A fan’s guide – the club from early doors to today
Ambitious owners have carved out the history of Elche CF, flagship club of a very underrated city in Spain’s far south-east, just inland from Alicante and the holiday resorts around Benidorm.
Their stadium is named after the shoe mogul, Manuel Martínez Valero, who not only transformed the club between 1962 and 1982 but brought the World Cup to Elche shortly before he died. Then there was José Sepulcre Coves, son of a previous Elche club president, who took the Franjiverdes up to the Primera for the first time in a quarter-century in 2013, only to see them forcibly relegated two years later due to unpaid taxes.
And now there’s Argentine Christian Bragarnik. Ex-player, ex-video store assistant, law graduate Bragarnik became a football agent with serious connections in Mexico who took over Elche in 2019. Six months later, having scraped the sixth and last place in the play-offs, his club bravely fought off a rearguard action at favourites Girona before a 96th-minute header by Pere Milla snuck in at the near post.
Fine margins, but Elche were back in La Liga – and have since managed to stay there, a squad dotted with Argentines and fellow South Americans providing just enough grit and sparkle to grind out results.
Elche had only previously spent one solid spell in the top flight, during the 1960s and the 1970s. Opening their new Albatix stadium with a game against Levante in 1926, Elche played a series of friendlies before joining the newly formed Spanish league and rising to the Segunda in 1934.
Los Franjiverdes, ‘the Green-and-White Stripes’, trod water for two decades or so before gaining promotion in 1959. They were headed by César Rodríguez, the highest goalscorer in the history of FC Barcelona until Messi broke his record in 2012. Although at the end of his career, ‘César’ scored a goal every other game for Elche, even coaching them at the same time.
Manuel Martínez Valero soon arrived as club president, and his funds allowed Elche to buy quality players such as Spanish international striker Vavá II and goalkeeper José Araquistáin, who had won the European Cup with Real Madrid in 1966. Locally born midfielder Juan Manuel Asensi was just starting his career at Elche before a decade in Barça’s colours.
Elche spent a near unbroken two decades in the Primera. In 1969, it took a moment of genius from Javier Clemente for Bilbao to overcome Elche in the closing minutes of the Spanish Cup final.
All fell by the wayside when money began to be set aside for Elche’s new stadium. Two years after Elche and Mexico opened the Nou Estadio – later named the Manuel Martínez Valero – the Franjiverdes were relegated.
Almost permanently mid-table in the Segunda for a decade, Elche picked up under entrepreneurial owner José Sepulcre Coves. Edging ever closer to the Primera, losing out on away goals to Granada in the promotional play-off of 2011, the Ilicitanos led the table for every single round of the 2012-13 campaign. A mean defence backed by goalkeeper Manu was the key to this unexpected success, causing wild celebrations around town.
‘Somos de Primera’ read the bands around the green hats sported by every celebrating local. But reaching the Primera for the first time in 24 years was one thing – staying there was achieved, just, in 2013-14. Despite a mid-table finish in 2014-15, Elche were forcibly relegated back to the Segunda because of unpaid taxes. Coves left in disgrace.
Two years later, life became that little bit worse for the Franjiverdes when relegation came in its straightforward, simply-not-good-enough form, and Elche found themselves in the Segunda B for the 2017-18 campaign.
They were in good company – Mallorca, European finalists the last time Elche were in the third tier in 1999, were favourites to win the division and duly did. The Franjiverdes had to overcome local rivals Murcia in an extremely tight two-legged play-off, and then Villarreal’s reserves, the home tie attracting 20,000 to the Martínez Valero.
Within two seasons, and following the arrival of savvy, ambitious Argentine Christian Bragarnik to take over the club in 2019, Elche were promoted once more, again by the skin of their teeth, this time against Girona for accession to the La Liga.
Given Bragarnik’s contacts across Latin America, it’s no surprise that Elche welcomed ten (!) Argentines and Colombians in 2020 to stay afloat in the top flight. But it was goals from Catalan-born Pere Milla – who had hit the vital winner at Girona to gain promotion the year before – that kept Elche just above the relegation zone that season.
A Milla brace against fellow strugglers Espanyol and Alavés again proved vital in 2022, Elche almost notching a rare win at the Bernabéu when he put the visitors 2-0 up against Real Madrid. Two late goals from the eventual champions saved a point, but Elche could look forward to a third straight campaign in the Primera for the first time since the 1970s.
The field of dreams – and the stands around it
Stuck out on Elche’s city limits, the Manuel Martínez Valero looks every bit like an incongruous prop from a film set of a spaghetti western.
Holding 34,000 spectators in three rings, the originally named Nou Estadio was part of a grand plan by long-term Elche club president Valero to construct a sports complex here. Valero had taken over the club in 1962 and presided over their most successful years, when top-flight Elche packed out the Estadio de Altabix. A new stadium was needed.
When the ‘New Stadium’ was opened, with a friendly against Mexico in 1976, Elche were in decline and would be relegated two years later. But with Spain having been granted hosting of the 1982 World Cup in 1966 (!), and the finals expanded to 24 teams, Valero had succeeded in proposing Elche as a tournament venue.
In the end, the upper tiers added for a 50,000-plus capacity were hardly needed, El Salvador, Belgium and Hungary not proving a big draw for the Ilicitano public.
Renamed after Valero’s death in 1988, this colosseum of a ground was later modernised, with individual seating in Elche green, reducing capacity to its current level. Today the arena has a dozen bars and nightspots built into it and is busy most weekdays.
The Fondos behind the north and south goals are divided into uncovered, covered and upper ring seating. Away fans are allocated the Anillo Superior Fondo Norte, high up over the north goal, accessed through gate 18. The main stand, Tribuna, also features an uncovered lower section nearest the pitch – as does the Preferencia opposite. Seating is also available in each corner or Curva.
Going to the stadium – tips and timings
The Estadi Manuel Martínez Valero has its own bus stop (No.261) outside the James Madison pub by the stadium – only used 1hr before and up to 30mins after the match, and on market-day mornings. Bus E (every 10-15mins) runs from Vicente Blasco Ibañez, a short walk from Carrús train station, on the other side of the road from the Bar Nobel. It’s 13/14 stops (allow 20-25mins) to the terminus at Avg. L’Altet 1/2, where the bus loops round. From there, the stadium is easily visible, a 5min walk down Avinguda de Manuel Martínez Valero.
If you’re coming into Elche by bus, then service K (every 15-20mins) from the station runs to Barxell (near the ibis Hotel), eight stops/10-15mins away. From there, the stadium is a 5-10min walk.
Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much
At the stadium, tickets are sold in the run-up to match day (10am-2pm, 5pm-9pm), and from 10am on the day itself. There are taquillas by the main entrance. Availability shouldn’t be an issue unless it’s Real or Barça in town. For all enquiries, contact email@example.com.
Prices start at €35 for the upper ring behind the goal (Anillo Superior Fondo), rising to €50-€60 for the upper ring in the sidelines stands (Preferencia/Tribuna), where the best seats are €70-€80.
what to buy
Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts
By the stadium’s main entrance, La Tienda del Elche (Mon-Fri 10am-2pm, 4pm-7pm, Sat 10am-2pm or 2hrs before kick-off) offers beachwear and sundry souvenirs tied in with the Elche’s 90th anniversary, including a thick club history.
There’s another outlet (Mon-Sat 10am-10pm) at L’Aljub mall south-west of city centre at Carrer Jacarija 7, on the ground floor.
Where to Drink
Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors
Though stuck out in the sticks, the stadium has a couple of drinking options close by on Avinguda de Manuel Martínez Valero, the Winner’s Bar and neighbouring pub James Madison. The former is a standard, modern Spanish bar, with Elche banners over the counter and a terrace, while the latter offers live music, Kopparberg cider and Guinness on draught, plus a full menu.
Of the outlets built into the stadium, La Trobada contains massive back-bar mural of the club’s history. There’s also a Trobada 2 beer hatch by the main entrance. RC Estadio also serves beer but it’s more a betting shop than hostelry.
On the south side of the stadium, La Fábrica del Hielo is pretty featureless apart from a large tap of Mahou on the bar counter.