He came through the youth ranks at Real Madrid and won the Champions League with ‘Spanish’ Liverpool, but now Antonio Núñez, along with his team mates at Recreativo de Huelva, is facing the toughest challenge of his career. The 37-year-old is still active and took part in Recre’s 2-0 win over Marbella in front of a sell-out crowd yesterday, but the situation in Huelva, at Spain’s oldest football club with 126 years of history, is cause for great concern.
The southern side, burdened with massive economic problems, recently sent out an SOS and at one point looked close to extinction. Recreativo have somehow built up debts of close to 22 million euros – most of that relates to unpaid tax and social security arrears together with the corresponding fines and penalties imposed by Spain’s Inland Revenue. The club’s president and maximum shareholder Pablo Comas, who owns a 75% stake in the club has basically washed his hands of the situation, but is standing his ground over offers to buy his controlling stake.
“The situation at the club has been worrying for a very long time”, Núñez told AS when we spoke to him this weekend. “Many workers at the club have gone months without being paid and there has been talk of the club folding... Last month, the fans started a movement to save us and so right now, the general mood is one of unity and hope”.
Núñez detailed Recreativo’s position: “The club owes about 22 million euros but our account has been frozen by the Tax Agency. Initially, we had agreed a repayment plan to clear our debts but after missing a payment, Hacienda won’t agree to another one. It means that we have no income at all, even from sponsors”, he explained.
In spite of all this, Núñez says those at the club and the fans have never lost hope that the situation can be turned around. He, along with the rest of the squad have been amazed at the support they’ve received, as nobody would like to see the country’s oldest football club enter into administration or disappear altogether.
Recreativo hope that their financial problems can be eased once they find a new owner. Only then will the club will then be able to restructure their debts. Two weeks ago Comas rejected an offer of six million euros for his controlling stake but according to Núñez, a new, improved bid is being prepared and could be launched this week. Simultaneously, the public prosecutor’s office have opened investigation into how Comas actually acquired his controlling share of the club, whether he leveraged loans against the club’s assets as well as other operations which need to be clarified.
Núñez explained, “It’s going to be difficult until we can get someone else in and sort a plan of action out for our creditors. Recre Trust have been helping since last year, but it’s not just a question of money because the debt’s too big, it’s impossible”.
In the meantime, the historic Recre have been depending on local support and that of the Spanish football community. “Everyone is helping however they can – and not just by donating money. The reaction has really been incredible. Initiatives have been started – such as pricing tickets for home games at just one euro – the first time the idea was introduced (against Granada B), tickets had sold out by the end of the morning,” Núñez explained. “But people are helping in other ways – for example there is a group of students who have donated medical supplies, others have paid for petrol which goes towards the team’s travel expense for away games. Everyone has lent a hand. By selling out the Nuevo Colombino, we are able to fund our away trips and pay the match officials; all of that comes from gate receipts”.
While it’s been tougher than ever off the field, on it, Recre have been enjoying better fortunes. “The first thing we have to do is make sure we don’t get relegated and fortunately the team’s in a really good dynamic”, says Núñez. Recre are 12th in the table with six games remaining – three of them at home including the last game of the campaign against Linares.
So for those who don’t live in Huelva, what can they do to help? “The best way is to sign up to become a Socio (club member) which anyone can do through the club’s web page – everyone is welcome”, Núñez concluded.
Anyone interested in helping Recreativo can also do so through Recreativo Supporters Trust: www.recretrust.com