Unionistas, the dream of football romantics
Unionistas de Salamanca, the 2B side who face Real Madrid tonight in the Copa del Rey in the small athletics ground located beside the El Helmántico stadium remind me of English outfit, FC United of Manchester, a club formed in 2005 by disenfranchised Manchester United fans after the Glazer family took the reins at Old Trafford. These fans adopted the old green and gold colours as a badge of protest before founding the new club and their initiative and stand against modern football had repercussion with supporters around the world. Fans in Spain at certain clubs adopted the green and gold scarves to show their displeasure with the direction of the game and this led to the creation of FASFE (Federación de Accionistas y Socios del Fútbol Español) a volunteer run organisation founded by José Ángel Zalba and inspired by the likes of Supporters Direct in the UK. FC United of Manchester now play in the Northern Premier Division, an equivalent of the Tercera in Spain.
Football in Salamanca
The origin of Unionistas de Salamanca is different but with a kindred spirit. When the historic UD Salamanca club went out of business, some tried to build the club up again using the reserve team as a base. Mexican millionaire Manuel Lovato was brought into the frame by businessman Agapito Iglesias and he purchased the El Helmantico ground. After a series of legal battles, they managed to change the name from Salmantino and use the name of ‘Salamanca CF UDS’ as the new identity for this incarnation of club in the city. In parallel, a group of supporters founded Unionistas de Salamanca, a club founded on a lineal structure with the day-to-day running of the club carried by fans on a volunteer basis. They maintain that their club is the legitimate ancestor of the wound up UD Salamanca and to this day, in the 23rd minute of every game they sing the hymn of the old club which was originally founded in 1923.
Both clubs started off in lower leagues and currently find themselves in the third tier of the game, the regional 2B. An intense rivalry exists between both institutions and this is one of the reasons why tonight's Copa del Rey game is not taking place at the 17,000 capacity El Helmántico, but at the 4,000 capacity 'Las Pistas' ground. Unionistas turned down the chance to cash in on the visit of Real Madrid by staying true to their core values and play the game at their modest installations. The 'Las Pistas' stadium last made national news in 1993 as Cuban athlete Javier Sotomayor achieved a height of 2.45m creating a world record in high jump that persists to this day. Unionistas qualified for this years Copa del Rey after their league showing in the 18-19 season and have already dispatched both Atlético Baleares and Deportivo la Coruña in earlier rounds. Today they welcome Gareth Bale and company and I hope they enjoy the spotlight which they richly deserve.
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