teams. Elche is the regional working-class club that gathers people all over from local cities such as Elda, Crevillente, Santa Pola, Murcia, Valencia and, dare I say it, Alicante. Most fans have stayed loyal through decades since the last Primera era. This summer, more than 20.000 Elche fans either renewed or purchased the season ticket for Estadio Martínez Valero – Villarreal, Levante and most La Liga clubs.
Economically, Franjiverdes are backed by José Sepulcre Coves. The 58-year-old entrepreneur has been president since 2006 and is a member of the national football association RFEF. His father, Joseph, was the club president two decades before, so José’s future stood written in the skies. As discussed by many Valencia fans, Elche are the only club that are supported by the Valencia region with more than 5% of the total shares.
Although Elche before promotion were one of Spain’s most secondary clubs after 14 consecutive Segunda seasons, they were a part of Primera since 1965 – playing on the 4.000 capacity Altabix which still stands as La Liga’s smallest stadium. Elche have a total of 21 seasons in Primera, where is culminated in the late-1960s with the 5th place and Copa del Rey final. Whereas the high-gambling rivals Hércules found it hard to stay up, Elche kept on going until 1978 and was last relegated in 1989 – the “defence wall” felt. Since 1999, Elche were established in Segunda with several “almost-promotions” such as losing with 1 goal to Granada in the promotion playoffs.
Elche’s biggest star player has arguably been Juan Romero who despite switching to rivals Hércules still stands as the club topscorer with 80 goals in 187 matches. The Paraguayan partnered up with the Boca Juniors darling, Marcelo “Mandrake” Trobbiani, who later went to retire back in Argentina with some guy called Diego Maradona. The biggest local star will have to be Juan Ripoli, who was sold to Barcelona where he reached 400 matches and 41 Spain internationals. The other way, from Barça to Elche, came the nationalized Paraguayan attacker Eugelio Ramiro. The green-and-whites are still very popular in South America and especially Paraguay.
The enemy will always be Hérculanos. Like the geography, the Alicante club stands in stark contrast as overly spending and glamourous with many foreign players – like Trézéguet, Machado, Figueroa, Rildán, Nelson Valdéz and a certain Mario Kempes. Both clubs were established in the same year, 1922. Historically, “el Gran Derbi de Alicantino” has also been very equal with only two more victories for Elche.
Also, Elche is neighbouring the Murcia region where Real Murcia was a Segunda rival for many years and occasionally promoted to Primera. Like Hércules, “los Pimentoneros” is more glamorous with recent starts such as Mehdi Nafti, Francisco Molinero & Javi Matially. Real Murcia even have the head-to-head lead with two victories more than Elche.
Generally, the Valencia region is plenty competitive as Primera’s 2nd most represented region only surpassed by Andalusia. An example is the little Elche club, Torrellano Illice, which for financial reasons moved to Valencia city and is now known as Huracán Valencia.
Our beloved Valencia CF regard Elche more as a partner that can help developing talent such as Carles Gil, who went on to be a profile for Elche during Segunda promotion. Their last match before promotion was in 1989, where Valencia won 1-3 at the relegating Elche.
The Elche team, which promoted to Primera in 2013, were known as well organized and balanced team with mainly Spanish players. They only conceded 12 goals in the first season-half and 27 goals totally. The focus is on the defensive, which is exampled by the left-back Albácar who far into the season was Elche’s topscorer (6). In the other side, the Uruguayan Suárez may very well be their best and most experienced player after joining from relegating Sporting Gijon. The 22 year old Enzo Roco, who is loaned from the Chilean club La Católica, is regarded one of the most promising South-American defenders. However, selling Colombian World Cup player “la Roca” Sánchez to Aston Villa was quite a blow for the defensive midfield – Adrián from ball-possessive Rayo Vallecano just has not the same physique and hardness.
The offense has suffered from losing creative players like Xumetra and later our own Carles Gil, who were the two most assisting players during the promotion season. The “running” attacker “Coro”, who scored the goal in Mestalla, has been forced to play more as a midfielder. Up front, Elche have loaned the Brazil giant Jonathas, who has been one of La Liga’s biggest breakthroughs this season. Besides Carles Gil, Elche have enjoyed other Valencia youngsters such as Aarón Ñiguez, who is actually born “illicitano” and son of ex-Elche player José Antonio. Actually, Aarón still stands as Spain’s most capped U-international player.
Behind every team is a coach. The young Fran Escribá deserves the most credit. Escribá has actually been the assistant-coach in Valencia under Quique Flores and compared to the special one; Mourinho. It is easy seeing that the always well-dressed Escribá is a hybrid of these two coaches, because he focuses on a solid organization and set-pieces down to the smallest detail. Escribá went solo after Flores travelled on his adventure to Al-Ahly and has since said to be one of Spain’s most promising coaches.
Valencia are visiting Elche’s Estadio Martínez Valero on March 22 – are you joining us?