Sitting second-bottom of the League table may be considered a failure for most teams, but not for Llagostera. This tiny Catalan club have no right to even be in Spain’s Segunda Division, yet that is exactly where this team, from a town of 8,000 people in the Girona suburbs, finds itself for the second straight season.
When Llagostera travelled to Las Palmas on the opening day of last season, it was their first-ever match in Spain’s second tier. Ten years previously, they had been preparing for a season in the eighth level of Spanish football and prepared well. In the build-up to the 2004-05 season, Oriol Alsina, whose own playing career had been cut short by a knee injury, returned to coach the club he had taken from the ninth to the eighth tier in 1998, a remarkable achievement in itself. When he returned in 2004, Llagostera were still playing in the eighth tier and Alsina’s mandate was to avoid relegation, yet he had far greater ideas, and after climbing to the seventh level of the Spanish footballing pyramid in his first season, five further promotions followed over the next decade.
Alsina may not have been directly involved in the last of those promotions, given that he was forced to step away from the dugout in 2013 because he lacked the necessary licence to manage in the third tier, but he returned to the club as Coach in all but name, officially the assistant, at the beginning of their first season in the Segunda Division, and steered them to a ninth-place finish.
This season, he finally has his license and is the official Coach of the team, but the 2015-16 campaign has been far-less successful. Second-bottom of the table and eight points from safety, it has been an incredibly-tough second season at this level for Llagostera and relegation seems inevitable. It’s not only maths that isn’t on their side, but luck appears to have deserted them too, with Alsina’s team losing the Girona derby two weeks ago to a dubious late penalty, before conceding a similarly-late equaliser against Elche last weekend.
However, it will not be a surprise to see Llagostera relegated. The only surprise is that they lasted this long in the Second Division. Their rise through the divisions was not backed by a Russian oligarch or by Middle Eastern oil money, rather it was completely self-funded. There was not a single euro in the club’s transfer budget upon promotion, given than any extra television money sent their way was used on increased player wages as a result of turning professional and the rent for the Palamos Costa Brava stadium they had been forced to move into, considering their own stadium of just one stand did not meet the League’s requirements. The increased revenue was also needed to pay travel costs, now that Llagostera were playing in a non-regionalised division for the first time in their history. The aforementioned trip to play Las Palmas was, therefore, one of Llagostera’s largest expenditures of that season.
The good news, however, is that the club return to the third tier in a much-stronger position. It’s even an overachievement for them to play third-tier football, but their two seasons at the level above have helped improve their facilities, reputation and bank balance. They may not have been able to become La Segunda regulars, but they now have an opportunity to consolidate a place in Segunda B.