The sun almost always shines in southwest Spain, but a 127-year-long shining light could be extinguished this weekend as Recreativo Huelva – the oldest club in Spain – have declared that they face extinction.
Originally formed by two Scottish minors at the Rio Tinto mines, Alexander Mackay and Robert Russell Ross, under the name of Huelva Recreation Club in 1889, it took the Andalusians 89 years before they reached the top flight of Spanish football, and the club have spent only five years at the top level throughout their history.
Last season, the team slipped into Spain’s regionalised third-tier and have struggled to adapt to Segunda 2B Group IV this campaign – a League with four reserve sides. The region of Huelva has been one of the hardest hit economically in recent years, and combined with the performance much-maligned majority shareholder Gildoy Espana (who control 75 per cent of the club’s shares), these appear to be the major driving forces for the club to release a press statement which read as a cross between a distress call and a rallying cry.
Making reference to the ‘terrible negligence’ on behalf of ‘those who are in the position to provide a solution’ was a notable swipe at Espana and current owner Pablo Comas – who has rejected offers from groups promising to clear the club’s debts – before adding this could lead to ‘a dramatic end for the club.’
This hard-hitting statement had been feared by many fans for a while. The club have not paid any of their players – including former Liverpool midfielder Antonio Nunez – all season. No club employee has been paid since July. The club’s debts are said to exceed €20m, with no indication of any solution being considered.
The club’s 21,670-capacity Estadio Nuevo Colombino has sold out for Saturday’s visit of Granada B, following on from the club setting an entrance price of €1.
It’s a remarkable decline for a team who only 13 years ago reached the Copa del Rey final – only to lose to a Samuel Eto’o-inspired Real Mallorca – and who less than a decade ago embarrassed a Galactico-studded Real Madrid 3-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu. This was the club’s greatest-ever moment, but also their lowest point as four of their fans were killed in a bus crash on their way to Madrid. Goals from Florent Sinama-Pongolle, Ikechuckwu Uche and Emilio Viqueira will never be forgotten by Recre fans on a hugely-emotional day.
That Recre side included a young Santi Cazorla pulling the strings in the heart of midfield, and his starring role propelled them to a record, 8th-place finish in La Liga, which started a run of three consecutive seasons in La Primera. However, since their relegation in 2009, the club have never threatened to return to the top level. Off-field instability, debts and unrest at boardroom level have seen to that.
Last October, with Recre confirming that it was not in a position to pay any of its staff, over 10,000 took to the streets of downtown Huelva to protest about the running of the club. Their average attendance is less than 5,000 and, Saturday’s spike aside, it looks unlikely that the Andalusians can continue without drastic change.