I know a lot of folks have become Villarreal fans fairly recently, and why not? But you have likely seen the word penya (Valencian) or peña (Spanish), and wondered--what does it mean exactly? The answer is, roughly, a fan club or supporters' club, but it's something more than that.
Typically, penyas are organized on the basis of geography--so for example many of the small towns and villages near Vila-real have a penya of their own, usually named after the town they're from. Members usually meet in a local bar, there is a special night (often before the season starts) with a dinner where a club official and player show up for photos.
The local penyas collect small dues from their members, and pay a small fee to Villarreal CF to be an official penya. They get various benefits for that--penya members get some sort of priorities when it comes to tickets, away travel and the like, and they also get to display a banner in El Madrigal. Several times a year there will be special events--usually a paella lunch--before a home match that is put on for members of penyas.
Villarreal also has several foreign penyas. These, by virtue of distance, are much more informal, and often don't have "penya" in the name at all--though one, Penya El Madrigal, does, and in spite of its name hails from Slovakia. They were recently profiled by the official La Liga website, and you can see photos of some of the members and an article about the penya here.
I had the pleasure of meeting Simon Melnik, one of the organizers, in the US a couple of years ago and he told me that the penya is based in a town that's actually a sister city of Vila-real, in fact they both have international folk dance festivals and groups from Vila-real have come to Michalovce and vice versa. I did not however realize until reading this article that the presenter of "Slovakia's Got Talent" is a penya member. Way cool!!
Villarreal USA is a bit unusual, and you have to go back to around 2008 when Nicholas Holtz (who still occasionally posts on here) was living in the Baltimore area, started following the team and decided to set up a website devoted to it. At the time, Villarreal had just signed promising USA forward Jozy Altidore, and already had New Jersey native Giuseppe Rossi, so it seemed as though maybe Villarreal could develop an American fanbase.
Well, Altidore kinda fizzled out, and Rossi's injury and relegation didn't help; nor did the league's focus on Barca and Madrid when it came to promoting La Liga in America. Nonetheless, we're still here; Villarreal USA is still an official penya of Villarreal CF, though as an international penya, we don't have to pay dues since the team realizes we can't take advantage of most of the "perks". However, we don't try to hold penya meetings--we realize we are, more than anything else, a penya for English-speaking followers of Villarreal CF. We do, however, have a banner in El Madrigal, and we hope to continue and grow to the point where maybe we could get small groups of people together to watch matches and such.
One thing I should note--and some of you have already taken advantage of this--DO NOT HESITATE to call upon us for help if you are interested in seeing a match in El Madrigal. The club is always delighted when fans from abroad come to visit, and we can put you in touch with the necessary people to get you tickets and whatnot. And if you need to know how to get to the ground, how to get to Vila-real by train from Barcelona or Valencia, etc., let us know.
We are especially fortunate to have Robin Harris, a proud member of the Celtic Submari penya in Vila-real, among our "members" and he is keen to help with these sorts of things too. (I'll leave the whole story behind the Celtic Submari, and photos of its new "clubhouse", for another time).