Valencia, Mestalla

Valencia are arguably Spain’s third biggest club, with 50,000 season ticket holders and 20,000 supporters on a waiting list for season tickets. Formed in 1919 the club really started achieving success on a national scale after the Spanish Civil War. The club in the 1940’s won three La Liga titles and a Copa del Rey with the help from the clubs all time top scorer Mundo. Los Ches went onto achieve European success in the 1960’s winning back to back Inter-City Fairs Cups. The 1970’s brought more trophies to Mestalla with the likes of Johnny Repp and Argentine legend Mario Kempes playing for the club. Kempes is arguably Valencia’s most iconic player. The Argentine World Cup Winner with his shoulder length hair scored 146 goals for the club in two spells. The Valencia that appeals to me though is the side of the early 2000’s with Cañizares, Kily González, Claudio López and Gaizka Mendieta under the management of Héctor Cúper. Cúper lead the side to back to back Champions League finals losing to Real Madrid in 2000 and Bayern München on penalties in 2001. Valencia did go on to win the UEFA Cup in Rafa Benítez’s last game as manager before leaving to join Liverpool.

Our main reason for heading to Mestalla was the potential that Valencia could be leaving the ground very soon. Nou Mestalla has been an ongoing saga for the club, ground was broke at the new stadium in 2007 but was halted in 2009 with only the basic concrete bowl completed due to financial reasons. In 2013 a reduced capacity design was released but builders still haven’t returned to the site. Mestalla is for me at least, one Europe’s great stadiums. With its steep stands jutting up into the sky, Mestalla has been tarted up in recent years. New seats showing the clubs famous bat emblem stretching across the length of the pitch, façade coverings to the outside of the stadium and the a general sprucing up of the place did a lot to improve the low-hanging fruit.

Our journey started on Friday, a train to London followed by a couple of pints with my friend Jess at Baker Street. I then headed to Stansted to meet Ffion at the hotel, a slightly odd night London was dominated by a bizarre Brexit Night party. We sank a couple of pints before the early morning flight to Valencia. The return flights cost £34 and was an in and out job, arriving early on the Saturday morning and returning Sunday morning. I was given a heads up for this by who do weekly emails, they also have a Patreon which helps support the service they give. Our hotel was walking distance from Stansted, grabbed some breakfast and were on our way. Valencia Airport has great transport links with a metro going into the city centre, after a slight delay at customs within 20 minutes we were in town.

Despite being February, Valencia was warm, very warm in fact. We dropped our stuff off at our hotel and headed to a calamari takeaway that Ffion had read about. Looking similar to most British kebab shops it wasn’t the most beautiful setting for food but my word, the food was amazing. Deep fried calamari in some sort of sauce in a crusty baguette. We then proceeded to mooch around the city taking in churches, a bonkers large indoor market, the outside of the bullring (bracketed tick) and then settled down opposite our hotel in the sun with a couple of beers. After returning to our hotel room for a bit we were on our way on foot to the ground.

Mestalla was about a 30 minute walk from our hotel, we wanted to leave early so we could have a couple of beers in Bar Manolo del Bombo. Owned by Spain Superfan Manolo (you may have seen him at tournaments with his bass drum) the bar is a pretty much a football museum. Scarves from clubs far and wide, photos of Manolo’s trips to various tournaments, retired drums and portraits all over the place. The man himself can be found behind the bar pulling pints and posing with punters and his replica World Cup. As the bar became busier and busier we decided to make our way to the opposite side of the ground for the match. Although we expected quite the trip up to our seats, the near ten minute walk up a spiral ramp was extraordinary. Once we had reached the level of our seats we still had two more flights of stairs and then the walk up to the top of the stand. The steepness is enough to give anyone a wobble.

Unfortunately, like with most trips the football is sometimes a let down. A drab game in which both teams offered little was settled when Carlos Soler finished at the backpost after Celta Vigo failed to clear their lines. The positives were Celta’s beautiful purple/maroon and sky blue shirt and well, the ground that had overtaken San Siro as my favourite. I can’t tell you how impressive the stadium is, those steep stands were just as brilliant as I was hoping. The shallow terracing behind both goals that I’ve dreamily looked on various Champions League nights were just perfect. Opposite us the huge roofed double decker main stand looked tired but dependable. The only disappointment with the ground was the time we visited it, being a late kickoff we couldn’t take in what I’d assume would be the brilliant views over the city. If you are a football fan, Valencia is affordable to get to, interesting to explore and a fantastic stadium. It’s also doable without taking any time off work, so what’s your excuse? We made our way back to the hotel, absolutely knackered after a long day and ready for an earlyish morning the next day to fly home. Another fun trip, and another stadium off the bucket list.

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