The history of football in the south eastern city of Almeria is a convoluted affair. Whilst the background story of the city’s current senior club, Unión Deportiva Almeria, is relatively straightforward, it only goes back to the 1980s. To find the original muddied oafs who practised the game in Almeria, we need to go back to 1909 and the first amateur representatives, namely Almeria Foot-ball club and Almeria Sporting Club.
Almeria Foot-ball club and Almeria Sporting Club were joined in 1914 by Almeria Athletic Club. Games were played on open land until the city’s first enclosed stadium the Campo de Regocijos opened in 1923. In the first match held there, Almeria FC was soundly trounced 1-8 by Jaén FC. Almeria FC called it a day in 1925, followed by Sporting in 1928. Athletic Club survived until the summer of 1935 and then Unión Deportiva Almeria (Mk 1) lasted a whole season before the Civil War put an end to its activity. The city did not have a senior representative until 1942, when the railway workers team, CD Ferroviaro was founded. This club changed its name to Almeria Club de Fútbol in 1946 and moved to a new stadium that the municipality had built on the eastern edge of the city. Named the Estadio de la Falange, it was inaugurated on 21 April 1946 when Almeria CF played Atlético Aviación. A year later, and Almeria CF merged with CD Nautico to form Union Deportivo Almeria (Mk 2). UD Almeria changed their name to Club Atlético Almeria in 1953 and five years later became the first club from the city to play on the national stage, when it reached La Segunda. Atlético surprised everybody by finishing third in their debut season, but a year later, beset with financial woes, the club finished 15th and was relegated. The club was wound up during the summer and the city was without a senior team during the early 1960s.
In 1964, a youth team from the city, Club Deportivo Hispana stepped up a level and as Club Deportivo Almeria reached the Tercera. However, by 1969 it too had retired to the now somewhat over-crowded Almerian league in the sky, leaving the city once again bereft of semi-professional football. 1971 saw the merger of three local teams; Plus Ultra CF, UD Pavia and Arenas CF to form Agrupación Deportiva Almería. Matches were played at the Campo de Falange and the club gained early success when winning the regional championship and promotion to the Tercera for the 1972-73 season. In December 1973, club president Antonio Franco Navarro purchased some land in the northern suburb of Torrecárdenas and two years later, work started on a new stadium at a cost of 47 million pesetas. The Campo de Falange was renamed the Estadio de la Juventud in 1977 and is now known as the Estadio de la Juventud de Emilio Campra. It still stands on the Calle Estadio, pretty much unchanged except for a modern athletics track, a few hundred metres north of the Playa de San Miguel.
On 24 August 1976, a capacity crowd of 16,000 watched AD Almeria draw 1-1 with Athletic Club in the first match at the new Estadio Antonio Franco Navarro. Upon opening, the stadium featured a full-length covered stand on the eastern side, whilst sixteen steps of terracing curved around the remaining three sides. Players entered the pitch from the western terrace, that had changing facilities beneath. Behind the north terrace stood 28 private palcos, or boxes, arranged over two narrow tiers. The club took to the new surroundings and finished third in the regional Tercera, which was high enough to win a place in the newly formed Segunda B. AD Almeria did not hang about in the newly formed division, winning the league in its first year, which allowed them to emulate their predecessor Club Atlético Almeria, with a place in La Segunda for the 1977-78 season. Unbelievably, AD Almeria took the second division by storm and with a near perfect record at the Estadio Antonio Franco Navarro, and on 10 June 1979, just eight years after forming, Almeria won the league title and promotion to La Primera.
Life in La Primera got off to a positive start and with the stadium temporarily extended, crowds of 20,000 were not uncommon. The good form at home continued and AD Almeria remained unbeaten at the Estadio Antonio Franco Navarro for a third consecutive season, ultimately finishing tenth. There was a problem however, as with all its ancestors, AD Almeria had overstretched itself and with a greatly reduced budget and playing staff, the dream of top flight football soon ended. The 1980-81 season was a struggle from start to finish and for once, they couldn’t rely on an unbeaten home record. Add to that just one point from 17 matches on the road and you will not be surprised to learn that AD Almeria finished bottom of La Primera and was relegated. Worse was to follow in the 81-82 season, when the club finished 19th and was relegated to Segunda B. With the staff wages still outstanding, the federation demoted the club to the Tercera. This was the final nail in the coffin and on 2 September 1982 AD Almeria was wound up with an accumulated debt of 223 million pesetas.
The municipality bought the Estadio Antonio Franco Navarro and gave it the imaginative title of the Campo de Futbol Municipal. To their credit, they did redevelop the west side of the stadium, adding a propped roof and improved the troublesome pitch. All they needed now was a tenant and as always seems to be the case in Almeria, a new club was formed. Club Polideportivo Almeria saw the light of day in 1983 and had climbed to Segunda B by the start of the 1986-87 season. A twentieth placed finish would normally result in relegation, but restructuring of the third tier saw the club survive at this level. Relegation to the Tercera did follow in 1989, at which point a rival club, Almería Club de Fútbol, was formed by members disenchanted with the running of CP Almeria. Not surprisingly, CP Almeria had financial problems, but struggled on and eventually won promotion back to Segunda B in 1994. Here they stayed for seven full seasons, even reaching the play-offs in 1998-99, before losing out to Levante UD. Trouble was just around the corner however and mid-way through the 2000-01 season, unable to meet its debts, CP Almeria withdrew from the league. Its record for the season was expunged and they were banned from competing for two seasons. They did reappear in the lower regional leagues, and after another forced period of inactivity between 2007 & 2012, they did work their way back up the pyramid, reaching the Tercera in 2018.
Let’s go back to 1989 and the forming of Almería Club de Fútbol. Unhappy with the way that CP Almeria was operating, former members set up their own club in July 1989. After a few matches at the Estadio Municipal, the club moved out to the much smaller Campo Municipal Matías Pérez, in the south east suburb of La Cañada de San Urbano, close to the main airport. They also played some home fixtures at Campo Municipal de Benahadux, around five miles north of Almeria, before returning to the Campo Municipal in Almeria for the 1991-92 season. Two successive promotions saw the club debut in Segunda B for the 1993-94 season where it earned an eleventh place finish. The following season saw Almeria CF win promotion to La Segunda following a second place in the league and victory over Valencia B, Racing Ferrol and SD Beasain in the play-off group. The club’s upward trajectory stalled at this point, escaping relegation in the 95-96 season with a draw in the final match, but succumbing to the drop a year later when finishing 17th
The slide continued and by the start of the 1999-00 season, Almeria CF was back in the Tercera and a level lower than CP Almeria, the club they split from a decade earlier. Despite a fourth place finish, Almeria CF battled through the play-offs to win promotion back to Segunda B. Any euphoria over the club’s promotion was tempered during the summer of 2000 when Almeria football legend, Juan Rojas died of a heart attack on 14 August. Rojas had been the first player to score a league goal at the then Estadio Antonio Franco Navarro, so it was fitting that the municipality renamed the stadium Estadio Municipal Juan Rojas shortly after the start of the 2000-01 season.
The start of the millennium was a busy time for football in Almeria. Whilst Almeria CF was steadying itself in Segunda B, CP Almeria was about to implode. In addition, the city had won the right to host the 2005 Mediterranean Games and this meant the development of a new stadium closer to the centre of the city. As mentioned above, CP Almeria failed to complete the 2000-01 season, folding during the Christmas break, and 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. Second place in Group IV was secured before Real Madrid B, Pontevedra and Espanyol B were overcome in the play-off group. 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 Gijón by two goals to one, before first team games were moved to the new Estadio de los Mediterráneos for the start of the 2004-05 season.
The Estadio Juan Rojas was used on occasions by UD Almeria B and the club’s youth teams, before they moved to the Anexo Campo los Juegos Mediterráneos in 2012. The municipality had plans to redevelop the site into a sports city, but the €82m price tag was a stumbling block and the plan never got off the drawing board. In March 2017, the northern terrace and the tiers of private palcos, or boxes, were demolished and the playing surface extended. This was to accommodate Rugby Union and local club Unión Rugby Almería.