Recreativo Huelva 2 v 3 FC Cartagena (07.01.2018)
Here at ‘Look at These Scenes’ we like to consider ourselves serious football tourists.
Less than 9 hours after the final whistle had rang out across the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium, bringing to a close one of the greatest ‘El Gran Derbi’ spectacles ever seen, we were wandering through the Sevillian darkness and boarding an early morning train hungry for some Spanish 3rd Division action!
The coastal town of Huelva was our destination, and Recreativo Huelva’s midday kick off against table topping FC Cartagena was the main attraction.
36 hours previous and we had been enjoying a few late Friday night drinks in Seville, which effortlessly turned into a few early Saturday morning drinks in Seville! It was about 2.30am when we were reliably informed by some Sevilla fans we’d met that Recreativo Huelva were indeed Spain’s oldest football club. Formed in 1889, Recreativo are the Spanish equivalent of Notts County, and that impressive piece of Spanish football history was enough to cement our visit to Huelva there and then.
After a 90 minute train journey from Seville we pulled into Huelva at 10.20am. We were the only ones in the whole carriage, and as we alighted the train onto the platform we realised there was only six other people that had made the journey here. The place felt deserted and as we exited the station you wouldn’t have been surprised if some tumble-weed rolled past you down the high street!
A quick check of Google maps, told us to bear left out of the station and pretty quickly we could see the Estadio Neuvo Colombino ahead of us located across some derelict wasteland.
Above: The view across some wasteland to the Estadio Nuevo Colombino…
The view from the stadium back across the wasteland towards the station!…
As we left the main street to walk across said wasteland there was barely a soul in sight – except a guy called ‘Bas’ that was! Bas happened to be a Dutch football ground-hopping legend, and was one of the six other people that had left the same train as us! As it transpired Bas had done the 92 in England, the 38 in Holland, and had already ticked off the 42 in La Liga and Liga I! Impressive stuff!
It was just under 90 minutes before kick off, and as we approached the Neuvo Colombino it crossed our minds that the game might have been called off as the place resembled a ghost town. Thankfully Bas had seen it all before and confidently reassured us that this was typical of Spanish lower league football and that there would be a “last minute rush”. It was hard to believe this would actually happen though! Recreativo have a 21,600 all seater stadium and there was literally no one about. As we got closer to the stadium perimeter we saw two welcome sights that indicated the game was definitely on. A trestle table adorned with Recreativo scarves and flags, and a lone Recreativo themed ‘nut’ bike laden with sunflower seeds – two classic Spanish football stadium accompaniments! *Wipes sweat from brow*.
Above & below: A roaring trade all round…90 minutes before kick off and these two were bracing themselves for that last minute rush!…
At first glance the Estadio Nuevo Colombino adopts a superb riverside location. In summer, no doubt the riverside is bustling with sun seekers enjoying an afternoon stroll and a couple of Cruzcampo’s. This was January though, and disappointingly there wasn’t much going on. We had envisioned riverside bars and tapas joints lining the riverside, packed with Recreativo fans getting ready for the big game. The reality was a bit of a let down. A few kiosks dotted along the riverside promenade was about as good as it was going to get – and they were only just opening the shutters, so we opted for the club bar instead. Located under the main stand, but lacking the old school football memorabilia that I secretly hoped would be adorning its walls, we had to settle for Cruzcampo served in half pint plastic cups at 1 euro a go!
Before attending this game I’d had vague recollections of watching Recreativo Huelva on Sky Sports’ La Liga coverage at some point that seemed not so long ago! As it turned out that fleeting memory of mine happened to be Recre’s last appearance in the Spanish top flight – and that was nine years ago in the 2008/09 season! Since then its been a bit of downward spiral, and the helter skelter ride down the Spanish leagues to the 3rd Division nearly bottomed out in the spring of 2016 as the club faced insolvency. Following a sustained period of unpaid tax bills and poor financial management which was overseen by the clubs then owner Pablo Comas, Recreativo found themselves in a reported 22 million euros worth of debt, and rather like the Italian Job, they were hanging off the cliff face that was bankruptcy.
At this point in time the Spanish tax authorities had blocked all income coming into the club, and for 8 months of that season players and club staff had not been paid. Things sounded pretty desperate to say the least. The clubs supporters had had enough of the Russian roulette approach that had been taken with their beloved clubs future. A prolonged battle with the owner saw supporters come together and establish the ‘Recre Trust’ which went on to mount several attempts to buy out their clubs majority shareholder.
The Recre Trust’s mission was simple enough – to put the club back in the hands of people that truly cared about its future, and to create a sustainable and profitable community focused club in the process. Sounds lovely, but to achieve that they had the small task of clearing an absolute mountain of debts. The Recre Trust set an initial target of raising 5 million euros – this was the minimum amount required to enable the club to compete in the Spanish 3rd division at the start of the 2016/17 season. Ultimately though, 8.4 million euros was needed just for the club to remain solvent.
Early initiatives instigated by the fans included arranging reduced ticket prices to ensure a full stadium at home games; and crowd funding platforms receiving donations from Huelva fans and the wider football family across Spain. High profile support form players such as Iker Casillas and Santi Cazorla helped build momentum and put Recre’s plight on the global football map.
Initially the club were surviving on gate receipts alone which were used to keep the club afloat – paying referees, covering travel and hotels for away matches, and literally keeping the electricity meter running so they could fulfil their home fixtures at the Neuvo Colombino. In an attempt to reduce running costs they even negotiated early kick off times with the Spanish FA so they didn’t have to use their floodlights!
The clubs plight was covered on BBC World back in 2016:
As momentum behind ‘Project Recre’ grew the Trust were able to attract and co-ordinate a consortium of local investors that all believed in the Recre Trust’s cause. It was this consortium that ultimately led to a takeover which put the club back into the hands of the supporters.
Remarkably, and not even 2 years on, the club have reached some sort of equilibrium. The global crowd funding has since ceased and the club is now functioning on regular income generated via ticket sales, socio memberships, merchandise and sponsorship.
Onto the game then. Sunday 7th January 2018. 12:00pm kick off.
20 euros buys you a seat on the half way line in the main covered stand, 15 euros on the opposite side and 10 euros behind the goals. An absolute bargain for this level of football! It costs more to watch my local team St Neots Town play in the Evostik Southern League Premier! As we were on holiday we treated ourselves to the 20 euro seats. Ok, the real reason was this stand happened to be the shortest walk from the club bar!
Is the game on? The isolated perimeter of the Neuvo Colombino 90 minutes before kick off!…
As we made our way through the turnstiles a couple of minutes before kick off, we were surprised, yet delighted to see a tifo unveiled by the ‘Frente Onuba Ultras Recre’! Loosely translated it read “the true passion is not on television”…maybe it was a dig at the global TV coverage that ‘El Gran Derbi’ had received the night before. This was Spanish 3rd divison football – kiss the badge boys!
An early goal by Recreativo went on to set the game up perfectly – just as the Real Betis opening goal had done the night before. Table toppers FC Cartagena weren’t here to make up the numbers and Recreativo definitely didn’t seem content with protecting a one goal lead and parking the proverbial bus for the remaining 80 mins!
The equaliser came just 4 minutes later! At this point Recre probably wished they’d reversed that bus back just a little. As the ball hit the back of the net we scanned the stadium trying to locate that illusive ‘away section’. Ok, so there was no away end then. Instead we listened out for any remote and isolated cheers that might signify that a few brave souls had made the long trip down from the south east coast. Nada! Silencio! The 806 mile round trip and a midday Sunday kick off was clearly a hurdle to high for even the most die hard of FC Cartagena supporters! To put this into context that’s a longer journey than Plymouth playing away at Carlisle for a high noon kick off. Anyway I digress.
FC Cartagena’s front man ‘Camara’ turned the game round on 33 minutes, putting the away side 2-1 up, a lead which they took into the half time break.
The second half was a story of two Recreativo red cards which effectively ended the game as a real contest – despite Recre’s best efforts. Club favourite Antonio Nunez (formerly of Real Madrid and Liverpool’s Champions League winning squad fame) was first to go on 50’. Then wide midfielder Santi – who had looked Recre’s most creative outlet – had a moment of madness in the 83rd minute when he forgot which sport he was participating in. A kung fu style tackle on the Cartagena full back wouldn’t have looked out of place on UFC! A 2nd yellow which really should have been a straight red was fully deserved. As he walked across the pitch to the tunnel he was jeered, booed and abused by his own fans who were furious at his recklessness given they were already down to ten and chasing the game. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a home crowd turn on one of their own as the Recre fans did here. It was vitriolic.
With only eight outfield players on the pitch and chasing the game it was inevitable that space would eventually open up for FC Cartagena. In the 89th minute a counter attack hit Recre hard. Camara found himself with yards of space inside the penalty area, and with time on his hands he casually picked his spot and slotted home to make it 3-1. Game over. But wait, hold that back page! Literally straight from kick off Recre scored – it was 3-2! Two minutes of injury time remained, and all of a sudden the pressure seemed to be on FC Cartagena. At that point you inconceivably felt as if Recreativo might actually achieve the impossible and grab an equaliser. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be though, and a fantastically dramatic last 10 minutes brought to a close an absolutely amazing Spanish football weekend!
By the way, the attendance here was 7,000. Bas was right, there was a last minute rush after all!
Me, Bas and Lummers….
The football special back to Seville!…