Almeria - Estadio de los Juegos Mediterráneos

Following football in Almeria must be a similar experience to backing an outsider in the Grand National. It may clear a few hurdles, but sooner or later you know that it’s going to come crashing down. Over the years numerous clubs have tried to last the pace, only to be floored by financial obstacles. Then along comes the bank and… well you know the rest. The current footballing representative of this city in the south east corner of Andalucía, Unión Deportiva Almería, does however have a touch of thoroughbred about it, having just played four consecutive seasons in La Primera and reached the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey. Whether they ever make it to the winners enclosure is debatable, but they seem to have enough about them to avoid the knackers yard.
Some early fallers in the Almeria Futbol Handicap Stakes
The history of UD Almeria only dates back to 1989, so here’s a potted version of the ridiculously convoluted history of football in the city. We need to go back to 1909 to find the first amateur representatives, namely Almeria Foot-ball club and Almeria Sporting Club. They are joined in 1914 by Almeria Athletic Club. The city’s first enclosed stadium the Campo de Regocijos opened in 1923 and in the first match Almeria FC was soundly trounced 1-8 by Jaen FC. Almeria FC called it a day in 1925 followed by Sporting in 1928. Athletic Club survived until the summer of 1935 and then Union Deportiva Almeria (Mk 1) lasted a whole season before the Civil War put an end to its activity. Football didn’t really get going again in Almeria until 1942, when the railway workers team, CD Ferroviaro was founded. This club changed its name to Almeria CF in 1946 and a year later they merged with CD Nautico to form Union Deportivo Almeria (Mk 2). The name change coincided with a move to a new stadium, the Campo de Falange. UD Almeria changed their name to Club Atlético Almeria in 1953 and five years later become the first club from the city to play on the national stage, when it reached La Segunda. Atlético surprised everybody by finishing third in their debut season, but a year later, beset with financial woes, the club finished 15th and was relegated. The club was wound up during the summer and the city was without a senior team for much of the 1960’s.
The inaugural match at the Campo de Falange. UD Almeria take
on Atlético Aviacion, although their forward needs to man-up a bit
In 1964, a youth team from the city, CD Hispana stepped up a level and as Club Deportivo Almeria reached the Tercera. However, by 1969 it to had retired to the now somewhat over-crowded Almerian league in the sky, leaving the city once again bereft of semi-professional football. 1971 saw the merger of three local teams; Plus Ultra CF, UD Pavia and Arenas CF to form Agrupación Deportiva Almería. Matches were played at the Campo de Falange and the club gained early success when winning the regional championship and promotion to the Tercera for the 1972-73 season. In December 1973, club president Antonio Franco Navarro purchased some land in the northern suburb of Torrecárdenas and two years later, work started on a new stadium at a cost of 47 million pesetas. On 24 August 1976, a capacity crowd of 16,000 watched AD Almeria draw 1-1 with Athletic Club Bilbao in the first match at the new Estadio Antonio Franco Navarro. The club took to the new surroundings and finished third in the regional Tercera, which was high enough to win a place in the newly formed Segunda B. AD Almeria did not hang about in the newly formed section, winning the league in its first year, which allowed them to emulate their predecessor Club Atlético Almeria, with a place in La Segunda. Unbelievably, AD Almeria took the second division by storm and with a near perfect record at the Estadio Antonio Franco Navarro, won the league title and promotion to La Primera.
Ready for the big league. Estadio Antonio Franco Navarro 
Life in La Primera got off to a positive start and with the stadium temporarily extended, crowds of 20,000 were not uncommon. The good form at home continued and AD Almeria remained unbeaten at the Estadio Antonio Franco Navarro for a third consecutive season, ultimately finishing tenth. There was a problem however, as with all its ancestors, AD Almeria had overstretched itself and with a greatly reduced budget and playing staff, the dream of top flight football soon ended. The 1980-81 season was a struggle from start to finish with the club losing five games at home for heaven’s sake! Add to that just one point from 17 matches on the road and you will not be surprised to learn that AD Almeria finished bottom of La Primera and was relegated. Worse was to follow in 81-82 season, when the club finished 19th and was relegated to Segunda B. With the staff wages still outstanding, the federation demoted the club to the Tercera. This was the final nail in the coffin and on 2 September 1982 AD Almeria was wound up with an accumulated debt of 223 million pesetas.
Bought by the municipality, could the former Estadio Antonio Franco Navarro
look forward to an exciting new name? Er... no. They chose Campo Municipal
The municipality bought the Estadio Antonio Franco Navarro and gave it the wizzy title of the Campo de Futbol Municipal. To their credit, they did redevelop the east side of the stadium, adding a propped roof and replaced the troublesome pitch. All they needed now was a tenant and as always seems to be the case in Almeria, a new club was formed. Club Polideportivo Almeria saw the light of day in 1983 and had climbed to Segunda B by the start of the 1986-87 season. A twentieth placed finish would normally result in relegation, but restructuring of the third tier saw the club survive at this level. Relegation to the Tercera did follow in 1989, at which point a rival club, Almería Club de Fútbol, was formed by members disenchanted with the running of CP Almeria. More about these upstarts later, but needless to say CP Almeria had some financial problems, but struggled on and eventually won promotion back to Segunda B. Here they stayed for seven full seasons, even reaching the play-offs in 1998-99, before losing out to Levante. Trouble was just around the corner however and mid-way through the 2000-01 season, unable to meet its debts, CP Almeria withdrew from the league. Its record for the season was expunged and they were band from competing for two seasons. They did reappear in the lower regional leagues, but have not competed since 2007.
The stadium was renamed Estadio Municipal Juan Rojas
 in 2000 in honour of the former player. Foto:
Let's go back to 1989 and the forming of Almería Club de Fútbol. Unhappy with the way that CP Almeria was operating, former members set up their own club in July 1989. After a few matches at the Estadio Municipal, the club moved out to the much smaller Campo Municipal Matías Pérez, in the south east suburb of La Cañada de San Urbano, close to the main airport. They also played some home fixtures at Campo Municipal de Benahadux, around five miles north of Almeria, before returning to the Campo Municipal in Almeria for the 1991-92 season. Two successive promotions saw the club debut in Segunda 2b for the 1993-94 season where it earned an eleventh place finish. The following season saw Almeria CF win promotion to La Segunda following a second place in the league and victory over Valencia B, Racing Ferrol and SD Beasain in the play-off group. The club's upward trajectory stalled at the point, escaping relegation in the 95-96 season with a draw in the final match, but succumbing to the drop a year later when finishing 17th. The slide continued and by the start of the 1999-00 season, Almeria CF was back in the Tercera and a level lower than CP Almeria, the club they split from a decade earlier. Despite a fourth place finish, Almeria CF battled through the play-offs to win promotion back to Segunda B. Any euphoria over the club's promotion was tempered during the summer of 2000 when Almeria football legend, Juan Rojas died of a heart attack on 14 August. Rojas had been the first played to score a league goal at the then Estadio Antonio Franco Navarro, so it was fitting that the municipality renamed the stadium Estadio Municipal Juan Rojas shortly after the start of the 2000-01 season.
Estadio Municipal Juan Rojas lingers on, but for how much longer?
The start of the millennium was a busy time for football in Almeria. Whilst Almeria CF was steadying itself in Segunda B, CP Almeria was about to implode. In addition, the city had won the right to host the 2005 Mediterranean Games and this meant the development of a new stadium closer to the centre of the city. As mentioned above, CP Almeria failed to complete the 2000-01 season, folding during the Christmas break, and some of the club's players crossed town to join Almeria CF. On 10 January 2001, Almeria CF became Unión Deportiva Almería and the newly christened club finished the season in eleventh place. The 2001-02 campaign would see UD Almeria emulate their success of seven years earlier, by winning promotion to La Segunda. Second place in Group IV was secured before Real Madrid B, Pontevedra and Espanyol B were overcome in the play-off group. The next few seasons saw UD Almeria struggle to establish itself in La Segunda, finishing 18th in 02-03 and 16th a year later. That 2003-04 season also saw UD Almeria's last match at the Estadio Juan Rojas. On 14 June 2004, the club beat Sporting Gijon by two goals to one, before first team games were moved to the new Estadio de los Juegos Mediterráneos for the start of the 2004-05 season. The Estadio Juan Rojas is still used on occasions by UD Almeria B and the club's youth teams, although much of the stadium is cordoned off due to structural concerns. Whether it sees much more football is debatable, as the municipality has plans to redevelop the site into a sports city, but the 82 million euro price tag appears to be a stumbling block.
Work progresses in the spring of 2004 on the new 15,000 seat arena
The summer of 2004 not only saw UD Almeria move into the new stadium, but it also saw the arrival of  Alfonso García Gabarrón as club president. After a sluggish first season, which saw the appointment of four first team coaches, the club started to make some progress, finishing sixth in 2005-06. The following season saw UD Almeria finish second in La Segunda and emulate AD Almeria in reaching La Primera. Under the guidance of coach Unai Emery and with ex-Real Madrid striker Álvaro Negredo banging in the goals, UD Almeria surpassed all expectations in finishing eighth. Emery departed to Valencia at the start of the 2008-09 season and Alfonso García Gabarrón started up the managerial merry-go-round. Five coaches came and went over the next three seasons of diminishing returns. Eventually, UD Almeria slipped back into La Segunda at the end of the 2010-11 season, winding up in bottom spot, with some hefty defeats to Barcelona and Real Madrid along the way. Some consolation was achieved when the club reached the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey for the first time. Almeria returned to the top flight in June 2013, thanks to a third place finish in the league and victory in the Play-offs over Las Palmas & Girona.
The original lay out with spectators a minimum of 25 metres from the pitch
So far as Athletics stadiums go, I quite like the Estadio Mediterráneos. Admittedly, that is a back-handed compliment as it is still a fairly impractical football stadium, but  Antonio Lamela's design has some nice touches. The original layout of 15,000 seats was hindered by an additional gap of 10 metres or so between the front seats and the athletics track. This was countered by raising the seating tier, so that the front seats of each block were 2 metres off the ground. Instead of a single tier that sweeps around the whole ground, it is broken up into four separate stands by the concrete pylons of the floodlights, that then pierce through the steel framework of the cantilevered roof, like four immense toothpicks. The floodlights then gently lean towards the pitch, providing a nice contrast  to the sweeping curves of the roof. 
Mediterráneos with its added ring of, mostly unused, white seats
The municipality had forked out 21 million euros on this new multi-sports arena and then several million more in the summer of 2010 when additional seats were added. Four rows of white seats were built in front of the existing stands, and additional blocks of seats were added at the rear of the end stands, to raise the capacity to 22,000. To be honest, the stadium was rarely full when UD Almeria played in La Primera, so it wasn't money well invested, particularly as another change was made in June 2012. In a move that mimicked the changes seen at Cagliari and other Italian stadiums, temporary stands were erected on the arc behind the goal, bringing the crowd closer the pitch. This gave the stadium a temporary capacity of around 15,000, which is perfectly adequate when the home games average just over 6,000 spectators.
Up close & personal - The new lay-out for 2012-13
The stadium now sees matches every weekend, as Almeria B switched their Segunda B matches to the arena from the start of the 2011-12 season. As a club,  UD Almeria finally appear to have attained a degree of stability, which considering the trials and tribulations of all their ancestors, is probably the most startling achievement in just over one hundred years of football in this corner of Andalucia.
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