Here's Jamie McGregor on a very distorted punching above/below ratio.
It's a beautiful February afternoon on the Mediterranean coast of Spain. The dark clouds that had earlier threatened rain have disappeared and the stadium is now bathed in sunlight. Despite the good weather, not even half of the 16,000 seats are occupied for this midday kick off between local side Club Deportivo Castellón and Sporting Mahonés. While the fans that had made it seemed in good spirits, the same couldn't be said for the players, who - prior to kick off - posed holding a banner which read ‘We need to be paid, enough already with the lies’.
The big city and the small commuter town have a special type of relationship. Both sides benefit from it but the big city is always the bigger and richer of the two. In football, a similar relationship exists. In Scotland, the big Glasgow teams will always attract fans from the surrounding Lanarkshire towns, while in Spain; the Madrid teams will always be richer than Getafe. However, looking at the scene before me I realised it's not always that way.
I was at my second match in four days and although I had travelled barely 10 kms the two games and the two clubs couldn't have been more different. Four days earlier I had been watching Villarreal play their hundredth European tie against Serie A title contenders Napoli. The atmosphere inside the Madrigal Stadium was electric as the home side came from a goal down to book their place in the next round of the Europa League. Around 25,000 people turned up for that match which wouldn't be so remarkable if it weren't for the fact that Villarreal only has 51,000 inhabitants. Compare that with the fact that Castellón has 180,000 inhabitants and yet struggles to get a quarter of the crowd Villarreal do and you're faced with a quite bizarre footballing scenario.
Castellón and Villarreal may be geographically close (9.5 kms to be exact) but the two football teams are much further apart (three leagues to be exact). To add insult to injury, CD Castellón are not only two leagues below Villarreal but one league below Villarreal B. The club can't afford to pay the players they have, let alone dream of signing international stars such as Guiseppe Rossi or Nilmar. When it comes to sophistication, restaurants, the arts and culture, those who live in the big city may feel a sense of superiority over their small town neighbours. However, when it comes to football, the shoe is most definitely on the other foot.
It might come as little comfort but life wasn't always like this for the fans of CD Castellón. Both clubs were founded in the early 1920's with CD Castellón created in 1922 and Villarreal CF one year later. When the Spanish football league started in 1929, CD Castellón found themselves in Segunda B while Villarreal were further back in the regional leagues. While Villarreal remained in the regional leagues until 1956, Castellón quickly moved into Segunda and by 1941 had gained promotion to Primera.
After six seasons in Primera, Castellón returned to Segunda before dropping further back to Segunda B where in season 1957/58 they coincided with Villarreal for the first time. The clubs then spent some time hopping between divisions with Castellón going up to Segunda and then back down to Segunda B and Villarreal going down to the regional leagues and then back up to Segunda B.
In season 1970/71 the two sides coincided for the first time in Segunda. It was to prove a short coexistence as the following season they were separated once again as Castellón won promotion and Villarreal were relegated. Castellón´s next season was to be their most successful ever. The club finished 5th in the league, their highest ever finish in Primera. They also reached the final of the Copa del Rey where they lost out to Sevilla. Amongst those playing for CD Castellón that day was a certain Vicente del Bosque. The following season Castellón were relegated but with their neighbours still a league below them in Segunda B, the fans could still consider their team the top one in the area.
The next 15 seasons saw Castellón consolidate themselves as a Segunda team while Villarreal languished in Segunda B. Given the relative size of both places, it seemed a logical place for both clubs.
Castellón then spent two more seasons in Primera before returning to Segunda for the 1991/92 season. That same season Villarreal won promotion out of Segunda B and the next season the two clubs met again. With pride at stake, Castellón fans were relieved when their team finished 10th, three places above Villarreal. However, little did they know that was to be the last time they finished above their small town neighbours.
The following season disaster struck. After finishing 17th in the league Castellón were relegated to Segunda B. For the first time in history, Villarreal were a league above their near neighbours. While previous history suggested a swift return, perhaps followed by a Villarreal relegation, the opposite was true. Castellón spent the next 10 seasons in Segunda B during which time Villarreal won promotion to Primera. The season Castellón finally got back into Segunda (2004/2005), Villarreal finished 3rd in Primera. A season later, Villarreal reached the Champions League semi final and the season after that finished second in La Liga. Villarreal was now a household name amongst football fans all over Europe while CD Castellón had long since been forgotten.
For the Castellón fan, it must be hard to accept being so far behind the small town down the road. In 1991, the year the club completed their eleventh season in Primera División, Villarreal could only dream of top flight football. Twenty years later, everything has changed. This season, Villarreal will complete its twelfth season in the top flight and thus overtake their neighbours in terms of seasons in Primera.
The future looks very different for both clubs. While Castellón aim to stave off bankruptcy and make it to Segunda, Villarreal plan their latest assault on a European trophy. However, as we've already seen, things haven't always been that way and could well change in the future. Who knows where both clubs will be in 20 years time? For the moment though, CD Castellón just have to concentrate on getting to Segunda and perhaps regaining some pride by overtaking Villarreal B.
Jamie is site editor for the wonderful Spanishfootball.info, IBWM’s favourite Spanish football website.