There are many examples of a club being lifted by a move to a new stadium. A new build can reinvigorate a club and the fresh surroundings can attract a wider fan base and generate more revenue. Then, every so often, a new stadium is opened that does none of these things. Poor planning can coincide with a downturn in a club’s fortunes and what you are left with is a half-empty, soulless arena that nobody loves. Welcome to the Nuevo Estadio de la Victoria.
During the late 1990s, Real Jaén Club de Fútbol was beginning to show snippets of form that had made them a mainstay of La Segunda in the 1950s. They had even made it to La Primera for three seasons in the middle of the fifties. After winning promotion to the Second Division in 1997, the club and the local municipality decided the that it’s home for nearly fifty years, the tight, inner-city Estadio de La Victoria was not up to the job. Rather than redevelop, this prime site was sold to the local council and work commenced on a new stadium to the east of the city. Architects Rubiño García Márquez were commissioned to design the modern 12,000 seat stadium, which would feature a covered west stand and three open banks of seating. So far so good. The first problem, however, was location. Jaén is a small, ancient city with tight, narrow streets. The club’s fans were used to walking a few hundred metres or so to the old stadium and immediately bulked at the idea of a three-kilometre journey to the new stadium.
Real Jaén was relegated at the end of the 97-98 season, but as work on the new stadium progressed, so did form on the pitch. A fourth-placed finish in season 99-00 saw the club enter the end of season play-offs where they saw off the challenge of Gimnastica Torrelavega, Gramanet and CD Ourense. A promising first season back in La Segunda, when a tenth place was achieved, raised hopes that the move to the new stadium could inspire a push for promotion to La Primera. Those hopes soon turned to folly, a position that the new stadium would soon adopt.
The Nuevo Estadio de la Victoria opened its doors for the first time on 29 August 2001 and four days later saw its first official game, when Real Jaén beat Poli Ejido 3-1. That was about as good as the 2001-02 season got. Restricted financially by its conversion to a limited company, Real Jaén proceeded to lose ten matches at home and accumulated as many points away from its new stadium, as it did in it. Unsurprisingly, the club finished bottom of La Segunda, eight points from safety. Subsequent results have been disappointing, with only two finishes in the top four. The run to the playoffs in 2008-09 did see the stadium full to capacity for the first time when SD Ponferradina & Villarreal B visited. The second match against Villarreal B saw additional temporary seating added to the upper decks on all three open sides of the ground, raising the capacity to over 17,000. The dream didn’t materialise, however, as Villarreal B ran out 1-2 winners.
To be honest, the stadium cannot take all the blame for the club’s demise. Whilst it has none of the convenience and intimacy of the old La Victoria, Real Jaén’s die was cast when it became a Sociedad Anónima Deportiva or limited company. With not enough immediate income to maintain its position in La Segunda, the club has been unable to loosen its constricting financial chains. In turn, the stadium has become a bit of a whipping boy for all that has gone wrong. Sure the stadium is a couple of miles out of town and you can no longer breathe down the back of the neck of the opposition goalkeeper, but a bad stadium? No, not at all. Rubiño García Márquez design is certainly minimalist but perfectly functional. The stadium is raised and spectators walk up to the back of each seated area, across a raised deck area and then down into their seats. The main west stand has mid-level vomitories at its rear, which bring spectators to the front of the stand. This stands roof is surprisingly low, with its cantilevered beams clad in brushed aluminium, which has hundreds of circles cut into the façade. The changing facilities are below the main stand, as is access to an underground training area, that lies under the pitch.
The design was heralded as the way forward for small town clubs and won awards and praise in architectural circles. Interestingly, whilst the design has had its imitators, Rubiño García Márquez has not built another stadium, although they did submit unsuccessful bids for the new stadium builds in Zamora & Almeria. Maybe as the city of Jaén grows and absorbs the land around the stadium, then the supporters of Real Jaén will grow to love the Nuevo Estadio de la Victoria?