Alicante – Estadio José Rico Pérez
The Estadio José Rico Pérez is a monument to the visionary President of Hércules CF, who saw in the early 1970’s that Alicante was at the centre of the Costa Blanca’s economic boom, and wanted his beloved club to be a part of it.
José Rico Pérez began his presidency in 1971, and so would begin the most successful period in the club’s history. Pérez made his fortune as a builder and was instrumental in the club’s return to La Primera in 1974. He also negotiated a deal with the local council that saw the sale of the club’s home, Campo de La Viña, which in turn funded the building of the stadium that carries his name. La Viña had one last glorious day, when Hércules beat Córdoba 2-0 on 19 May 1974 to earn promotion back to La Primera. On 3 August 1974, Hércules played host to FC Barcelona in a friendly to mark the opening of the Estadio José Rico Pérez.
The new stadium took 11 months to build and had an initial capacity of 30,000. It had on its southern side a two tiered stand with blue and white seats on the lower tier and an over-hanging terraced upper tier or anfiteatro. The eastern & northern sides featured a sizeable sweep of terracing, whilst at the western end stood an even larger terrace. Inspired by their new home, Hércules achieved their highest ever finish in La Primera with fifth place in 1974-75. The club almost matched that achievement a year later, finishing in sixth place. The next six seasons brought diminishing returns and Hércules was eventually relegated to La Segunda on the final day of the 1981-82.
In the mid-70’s the ever resourceful José Rico Pérez persuaded to Spanish World Cup Committee that Alicante, the Gateway to the Costa Blanca, would be an ideal host city for the 1982 finals. The stadium would require further development and Señor Pérez dipped into his considerably deep pockets and financed the building of a huge extension to the north terrace, that would become known as the Grada Mundial del Tejero (Terrace on the Roof of the World}. With a capacity of 38,700, Alicante hosted two group matches featuring Argentina, El Salvador and Hungary, as well as the Third Place match between Poland and France. You can read more about the stadium during España 82 here. The stadium has continued to host international football, with the Spanish National using it on seven occasions, drawing the first match against Hungary in March 1977 and winning on every visit since. La Selección will return for the first time in three years when they play England on 13 November 2015.
The completion of the redevelopment in the spring of 1982 coincided with the relegation of Hércules to La Segunda. Two seasons later they were back in La Primera, but José Rico Pérez was no longer president, having to stand down due to ill health. Without his guidance and money, Hércules fell on hard times and by 1988 they were playing in Segunda B. Five seasons at this level saw the debts grow and when they returned to La Segunda in 1994, the club’s debts stood at 575 million pesatas. The only option was to sell the stadium to the municipality. The mid-nineties saw a one season return to the top flight, but by 1999 Hércules were back in Segunda B.
In 2001, city rival Alicante CF was promoted to Segunda B and with their own Villafranqueza ground not suitable for use, they moved into Estadio José Rico Pérez. It was not a comfortable relationship, with Hércules fans resenting the presence of their smaller neighbours. The few Alicante CF fans that did attend matches at the José Rico Pérez enjoyed the experience. They even customised the stadium on match days by covering Hércules CF crests and strategically placing sacks over the white seats that spelt “Hércules CF” in order to spell “Alicante CF”. In 2007, a year after Hércules returned to La Segunda, the directors of the Hércules CF bought back the stadium from the Municipality. They did show Alicante CF some grace, for they also reached the second tier for the 2008-09 season and continued to play at the José Rico Pérez.
After a 14 year absence, Hércules returned to La Primera for the 2010-11 season. Alicante CF move out and back to a redeveloped Villafranqueza. The Estadio José Rico Pérez was converted into a 30,000 all-seat stadium as part of a €45m face-lift of the stadium and surrounding sports city. Work on the stadium included the installation of new seats, press facilities, improved floodlighting and a new pitch. The stay in the top tier was marked by problems on and of the pitch, and the club found itself back in La Segunda after just one season. Worse was to follow in 2014, when Hércules dropped back to Segunda B. With cross-city neighbours and former tenants Alicante CF folding in May 2014, it may just be that the long-term survival of football in Alicante is the club’s next and most important herculean task.