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A view from the town of Vila-real

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Our VUSA blog member Thomas McIlroy is of course in Vila-real this year as part of his year abroad studies before returning to England, and he's become quite a Villarreal fan in addition to his beloved Fulham. I asked him to write something about the feeling in the town, and here it is. Thanks, Thomas!

Relegation: a view from Vila-real

If I’m honest, I don’t think anyone here truly expected Villarreal to go down. Even though we have been struggling all season, I think everyone always believed we would just pull ourselves away at the end.

Before the game, the atmosphere outside El Madrigal was electric, and inside too, the support was first-class, probably the best it’s been all season. There was hardly a spare seat in the house – something which hasn’t been the case for most of the games this season. Each fan was given two blow up sticks to make noise, and a piece of card to hold up as the players came out. There was a belief that we would survive.

As the match went on, the crowd got restless, but even with the news of Zaragoza’s goal, no-one was really worried, everyone believed that Rayo wouldn’t win and we would be fine. Then Falcao scored, and we found out about the Rayo goal, almost at the same time. Everyone was in shock, we couldn’t believe it.
The game just seemed to finish so quickly, and at the final whistle, there was just shock. Everyone was in shock. There was silence. I’d say that the majority of people were crying, and most had tears in their eyes, it was disbelief. Roig came onto the pitch, got some applause, but it was very muted.
Outside, no-one said anything, everyone just walked away in silence, in disbelief, not wanting to believe what had just happened.

If you haven’t been to Vila-real, it is hard to believe how much the football club means to the town. I had to do an investigation for my studies on identity in Vila-real. Nearly everyone who I spoke to for that investigation told me that the football team forms part of the identity in Vila-real. Having a team so successful meant and will carry on meaning so much for the poble. Everyone I know in Vila-real has been to El Madrigal, and everyone cares about the football.
Indeed, you can see how much Villarreal was a symbol to Vila-real if you take into account the jealousy from Castellón yesterday. People greeted Villarreal’s relegation by celebrating in the Castalia fountain. This weekend, I went to watch a Roda-Castellón Cadete match at the Ciudad Deportiva and the Castellón fans were chanting ‘Atlético de Madrid’. Needless to say, everyone around was saying ‘!qué fuerte!’.

Football does affect everyone here in Vila-real. I work for a school where at least 80 of the students are part of the Villarreal youth team – the school is next to the Ciudad Deportiva. I was speaking to one of my friends who plays for the youth team last night, and to say he was gutted would be an understatement. He was distraught. He described it as one of the worst days of his life. Since joining Villarreal, he had fallen in love with the Yellow Submarine, and naturally the relegation of your team hurts. He also knows many of the B team players, and is equally as disappointed for them, as their relegation is unjust after an impressive second half of the season. However, he also knows that for him, relegation isn’t good news. He expects heads to roll, and he expects that the youth team will clear out a lot of players – his friends, and he fears that he will be let go as well.

It’s currently part of the celebration season in Vila-real, with the celebrations of Sant Pasqual starting last Friday. Whilst the celebrations were in full swing on Friday and Saturday, last night they were very muted. It just didn’t feel right to be out partying when Villarreal, the symbol of the poble, had just been relegated. A friend went to her penya last night just after the game and said she found all the boys in tears.

Today, there is a strange atmosphere around the town. Everyone just feels like they’ve been kicked in the teeth, and although the Sant Pasqual celebrations are continuing, they feel hollow. People feel bruised. As well as disappointment, there has been anger, naturally, a lot of people have been blaming Borja Valero and Nilmar, and saying that the quicker the hijos de puta leave the club, the better. There is a feeling that Borja Valero and Nilmar, amongst others, don’t want to play for Villarreal, and the better the players that don’t want to play leave, the better, because we can build and come back stronger, with people that actually want to wear the shirt.

Everyone I speak to says the same thing, it’s a palo muy grande not only for the town, and for themselves on a personal level too. However, there is recognition that people need to get behind the team with support like there was yesterday to show that the fans will still be there, whatever happens to the Yellow Submarine, and it won’t be long until we return to where we belong.