By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (October 6th 2012)
A Proud Tradition
Levante Unión Deportiva has a proud history of resistance and social justice, drawing its support from the dockers and working class – its origins were in the docks of València. The city itself has a proud history too. València was the capital of the legendary thirteenth century warrior king Jaume I el Conqueridor (Conquistador), who drove the Muslim rulers out of both València and nearby cities too.
The monastery of El Puig is testament to Jaume’s prowess. It’s capture signalled the end of Islamic rule over the region and resulted in Jaume’s domain reaching the kingdom of his father-in-law, another great, but much different Spanish monarch Alfonso X el Sabio (the Wise), whose approach was far more enlightened and eventually resulted in his overthrow through plotting by the Pope and Alfonso’s courtiers in 1282.
Valèncian resistance continued into the twentieth century through the ill-fated government of author Vicente Blasco Ibáñez and its role in Republican Spain. It rather than Barçelona was actually the capital of the Republic. València was the last city to surrender to Franco and paid for it with years of neglect and worse, especially.
Founded ten years before its more famous rival Levante holds the distinction of being the last holders of the Copa España Libre (the Cup of Free Spain), beating València 1-0 in the final in 1937 in Español’s Montjuic Stadium. The Spanish Civil War and the dictator Francisco Franco hatred of that competition ensured that Levante hold that title in perpetuity.
València at least competed, losing to their city rivals. Barçelona opted to tour México and the USA instead.
Franco punished football in both Barçelona and València too, brazenly favouring Real Madrid – a source of extra spice in the Classico and one that established Valèncian clubs as rivals too, but the historic ties establish Valèncian clubs as rivals of Barçelona too. Despite Jaume’s conquest of the city – a task that took 16 years – València never saw itself as part of Cataluña. It still doesn’t.
Levante supporters see themselves as working class and left wing and there is some resentment of their more successful city rivals, which they see as right-wing and favoured at their expense. València certainly has right-wing fans – the ultras Yomus for example, but Gol Gran never shared the racist or political outlook of Yomus.
The club managed to unite the peñas into one support base at Mestalla to provide unified support for the team. It’s needed as the financial crisis has affected attendances at Mestalla.
Both coaches Levante’s Juan Ignacio Martínez and València’s Mauricio Pellegrino acknowledged the importance of the fixture, but also of fair play too, but this is a derby and it is at Levante’s Estadi Ciutat de València. Anything can happen.
Reversal of Fortune
A week ago the form books told a different story. València was hovering in the wrong half of the table with just one win in La Liga and Europe too. Levante, the oldest club in the region, founded 103 years ago was perched two pints above their city rivals, but the next two matches for both teams reversed both form and confidence.
Mauricio Pellegrino’s new-look Valencia team dispatched last season’s miracle team – Manolo Jiménez had performed heroics in the historic city of Saragossa, defying the odds to enable Real Zaragoza to somehow avoid relegation. Valencia won 2-0 last Saturday despite the harsh sending off of Algerian Sofiane Feghouli with the best part of half an hour remaining. LOSC Lille proved no match at Mestalla on Tuesday either, losing by the same score.
Meanwhile, Levante suffered the reverse. Bottom-placed Osasuna thrashed Martínez’ side 4-0 in Pamplona. “The results were horrible last week,” he said, “but I am focused on València tomorrow.” It got worse as despite taking the lead against Hannover 96 in Germany in the Europa League and having a man advantage for 80 minutes, Levante surrendered the advantage to lose 2-1 on Thursday, meaning they are less rested and shorn of confidence.
A Special Challenge
València’s French left-back Aly Cissokho explained his hopes. “For me València is a big team with a big stadium and I want to discover a new challenge,” he told us. “After [Real] Madrid and Barçelona, València is the best. I hope to give the best for this challenge.”
He is looking forward to his first Derby of València. “When I come to the centre of town everyone is speaking about this confrontation,” Cissokho told us. “Everybody wants to win, but I think if we play our game, we will win this game, but it will be difficult because it’s very difficult to play a derby, but we have to rest and play our game against Levante.”