Villarreal’s history dates back to 1923, of course, but for many folks in Spain — and certainly beyond — the first time they really noticed Villarreal CF was when they were promoted to the Primera Division for the first time.
Promotion and relegation didn’t work then as it does now—the bottom two teams in La Liga were automatically relegated and replaced by the top two Segunda sides, the next two Primera sides went into a promotion playoff against the third and fourth teams in the Segunda.
Sporting Gijon set a new record for futility in the Primera, being relegated in March and getting only 13 points on the season. Mérida were relegated as well, while Oveido and Compostela went into the playoffs. (Only 8 of the current Primera sides were in the 1997-8 league).
The Segunda Division featured four teams that were well ahead of the rest. Alaves and Extramadura were promoted; Las Palmas and Villarreal finished on 73 points apiece (10 ahead of the next best) and the islanders finished third on goal difference. Villarreal thus qualified to play Compostela.
In the 1990’s, Villarreal had established itself as a mid-table (or lower) Segunda side, but change was to come. The previous owner of Villarreal CF, Pascual Font de Mora, hired Coach José Antonio Irulegui in 1996.had joined Villarreal in 1996.brought in Sr. Llaneza to manage the business and form a limited company. Sr. Fernando Roig became the new owner in 1997, and had an ambitious plan to reach the Primera.
The two-legged playoffs began at what was then El Madrigal, and produced a 0-0 draw. The second leg was in Compostela on May 24, 1998. As many Villarreal fans as could traveled to the match—many more gathered at the Plaza Mayor in Vila-real to follow the action.
Interestingly, Villarreal featured an all-Spanish starting XI in this match (Palop; Pascual, Serer, Roberto, Arregi; Ángel Luis, Antonio Díaz, Alberto Saavedra, Javi Prats, Iñaki; Paco Salillas). This wouldn’t happen again until a few weeks ago.
Villarreal began well with a goal off a short corner, and hit the crossbar with another chance, but Compostela equalized early in the second period. It was nerve-racking, and as always seems to happen, there was a corner with time almost gone. Every time I watch it I am astounded at (a) how open the Compostela player was and (b) how bad his header was....well, guess that’s why they finished in the relegation playoff zone. Villarreal never makes anything easy! The final whistle went, and Villarreal had qualified for the Primera on away goals.