At around midnight on Wednesday night, fans of soccer club Villareal jumped for joy and the streets of their city were suddenly awash with the team’s yellow jerseys. After nearly three hours of nail-biting tension, including a 22-shot penalty shootout, residents of Vila-real, a Valencian city of 51,000 people in Castellón province, streamed out from sidewalk cafés and their homes to celebrate the tiny team’s victory over giants of the game Manchester United, in the Europa League final.
Firecrackers were heard and a few fireworks streaked across the sky. The crowds were jumping up and down with joy, and there were chants of “Campeones, campeones…!” While many tried to keep their coronavirus face masks in place, for others the pandemic was the last thing on their minds, and there were hugs aplenty among the celebrations. The chosen venue for the fans was outside La Cerámica, Villareal’s stadium, which was bathed in a yellow glow like some kind of lighthouse calling to supporters. The game against the all-powerful Manchester United had finished with a 1-1 tie, leading to the agonizing penalty shoot-out that ended 11-10.
“Justice has been done!” shouted one man, while hugging his friends. “Finally, so many years and so many semifinals… Today has been a spectacular day,” said one youngster. “We have suffered a lot but we have done it with 11 penalties.” “It was a crazy game, but it was amazing!” exclaimed another. One member of the crowd was singing the club’s anthem, which starts with the lyrics: “The dream of an entire city…”
Despite the local coronavirus curfew at 1am, no one seemed keen to return home as the deadline approached. “If the curfew doesn’t allow for more, there’ll be more partying tomorrow, no doubt,” said one youngster as 1am arrived.
Some of the fans spoke about the president of the club, Fernando Roig, who is also the owner as well as counting on a significant stake in the Spanish supermarket chain Mercadona. Roig was last night returning to Spain after having taken a coronavirus test mandated by UEFA, the governing body of soccer in Europe. Roig recently recovered from Covid-19 and traveled to Gdansk on Tuesday evening on a private jet so he could attend the game in the Polish city, “complying with all of the medical requirements,” according to the club.
However, in the end the UEFA medical committee decided that not enough time had passed since his contact with the virus for the president to be part of the team’s bubble, according to the strict medical rules.
Today, Thursday, a bus carrying the Villareal players will be driving the streets of the city from 6.30pm onward, to celebrate their victory. Their final destination will be the club’s stadium.
English version by Simon Hunter.