There have been many examples in the past couple of decades, of a club’s move to a new stadium bringing about an upturn in its fortunes. More often than not, the more comfortable surroundings and improved income are matched by a renewed vigour on the pitch. Then, every so often you see an example that goes spectacularly wrong. Real Oviedo’s move to the new Estadio Carlos Tartiere is one such case that led to a decade long decline.
With the old Estadio Carlos Tartiere and its 16,500 capacity proving to be too small for life in La Primera, the club, the municipality and the Asturian Government agreed to build a new stadium. A site half a mile to the west of the old stadium was identified and a design competition held. Architects Carlos Buxadé Ribot, Joan Margarit Consarnau and Emilio Llano were successful with their proposal of a 30,000 seat, covered arena. The design took into account the need for a more seating, suitable cover, corporate and match day income, as well as use of the facility during the rest of the week, with the building of office space in the four corner towers. Unfortunately, due to the height of the stands and the location being set up to 30 metres lower than much of the surrounding land, it didn’t take into account the fact that it would be practically impossible to maintain a suitable playing surface. Work started in late 1998 with an initial budget of 6 billion pesetas or 35 million euros. Problems were immediately encountered with the poor sub-soil, which meant that the original plans for the foundations had to be revised. The land had also been contaminated by the former ceramic tile factories that had previously occupied the site. As a result, costs escalated and the final build came in just short of 8 billion pesetas or 47 million euros.
The problems with the pitch became apparent as early as the first match, when Real Oviedo drew with UD Las Palmas on 17 September 2000 on a surface that tore-up alarmingly. Three days later the stadium was officially inaugurated with a friendly match with Partizan Belgrade. Whilst home form in the 2000-01 season was at best average, it was Oviedo’s away form that led to their downfall. A lamentable 9 goals were scored on the road and a total of 14 defeats incurred. The fight for survival went to the last match, in part thanks to a rare away win at the Camp Nou in week 36, but a 4-2 defeat away to Real Mallorca condemned the club to relegation to La Segunda for the first time in 13 seasons. Two weeks before the club’s fall, La Selección played a World Cup qualifier against Bosnia Herzegovina at the new stadium on a newly laid pitch and won 4-1. Oviedo made a strong start to the 2001-02 season and occupied the promotion spots at the halfway point, but a poor second half to the season saw the club finish seventh. With no immediate return, Oviedo slipped into a sharp decline, finishing 21st in La Segunda in the 02-03 season. If relegation was not bad enough, the players and staff had gone unpaid for much of the season and with the debts still outstanding on the July 31st deadline, Oviedo was demoted to the Tercera on 3 August 2003.
The club’s future was thrown into doubt following the relegation, with the municipality refusing to back-up an earlier election promise to help bail the club out. They preferred an option that would see Real Oviedo fold and another club, Futbol Club Astur take on the mantle of the city’s senior team. FC Astur had also benefited from council funds, albeit substantially less when it moved to the Campo Hermanos Llana, which had been built across the parking lot from the Estadio Carlos Tartiere. With the backing of then-mayor Gabino de Lorenzo, FC Astur changed its name to Oviedo Astur Futbol Club, or the intentionally foreshortened Oviedo AFC and adopted the same colours of the elder club. The council tried to evict Real Oviedo from the Estadio Carlos Tartiere and launched a campaign to drum up support for the newly-monikered Oviedo AFC. The politicisation of the issue backfired and rallied fans to support the ailing club, even though it had been shorn of most of its professional staff and was playing in the regional Tercera. Despite starting the season with a six-point penalty, Real Oviedo won the 03-04 Tercera title and attracted an average home attendance of over 10,000. A crowd of 16,573 attended the home match against its new nemesis, Oviedo AFC. There was to be no fairy-tale ending, however, as Real Oviedo fell to Galician minnows Atletico Arteixo in the final of the playoffs.
The Tercera title was won again in 2004-05 and this time the playoffs were successfully navigated with wins over FC Coruxo and Real Avila. The following season was the club’s first in Segunda B for over 25 years and a reasonable seventh-place finish was earned. The 2006-07 season was a disaster, however, with instability in the boardroom, manager’s office and on the pitch. The club recorded its lowest ever win ratio and was relegated back to the Tercera. Any momentum gained in the past couple of years appeared to have evaporated. Bances Damaso Alvarez was appointed as president in June 2007 and he, in turn, hired former Barcelona player and TV pundit Carrasco as coach. Results were good enough to earn another Tercera title in 07-08 but relations between the coach and the rest of the club were strained. This came to a head when Oviedo lost 1-4 to Caravaca in the first leg of the playoffs and Carrasco insulted the travelling support. He was fired before the second leg and Oviedo nearly turned the tie around before losing 5-6 on aggregate. The club dominated the Tercera in 08-09 earning 103 points and scoring 100 goals. In the playoffs, Oviedo was matched with Real Mallorca B and after a pair of 1-0 victories for the home sides, the match went to penalties. Oviedo triumphed 5-6 on penalties and was back in Segunda B. There followed a few seasons were Oviedo challenged at the top end of Segunda B but lost out in the playoffs to Pontevedra CF in 2009-10 and Eibar in 2012-13.
Right, let’s have a look at the stadium. If you walk from the city centre towards Parc Oeste, you almost creep up on the stadium, as it’s sunken into a hollow. From here you actually gaze upon the roof, an expanse of blue sheet metal, only broken by a dozen white cable supports that puncture the cover they support. In each corner, still under the blue roof, sit office blocks that house a variety of municipal services as well as the club offices. This ensures that the building is used on practically every day of the year. To the north and across the car park, is a small municipal football ground. This is the Campo Hermanos Llana, home to Astur CF, who ditched their Oviedo AFC title in 2007 and returned to their original name. Once inside the stadium, the first thing that strikes you is the height of the stands, which remind me of a mini San Siro. The next thing is how grey everything is. What a disappointment! How much better would the interior look with bands of blue and white seats, instead of all the neutrality? The two side stands are made up of two large tiers of seats with a wide concourse between the upper and lower tiers. The end stands also feature two tiers, the lower on a scale with the side stands, but the upper being much smaller. In the north-west corner, on the concourse between the lower tier and one of the office units, stands a bust of former president and club icon Carlos Tartiere.
Having commissioned Juan Junquera to design the daring main stand at the old stadium, I’m sure Carlos Tartiere would have been impressed by the scale of the new arena. It is a remarkable structure, combining style, comfort and that rare thing in a modern all-seater arena, atmosphere. Striking from above and intimidating from within, it does, however, have a fatal flaw. Like a supermodel with a wonky eye, the stadium cannot be taken seriously whilst the playing surface remains pudding-like. Maybe the answer lies in the next generation of artificial pitches because until then, maintaining a natural surface in the stadium will prove to be an expensive and probably fruitless exercise.
As for Real Oviedo, their decade of misery finally drew to an end in 2015 with promotion back to La Segunda. However, they very nearly didn’t make it at all. With new owners and supporter presence on the board, the club made a desperate appeal in October 2012 to raise €1.9m just to keep the club afloat. The response was overwhelming, as football fans from around the globe bought shares in this historically important outfit. This was a touching gesture from the wider football community towards a club that has given us the likes of Isidro Lángara, Santi Cazorla, Michu and Juan Mata. (Cazorla, Michu & Mata all bought shares in the club). In recognition of the global response to save Real Oviedo, the club has dedicated Gate 19 at the Carlos Tartiere to its worldwide fan base and it features a banner with the words “Proud of You” in English. Further investment from Carlos Slim, the Mexican Telecom billionaire, appears to have secured the club’s medium-term future and set up a platform for growth. La Primera may still be some way off, but Spanish football needs Real Oviedo and its top flight will be all the better when they and this wonderful stadium make a return.