In the late 1970s, Gonzalo Alonso was president of Real Valladolid and he had an eye for an opportunity. With his beloved club on the verge of returning to La Primera after a sixteen-year absence and the World Cup coming to Spain, Alonso set about lobbying both the Spanish Football Federation and the local municipality. First up, he wanted Valladolid to be a host at Mundial 82. Next, with no realistic chance of redeveloping their antiquated Estadio José Zorrilla, Alonso wanted a new stadium. Well thanks to his persuasive manner and commitment, Valladolid did host three matches in the 1982 World Cup in the only purpose-built stadium at that year’s finals.
The municipality identified land to the west of the city, around 2km from their existing stadium. A budget of 700 million pesetas was agreed, with significant grants coming from the National Sports Council and the Spanish Federation. Work began in November 1980 and little over a year later on 20 February 1982, Valladolid played host to Athletic Bilbao in a league match that they won 1-0. It also had the honour of hosting the final of the Copa del Rey in April of that year before France, Czechoslovakia and Kuwait rolled into town for España 82. At the time of the World Cup, the stadium consisted of a single open tier that curved around the pitch, with two identical covered stands on the east and west sides. The capacity for the World Cup matches was 29,990 and the three matches attracted good crowds.
Standing at over 700 metres above sea level on an exposed plain, the stadium earned the nickname El Estadio de la Pulmonia – the stadium of pneumonia. The two stands acted like a wind tunnel, so in 1984, the two side cantilevered roofs were continued round to the north side to form a horseshoe. Rather than continue the seating, three tiers of private boxes, 120 in total, were built with a row of seats at their base. This enclosed the arena, but the wind still had a trick up its sleeve. On 25 July 1986, an 80 kph gust lifted the new roof off of its frame and dropped it in the car park behind the stand. The replacement is built of sterner stuff and has been designed to withstand winds of up to 150 kph. Even a Castilian winter doesn’t get that severe. With the additional stand and the reduced media seating, the capacity rose to 37,500 (26,500 seated).
As one would expect after such a lengthy absence, Real Valladolid took time to find their feet in the top division, fighting tooth and nail to achieve a series of mid-table finishes. They did achieve their only national honour in 1984 when they won the short-lived League Cup, with a 3-0 aggregate victory over Atletico Madrid. League performances improved and sixth place was achieved in 1988-89, a year when they also reached the final of the Copa del Rey, losing 0-1 to Real Madrid at the Vicente Calderón. The steady growth ended abruptly in 1992 when the club was relegated to La Segunda. The stay in the second division was a brief one, with Real Valladolid securing the runners-up position in 92-93.
With one or two exceptions, the club spent the next decade staving off the threat of relegation, before the inevitable drop occurred at the end of the 2003-04 season. This time there would be no immediate return, with the club recording sixth and tenth place finishes in 04-05 & 05-06 respectively. The 2006-07 team, however, was made of sterner stuff. Real Valladolid remained unbeaten for 29 matches and secured promotion back to La Primera with eight matches to spare, a record for La Segunda. There followed three seasons of battling at the bottom of the league before the club dropped back to La Segunda in May 2010. Following the heartache of elimination through the promotion play-offs in 2011, Real Valladolid used the same route a year later and successfully navigated their way past Cordoba & Alcorcón, to regain a place back in La Primera.
Structurally, little has changed at Estadio Nuevo José Zorrilla since the roof blew off, or rather the new roof went on in 1986. The stadium was converted to an all-seated arena in 1995 and the capacity dropped to the current level of 26,512. La Selección first played at the stadium on 11 March 1992, when 30,000 turned up to see a 2-0 victory over the USA. They returned in 1997 & 2006 for full houses in matches against the Czech Republic and Ivory Coast. Today, the stadium is a bright arena, modern in design if not infrastructure. Its horseshoe layout reminds me of a mini version of the old Cardiff Arms Park and its banks of purple and white seats genuinely add character to the stadium (Why do so many clubs go for neutral colours?). Whilst there is nothing radical from a design perspective, architect Ricardo Soria got the fundamentals absolutely spot on. There is not a bad seat in the house, the pitch is raised to allow drainage into the surrounding moat and even a medium-sized crowd generates a great atmosphere. Behind the main west stand is Real Valladolid’s training ground where the B team play their matches in front of a few hundred fans perched on a Toblerone shaped stand (It’s a missed advertising opportunity in my book!).
For a period of time, it appeared that the stadium would undergo major redevelopment. The Valladolid Arena was originally conceived as part of Spain’s failed 2018 World Cup bid. However, the club & the municipality looked into plans for the redevelopment of the stadium and area immediately around it. The principal changes proposed the demolition of the private boxes at the north end of the ground and a single bank of seating built in its place. Private boxes would then be built at the southern end, enclosing the stadium for the first time. Finally, the pitch would be lowered and an extra ring of seating installed. As a result, the capacity would increase to 40,000. A 12,000 seat indoor arena would be built on the club’s current training facilities, which in turn would be relocated to the north-west of the site. The ubiquitous shopping mall and leisure complex would also feature. All this would give the club and the city of Valladolid one of the most advanced sports/leisure complexes in the whole of Spain… but to date, nothing.
In the meantime, the club and its supporters will have to content themselves with new seating. In the summer of 2013, the club replaced the bands of faded purple & white seats with predominantly purple seats, that match the shade on the club shirts. Improvements to the pitch drainage and surface, the first in over a decade, were carried out in the summer of 2018 following Real Valladolid’s promotion back to the top tier after a four-season absence. A year later, and further work saw the pitched lowered and the moat removed, which allowed additional seating, taking the revised capacity to 27,618.