Ciudad de Murcia have been taken over and relocated in the manner of Wimbledon moving to Buckinghamshire – while their fans have been ignored, writes Phil Ball
When I was a kid, a mate nicked a bike that was propped up on a lamp-post. I asked him why and he replied: “It’s not tied up. It’s mad not to nick it.” It was a brutal sort of logic, but I shrugged and let him get on with it. I’d forgotten about the incident till this summer, when Carlos Marsá, a 57-year-old industrialist from Granada, bought the shares, footballing rights and contracts of Spanish second-division club Ciudad de Murcia, and changed them into his own Granada 74, thereby effecting an MK Dons-like take-over – or, more prosaically, nicking the bike. Needless to say, as with Wimbledon, various bodies, among them UEFA, have shrugged their shoulders and let him get on with it.
Marsá founded Granada 74 back in – you guessed it – 1974, and cannot therefore be accused of being a fly-by-night speculator. Ciudad de Murcia, 145 miles east, were only founded in 1999 and had risen with dizzying speed to finish fourth in Segunda A last season, but had an owner keen to cash in on this unlikely success. Quique Pina, a 38-year-old who had made his money in advertising, allowed Marsá to buy his club for €27 million (£19m), a wiping out €7m of accumulated debt and releasing the rest for Pina to invest in Cádiz, another club looking for a buyer but with a fan base, history, ambition and potential way in advance of anything Ciudad could ever have dreamed of, despite their rise through the leagues.
The city of Murcia, in the deep south-east of Spain, already had Real Murcia, a much older institution dating back to 1908. They have just been promoted back to the top flight and have a much bigger stadium than their now defunct neighbours, Ciudad. They also had more fans and 17,000 socios (members), as opposed to Ciudad’s 3,500. Quique Pina’s big excuse was that the local municipal government would not allow his club to build a bigger stadium (freeing land to build 400 flats on the old site) because they had never “accepted him”. So he’s sold out to Marsá, in a deal that promoted Granada 74 two divisions over the summer – albeit with 12 ex-Ciudad players – and plenty of controversy following in its wake.
For starters, Granada 74 were one of three semi-pro sides in the city, ground-sharing with the much older Granada FC. But, on their purchase of Ciudad de Murcia, the local authorities have refused permission for them to continue, and they have had to move to Motril, 30 miles south. As Marca put it, it “remained to be seen” how many supporters would make it from Granada to Motril, ignoring the fact that Ciudad de Murcia fans were even less likely to drive over. Wimbledon to Milton Keynes? A short stroll in comparison.
Had Ciudad de Murcia not lost out on the third-place promotion spot last season (occupied by Real Murcia) it seems rather less likely that the takeover would have been sanctioned. The move was opposed by the FEF (the Spanish Football Federation) but approved by the LPF (the League authority). The FEF took it to UEFA, upon which UEFA ceded the jurisdiction of the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne who pronounced it legal.
Spain being the natural home to institutional disputes, the rumour has it that the LPF only backed the takeover to cock a snook at the authority of Angel Villar, president of the FEF for the last 20 years and a man with more enemies than friends. The subsequent promotion of Granada 74 and the disappearance of Ciudad have been mortal blows to his authority – a fact much more commented on by the press than the fact that a club have been moved 150 miles. UEFA were obviously uncomfortable with the case, but were allegedly powerless to act because of the LPF’s intervention.
Depressingly, no one in Spain seems to give a monkey’s for the 3,500 Ciudad fans, although some of them have formed CF Ciudad de Lorqui, founded from the ashes of EMD Lorqui, a moribund part-time club situated in a town 23 miles from Murcia. So hope springs eternal and the fans are fighting back. Ciudad de Lorqui kick off in the regionally based third division in a ground that holds 2,000, dreaming of beating Granada 74 in a derbi before too long.
The spirit of economic laissez-faire is still alive and well in Spain, although some prefer to call it turning a blind eye. In this case, however, the FEF at least acted more honourably than the English FA – in the original case of Wimbledon – by opposing the Ciudad move, whatever their motives. The bike has been nicked, but its owner has received handsome compensation. Around Europe, few people will have heard of Ciudad de Murcia. That could easily change in the future when this sorry case turns itself into an awkward precedent.
From WSC 248 October 2007