It’s 12 degrees and raining. On both sides of the road all you can see is green. The grass, trees and moss of the fields, woods and gardens. I’m in a Celtic land on my way to see a football match. However, I’m in neither Scotland nor Ireland. I’m in Galicia and I’m on my way to see the region’s only representative in Primera Division, Deportivo de La Coruña.
Galicia is located in the north west of Spain. If you imagine a map of Spain, it’s the part above Portugal. It’s a region that doesn’t fit the stereotypical image of Spain. It’s generally known for its green landscapes and heavy rainfall. Its roots are Celtic, so instead of Spanish guitar and flamenco there are bagpipes and flutes. Despite the rain, the people are warm and welcoming and, for me at least, are more similar to the Portuguese than to Andalusians or Madrileños. Galicia’s proximity to Portugal has also influenced the region’s language and it is one of three Spanish regions with two official languages. Galician is probably more comprehensible to Portuguese people than to Spanish people. Within Spain the region is very famous but abroad it’s less known. However, to most European football fans, Galicia should be familiar. The region’s two main football teams, Deportivo de La Coruña and Celta Vigo were, until fairly recently, regulars in European competitions. That was perhaps Galicia’s golden period in football terms. Both Deportivo and Celta competed at the top end of La Liga and, helped by a healthy contingent of Brazilians, played attractive, attacking football.
Unfortunately, those days seem to have gone for the moment. Celta Vigo play in the second division and don’t look like getting promoted any time soon. That leaves Deportivo as Galicia’s only representative in the top league.
Deportivo’s stadium, the Riazor, has seen some famous nights. Deportivo’s destruction of AC Milan in the 2004 Champions League quarter final being up there with the best of them. Trailing 4-1 from the first leg in the San Siro, Deportivo came back to beat the Italians 4-0 in the Riazor. In those times, the stadium was known around Europe as a tough venue to visit and it’s not difficult to see why. Despite being modern, the stadium has character to it. Located right next to the beach, the stadium is surrounded by narrow streets, apartments and bars, making the pre match atmosphere more exciting. The stadium itself, a 35,000 seater, is completely enclosed with the crowd very close to the pitch. The atmosphere is cranked up by Deportivo’s Ultras who have decorated their part of the stadium with a series of impressive murals. The Deportivo Ultras are organized, colourful and noisy. They are definitely up there with the likes of Atletico Madrid, Sevilla and Athletic Bilbao. Some of the murals they have painted have a clear political message. These ones are dedicated to the left wing, Galician independence movement. The other murals are related to some of Deportivo’s legends and unsurprisingly they are all players from the modern era, such as Bebeto and Diego Tristan. When you look at the average age of the Ultras the majority of them are in their twenties and are therefore the generation of the Superdepor and Eurodepor. This was the name given to the Deportivo teams of both Bebeto and Tristan, the two most successful teams in the clubs 108 year history. This period lasted from around 1991 until 2005. As well as having international stars such as Rivaldo and Roy Maakay, Deportivo won their first and only league title during this period. They also won the Spanish Cup in the Bernabeu against Real Madrid during the Madrid giant’s centenary year. For the generation who grew up during this time, these memories will never go away. Deportivo challenged the best in Spain and Europe and were a team to be respected if not feared across the continent. Those times have gone for the moment but the legacy lives on and will almost certainly ensure a support base for generations to come.