The town of Alzira lies 25 miles south of Valencia, at the heart of the La Ribera Alta region. I stayed in the town back in 2006 and have a soft spot for the town’s club, Unión Deportiva Alzira. They are the third senior team to come from the town, the first being Alcira Foot-ball Club. Founded in 1922, Alcira FC played matches at the Camp de l’Arenal, which was situated on the banks of the Rio Xúquer. Unfortunately, in November 1923, the river flooded, destroying the enclosure and the club was wound up in July 1924.
A number of smaller clubs continued to play football in the town, but were representatives of parishes or schools, rather than Alzira as a whole. In 1928, the Pérez Puig family donated land in the l’Alquenència district of town, and on 22 July the Camp de la Montanyeta opened. Initially used by a number of junior clubs, it became the home of a new club in 1931, Agrupación Deportiva Alcira. By 1936 the club had earned promotion to Category A of the Valenciana league, but the Civil War put an end to its participation in the competition. After the war, the leagues were restructured and in theory, Alcira should have featured in the Tercera. However, behind the scenes shenanigans by the directors of Burjasot FC, saw their club elected to La Segunda and the domino effect on other Valenciana clubs, meant that Alcira missed out on a place in the third tier. The club struggled on for a couple more years, but folded in the summer of 1942. It took a further four years and the merger of several amateur clubs to form the current club Unión Deportiva Alcira. Home was the Estadio Frente de Juventudes, the new name for the Camp de la Montanyeta. Over the next six seasons, it progressed through the regional leagues, before wining promotion to the Tercera in 1952. There followed a decade of respectable if unspectacular form in the third tier, before the club was bought in 1963 by local farmer turned ice-cream magnet Luis Suñer. He in turn gave control of the club to his 21 year-old son, Luis Suñer Picó.
The move cleared UD Alcira’s debts and allowed the club to strengthen its squad. The impact was immediate and the club rose to the top of the Tercera. Tragically, Luis Suñer Picó died in a car accident in 15 January 1964, but the club continued to impress, eventually finishing second in the league and qualifying for the end of season play-offs. Here they were paired with CF Extremadura, losing the first leg in Almendralejo by 3 goals to one. A week later, CF Extremadura completed the job with a 0-2 win at the Estadio Frente de Juventudes. Following the trauma of the 63-64 season, the club went into a steep decline, dropping to the Regional Preferente in 1966. Alcira made two season-long returns to the Tercera in the late 1960’s, and then in 1972, Luis Suñer decided to build a new stadium to the north of the town. He wanted it to be the best stadium in the region outside of Valencia and dedicated it to the memory of his son. Work began in late 1972 and was nearing completion when Alcira started the 1973-74 season back in the Tercera. The official opening of the Estadio Luis Suñer Picó was on 1 November 1973, when Alcira drew 1-1 with Villarreal in the Copa de Generalisimo, although some contemporary reports show the ground being used from 15 September 1973, when Alzira lost 0-1 to Calella.
Not content with one club, Luis Suñer had formed another team, Avidesa Atlético in 1971. They were named after the ice cream division based in Alzira, and the two clubs met in the promotion play-offs at the end of the 1976-77 season. To avoid a repeat of this awkward situation, Suñer merged the two teams and UD Alcira continued in the Tercera. Then in 1982 the club witnessed two of the darkest events in its history. On 16 May UD Alcira faced relegation from the Tercera and was losing at home to UD Alginet, when the referee was attacked by home supporters, leaving him seriously injured. The club was relegated to the Preferente and the Valenciana Federation closed the stadium for a year. The club had relocated to grounds at the local college, when on the evening of 20 October 1982, exceptionally heavy rains caused the Tous dam to collapse inundating the town with up to 4 metres of water. The Valenciana Federation lifted the sanctions and the club returned to the Estadio Luis Suñer Picó.
Although still president of the club, Suñer took a back seat due to health problems, which had been exacerbated after ETA had kidnapped him in 1981. Thankfully, after a traumatic 18 months, the club started to show some potential which brought two Tercera titles in three seasons and culminated in promotion to Segunda B in 1986. During the summer of 1986 the club changed its name to Unión Deportiva Alzira and prepared for life in the third tier. A tenth place finish in their first season was followed by the league title in 1987-88 and automatic promotion to La Segunda. With a new president in the shape of Pepe Furió, Alzira invested heavily in new players, but the gamble did not pay off and the club finished 18th and 8 points from safety. With large expenses, but no sizeable increase in crowds, Alzira’s form and finances spiralled into decline and by 1994, the club was playing its football back in the Regional Preferente. The past few decades has seen Alzira regularly switch back and forth between the Tercera and the Regional Preferente. Interspersed have been the occasional visit back to Segunda B, but all have been brief stopovers and could not be classed as anything other than disappointing.
Now approaching its fiftieth anniversary, the Estadio Luis Suñer Picó is typical of so many stadiums that sprung up in the east and south of Spain in the 1960s & 70s. The focus of this and many other stadiums of this era is a raised, covered stand, whilst the rest of the capacity is made up of simple, shallow terracing. That’s not to say that Alzira’s contribution to the trend is not without its merits, for whilst the rest of the stadium is looking a little dog-eared, the main stand has scrubbed up rather well. Slightly cranked, it houses 5,300 in a single tier that has been filled with bands of red & blue seats. This tier is divided into three sections, with a wide concourse splitting the bands of seats, whilst a line of palcos or individual pens can be found at the rear of the stand. All of this sits under a deep, propped cantilevered roof. This cover has seen the recent addition of solar panels across its entirety, which is a novel way of generating electricity and much need money. Whether this provides the necessary spark to see an improvement in Alzira’s fortunes remains to be seen.