LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

Leganés

Cucumber Growers relish purple patch in La Liga

A fan’s guide – the club from early doors to today

What better way for a club from the Madrid suburbs to celebrate its 90th anniversary year than to knock Real Madrid out of the Copa del Rey – and at the Bernabéu?

But perhaps even more remarkable than the run of little Leganés to the cup semi-finals in the spring of 2018 was the club’s tenacity to stay afloat in one of the world’s top leagues. A fourth consecutive campaign in 2019-20 proved to be the end of the four-campaign run.

Down-to-earth Asier Garitano, a Basque journeyman as a player and little-known as a coach until coming to the Estadio Municipal de Butarque in Madrid’s south-western outskirts, suited the role perfectly. Modest and hard-working, Garitano played down the shock 2-1 win over the European champions by suggesting the club’s greatest triumph was promotion from the third-tier Segunda B to the Segunda in his first season, 2013-14.

For that 2014 play-off, ‘Lega’ faced L’Hospitalet. A goal in each leg by Carlos Álvarez, including a late one before 7,500 at the Butarque, kick-started the Garitano era.

Club Deportivo Leganés were founded in 1928, from the ashes of the more poetically named Club Deportivo Once Leones (‘11 Lions’). From an initial kit of blue and white, an unwitting echo of the colours of nearby rivals Getafe, CD Leganés switched to green, white and red. After starting out at a military ground, Los Legionarios moved to their own pitch, Paseo de la Estación.

After the Spanish Civil War, the club changed nicknames to a more peaceable one of Los Pepineros, the Cucumber Growers, reflecting the local industry. Leganés was then a small town outside Madrid and a market garden for the capital. Suburban myth has it that visiting teams were left a box of cucumbers in the dressing room to take home with them. Leganés had also switched to a green colour scheme.

By the mid-1950s, the opposition, drawn from Madrid local leagues before the war, was still regional but at least semi-professional. Leganés had first gained promotion in 1949 after a do-or-die struggle with Getafe.

By now the mayor was involved, insisting Leganés re-adopt their original blue and white. As the community expanded and transformed into a dormitory town for Madrid, so the authorities created a new sports ground, Estadio Luis Rodríguez de Miguel, named after the government official who had helped with its development.

A stand was added in 1973 but it wasn’t until 20 years later that the 5,000-capacity ground finally witnessed Second Division football. Joining Getafe in the play-offs, Leganés overcame Elche to reach the Segunda in 1993. Long-term owner Jesús Polo González was a man from La Mancha whose entrepreneurial success stemmed from the rapid industrialisation of his adopted home.

Leganés drew bumper crowds for second-tier derbies with Getafe but invariably finished lower mid-table during their decade in the Second. The most notable year came in 1998, when a teenage Samuel Eto’o joined Leganés on loan, and the club moved to a new stadium, the Butarque. The Luis Rodríguez de Miguel was knocked down to make way for the Plaza Mayor.

Season 2003-04 began with free-spending Argentine Daniel Grinbank appointing José Pekerman and Carlos Aimar to key positions – and ended with fiscal chaos and relegation. An epic cup tie with Real Madrid, ending in a 4-3 defeat after extra-time, lives longer in the memory.

The club’s subsequent decade in the Third coincided with the credit crunch and austerity. Leganés remained in contention but it wasn’t until Asier Garitano arrived in 2013 that defensive solidity, and the goals of Carlos Álvarez, helped seal promotion back to the Segunda.

Sticking with the same coach and pretty much the same team, Garitano’s men struggled with the higher standard until goalgetter Chuli arrived in mid-season to save the day.

With Chuli soon snapped up, Garitano then used his Basque connections to bolster the side. Galvanised, Leganés went on an unbeaten run to set up the unlikely prospect of ascension to La Liga. Again, defence was the key, former Athletic Bilbao youth goalkeeper Jon Ander Serantes playing all 42 league games in 2015-16. Top scorer Alex Szymanowski only registered 12 goals all season, but a typically slim 1-0 win on the banks of the Ebro at Mirandés meant that Garitano had taken Leganés from third tier to top in three seasons.

After an initial shock 1-0 win at Vigo, and the novelty of a top-flight derby with Getafe, Leganés were soon faced with the realities of survival in La Liga. An injury-hit winter hardly helped. But with Szymanowski still scoring, including a brace in a 4-0 win over Betis and the equaliser at Bilbao, Garitano and his men hung on.

More goalkeeping heroics, this time from Iván Cuéllar, kept Leganés well clear of the relegation zone for 2017-18. But, fittingly, it was Argentine Nereo Champagne who starred in the 2-1 cup win at Real Madrid – and subsequent narrow semi-final defeat to Sevilla.

It proved the high point. Ironically, it was a heroic 2-2 home draw with recently crowned champions Real Madrid that sent Leganés down in 2020, Garitano having left for unsuccessful stints at Real Sociedad and Alavés. Needing a final push to make the play-offs for an immediate return to the Primera, Leganés again turned to Garitano in 2021.

All went well until the play-off with Madrid rivals Rayo Vallecano and a comprehensive defeat. Incoming coach Mehdi Nafti having failed to lift Leganés in 2021-22, it’s now down to Imanol Idiakez to repeat the exploits of his fellow Basque Garitano and revive the Cucumber Growers.

Stadium Guide

The field of dreams – and the stands around it

Stuck out in Madrid’s industrial suburbs, surrounded by a motorway, a hypermarket, a funeral directors and wasteland, the Estadio Municipal de Butarque should provide little inspiration to board the C-5 Cercanía commuter train south.

Instead, given a long-term local fan culture and the phenomenal achievements of CD Leganés under Asier Garitano, a visit to the Butarque became one of the most enjoyable experiences in Spanish football.

Before entering this blue-seated bowl of 11,450 capacity, fans congregate to drink and party outside, partly due to the lack of nearby bars, partly because it’s what following Lega is all about.

Leganés tickets/Harvey Holtom

The sun flames orange as it sets over the open Lateral stand, the home Fondo Sur starts jumping and you know you’re at a football match.

Built in 1998 to replace the Luis Rodríguez de Miguel in the centre of town, the Butarque originally held 8,000 spectators, which had to be expanded by 3,000-plus with promotion to La Liga in 2016. Another 500 seats were added a year later, yet Butarque remained the second-smallest stadium in La Liga after Eibar’s.

Away fans get a flavour of the local passion here with an allocated sector, Zona Visitante, right up next to the Fondo Sur, accessed through gate 9.

Home fans funnel through gate 8, next to the ticket offices behind the Lateral stand. The Fondo Norte behind the north goal generally has a few tickets available in the run-up to match day. The Tribuna main stand is the only one with a roof – the club shop and offices are behind.

getting there

Going to the stadium – tips and timings

The nearest station to the stadium is Zarzaquemada on the C-5 Cercanía line from Madrid Atocha down to Fuenlabrada or Humanes. Trains run every 10mins until nearly midnight, even on Sundays, and take 15min. A single ticket is €1.70, stamp before you board.

In Madrid, you can also pick the train up at Embajadores on yellow line 3, less busy and only two stops from Sol.

From Zarzaquemada, it’s a 15-20min walk to the stadium, leaving by the front of the station and heading left along Avenida de Carmen Amaya/Reina Sofía. Once you get to the roundabout, the stadium is on the other side of the motorway.

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

Tickets are bought online from the club website, with a €1.75 charge, usually 2wks before the match. The ticket offices behind the Tribuna operate on match days but check the website for availability. For all ticket enquiries, contact the club at direccion@deportivoleganes.com.

You’ll pay €20 to sit in the Fondo Sur or Norte, €30 in the Lateral on the sidelines and €40 in the Tribuna Baja or Alta.

what to buy

Shirts, souvenirs and gifts – plus opening hours

The Lega Store (Mon-Fri 10am-2pm, 5pm-8pm, match weekend Sat 10am-2pm, match days) by the club offices behind the Tribuna sells Leganés scarves, slippers, old-school bobble hats, air fresheners and frilly pennants. The club badges are works of art.

All is blue and white, of course. The current away kit does the players few favours – a shiny lilac offset by pink. Third-choice green harks back to the club’s early days.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

There are no bars in the immediate vicinity of the stadium, which is precisely why fans set up impromptu parties between the trees and parked cars, stalls groaning with beer, grills sizzling with meat. This cross between a botellón street drink-up and an American tailgate goes on for two or three hours before kick-off and is completely inclusive – unless you’re a Getafe fan.

If it’s more a regular bar you’re after, you’ll find a couple a short walk from Zarzaquemada station. By a Chinese restaurant at Avenida de Reina Sofía 25, the Cervecería Casa Daní is a friendly spot with two big TVs showing matches, popular with the flamenco community and serving decent tapas.

On the adjoining street of Calle Clara Janés, at No.7 Cervecería O’Camiño is a Galician bar with plenty of octopus among the tapas. Pick of the bunch is the cosy Taberna Manchega at No.4, is a real Lega spot, ‘Sentimiento Pepinero’ scarves displaying affection for the Cucumber Growers.