Valencia’s second club, UD Levante, ended up bottom of La Liga in 2016 after an unprecedented purple patch in recent seasons. Finishing sixth in 2012, the Blaugrana enjoyed an excellent Europa League campaign, getting through the group stage and overcoming Olympiacos, only to bow out to Rubin Kazan after extra-time.
Sadly 2015-16 was a whole different story.
Working-class Levante Fútbol Club were founded in 1909, playing in Valencia’s port area. That same year, Gimnástico Fútbol Club came into being, attracting player and supporters with a university education – they even gained brief royal patronage in the 1920s. Both clubs competed in the Campeonato de Valencia. Levante beat the great Barcelona in a quarter-final play-off of the Copa del Rey in 1935 but lost in the semi-final.
Levante’s Algirós ground was destroyed in the Spanish Civil War that also claimed many local players. The two clubs decided to merge, basing themselves at Gimnástico’s Estadio de Vallejo, in the district of the same name.
It wasn’t until the 1960s that Levante Unión Deportiva made the top flight. Yo-yoing between divisions, Levante improbably attracted Johan Cruyff to play at the Estadi Ciutat de València for a few months in 1981.
The club bounced back from near bankruptcy in 2008 to gain promotion and even brief leadership of La Liga itself in 2011. An ageing side under young coach Juan Ignacio Martínez (‘JIM’) surprised all with seven straight league wins, including one over Real Madrid.
A final sixth place was well deserved and qualified ‘The Frogs’ for the Europa League. Unbeaten at home, tonking both Twente and Olympiacos 3-0, Levante eventually lost to Rubin Kazan in extra-time. In front of fewer than 2,000 at Moscow’s Luzhniki, this was a sorry end to a creditable, debut campaign in Europe.
A team featuring former Spanish international defender Juanfran, Austrian international attacking midfielder Andreas Ivanschitz and Spanish under-20 cap Rubén García held their own in La Liga – but only for so long.
The Estadi Ciutat de València holds 25,000, its surroundings improved by the opening of the arena mall next door. Not so long ago, this was a mess of broken concrete and rubble. Now the stadium also has a new metro stop alongside. Inside is an open bowl of red and blue, with one main covered stand, the Tribuna Central. Home fans occupy the Gol Orriols nearest the arena mall, visiting supporters a section behind the Gol Alboraya.
Directly opposite the stadium’s main entrance, the Estadi del Llevant stop on purple metro line 6 is also directly connected with the beach.
The ticket office (Mon-Fri 9am-2pm, 5pm-8pm and match days) is by the club shop on C/de Santiago Rusiñol. The cheapest seats are behind each goal, Orriols and Alboraya, the best choice for the budget-conscious neutral being in the Grada Central along the sideline. All of these are uncovered. The prime spots are in the Tribuna Central under the stand.
The modest Tenda Granota (‘Frog Shop’; Tue-Fri 4.30pm-8pm, Sat 10am-1.30pm and 2hrs before kick-off) is to the right of the main entrance on C/de Santiago Rusiñol. A nifty model of the Estadi Ciutat de València (€25) sits alongside the usual replica shirts, scarves and baseball caps.
Authentic neighbourhood bars await on C/de Santiago Rusiñol on one side of the stadium, and, on the other, mall outlets in the arena complex. The first bar you come to, the Bar Avenida on the corner with C/Esteban Dolz de Castellar, is the best. A single tap of Cruzcampo stands guard over a bar counter behind is a wonderful old photo of the stadium entrance, and various souvenirs linked with Levante’s centenary celebrations in 2009. Alongside on Rusiñol, the Casa Duncel Paco features a signed framed shirt behind the bar.
In the arena mall, through the main entrance to the left, the 100 Montaditos is a local chain offering bargain prices on pitchers (¡jarramanía!) of draught Mahou and many types of tapas. To the right as you walk in, La Tagliatella is a standard local Italian restaurant chain.