At the start of the millennium, Almeria won the right to host the 2005 Mediterranean Games. This meant the development of a new stadium, much closer to the city centre than the existing Estadio Juan Rojas, which was in the northern suburb of Torrecárdenas. To complicate matters (professional football in Almeria has a history of being complicated) there were two clubs in the city vying the locals’ support. However, things were about to change.
The 2000-01 season saw both Almeria CF & CP Almeria competing in Group IV of Segunda B. The two clubs met at the Estadio Juan Rojas on 5 November 2000, with Almeria CF winning by two goals to one. But all was not well with CP Almeria. Debts were high and the results were poor. The club played its last official match on 6 December 2000, drawing 1-1 at home to Ecija Balompié. It resigned from the league shortly afterwards and during the Christmas break, some of the club’s players crossed town to join Almeria CF. On 10 January 2001, Almeria CF became Unión Deportiva Almería and the newly christened club finished the season in eleventh place. The 2001-02 campaign would see UD Almeria emulate their success of seven years earlier, by winning promotion to La Segunda. The next few seasons saw UD Almeria struggle to establish itself in La Segunda, finishing 18th in 02-03 and 16th a year later. That 2003-04 season also saw UD Almeria’s last match at the Estadio Juan Rojas. On 14 June 2004, the club beat Sporting Gijon by two goals to one. The Estadio de los Juegos Mediterráneos opened on 31 July 2004, hosting the Spanish Athletics Championships. UD Almeria had to wait until the 29 August to play its first match, the opening match of the 2004-05 campaign, which was lost to Celta Vigo.
The summer of 2004 not only saw UD Almeria move into the new stadium, but it also saw the arrival of Alfonso García Gabarrón as club president. After a sluggish first season, which saw the appointment of four first-team coaches, the club started to make some progress, finishing sixth in 2005-06. The following season saw UD Almeria finish second in La Segunda and emulate AD Almeria in reaching La Primera. Under the guidance of coach Unai Emery and with ex-Real Madrid striker Álvaro Negredo banging in the goals, UD Almeria surpassed all expectations in finishing eighth. Emery departed to Valencia at the start of the 2008-09 season and Alfonso García Gabarrón started up the managerial merry-go-round. Five coaches came and went over the next three seasons of diminishing returns. Eventually, UD Almeria slipped back into La Segunda at the end of the 2010-11 season, winding up in bottom spot, with some hefty defeats to Barcelona and Real Madrid along the way. Some consolation was achieved when the club reached the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey for the first time. Almeria returned to the top flight in June 2013, thanks to a third-place finish in the league and victory in the Play-offs over Las Palmas & Girona.
So far as athletics stadiums go, I quite like the Estadio de los Juegos Mediterráneos. Admittedly, that is a back-handed compliment as it is still a fairly impractical football stadium, but Antonio Lamela’s design has some nice touches. The original layout of 15,000 seats was hindered by an additional gap of 10 metres or so between the front seats and the athletics track. This was countered by raising the seating tier so that the front seats of each block were 2 metres off the ground. Instead of a single tier that sweeps around the whole ground, the stadium is broken up into four separate stands. The break is achieved by the concrete pylons of the floodlights. These pierce through the steel framework of the cantilevered roof, like four immense toothpicks. The floodlights then gently lean towards the pitch, providing a nice contrast to the sweeping curves of the roof.
The municipality had forked out 21 million euros on this new multi-sports arena and then several million more in the summer of 2010 when additional seats were added. Four rows of white seats were built in front of the existing stands, and additional blocks of red seats were added at the rear of the end stands, to raise the capacity to 22,000. To be honest, the stadium was rarely full when UD Almeria played in La Primera, so it wasn’t money well invested, particularly as another change was made in June 2012. In a move that mimicked the changes seen at Cagliari and other Italian stadiums, temporary stands were erected on the arc behind the goal, bringing the crowd closer the pitch. This gave the stadium a temporary capacity of around 15,000, which is perfectly adequate when the home games average just over 10,000 spectators.
The stadium now sees matches most weekends, as Almeria B switched its Segunda B matches to the arena from the start of the 2011-12 season (Although smaller matches are played at the adjacent Anexo). As a club, UD Almeria finally appears to have attained a degree of stability, which considering the trials and tribulations of all their ancestors, is probably the most startling achievement in just over one hundred years of football in this corner of Andalucia.