LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

UD Almería

Saudi aide leads Rojiblancos out of Segunda desert

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

After a long litany of short-lived clubs that failed to make the grade, Unión Deportiva Almería have brought top-flight football to a city starved of it for decades. After six campaigns, it ended in 2015, only to be rekindled in 2022.

Support for the Rojiblancos has always remained fierce. After all, when Almería Club de Fútbol, formed in 1989, had been renamed UD Almería in 2001, more than 8,000 fans had turned up for the initial game with Cádiz, a huge number for the fourth-flight Segunda B.

UD Almería duly regained promotion seven seasons later – but it took a new owner in the shape of Saudi adviser to the royal court, Turki Al-Sheikh, to get there, the former Arab Sports Personality award winner going through managers in swift succession until journeyman coach Rubi got the Rojiblancos over the line.

Estadio de los Juegos Mediterráneos/Harvey Holtom

Before 2015, three generations of fans had seen local clubs come and go. The most significant, AD Almería, had also turned out in red-and-white stripes and played at the Estadio Juan Rojas. Their two-season spell in the Primera came in 1979-81.

Although not direct descendants, UD Almería were determined to set the record straight. Promoted to the Segunda in 2002, the Rojiblancos took four seasons to work their way to a second-placed finish and the Primera in 2007.

Now based at the newly built Estadio de los Juegos Mediterráneos, leaving the reserve team to play at the Juan Rojas, Almería enjoyed a relatively stable debut season in the top flight. Long-term club captain, Almería-born attacking midfielder José Ortiz, and manager Unai Emery, helped steered them to an eighth-place finish, above Valencia and Athletic Bilbao.

UDA Peña Almediterráneo/Harvey Holtom

Strikers Pablo Piatti, a record signing at €8 million, and Álvaro Negredo, then arrived. Top scorer in his both of his two seasons at Almería, Negredo grabbed an impressive brace in a 4-1 win at Sevilla that encouraged the hosts to sign him up afterwards.

Negredo’s departure caused Almería to stumble, and the club finished bottom of La Liga during the three-manager season of 2010-11. It required another two seasons for the Rojiblancos to climb out of the Segunda – as well as 32 goals from prolific Brazilian striker Charles, since transferred to Celta de Vigo.

His five goals in the 2013 promotion play-offs, though, saw Almería scrape past Las Palmas and sail past Girona. With the exit of Francisco, the club’s all-time record scorer from their rise in the mid-2000s, it was left to Israeli Tomer Hemed to provide the precious few goals that failed to keep the Rojiblancos up in 2014-15.

Estadio de los Juegos Mediterráneos/Harvey Holtom

The team almost went into free fall, flirting with relegation from the Segunda for three seasons before the arrival of Turki Al-Sheikh in 2019. Having done an MK Dons number on Egyptian club Al Assiouty Sport, moved them from Beni Seuf to Cairo and called them Pyramids FC – and made a success out of the whole operation – Al-Sheikh turned his attention to Spain. Selling up in Cairo, he bought UD Almería.

One of his first moves was to bring in Mohamed El Assy, his right-hand man at Pyramids FC. The Egyptian sports director had learned about football and marketing while working in the City of London. He then oversaw operations at two of the biggest clubs in world football, Cairo-based Al-Ahly and Zamalek. 

After being poached by Al-Sheikh and taking Pyramids FC to the CAF Confederation Cup, he was persuaded by the charismatic Saudi to up sticks and head to Andalucia. “Promotion is only a matter of time,” El Assy told one journalist. 

His mission at UD Almería has involved sacking a dizzying array of managers, a practice he may have learned from his time in the City, but it has brought results. With Almería top of the play-off places in April 2021, he brought in Rubi, a journeyman manager who had led Huesca to their first-ever promotion in 2018.

Rolled over by Girona in the play-offs that June, the Rojiblancos picked themselves up and, almost never out of the top two, won the Segunda in 2022. First-choice keeper Fernando, reserve at Almería when signed in 2017, kept the goals-against column the lowest in the table while Nigerian striker Umar Sadiq further his international status with his performances in a red-and-white striped shirt.

El Assy and Al-Sheikh showed their meant business before the 2022-23 campaign started by investing €7 million in teenage Brazilian centre-back Kaiky, who only made his full Santos debut in 2021. They also snapped up Serbian striker Marko Milanović from Partizan Belgrade, who was celebrating his 20th birthday shortly before the opening day of the campaign, and the visit of champions Real Madrid.

Stadium Guide

The field of dreams – and the stands around it

The Estadio de los Juegos Mediterráneos, or the Power Horse Stadium as it has become known since a sponsorship deal with a Middle-Eastern energy drink was announced in May 2022, holds just over 15,000. It was built at the relatively modest cost of €21 million for the 2005 Mediterranean Games, hence the name pre-sponsorship.

Before then, Almería played at the Estadio Antonio Franco Navarro – AD Almería, that is, predecessors of today’s top-flight UD Almería. Their president of the same name built a ground in the mid-1970s, naming after himself. Set on the far northern edge of town, just inside the Avenida Torrecardenas that forms the city limits, the stadium saw Primera action in the late 1970s. 

It was later renamed after Juan Rojas, a much-loved local player who died of a heart attack in 2000, two decades after scoring AD Almería’s first goal there as a Primera club.

Estadio de los Juegos Mediterráneos/Harvey Holtom

Used by UD reserves after the first team moved to the new Mediterráneo, the Juan Rojas is now in a state of disrepair.

The Mediterráneo, by definition a multi-sports arena with a running track, has been gradually revamped to suit its main role as a venue for top-class football. Two main alterations have brought the crowd closer to the pitch. Though the venue still feels municipal, its retains its contemporary style thanks to its signature curving roof.

Beneath, Fondos sit behind each goal, while the main Tribuna stand and Preferencia opposite, are also divided into upper and lower (Alta and Baja) tiers. Away fans are allocated a corner of the Preferencia.

getting there

Going to the stadium – tips and timings

The stadium is on the eastern edge of town towards the airport, one stop away on the same bus line 30 (€1.05 on board, journey time 35mins) every 25mins (every 35mins Sat-Sun). It also calls at the city’s main transport hub, Estación Intermodal, the adjacent bus and train stations just east of the walkable city centre.

Line 7 also calls nearby but goes around the houses on the east side of town.

A taxi from the centre shouldn’t cost more than €10.

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

With promotion back to La Liga in 2022, and the stadium holding just 15,000, tickets will be at a premium for 2022-23. To buy online, you first need to input your Spanish ID number (DNI) or get a friend to do it for you.

If there are any available on the day, the ticket office is set inside the club offices, the Sede Social, at the stadium, or another might open nearby a couple of hours before kick-off. For enquiries, call +34 950 25 44 26 (Mon-Fri 10am-2pm, 5pm-8pm) or email juanjomoreno@udalmeriasad.com.

As places (€30) in the Fondos behind each goal are generally sold out, tickets will only be available in the Tribuna and Preferencia (€40-€50) along the sidelines. For games against major opposition, it’s €50 in the Fondos, €60 in Preferencia and €120 in the Tribuna.

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

The UD Almería shop (Mon-Fri 10am-2pm, 5pm-8pm, match days) is at the club offices just inside the main doors. Up-and-coming UK brand Castore is now providing the kit, a classic 1970’s look for the red-and-white striped shirt for 2022-23, as opposed to the rather silly lion’s clawmarks in which the Rojiblancos won the Segunda in 2021-22. Second choice is now fawn, not an option many clubs turn to but understated and a welcome change from some bright spark from the design team thinking out of the box.

Scarves, hats and badges all carry the Almería logo, of course, featuring the shape of the Indalo, a neolithic figure carved into a cave near Almería that later became a symbol of the city. He is said to bring good fortune, a fact not lost on Rojiblanco fans in their promotion season of 2021-22.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

Three outlets sit close to the ground, halfway along Calle Acebo. The Bay Bay is the most pretentious while next door, the Bar Frankfurt & Burguer Lillo is a simple burger joint that offers paella on Sundays and heaves with pre-match trade. 

In front of them both, the Kiosco la Goleta is a friendly al-fresco spot.

Sadly, the wonderful little bar where supporters’ group, the UDA Peña Almediterráneo met at Calle Jacinto Benavente 44 is now no longer with us.