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Know Your Enemies: Villarreal

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Villarreal might not have a major European honor to their name yet, but they've proven themselves to be a very dangerous side over the past dozen or so years on the continental stage. Let's get to know "El Submarino Amarillo."

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Note: So this KYE will be a bit different/longer than others. For one, Villarreal is a really interesting club, with some fascinating recent history. For two, I asked Allen from Villarrealusa for a couple of interesting facts about the club, and chipped in with many, many words on the subject (easily enough to fill a few posts).

Villarreal was founded in 1923 in the small city of Vila-real. How small? Around 50,000 people, and that small town feel has been integral to building a unique and dedicated fan base. I'll let Allen explain further:

The town is called Vila-real (in the Valencian language), the club, Villarreal (in Spanish).  And the town is 50,000 people, but feels smaller.  From the train station, you can walk through the centre of town to El Madrigal, on the outskirts,  in 20-25 minutes.   Imagine a town like Hereford with a successful club in Europe, and that's Villarreal.

The effects of that are pretty easy to see in our fan base--it's quite local, a mix of older town residents and youngsters who have grown up with the club, so to speak.  We tend to have a younger, more female, and I would say more sedate fanbase than the typical Spanish club.   Most people who follow the team outside Spain are like me--they started following the team when they had that Champions League semifinal run, or saw Marcos Senna play in Euro 2008.

The stadium officially dates from 1923, but it's pretty much all been redone starting in 2005 when Villarreal first qualified for Europe.  It holds roughly 25,000 people so is small by English standards, but then again, that's half the town!  We have about 19,000 season ticket holders.

The team is now famous for their distinctive yellow kits, but they wore white shirts with black shorts until 1947. Surely the decision to play in yellow was a well thought out plan to garner more local support, right? Well, no. Their supplier in Valencia simply sold out of white shirts. In fact, the only shirts they had left were yellow. They players approved of the new shirts, but opted for blue shorts instead of black, and the rest is history.

Despite being around for nearly a century, the club has only found domestic and continental success since 1998. In fact, the club did not ascend to the top flight until winning a promotion play-off following the 1997-98 season. What led to this sudden and unprecedented success? Money, of course! Fernando Roig, owner of the Spanish supermarket chain Mercadona, bought the club in 1997 and quickly turned their fortunes around.

The following August, they would make their La Liga debut against reigning European Champions Real Madrid at the Bernabéu Stadium. Welcome to big leagues, Villarreal. Los Blancos welcomed the new comers with a 4-1 tonking, and the season didn't get much better from there, with Villarreal finishing with 36 points and a ticket back down to the second division. Regardless, this was a team on the rise, and following the 1999-2000 season they were back in the top flight where they've remained for all but one season (2012-13).

It didn't take long for this plucky little club to make its way into European competition, earning its first qualification for the UEFA Cup (now known as the Europa League) in the 2003-2004 season. Villarreal were not content to merely participate, but made it all the way to the semifinals, losing to eventual champs Valencia. This first time out would start a pattern for The Yellow Submarines of not only participating in Europe, but excelling.

They followed up the semifinal finish with a quarterfinal run in 2004-05 and then made an even bigger splash the following season in their inaugural Champions League campaign. Villarreal mercifully dashed Everton's hopes of playing Champions League football in the qualifying round, and then went undefeated in the group stages, winning Group D and helping to eliminate Manchester United in the process. Eliminating the Toffees and Mancs in the Champions League? YOU HAD US AT "HELLO." And they weren't even finished! They beat Rangers and Inter Milan (both times on away goals) to advance to the semifinals, where they were finally eliminated by Arsenal (1-0 on aggregate).

Villarreal took a three year hiatus from Champions League action, returning in 2008-09, but advanced all the way to the quarterfinals where they were once again defeated by Arsenal. Prior to the current season, their last European action was in 2010-11, when they earned a qualifying spot in the Europa League after Mallorca's financial irregularities forced them to withdraw. Again, Villarreal were not just happy to squeak into a spot they wouldn't normally deserve. Instead, they won their group and advanced to the semifinals where they lost to eventual champions Porto. Based on past history alone, if Liverpool can win this tie, they should be able to win the whole enchilada paella.

For those keeping score at home, since 2003 Villarreal have made it to the semifinals in three of their five Europa League appearances, and to at least the quarterfinals in two of their two Champions League appearances. That's pretty good, I guess.

Anything else to add, Allen?

Villarreal and Glasgow Celtic have a friendly relationship--it started when we played them in the mid 2000's and has continued side, there is a fan club called the "Celtic Submari" (Celtic Submarine) that doubtless will bring some members to Anfield.

I can't say we have many traditions except for the yellow submarine thing, and Vila-real is in the center of the paella-eating region that is Valencia.  So supporters' groups sometimes put on a large paella party before a match.

Obviously the party is at Moreno's house on the return leg. Bring your hoverboard. As for "the yellow submarine thing" enjoy: