The capital of Spain before Madrid, and the city where Christopher Columbus lived out his last days, the provincial capital of Valladolid echoes the Golden Age. Its profile in football terms, though, is somewhat more modest. Flagship club Real Valladolid enjoyed creditable league campaigns, even forays in Europe, during the 1980s and 1990s, making the Spanish Cup Final in 1989. Real’s recent golden age came to an end in May 2014, with relegation to the Segunda.
They play at the Estadio José Zorrilla in the uninviting, windy western outskirts of town. Given the lack of local rivalry, and the popularity of Valladolid RAC rugby team, the current Spanish champions, top-level football has had to be a hardy flower to flourish in these parts. Crowds average fewer than 20,000, in a stadium of 26,500 capacity.
Built for the 1982 World Cup, Estadio José Zorrilla hosted matches involving France, Czechoslovakia and Kuwait, though group winners England stayed in Bilbao. This was where Kuwaiti Sheikh al-Sabah famously intervened to resume play after a controversial goal for France, later disallowed. Eight years later, his heroics would cost him dearly in the Gulf War.
The original José Zorrilla, where Real were based from 1940, was right in town, by the River Pusuerga, in today’s Paseo Zorrilla where El Corte Inglés department store now stands. Before then Real, formed in 1928 from a merger of Real Unión Deportiva and Club Deportivo Español, played beside the bullring. This 4,000-capacity ground, owned by the local bullfighting society, was the former home of Real Unión.
Of the founder clubs, Real Unión were the strongest, winning the regional Castile & León Cup in 1927 and claiming runners-up spots the years before and after. With Real Unión in red and white, and Deportivo Español in blue, the newly formed Real Valladolid adopted the colours of violet and white: ‘Las Blanquivioletas’ or, more popularly, ‘Pucela’, a historic nickname for the city itself, its origins tentatively linked to Joan of Arc.
After hitting purple (violet?) patches at various points of the 1950s, 1980s and 1990s, Real Valladolid have been lingering in the lower reaches of La Liga or upper half of the Segunda since 2000. Ten years later, Spain’s bid to co-host the World Cup 2018, that included a revamped Estadio José Zorrilla, was rejected.
The only positive development in the region has been the meteoric rise of previous unknowns Ponferradina, representing another historic town in Castile & León, Ponferrada. Finishing on equal points and goal difference with sixth-placed Las Palmas in 2013, ‘La Ponfe’ just missed out on a play-off shot at the top flight on their head-to-head record. Purpose-built for football in 2000, their Estadio El Toralín has hosted a handful of under-21 internationals.
Valladolid has its own airport 10km (six miles) north-west of town, used almost exclusively for internal flights – though there have been budget links with the UK. A Linecar bus (€3, every 90min, 30min journey time) runs to the bus station in town. A taxi (+34 983 207 755) to town has a fixed fee of €22.
City transport consists of buses run by Auvasa. A single ticket is €1.30.
Madrid-Barajas Airport is 220km (136 miles) away. A local train (line C1, €2.40, 11min journey time) runs from terminal T4 to Madrid-Chamartín station. From Chamartín, the AVE train takes 1hr to Valladolid and costs around €35, with cheaper deals the sooner you book. Alternatively, an ALSA bus runs from T4 to Valladolid (every 1-3hrs, €16, 3hr journey time).
The Valladolid Tourist Office has a list of hotels in town.
The stadium is out of town, with few attractions around it, although if need be you’ll find functional three-star TRYP Valladolid Sofía Parquesol behind the Carrefour hypermarket.
Options abound downtown, where the three-star Hotel Meliá Olid is a solid choice. Under the same umbrella, the Meliá Recoletos Boutique Hotel is nicer and closer to the AVE and bus stations. Even closer, and cheaper, is the nearby Boutique Hotel Lasa. The Enara is another boutique choice, with a spectacular lounge.
The Zenit Hotel Imperial is set by the main square in a converted 16th-century building. Round the corner, the Hostal París is a steal for the price and location – it’s also opposite the Dublin Bay pub.
By the Cathedral on Calle Nuñez de Arce are the elegant Atrio (No.5, +34 983 150 050) and three-star Hotel Apartamentos Catedral (No.11, +34 983 298 811), both a snip if you book through Hoteles Valladolid. The cheapest lodging in town is probably the Pensión Zamora (Calle de Arribas 14, +34 983 303 052).
Drinking and dining are focused on the downtown area near the Cathedral and Plaza Mayor. Near both is the best sports bar in town, La Brújula (Plaza de los Arces 1), with a wall dedicated to Real Valladolid. It opens from mid-afternoon.
Of the pub variety are the Dublin Bay (Calle Especería 9), El Buzón Pub Inglés (Calle San Lorenzo 3), both showing live games, and the more music-focused Molly Malone’s (Plaza Poniente 5).
There’s a real football atmosphere at Peruvian-run Ancón (Calle Acera de Recoletos 23), with Andean specialities on the menu. The Bar Pedro (Calle del Conde de Ribadeo/Calle del León) also fills for big TV matches. Nearby late-opening La Despensa (Calle del León 5) is also a meeting spot for local fans.
Convenient for the No.8 bus to the stadium, the Café Molinero (Calle María de Molina 22) exudes retro elegance. For old-school atmosphere, the Sabor Taurino echoes the time when Valladolid was attached to the nearby bullfighting society, and now offers a huge, hearty, meaty menu at under €10 for lunch and dinner.