Levante 1937

According to the Spanish football authorities, no cup competitions took place between 1936 and 1939. This claim is contested fiercely in one half of Valencia. Andy Brassell reports

Age doesn’t always guarantee respect. Levante, founded in 1909 and pointedly named after the entire region rather than just the city, are the older of the two Valencia clubs by nine years. Their history, however, is dominated by lower-division drudgery and the current season is only their fourth ever in La Primera. They are largely noted solely for Johan Cruyff’s short – and incongruous – spell in their colours in 1981, and for being coached by one of Spain’s more controversial imports, the spiky Bernd Schuster, during their last spell in the top flight.

Meanwhile, their juniors at Valencia’s Mestalla stadium have bagged a neatly symmetrical six league titles, six Spanish Cups and six European trophies. All this was after Levante had the grace to provide the opposition for the inauguration of the Mestalla in May 1923 (and to lose, of course). As Valencia plan their move from their ­55,000‑capacity home to a state-of-the-art, three-tier, 75,000-seat stadium to the city’s north-west, due to be ready in 2009, Levante continue to rough it in the retro-looking Estadi Ciutat de ­Valencia. In a two-team city, Levante are a very poor second indeed.

Worse still, the few triumphs they have pulled off down the years have gone largely unacknowledged. They claimed the ­Segunda A title back in 2004, gaining promotion to the top flight for the first time in 40 years in the process. Valencia, however, chose the same year to win not just La Liga but the UEFA Cup too. The one that really rankles, though, goes back way further than that. July will mark the 70th anniversary of Levante’s solitary major trophy win, that of La Copa de España Libre.

Levante had actually enjoyed a bit of luck to get into the competition in the first place. The cup was slated to be played between the top four in La Liga del Mediterráneo, which was set up after the start of the Spanish Civil War in 1936. This replacement for the suspended league competition was contested between clubs from Catalonia and Valencia. But anyone who imagined that ­commercially‑aimed tours of far-flung places and their like are a vagary of the modern era should think again. Champions Barcelona decided to give the cup a miss as they preferred to travel to Mexico and the US to play a series of exhibition matches – though the trip was aimed at raising money for the Republican war chest. Levante had only finished fifth in La Liga del Mediterráneo, but took Barcelona’s place in the cup.

The format of La Copa de España Libre consisted of a round-robin between the four qualifiers, who played each other home and away. For once, Levante got the better of Valencia, thumping them 4‑0 away in June 1937, before beating them 5-2 the following month back at Estadio de la Cruz. Levante finished top of the group and their cross-city rivals finished second, ahead of Espanyol and Girona, so the two met again in the final on July 18 in Barcelona. In keeping with such a historical red herring, Levante came out on top for a third time in the tournament, 1-0, to lift the cup. The winners wanted to celebrate in front of their own fans on their return, so Valencia generously opened the doors of the Mestalla on August 1 and hosted a friendly between the two. According to the local press, this game was played in a “very spirited” manner.

It seems totally in keeping with Levante’s unfortunate history that not only did they never get to defend their trophy, but the victory itself has never been officially acknowledged. There was no second Liga del Mediterráneo following the Nationalists’ victory at the Battle of Teruel in February 1938, which physically separated Valencia and Catalonia. In its stead Barcelona, Espanyol and eight others – including five more teams based in Barcelona – played in the Lliga Catalana in 1937-38. This ended incomplete, with Barcelona on top.

What’s more, if you look at any list of Spanish Cup winners (in all its guises – Copa del Rey, Copa del Presidente de la República, Copa del Generalísimo) you’ll see a gap between Real Madrid’s win in 1936 and Sevilla’s triumph in 1939, in which the cup competition “didn’t happen”. The Spanish football federation (RFEF) have always refused to include the 1937 cup in their ­statistics and historical archives.

Levante are understandably still pretty indignant about this. A number of appeals have been made to the RFEF, backed by fans, the press (notably Valencia’s sport daily Super Deporte) and even Valencia CF themselves. More recently, efforts were moved up a level further. In December 2004 it was announced that a group of granotas (“frogs”, as Levante fans are known) were prompting the parliamentary group Izquierda Unida to table a motion to the house. This urged “that the Secretary of State for Sport, together with the RFEF, recognises La Copa de la República of 1937 as legal and official to all (intents and) purposes, giving as valid the result of the final celebrated in Barcelona on July 18 of this (said) year (1-0), incorporating as winner and runner-up of said trophy Levante UD and Valencia CF respectively”. The motion came before the ­Spanish ­parliament in February 2005.  

This appeal was met with yet another refusal, even though the RFEF have always recognised Sevilla’s 1939 cup win – the first year in which the event was known as La Copa del Generalísimo. This is in spite of no clubs from Valencia, Catalonia, Madrid, Murcia or the Balearics being involved. The competition began that year in May, barely a month after the official end of the Civil War. Levante always point out that their cup was won in a region under legitimate and ­democratic rule at the time.

Another major anniversary of possibly one of the most intriguing – and politically sensitive – football tournaments of 20th-century Europe is just around the corner. Whispers are filling Levante internet forums that an announcement confirming that the cup is to be officially listed is imminent. Most granotas have waited too long to let a bit of hearsay make them go weak at the knees. But you can bet this isn’t the last 2007 has heard of “the forgotten cup”.

From WSC 243 May 2007. What was happening this month