In the summer of 2009, Jordi Masip, a Barcelona keeper since the age of 15, left the club he had been loaned out to. The fourth-tier side was playing only its second season and had been relegated both times. UE Vilajuïga would play in the fifth tier.
Except that they wouldn’t play at all.
Since 1919, UE Figueres had been a modest club in the north of Catalonia. Well, not completely modest - they had a few great moments. In 1986 they debuted in the second division for the first time in their history. Their greatest moment came in the 1991-92 season where they came third, and qualified for a promotion playoff against Cádiz, but lost 3-1 on aggregate. It was a team of such legends as Toni, Pere Gratacós, Comas, Tab Ramos, Luis Cembranos, Alejo Indias, Altimira, Tintín Márquez, Tito Vilanova and García Pitarch.
But maybe their greatest moment was in 2001-02, when they defeated Barcelona in the Round of 64 of the Copa del Rey, then went on to beat Osasuna, Novelda - the team that would go on to beat Barcelona in the next edition of the Copa del Rey themselves - and Córdoba to reach the semifinals of the Copa del Rey. They became the first Segunda B side to do so, and were only beaten by a Depor team who were La Liga title holders and went on to win the cup, defeating a Real Madrid side that was so expected to win it had the confetti ready to celebrate it’s 100th anniversary on the 100th anniversary of the Copa del Rey.
Over the next few years UE Figueres would consolidate as a Segunda B side. There were no serious pushes for promotion but there were no scares of going down either.
Then, suddenly, life as a Figueres fan changed.
Sports betting company Miapuesta.com acquired the club as a majority shareholder in 2006. Enric Flix, the manager and founder of the company, became the chairman of the club, and changed the club’s name to Unió Esportiva Miapuesta Figueres.
A year later, citing the lack of social support that the club had in Figueras, Flix announced its intention to move the club to the town of Castelldefels, and rebrand the club as Unió Esportiva Miapuesta Castelldefels.
On the 28th of June, 2007, in a controversial shareholder meeting, Flix asserted its majority stake to approve the transfer and change of name of the club. However, some of the minority shareholders were dissatisfied and launched legal action, requesting the annulment of such a change.
After a complicated back-and-forth, the RFEF authorized the participation of Unió Esportiva Miapuesta Castelldefels in the Segunda B. This decision, although recognising Unió Esportiva Miapuesta Castelldefels as legal heir of UE Figueres, actually involved the disappearance of UE Figueres.
88 years of history - gone. Just like that.
In one year, a club had gone from being perfectly normal, debt-free, with a history glamorous enough to have Tito Vilanova as a player and humbled a coach such as Carles Rexach, to just disappearing because of a stupid sports betting website.
Want to know what happened to that team? I’ll summarise in one paragraph:
Took the team, took another team called UE Castelldefels and made it it’s reserve team, stole their logo, slapped Miapuesta.com on it and called it the official logo of Unió Esportiva Miapuesta Castelldefels, got relegated to the Tercera and as a result got UE Castelldefels relegated to the regional leagues, ditched UE Castelldefels as their reserve team, then moved to Vilajuïga, called the club UE Vilajuïga, made a new logo that looked like a cartoon drawing more than a logo, brought in youngsters like Jordi Masip on loan and Víctor Rodríguez, got relegated again, then dissolved the club in 2009 after a long, proud, two-year history.
You know what? No comments from my side. Guess the finger on my hand will ya?
Luckily, there is a ray of light in this depressing story.
A few weeks after the relocation of UE Figueres to Castelldefels, the platform for small shareholders decided to rebuild the club, named Unió Sportiva Figueres after reaching an agreement with Enric Flix to give them the distinctive historical entity so as to retain its 88-year history. And for the 2007-08 season the new club, chaired by Pere Aguado, born from scratch, started competing again.
But since it was born from scratch, it had to compete from the lowest tier again. The ninth tier of the Spanish league.
In two months, a club had gone from competing in the third division, disappearing, and then being refounded six divisions lower.
But UE Figueres have not given up - the new one, that is. In their first season they won promotion, after winning the league, in a brilliant campaign in which they won 100 points from 34 games, scoring 194 goals and conceding 22. Marcel·lí Coto had guided the team to the eighth tier, and would guide them to the seventh tier in the next one. And then to the sixth in the next.
Remember Arnau Sala? He took Figueres to the fifth division in the very next season, despite finishing second, two points behind Ripollet. On the last day they lost the chance to be champions, succumbing 0-1 against l'Horta even though Ripollet also lost 3-1 against Canyelles. And, and I think you know what’s coming, Arnau took UE Figueres to the fourth division in the very next season.
Five seasons, five promotions. No sports betting company will let you bet on that. I’m guessing Miapuesta.com will take a pass too.
Spare a thought for UE Castelldefels. No glamorous history, no big names or any big moments. It has never played professional football and probably never will, it has never even competed in the Segunda B, it’s a stable Tercera club and always will remain as such.
But it is the club of the city - a city that is known for being quiet, cozy and serene, which is why it is the preferred residence of many famous sportspersons (Luis Suárez, for starters). And for some team to take that honour away from you, and even steal your identity in the process, is shameful.
Gladly, the will of many overcame the will of few. The will of people who cared about others overcame the will of people who cared about themselves.
This match-up is weird. Maybe because this is a match-up between two clubs whose fate was intertwined in ridiculous and disgraceful ways. Possibly because the two teams on the pitch are just stable mid-table Tercera teams and the outcome may not mean much in the grand scheme of things.
But definitely because one club, against it’s own wishes, ended up in the city of another.
Read more about the UE Figueres court decisions here.