Andy Mitten

The miracle of Alcorcon

Andy Mitten

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Not everyone in Spain is thinking about their second Euro 2012 game against the Republic of Ireland tomorrow.

Blackpool's rise to the Premier League in 2010 was a football miracle. Despite having the third lowest playing budget in their division, just two permanent stands in a ground holding 12,000 and average crowds of 8,000, Ian Holloway's side came up and nearly stayed up.

But imagine a club less than half the size of Blackpool, a Morecambe or Macclesfield for instance, being on the cusp of the Premier League? Such a scenario would be would be implausible. Their best players would be snapped up by bigger clubs on the way and they'd be powerless to compete with the much bigger fish. It would be a miracle if such a small team got out of England's third level without a benefactor, yet in Spain, CD Alcorcón are one play-off away from reaching the Primera Liga for the first time.

Deportivo La Coruna and their Galician neighbours Celta Vigo finished first and second in Spain's second tier to win automatic promotion. Given their size and status, their return was not unexpected. Both teams have played Champions League football in the last decade, both have featured top class players like Rivaldo, Valeron, Makaay, Mostovoi, Salgado, Sylvinho and Tristan. In 2002-03, Deportivo (league winners in 2000) finished third with Celta one place behind and Barça a distant sixth. Depor beat Manchester United at Old Trafford and reached the Champions League semi-finals. Both teams enjoyed crowds of over 30,000 at home for league games this season and will be confident of staying up next.

Alcorcón are different. Going up is a dream for the yellows who finished fourth, despite having a team made up of free signings and a playing budget one tenth of champions Deportivo.

The team from a Madrid dormitory town which had seen its population rise from 3,000 to 50,000 in the 60s were only formed in 1971. Waves of immigrants from other parts of Spain and Latin America increased that to an unchecked working class sprawl of 170,000. Alcorcón is not a place which troubles the pages of guide books and its football team remained a classic barrio side, playing in a stadium which held just 3,000. As an indicator of how small it was, 1,500 people can fit around a football field with no stands.

Alcorcón played local football for their first 20 years before winning promotion to Spain's third tier in 2000. That's one of four regional third division leagues which feed into a national second division. Few expected them to go up to the second level and they didn't for a decade, but then nobody expected what happened on 27th October 2009 when Alcorcón thrashed the Real Madrid of Benzema, Raul, Albiol, Guti, Van Nistelrooy and Van der Vaart 4-0 in a Copa del Rey match.

'Humiliated!' ran the headline in one national paper. They lost 1-0 in the Bernabéu, but it didn't matter. They won 4-1 on aggregate and the term 'Alcorconazo' entered the Spanish vocabulary as a term for cup giant killing. Borja Perez, a former Madrid youth player, scored twice. He's still with Alcorcón.

It showed that miracles can happen and Alcorcón provided another one when they were promoted to the second division in 2010. Favourites to go straight back down, they finished ninth. This season they reached the play-offs. After losing just twice at home all season, they eliminated Hercules of Alicante in the first play-off on away goals.

They now play top-flight regulars Real Valladolid in a two game play-off, with the first leg at their Santo Domingo home tonight - or 'fort' as the media have labelled it. Hardly imposing, it has been expanded from 3,000 seats to 5,400 in recent seasons. It's still tiny, the second smallest in the second division. If they go up it will be a third of the size of the smallest Primera Liga ground at Rayo Vallecano and one nineteenth the size of the biggest, Camp Nou.

There were plans for Alcorcón to expand their home with public funds but they were scrapped. Spain has more pressing financial matters than new seats at a football ground.

Size has never been their enemy. They've laughed at those who scoff at their small home and crowds - even their official site has just 2,000 followers on Twitter. They use small to their advantage, just like Wimbledon did with the inhospitable Plough Lane in the 1980s.

Valladolid will see for themselves tonight at Santo Domingo, where tickets are just €15 for fans who've followed the yellows all season. That's the adults. Alcorcón have been promoting the club heavily among a community usually made up of Real Madrid and Atletico fans. They offer football schools complete with English classes for kids. Those kids could pay just €35 for a season ticket, while 17 year olds pay just €55 and adults up to 23 just €100 for 22 matches. Those fans have had superb value for money and everyone at the club is enjoying the ride.

"We're going to enjoy the moment," said coach Juan Antonio Anquela, who has been in charge since 2008. "It may be unthinkable, but the people who come to watch us have already seen the incredible intensity in our play. The prize is a place in the Primera Liga against all those great teams."

Alcorcón have beaten the odds times and time again. Should we be surprised, given their club office is on Calle Las Vegas?

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