Andy Mitten

Levante deserve moment in sun

Andy Mitten

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The problem
with interviewing current footballers is that they have to watch what they say.

There have
been notable exceptions. Roy Keane and Eric Cantona when they were at
Manchester United, Zlatan Ibrahimovic wherever he plays and Samuel Eto'o, who
once advised me to visit his homeland of Cameroon because the girls had "fantastic
natural breasts".

players usually offer much more value, however. I wrote two books on United
players from the 80s and 90s where most interviews lasted four hours and were
far more revealing than anticipated.

Like when
Gordon McQueen told the story of rooming with Kevin Moran. Moran was lying on
the bed when McQueen exited the shower and decided that he'd 'let rip'.
Unfortunately, he inadvertently followed through onto his team-mate, which led
to Moran screaming curses while on the phone to his deeply religious mother
back in Dublin.

One of the
most memorable interviews I've done in Spain was for a trip to the
Valencia-Levante derby match where I'd arranged to speak to Levante's greatest
ever player, Antonio Calpe. A star in the 60s before he moved to Real Madrid
for six years, I knew the interview was going to be good when he turned up with
some cakes his wife had baked for me. He told me that he'd never done an
interview with a foreigner before and revealed what stance he would take from
the start.

are goats," offered Calpe, "because they are the opposite of bulls. They are
not strong. They are weak, weedy and unsteady. There may be more of them, but
one Levante fan is worth 1,000 Valencia fans." Goats is the pejorative used by
Levante supporters, Valencia fans preferring their 'los ches' nickname, a
familiar local term of address meaning 'the boys'. 

father played for Levante. "On the day I was born my father was playing for
Levante in Girona, north of Barcelona," he said. "The team dedicated the
victory to me that day so I could hardly support another team could I?"

progressed through Levante's youth teams and became the team's biggest star as
they ascended to Spain's top league for the first time in their history in
1963. He played in a side which beat Barcelona 5-1 and in the derby of 1965
secured a memorable 2-1 victory. "That was a question of honour," he
remembered. "People still stop me in the street to talk about it now."

explained how Levante's old Vallejo ground occupied prime land in the city
centre by the Turia River. The same river which, when it used to flood Valencia
until it was diverted in the 1950s, used to see hundreds of frogs seek refuge
on Levante's pitch. That's how the club got its nickname. A construction
company bought the old stadium and built a new one for free on the outskirts of
Valencia. Holding 24,300, the City of Valencia stadium is a single open bowl
which opened in 1969. It was too big for Levante, but it didn't seem that way
on Saturday night when they held Real Madrid to a 0-0 draw. Calpe was there,
watching his two former clubs, with a smile as wide as the old flooded Turia.

Levante may
be €61 million in debt, but they didn't cut back on commissioning lavish
plaques for their 34-year-old president to present to Real Madrid's World Cup
winners Iker Casillas, Alvaro Arbeloa, Xabi Alonso and Sergio Ramos before
Saturday's match. If Valencia's second club were seeking to ingratiate
themselves with the grandees of Spanish football in the hope that they would go
easy on them, it was a successful tactic.

Levante are
a promoted side comprised of free signings and loan deals. They cost less to
assemble than Cristiano Ronaldo earns in a season, are favourites to go down
and have the worst defence in the Primera Liga, yet Madrid failed to breach it
in a 0-0 draw - the second time they have recorded such a scoreline in their
three away games so far.

We could
attribute this more to Madrid's profligacy than Levante's prowess, but the
season is still young and Levante deserve their moment in the sun.

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