Córdoba – Estadio Nuevo Arcángel

by Chris Clements | Posted on Monday, November 14th, 2011
Through the ages, the city of Córdoba has had its fair share of ups and downs. Roman and Islamic occupation saw the city’s stature grow, so much so that by 1000AD it was the largest city in the world with a population of 500,000. The decline and fall was rapid however and by the mid-sixteenth century, Córdoba was a backwater with little over 20,000 inhabitants. It’s back on its feet now and is a confident modern city with a fantastic old heart. The football clubs that have represented the city can never claim to have been the biggest in the world, nor do they score highly on heritage, but they certainly have had their share of highs and lows. So let’s go back to the 1920’s and the merger of the city’s top two sides, Real Sporting Fútbol Club de Córdoba and Sociedad Deportiva Electromecánicas, to form Racing Fútbol Club de Córdoba.
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The Estadio de Arcángel soon after opening

Racing reached the Tercera in 1931, by which time they were playing their matches at the Estadio de America, a decent sized stadium on the site of the city’s former military barracks. The club dropped back into the regional leagues before the start of the Civil War. Then in 1939, like many other clubs from large cities, but without pedigree, Racing was invited to take part in the  reformed second division. A fourth place finish in its first season saw Racing safely secure another year in the second tier, but as the leagues were restructured for the 40-41 season, the club was found wanting. An eleventh place finish saw Racing enter a single match play-off and this was lost 1-2 to Elche CF. In 1944, president and royalist José Ramón de la Lastra y Hoces successfully lobbied for the restoration of the the club’s royal pre-fix (albeit granted to  the former Real Sporting). A year later, the club upped sticks and moved to a new stadium, built by and rented from the club president. The Estadio del Arcángel was built close to the north bank of the Rio Guadalquivir and was opened on 8 September 1945 with a match against Sevilla. Racing had won promotion back to La Segunda the previous season and went on to spend seven of the next eight season in the second flight. Problems were brewing behind the scenes however.
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Estadio del Arcángel in the late 1950’s

With the passing of José Ramón de la Lastra y Hoces, the club debt grew to 1.5 million pesetas and unable to pay the rent to the family, the club moved out of the Estadio del Arcángel in 1953. They chose to share with a small club called Deportivo San Álvaro at the Estadio de San Eulogio, a municipal stadium on the south bank of the Rio Guadalquivar, about a kilometre south west of El Arcángel. The end was near for Racing however, as the 1953-54 season saw the club fail to break out of the Tercera. On 31 July 1954, a special meeting was convened and the club was wound-up. Deportivo San Álvaro, who had been formed in 1951, had reached the Tercera in 1953-54 and played against Racing in their final season. They took on the mantle of the City’s senior team, changing their name to Córdoba Club de Fútbol on 6 August 1954. Under new club president Antonio Cruz Conde, moves were made with the municipality to purchase the Estadio del Arcángel from the Lastra y Hoces family and on 4 February 1955, the ground was reopened with a friendly against Real Madrid. A year later, Córdoba won the Tercera title and promotion to La Segunda, just three seasons after Racing’s last appearance at that level.
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1971 and the Estadio del Arcángel finally gets some cover

Córdoba, in its new guise, was now better suited to La Segunda, finishing second in 1959-60. They met Real Sociedad for a place in La Primera and could not be separated over the two legged tie. A third match in Madrid finished 1-0 in favour of the Basques. Two years later, Córdoba won La Segunda title and with it a place in the top division for the first time. El Arcángel underwent extensive refurbishment during the summer of 1962 in preparation for it’s debut in La Primera. The north and east terraces were extended and a new terrace was added to the southern end of the ground, along with changing facilities in the south east corner. Either side of the south terrace stood towers, which may have been part of a grander plan, but frankly always looked unfinished. The original floodlights that had been installed in 1958 were upgraded and the new look arena had a capacity of 20,000. After a shaky start, Córdoba found its feet and finished as high as fifth in the 1964-65 season. It was still essentially a low-budget provincial club and after seven consecutive seasons in the top tier, Córdoba finished bottom of the league with just five wins. By the time the club made its final appearance in La Primera, the west side of El Arcángel had gained a roof, but the 1971-72 was another struggle and Córdoba finished 17th and was relegated.
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El Arcángel towards the end. The moat was added in 1981

It was the start of a slow decline. Six seasons in La Segunda petered out with relegation to Segunda B in 1978. There was a brief recovery with promotion back to the second tier in 1981, but the club hit rock bottom with two successive relegations and ended up in the Tercera for the 1984-85 season. The stay in the fourth level lasted just the one season and Córdoba saw out the rest of the eighties in Segunda B. By now, El Arcángel was coming towards the end of itself useful life. It had always been susceptible to flooding and the municipality decided in 1991 to build a new multi-sports stadium around 500 metres to the south of the old El Arcángel. This new stadium was only a little bit further away from the troublesome Guadalquivar, but was raised on a circular bank of land to avoid any repeat of flooding. Opened on 7 November 1993, The Estadio Nuevo Arcángel featured a curved cantilevered stand on the west side and not a lot else. The stand sat atop a single tier of shallow open seats that ran around the stadium. This tier was separated from the pitch by that pantomime villain of stadium design, an athletics track. The new stadium had a capacity of 15,280 and was not universally loved. In fact, the fans despised it.

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The instantly underwhelming Estadio Nuevo Arcángel in 1994

Unsurprisingly, the new stadium did not inspire Córdoba, as they muddled on in Segunda B. They did win the league in 94-95 & 96-97, but were undone in the play-offs by Sestao SC and Elche CF respectively. A third place finish in 1998-99 saw the club enter the play-offs and top a group featuring Cartagonova FC, Racing Ferrol and Cultural Leonesa. So after a sixteen absence, Cordoba were back in La Segunda and after a couple of season of staving off relegation, the club and the municipality decided to experiment with the stadium’s layout. Maybe taking their inspiration from Italy, where Cagliari did similar work to their Stadio Sant’Elia, temporary stands were erected at either end of the ground over the athletics track. The pitch was moved towards the west stand leaving the way open for the next major development of the stadium, a huge east Tribuna, which would form part of Madrid’s bid for the 2012 Olympiad. However, just as work was about to start, the plans received two massive body blows. First Córdoba managed to get itself relegated form La Segunda at the end of the 2004-05 season, then during the summer of 2005, Madrid lost out to London in the race to host the Olympics.

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A stadium of two halves, Estadio Nuevo Arcángel in 2006

Undeterred, Córdoba and the local municipality pressed on with the brave decision to completely redevelop the stadium. The first phase saw the completion of a two tiered east tribuna with a capacity of 8,000. This huge building dominates the skyline of the rather flat and featureless river bed area and incorporates an (empty) 8 story office block at the rear of the stand. In September 2007 and with the club back in La Segunda, work commenced on the north end of the stadium. A little over a year later, the twin deck stand was opened, featuring a large bank of white seats on the lower tier and a slim section of green seats upstairs. The two new stands link seamlessly on the lower tier, but the upper tiers are joined with some rather boxy fascia work on the top level. The south stand is identical to the north and was completed at the start of the 2011-12 season. Plans to replace the existing west stand have been shelved , so with a capacity of 25,000, this phase of the project is complete.

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The Arcángel at Christmas time. How apt!

Surprisingly, the Spanish National side has only ever played in Córdoba on the one occasion, a 1-0 friendly victory over Japan in April 2001 in what was the old configuration of the Estadio Nuevo Arcángel. The National Under 21 side paid a visit on 14 November 2011 for a qualifier against Switzerland and  were suitably impressed. The stadium is a world away from the bland and sterile Estadio Nuevo Arcángel of a decade ago, and after Córdoba won promotion to La Primera after a 42 year absence, Spain and the world can admire the stadium. Hopefully, it may not be too long before we see another all-conquering army descend on the city in the shape of La Roja.

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ESTADIOS DE ESPAÑA - STADIUMS OF SPAIN