“Are you a journalist?”. Ojalá. If only. The gentleman smiled appreciatively. “Do you know about the history of this club?”
The sun had completed its descent before the first whistle had even been blown. Long throws of striking orange, red, purple and blues contributed a dramatic backdrop to much of the match, but with ten minutes remaining the sky was a solid black. Towering floodlights obediently bathed the Estadio Municipal de la Juventud in artificial light as the warm winds raced up the main tribune. Even without such perfect conditions for an evening fixture, I am convinced that thousands of fans would have made the effort to come watch their team play for possibly the last time.
“It started in 2009 in la primera. We played against Real and Barca. They were amazing days. But the club spent so much money on players to try and win. That’s when the problems began”.
Xerez CD, now in her 73rd year, has long been the leading Football club of the city known more for its stallions and sherry than for its Football. Jerez de la Frontera’s contribution to Spanish sport is more pronounced in the automotive and equestrian disciplines, with one of the country’s most popular motor racing circuits nearby and some of the peninsula’s finest horses bred in its famous stud farms. As such, Xerez CD has long been a La Segunda stalwart rather than a genuine big name Spanish Football, and was recently ranked by the national Marca newspaper as only the 57th most successful team in 88 seasons of La Liga.
But Xerecistas have indeed had the pleasure of watching their club rub shoulders with the big boys. Just as my beloved Hull City was developing a test of Premier League Football, Xerez CD found itself travelling away to San Mamés, the Bernabeu, Camp Nou and the Vicente Calderón in the 2009 / 2010 season. Though unlike the case of underdogs Hull City, Xerez’s first division status was short lived. The club finished the season at the foot of the table, but with an admirable 34 points (3 from safety) and 38 goals scored (higher than 5 other teams that season), Xerecistas ultimately look back at their maiden season in La Liga with pride. Reminders of the ill-fated but enjoyable season can be found all around the city, with fading posters advertising matches against Real Madrid and Barcelona visible in many neighbourhood bars and replica shirts from the 09/10 season frequently covering the backs of youngsters kicking a ball around in Jerez’s cobbled streets.
“I mean, of course they had to spend a lot to buy big players. The first time in La Primera, of course…. but they were stupid. The debt was too big”.
The raw resentment that cut through the words of my new friend were target at the club’s management. As the club geared up for a season back in the familiar environs of La Segunda in 2010, a palpable feeling that all was not well could not be shaken from the terraces of El Estadio Municipal de Chapín. Xerez CD, a club that had finally hit the big time after many years of threatening to earn promotion to La Liga, fell into chaos. A combination of high player wages and bubbling overheads put the club into serious financial jeopardy and prompted a series of musical chairs in the boardroom. The club changed hands 3 times in 3 consecutive seasons. Instability at the top led to confusion in the dugout and to inconsistency on the field. Xerez CD finished in 8th, 14th and then 22nd (stone last) place respectively in the following three seasons in La Segunda.
Instead of landing on ground hard enough for the club to stand up and dust itself down with dignity, the vicious cycle continued. A Xerez-shaped space in the third division of Spanish Football, the confusingly named La Segunda B, had barely been chalked out before the ultimate fate of the club became apparent. With bankruptcy imminent and administration knocking, the club was forcibly relegated a stage further to La Tercera (Spain’s fourth tier) for the 2013/2014 season, where it finished in 19th place in the relegation zone.
For those of you keeping score, that means 4 relegations in 5 years, all the way from La Liga to the Primera Liga Andaluza.
The Xerecistas’ embarrassment is only exceeded by their anger. No one individual is to blame for the club’s collapse, but the ineptitude of owners who have come and gone (including the current Ricardo García who has been at the helm since 2013) has been made completely public to the Footballing world in a drawn out and painful series of affairs felt most acutely by the fans. 4 years after Xerez CD’s relegation to the 5th tier of domestic Football and, in spite of promotion back to La Tercera (4th tier), the inevitable, new episode of an-idiot’s-guide-to-managerial-fecklessness is now upon the poor Xerecistas.
“I mean, how could a professional sports club just forget to pay those costs?”
As the beginning of another repetitive season in La Tercera approached in August 2019, the club’s directors had failed to pay the administrative fee necessary to the AFE, the Spanish Players’ Union, that permits their players to compete within the league on time. Xerez CD was duly slapped across the chops with a fresh fine of 129,000€ that had to be paid by the 30th of August if the team was to play the second game of the season away against Lebrijana. Failure to come up with the goods could have resulted in the final curtain call on the unluckiest Football club in Spain.
The Spanish Football community reacted quickly. The hashtag #SOSXerez flashed across the screens of smartphone owners across the country, and clubs including Real Madrid CF and life-long adversaries Cádiz CF contributing by various measures to raise money for Xerez’s cause. And on the other side of town, Jerez Industrial FC hosted an impromptu match at the Estadio la Juventud to raise money. All revenue generated by attendance and sales during the match were to go directly to Xerez CD’s cause, and a one-off match shirt available for general purchase was made for that specific game, as were 10€ t-shirts featuring the slogan “There Is No Surrender”. As the players walked out onto the pitch and faced the crowd with a hand-painted banner with the #SOSXerez hashtag, the club’s ultras followed suit and unveiled a giant banner in their own defiance of what may well be their club’s fate. And it was in the final ten minutes of this match that this kind gentleman began to speak to me.
Do you think they will get the money?
“I honestly don’t know. I don’t. But a club that is 72 years old…. we cannot let this die. Nobody can let that happen, it would be the worst”.
“But the problem is that we do not have unity. The fans are not united any more. Have you heard about this other team, the one created by the fans?” For the only time during this conversation, I lied.
For #SOSXerez Pt II, please click here.