Irun – Stadium Gal

Real Unión Club de Irún is one of the founder members of the Spanish League. Unfortunately for them, their golden era came in the decades immediately prior to the set up of the league and included four victories in the Copa del Rey. The club was formed in 1915 following the merger of Irún Sporting Club and Racing Club de Irún. The former was founded in 1902 as Irún Foot-Ball Club, changing its name in 1907, following a split in membership that led to the formation of Racing Club.

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The History Boys – Stadium Gal is only part of the story

Both Irún Sporting Club and Racing Club de Irún had relatively advanced homes. Irún Sporting played at the Campo de Amute, which was situated just to the north of town in the village of Hondarribia, not far from the current site of Irun’s airport. The ground opened on 2 January 1910 and hosted the 1915 Copa del Rey Final when Athletic Club defeated Espanyol 5-0. Racing Club de Irún, played at the Campo de Fútbol de Costorbe, which was located on the present-day Avenida de Iparralde, around 150m west of Real Unión’s present home. Racing won the Copa del Rey in 1913, beating Athletic Club 1–0 in a replay after the first match was drawn 2-2. (Real Unión include this victory in their trophy haul). The Campo Costorbe also had the honour of hosting the final of the Copa del Rey in 1914.

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Irún’s Cup Final Venues – Amute (top) & Costorbe (bottom)

Upon forming, Real Unión used Irún Sporting’s Campo de Amute. They went on to win three further Copa del Rey’s in nine years. The first came in 1918 when they defeated Real Madrid 2-0 in Madrid’s own Estadio O’Donnell. The second came when Real Madrid was defeated again in a 1-0 victory at Atotxa in 1924. The coach of the team at the time was Steve Bloomer, one of Englands greatest players at the turn of the 20th Century. In 1926, at the peak of their powers, Real Unión moved to the other side of Irun and their current Stadium Gal. It was built thanks to the generosity of local businessman Salvador Echeandia Gal. His gift of 313,000 pesetas helped purchase 20,000m² of land to the east of Irun, on the bank of the Rio Bidasoa. The stadium inaugurated on 19 September 1926 with a match against Barcelona. Real Unión’s third cup victory (or fourth if you include Racing’s 1913 victory) came in 1927 when they beat Arenas Getxo 1-0 in Zaragoza’s Estadio de Torrero.

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Stadium Gal on opening day (19/09/1926)

Real Unión‘s powers had begun to wane by the time the league started up. With their unquestionable pedigree, the club was an obvious choice for the start-up of La Primera but finished ninth out of ten in the inaugural season of 1929. There was some improvement over the next couple of seasons with a sixth and seventh-place finish, but Real Unión finished tenth and last in 1931-32 and was relegated from La Primera, and have never returned. Seven seasons either side of the Civil War followed in the second division before the club dropped to the Tercera. It has made three fleeting visits back to La Segunda, each finishing in relegation after just one season.

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Aerial image from the 1960s, with the French town of Hendaye in the distance

The original layout of the Stadium Gal could have easily passed itself off as an English. It featured a single stand with a low, propped roof. The remainder of the enclosure was made up of terracing, and Gal would have been one of the most advanced in La Liga when the competition started in February 1929. The traditional layout of the stadium changed in 1950 when the local municipality installed a velodrome around the outside of the pitch. To mark the opening of the velodrome, the stadium hosted the end of a stage of the Vuelta de España. The Anglo influence may be the reason why the title “stadium” is used rather than estadio or campo. That or a Basque refusal to use Castellano. You can see from the aerial image above, that the pitch was originally 50 metres or so further south.

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Before the rebuild. Gal in the early 1990’s

By the mid-nineties, the Stadium Gal was in a sorry state. Major reconstruction took place in 1997, with the building of a modern cantilevered stand on the west side and an open bank of seats on the opposite east side (less than 400 metres from the French border). Two narrow terraces were constructed at the north and south ends, with the southern end having a narrow cover. A roof was added to the open east bank in 2005.

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The Stadium Gal in 2011

The club experienced a bit of a renaissance in 2008-09, first by dumping Real Madrid out of the Copa del Rey in November 2008. Later that season the club beat CE Sabadell an AD Alcorcón to secure promotion back to La Segunda for the first time in 44 years. Their adventure in La Segunda lasted just the one season with the club finishing 21st, some 5 points short of safety.

 

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