Head north from Benidorm towards the Sierra del Menejador and tucked away in a valley 600 metres above sea level is the city of Alcoy. It has the sixth largest population in Alicante (61,500) and thanks to CD Alcoyano, is one of only three cities in the province to have staged top-flight football. That was over sixty-five years ago and you’d be forgiven for thinking that all traces of their last foray in La Primera had been knocked down and replaced with a shopping centre. CD Alcoyano, however, has El Collao, a time capsule and real throw-back to a time when fans were tightly packed into terraces on all four sides of the ground, and opposition goalkeepers could feel the breath of the home support, and often other things as well, on the back of their necks. The ground pre-dates the club by 6 years, but it was Alcoyano who developed & nurtured this little gem.
Formed on 13 September 1928 following the merger of two clubs (Racing & Levante), Alcoyano didn’t register with the Spanish Federation until 1933, so it wasn’t until after the Civil War that the club started to find its feet. In 1942 Alcoyano won the Regional playoffs and promotion to La Segunda and so started the most successful decade in the clubs history. That 1942-43 season was a struggle for the club, as they finished eighth and bottom of their regional group. They entered the relegation play-offs as favourites for demotion, but prevailed and found themselves in a remodelled Segunda that went national for the 1943-44 season. Alcoyano exceeded all expectations and finished third, but in a single match playoff with Espanyol, they lost 7-1 and returned home to lick their wounds and prepare for another season in La Segunda.
The 1944-45 season saw Alcoyano win La Segunda by a single point from near neighbours Hercules CF and gain automatic promotion to La Primera. In the top flight for the first time, Alcoyano started their campaign with a 3-2 win in the away match at Real Murcia. Remarkably, the club would achieve only one more away win in 53 further matches on the road, which were spread over four separate seasons in the top flight. Unfortunately, despite impressive home form, their first season ended in relegation, but if the fans were disappointed, they didn’t have to wait long for success. Alcoyano won La Segunda title for a second time in 1946-47, finishing 3 points ahead of Gimnastic de Tarragona, and headed to La Primera a little wiser. Their experience showed as they maintained their top-flight position, based almost entirely on home form, eventually finishing tenth, and one place above Real Madrid. Home form held up again in the 1948-49 season, but a paltry 2 points from their travels lead to a thirteenth place finish and relegation.
Back in the second division, which was once again regionalised, Alcoyano won a third title, but had to gain promotion via the playoffs, this time defeating Gimnastic de Tarragona 6-3. 1950-51 was to prove to be the clubs last in La Primera. Home form deserted them and their wretched away form continued with 14 out of 15 matches ending in defeat and 66 goals conceded. Their one success came with a 1-0 victory at Real Valladolid, Alcoyano’s second and last away win in La Primera. Despite some heavy defeats during this period, the club showed great spirit and morale and they earned the expression “Tens mes l’Alcoyano moral” which translates as “To have more spirit than Alcoyano”. The glory days were over and after three more seasons in La Segunda, they dropped to the Tercera and have returned for just three seasons, the last being in 1968-69. The club even fell into the regional leagues in the mid-seventies but has spent most of the last 30 years playing in Segunda B, and in recent seasons has only lost out on promotion to La Segunda in the playoffs. Then in June 2011, the club returned to La Segunda after a 42-year absence. It was a season-long adventure that ultimately ended in relegation, leaving Alcoyano back in Segunda B.
The Spanish describe A Callao as campo de estilo inglés or English style ground, which is rather ironic given that you won’t find a stadium looking like El Collao in the English Football League. You would have, but most disappeared in the 1980s & ’90s after the Popplewell and Taylor reports. The main stand on the west side of the ground features a basic pitched roof that sits over 10 rows of 600 blue and white seats. The roof is supported at the front by 14 thin columns. Either end of the stadium is now seated, with the south terrace being the slightly larger of the two. The east side is the newest development but is still in keeping with rest of the ground. This narrow stand was built in 2007, replacing a set of very narrow uncovered steps. It has a shallow cantilevered roof that covers eight rows of blue seats, with the club’s name picked out in white. It may be small, but boy can it generate an atmosphere.
Like Compostela’s Estadio San Lazaro, El Collao has staged matches in the top five levels in Spain, but it is a credit to its longevity that it has done so over an 80 year period. CD Alcoyano is some way from the heights they hit in the late 1940s, but few have “Tens mes l’Alcoyano moral” and with that anything is possible.