Twenty one years after a heroic night on the Spanish coast for a Northern Ireland football team, a white shirted and green shorted male walks through the (almost) Franco-resistant city of Valencia to investigate the demonic effect that a goal by Gerry Armstrong has had on a patriotically Spanish population. I walked through Valencia on a scorching August morning (38 degrees of sun heat) wearing the same kit that my heroes of 1982 wore on the 25th June. Not a single Spaniard recognised the kit, or its effect, or its significance. Perhaps its out of embarrasment or a deliberate memory lapse that the Spaniards in the city of Valencia like to pretend that nothing ever happenned in their vicinity on 25th June 1982. I think I took the number 32 bus from the city centre to what calls itself ‘Estadio Mestalla’ in the north east of the city. The football stadium is the home of CF Valencia, who have reached 2 of the last 4 European Cup/Champions League Finals, and who were knocked out in the quarters or semis in the other two seasons. I went there in August 2003 for one reason only – to see the stadium where we won that night. I didn’t mean to hunt down the ghost of Luis Casanova, it just sort of turned out like that. I can explain…
The ground itself is immense. Situated in a typically hispanic quarter by a main road, the ground is still under construction and has to be the largest football ground I’ve ever been in. Any Ulstermen wishing to go there should be aware that there is no club shop at the stadium, no guided tour and no-one within 5 miles who understands a SINGLE word of English! Perhaps its the ghost, a complete jinx. Maybe every Spaniard looked at my Northern Ireland white away shirt, checking out the badge and realising that it was the kit of the team who almost ended their 1982 World Cup dream as host nation. The stadium itself seems to have strangely changed its name to ‘Mestalla’ and even the dude who let me into the ground shivered when I uttered the words ‘Luis Casanova’ to him. Spain in the early 1980s were invincible at home, and specifically at the Luis Casanova Stadium in Valencia, where they (as host nation) chose to play ALL of their 1982 World Cup first round group games. Gerry Armstrong’s goal beat them in their fortress.
I stood inside the stadium and looked all around me. It could only have been intimidating for the Northern Ireland team (and small number of fanatics) to be playing against not only the 11 Spaniards on the pitch, but a stadium full of them. I pictured the scene, I relived the goal, I studied the spot where Mal Donaghy (Northern Ireland’s left back) lashed out at Jose Camacho and under pressure from the Spanish hardcore, the referee forced Mal to sit out the remainder of the game. There were certainly no ghosts around me. But just being inside the stadium gave me a stunning glimpse of the achievement by my boys that night. I cant see us ever re-creating as good a moment as that night in the Luis Casanova Stadium. For the city of Valencia, it seems that the fortress that was the Luis Casanova Stadium is forever haunted by Arconada’s fingertips and Gerry’s right boot, and that the name ‘Estadio Mestalla’ is Valencia’s way of covering up the scars of the past. Norman has said before in this fanzine that all talk of our glory night in 1982 should be banned (Ed – September 1999 I believe) but with John Morrow having already penned his trip to Valencia in a past issue, this is simply my trip to the venue of our glory night. I would recommend it as a visit if you happen to be in the area just to see the ground, but beware the ghost of Luis Casanova has haunted Spaniards ever since, even if they’re ashamed to admit it. It would be interesting to see how many games Spain won in Valencia before 1982, how many they won after 1982 and indeed why they no longer play home games in the city of Valencia (they’ll be in the city of Elche tonight for the visit of the Ukraine)…………….The Spaniards remain haunted.
Here’s why they’re haunted:
**This post originally appeared in the Northern Ireland football fanzine ‘Here We Go…Again’ on the 10th September 2003.