Where Hungary struck ten and ECF take on Spain’s best

Teams, tales and tips – a guide to the local game

Palm-lined Elche, Elx to locals, was perhaps the most unlikely of the 14 cities to stage the 1982 World Cup. At least nearby Alicante (who hosted it too) had a major international airport, one serving Benidorm and the package resorts along the Costa Blanca.

But, unlike Alicante, today’s Elche has seen a lot of top-flight football in recent seasons, the current run dating back to 2020. 

It was back in 2013 that Elche CF gained promotion to the Primera for the first time in 25 years, bringing Barça, Real and all the star names to… a barren expanse of sandy scrubland on the far edge of town. The city limits, in fact, fall directly after the stadium. Beyond is nothing, just one road leading to a blurry horizon. Follow the N-340 far enough and you hit sea.

Welcome to Elche/Peterjon Cresswell

It was here that then club president Manuel Martínez Valero planned his sports complex, a kind of ‘Build-It-And-They-Will-Come’ folly partly achieved at government expense. All that was built was the football stadium that took Valero’s name after his death in 1988.

Unfortunately, shortly after the stadium’s opening in 1976, Elche were relegated after two fat decades in the top flight. What followed were three fallow ones in the lower ranks, interspersed with two brief seasons in the Primera, the last one 24 years ago.

Before this, Elche had spent exactly 50 years at the Estadio de Altabix, also in the east of the city. Elche had been formed in 1922, of three clubs – Illice, Sporting and Gimnástica – all founded in 1908. Each played at different local grounds, one by the cemetery, so when a united Elche came into being, a communal stadium was required.

TRYP Ciudad de Elche/Peterjon Cresswell

The Altabix saw Elche ascend into the Primera in 1959 and stayed in the top half as Valero’s investment kicked in. The club had long outgrown the Altabix, which is when the Valero’s grand plan came into being.

What followed was a long and complex saga of building rights and dwindling budgets. Eventally Valero lived to see the World Cup come to Elche.

Sadly, apart from the Belgium-Hungary clash, spectators didn’t beat a long path to the stadium door for the other two games, both involving El Salvador. The few who did go would have seen Hungary beat the Central Americans 10-1, a game that featured a seven-minute hat-trick by substitute László Kiss.

Tapería Elche/Peterjon Cresswell

Since then, only lower-flight derby games with Herculés Alicante had set the Martínez Valero alight – until Elche’s storming of the Segunda in 2012-13. Tax debt then saw the Franjiverdes forcibly relegated in 2015, giving rise to a summer-long saga that would see Eibar take their place. In 2017, it was straightforward relegation, down to the depths of the Segunda B for the first time this century.

Mention must be made of the club’s reserve side, Elche CF Ilicitano, who enjoyed two brief seasons in the Segunda when the seniors were at their height. After the heady days of the late 1960s – Elche Ilicitano even beat Herculés in a relegation play-off – the club suffered a similar fate to the seniors.

But in 2013, barely days after Elche CF’s own promotion, Ilicitano made the Segunda B, a best-ever position since the time of Herculés. The relegated Alicante side, in fact, shared the same division as Ilicitano for a single season in 2014-15, before the Elche side plunged into the Tercera.

Ilicitano play at the Ciutat Deportiva, a sports complex ten minutes’ walk north of Martínez Valero, the other side of the Ibis Hotel.

Getting Around

Arriving in town, local transport and timings

Alicante-Elche Airport is almost as close to Elche (13km/8 miles) as it is to Alicante (9km/5.5 miles). Aerobus 1A/1B (€1.55, Mon-Fri hourly, every 2hrs Sat-Sun, 40min journey time) runs to Elche, stopping at Avenida Alicante Porcelanosa reasonably close to the stadium before arriving at Elche bus station north-east of the city centre.

Radio Taxi Elche (+34 965 427 777) should charge €30-€35 into town depending on time of day. You can also book with them online.

Every 45mins from Alicante station, a Cercanía 1 train takes 30-40mins to reach local Elche/Elx-Carrús station (€3) near the town centre. AVE trains from Madrid (3hr 30min-4hr journey time, advance singles €50-€60) come into Elche Parque/Elx Parc, by the bus station and nearer the stadium east of town.

Elche transport consists of Avanza buses, tickets €1.35 on board or there’s a bonobus (€8.40) of ten journeys. You’ll need public transport or a taxi for the stadium.

Where to Drink

The best pubs and bars for football fans

The streets around the Basilica are dotted with drinking options. Football-friendly ones include Flaherty’s (Passeig de les Eres de Santa Llúcia 13) and St Patrick’s next door.

Clubby after dark, café-like by day and always showing sport, Suquer (Carrer Pere Ibarra 10) has been entertaining locals for two decades or more.

By central Plaça Glorieta, MacLarens (Carrer Empedral 7) offers match action plus a classic table-football table and board games. With a pleasant terrace on Glorieta itself, Newton is a gastro bar that broadcasts sport.

Pub-like Jackson (Carrer Infante Don Manuel 15) serves food and shows games. Mention must also be made of the wonderful Bar Casa Villalobos (Carrer Empredrat 13), in operation since 1932, in the Barceló family for three decades, which failed to survive lockdown. No doubt they lovingly packed away their Elche CF flag for safekeeping. 

So revered was the Villalobos, its mini sandwiches and its cold bottles of Estrella, that an exhibition was staged in its honour at the Museo Escolar de Puçol, just outside Elche, in August 2022.

Where to stay

The best hotels for the stadium and city centre

The Elche Tourist Office has a directory of local hotels.

The nearest hotel to the stadium is an Ibis. Although the nearby sports complex can provide hotel guest with squash and bowling, it’s a pretty colourless stay here in the Altabix industrial zone. The stadium is ten minutes’ walk away.

A better bet would be the zen-like Hotel Huerto del Cura, an award-winning four-star thick with exotic greenery that lies on the bus route to the stadium, on the edge of the city centre. A pool and sauna go with its health-focused approach. 

Also equipped with a pool, the Hort De Nal is set in its own lush grounds, often hired out for weddings. Guest rooms are very unique indeed, ideal if you’re here as a couple.

For more traditional city-centre lodgings, the Elche Centro Affiliated by Meliá, the former TRYP Ciudad de Elche, is a reliable three-star. Budget visitors can opt for the simple Hostal María (Avinguda de la Llibertat 4, +34 965 46 02 83), a short walk from the train and bus stations.

If you choose to stay in Alicante, 30min away by trains, then contemporary, urban LaCityHotel is, for the money, outstanding – and across the road from the station.