With Sporting Gijón gaining promotion to La Liga and Real Oviedo reaching the second flight in 2015, football is on the up in Asturias. Oviedo last played in La Liga in 2001 while Gijón’s glory days were in the late 1970s.
Gijón has long produced quality players – David Villa and Luis Enrique are two examples – and, most of all, has long had a huge fan base. The Sportinguistas travel in significant numbers and celebrate in larger ones, some 300,000 when Sporting last gained promotion, in 2008.
Much of the area’s football history is as old as the game in Spain, and linked with industrialisation and the British influence at the last turn of the century. Gijón’s El Molinón is Spain’s oldest ground still in use, dating back to 1908. Sporting, as most to them, were also the first Spanish team to play in red and white, before their more titled rivals Athletic Bilbao and Atlético Madrid. Sporting were dominating the regional Asturian championship before Madrid Football Club became Real Madrid and FC Barcelona moved to Les Corts.
Despite such a long and proud tradition – also reflected in the well conceived football bars in town and around the stadium – Gijón have only achieved runners-up slots in both league and cup during the Quini era of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Born in Oviedo but a Sporting player since his teens, Quini broke all scoring records to lift his club to untold heights.
Although transferred to Maradona’s Barcelona, and scoring two goals for the Azulgrana against Sporting in the Copa del Rey final of 1981, Quini never left Asturian affections, returning to his beloved Molinón at the end of his career. A theme bar conceived around the Quini legend has even been opened in the heart of Gijón, some three decades after he was scaring defences the length and breadth of Spain.
But perhaps Quini is best known for the bizarre kidnapping that saw him disappear from the Nou Camp for the best part of a month. Reasons for Quini’s release and for his subsequent refusal to blame his captors are as obscure now as they were in 1981.
A year later, Gijón hosted two of the most infamous matches in World Cup history: West Germany’s shock defeat to Algeria and subsequent convenient win over Austria, who refused to provide any opposition once it was clear that both countries would qualify from the group. The so-called Disgrace of Gijón was a shameful footnote in the annals of football for such a soccer-mad city.
Perhaps a more honourable memorial can be found outside the venerable Molinón, a statue to Manuel Preciado. The diminutive, chain-smoking coach led Sporting back to the top flight after ten years in 2008. A few months after moving on to Villarreal in 2012, he collapsed and died at the age of 54. On the plinth is written, ‘The Sun Will Rise Tomorrow’, Preciado’s most famous phrase and the title of a biography published after his death.
Asturias Airport is in Castrillón, 40km (25 miles) west of Gijón. It currently serves mainly inland services, plus an easyJet route from London Stansted. An Alsa InterCity bus leaves almost every hour for Gijón (45min journey time, €8 single online). Services also leave Gijón’s ALSA bus station on the hour. The bus terminal is behind Plaza Humedal west of the city centre; the train station for Alvia high-speed services from Madrid (6hrs) and Barcelona (11hrs) is further west, in a no-man’s land infrequently served by public transport.
City transport consists of local buses. A single ticket is €1.25, pay on board.
The Gijón Tourist Office has a hotel-booking facility on its homepage.
There are two quality hotels within a short walk of the stadium: the abba Playa Gijón has a gym, two types of sauna, jacuzzi and outdoor pool while the NH Gijón alongside features a rooftop pool and terrace, fine-dining restaurant and spa area. Both are also close to the beach.
Also close and walkable to El Molinón, the Hotel Begoña Playa is a well situated, traditional two-star.
In the city centre, the Hostal Plaza is in similar vein. For real budget, the Hostal Manjón (Plaza Marqués 1, +34 985 352 378) is as basic as it gets, but at least centrally located.
If you’re arriving late into the Alvia rail station or leaving early, the four-star Silken Ciudad Gijón opposite is swish and business-like, with a pool, spa, gym and sauna.
Gijón is a fine, fine drinking town and, coupled with a long-established and deep passion for Sporting, this has helped create two of the most original football bars in all Spain, Bilbao included.
First, there’s La Sacristía, a pub-like shrine to the history of the Rojiblancos. Tucked in behind the bay at Calle Ezcurdia 38, it holds the rare and impressive collection of Sporting memorabilia of the owner Juan, forever nosing around specialist outlets, small ads and auctions. Although only opened a decade ago, it feels age-old with its wooden interior, venerable clientele playing cards and displays of players’ biographies from 1905 onwards.
In a more contemporary vein, dQuini is everything a postmodern Spanish football-and-tapas bar should be, painstakingly conceived with murals, photographs and clippings related to the remarkable life and career of the Asturian goalgetter. Even the T-shirts are works of art. You’ll find it on the downtown corner of Avenida Pablo Iglesias and Calle Leopoldo Alas.
Gijón has plenty of other options, cider bars (sidrerías), seafront spots and pubs. The far end of the bay nearest the stadium is lined with beachfront nightspots such as Tostadero Playa, a cocktail hangout with TV football behind the bar and a large terrace.
Further round nearer to town, La Cuadra de Xuacón (Avenida de Rufo Rendueles 21) advertises big-screen football and offers a varied range of tapas in standard surroundings.
More discerning drinkers move along the seafront to Varsovia, the best cocktail bar in town that also shows big games with the sound turned down.
Of the pub-type venues, Tom Corless’s is the token Irish bar while the Bar Inn is the half-decent hostelry on the headland. Best of the lot is the Café Gales, bar-like and passionate about the football it watches.
Finally, El Escondite is a friendly locals’ spot that attracts a younger rock-oriented clientele and screens matches.