Amelia del Castillo: La Pionera

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Image Credit: rtve.es

 

Situated halfway between the centre of Spain’s capital Madrid and the picturesque day-tripper destination of Aranjuez the community of Pinto is not the kind of place where you would expect a revolution to have begun, never mind one that would not only have a lasting impact on women’s football in the Iberian Peninsula but on Spanish football as a whole. It’s the early 1960’s and El Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still in power. For woman of the time even the most mundane of activities, ones that we all take for granted to this day, cannot be completed by will alone. Should you want to apply for a drivers licence your ability to do so is subject to the rationales of your marital partner. If you needed to open a bank account it would be your marital partner that would have the final say on whether it’s need meets the requirements of the home. You can’t get divorced unless your husband decides your relationship has reached its end and should you have a child it is the father’s right to give them up for adoption without the need for your consent. Nostalgia at times can be a wonderful thing, a misty-eyes nod to the past towards perceived better times, but for many Spanish women who grew up in Francoist Spain memories of that time leaves no such warm and fuzzy feeling.

It’s these challenges, plus the many, many more that she would face that make the story of Amelia del Castillo, Spanish football’s first female president, even more remarkable in the face of continuing and sometimes boundless adversity. From an early age Amelia was already aware that the emotions that can be elicited from football fandom show no discrimination for gender. Atletico de Madrid became her first enabler with a communion gift of a club pin becoming the first bump to what would eventually evolve into a life long addiction. This addiction though was destined for far greater things than just waving a scarf on the terraces.

With her friends keen to participate in a Youth Front organised tournament in the southern Madrid town of Getafe Amelia took on the role of organiser. As the only person old enough in her group to do so she completed the registrations and sourced the equipment so that they could compete, all this despite the fact that she herself was unable to play as regulations stated, “it was forbidden for women to play football or be coaches, delegates or referees.” They didn’t however mention anything about the presidency of a club and so in 1961 the then 18 year old Amelia, with her resolve emboldened by what she had achieved with her friends in Getafe, founded La Flecha de Pinto (The Arrow of Pinto) football club. At a time when women could hardly achieve anything without the gesticulation of a man’s hand, this truly was a huge step for any woman to take, let alone a teenager. Of course though there were many more challenges to come.

Firstly Amelia did not just undertake the role of president but that too of match delegate and coach, three roles as absolute in their distinction then as they are today but even with this workload and despite the strides she was trying to make it was not only men who seemed determined to stand in her way. In a 2014 interview with Canal Plus she recounted, “Amazingly there was not much criticism at first but even friends of mine, their mothers, they did not let them come with me.” As if the hurdles weren’t already enough she was also refused entry to training courses again as a result of her gender and instead relied on theory based classes, coupling these with her background in gymnastics to help in the training of her team. A team, it’s worth making clear, of men.

In 1963 Amelia decided that to truly progress the step needed to be taken to move La Flecha underneath the auspice of the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF). This however would require funding with the need to play within an enclosed stadium as opposed to an open field proving to be the biggest hurdle to overcome. Never one to back down from a challenge she, and those that were helping her, acquired a camera with which they aimed to raffle off to raise funds. As football fans are often inclined to do she looked to one of her heroes in her time of need approaching Vicente Calderon (the same Vicente Calderon who Atletico de Madrid had named their stadium after until their 2017 move to the Wanda Metropolitiano) to see if he would be interested in purchasing some tickets. Much to Amelia’s surprise Calderon not only bought all the tickets on offer but also invited her to a meeting where she could further articulate her aspirations.

Clearly her case had been compelling and it would soon prove to be the start of an extremely fruitful arrangement as Calderon continued to support her endeavours in a number of ways. For a start he provided free medical services for the Pinto players. The everyday sundries of football that are so often taken for granted such as balls, shirts and even training cones he gave her provision for and perhaps most significantly he donated the building materials required from his own company to help close off the pitch and raise the levels to meet RFEF regulations. These acts, no doubt boosted by her affection for Los Rojiblancos, prompted Amelia to change the name of the club from La Flecha de Pinto to Club Atletico de Pinto, the name it continues to go by to this day and an enduring act of gratitude to the support given to her by Calderon. It’s worth noting that her cause was also aided by the likes of Rayo Vallecano and Real Madrid but it is her relationship with Calderon that was key in seeing the club grow. Her story soon gained international attention, after all she was the only female president in Spanish football, with her story even crossing the Atlantic and landing in New York. With the club now fully affiliated to the federation and Franco’s reign entering it’s final years it would be fair to assume that from here things would have only continued on an upward trajectory but in football, whether it be on the field or off it, things never go quite that way.

In 1975 and after twelve years Amelia, with a board of directors in place and with designs on improving the commerciality of the club received a letter from the then mayor of Pinto, Daniel Martin, it’s content adding an unnecessarily cruel twist to her story. Having seen the club gain increasing support and recognition within the community Martin, instead of engaging with Amelia, sent CA Pinto’s founding mother a letter demanding that she step down from her role with the club and that if she did not he would create another club in the town, throwing all the administrative finance he could at it with a view to running Club Atletico de Pinto out of business. Despite the protestations of her colleagues within the club, Amelia decided that it would be for the greater good to step aside, her only crime, being a woman.

Her work in bringing football to the town never went forgotten, and although a wait of 25 years is most certainly a wait too long, on the 5th August 2000 a petition started by the incumbent president of the club led to a motion that would see Amelia del Castillo installed as honorary president along with a renaming of the side’s home ground from the Estadio Municipal de Pinto to Estadio Municipal de Amelia de Castillo.

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Image Credit: Roddy Cons @TheTeamOnTour

 

She still attends games at the stadium which she is now synonymous with to this day and in a February 2019 sit-down interview conducted via CA Pinto’s YouTube channel she tells of the strong relationship that she has with the side’s current president Oscar Garvin, acting as a confidante and offering advice as and when requested. CA Pinto, despite their modest status in the Tercera Division are committed to the creation of a women’s side something which Amelia is excited for with a hope that one day she will see her granddaughters don the black and red of a club which she calls in that same interview, “mi primer hijo” – my first child.

Her legacy has been lasting not only in Pinto but across the women’s game in Spain. In 2016 Eibar, currently plying their trade in Spain’s top tier, appointed Amaia Gorostiza Telleria as their, and also the Primera Divison’s, first ever female president. A role she is still succeeding in to this day. At a time of oppression for Spanish women, where it seemed your chromosomal constitution was more important than anything you wished to do or achieve, Amelia del Castillo not only survived but she thrived.

She was not only a pioneer she was: La Pionera.

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If you want to see what Estadio Municipal Amelia del Castillo looks like now then you can do so via Roddy Cons excellent YouTube Channel The Team on Tour exploring the lower leagues in Madrid and beyond. If it wasn’t for his video from CA Pinto’s Tercera Division clash with Santa Ana I never would have known about Amelia del Castillo, had my curiosity raised to read further about her story and then commit what I had learned to the pages of Leading the Line. The link to it I have included here.

 

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Wu Lei – From China to Catalonia

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It’s the 5th December 2015 four months after Zhang Chengdong became the first Chinese player to set foot in La Liga arriving as he did on a season long loan from Chinese Super League side Beijing Guoan. Rayo Vallecano are hosting Getafe in the first leg of their Last 32 Copa Del Rey tie. The then 25-year-old started at right back, playing 66 minutes of the home side’s 2-0 victory.

Having already had experience on the Iberian Peninsula with Portuguese sides CD Mafra, União Leiria and Beira-Mar along with a twelve game spell in Germany at Eintracht Braunschweig there was some hope that Zhang, a Chinese International, would bring something on the pitch as well as towards the Rayo coffers. Unfortunately that didn’t prove to be the case, and his only other appearance came 25 days later, a ten minute cameo during a 2-0 defeat to Rayo’s city rivals Atletico Madrid. At the end of the season he returned to Beijing having played a total of 76 minutes for Paco Jemez’s side. The next season he moved to Hebei China Fortune where he currently ply’s his trade.

Zhang was one of La Liga’s first forays into an Asian market that has become an ongoing obsession not only of those who run the league (La Liga TV advertises kick offs in CET (Central European Time), New York and Beijing time) but also to the clubs within it too. This is perhaps best illustrated in the excellent Six Dreams series that follows the pursuit of Takashi Inui’s signature during the 2017/18 season by both Real Betis and Girona. Inui’s dynamism since his arrival at Ipurua had already singled him out as a player to be coveted but it was perhaps the Eibar midfielder’s commercial reach in Japan that was viewed as even more important by the Sporting Directors in both Seville and Catalonia. Such was Inui’s impact in Spain that in 2016 the first ever Eibar Supporters Club in Japan was set up. This is Eibar! A team based in a town of 27,000 playing in the smallest stadium in the Spanish top flight. Even after Inui’s eventual departure to Los Verdiblancos in the summer Eibar’s link to the Land of the Rising Sun remained with the Basque side setting up a cultural partnership with J-League team Tokyo Verdy.

Inui is not the only example and whilst the success of Japanese and Korean imports have now become the norm, not only in Spain but across Europe, Chinese players have continued to struggle to make their mark outside of their homeland with perhaps only the modest success of players such as Li Tie (Everton) and Zheng Zhi (Charlton Athletic & Celtic) being of any real note.

Enter Wu Lei, Espanyol’s €2m signing from Shanghai SIPG, the Catalan’s side Chinese owners The Rastar Group being viewed as key protagonists in getting the deal over the line. With the previously mentioned Zhang Chengdong the only reference point for most Spanish fans and media the move has been met with much scepticism and in some circles written off as merely “strategic”, an attempt to get a slice of the increasingly lucrative Chinese market as opposed to improving performances on the pitch. Wu Lei is not your average Chinese footballer though.

He arrived at the RCDE Stadium having scored 120 goals in 217 games for the defending Chinese Super League champions at a rate of 0.55 goals per game. He has been the Chinese Super League Top Goalscorer every year since 2013 and been a member of the league’s Team of the Season for just one year less. A not inconsiderable feat when you consider the array of stars that have turned up in China over recent years including former teammates Hulk and Oscar to name but two. His 2018 ended with him being crowned both Chinese Football Association (for all players) and Chinese Footballer (for Chinese only players) of the Year. If ever there was a time for Espanyol’s owners to make a move this was it.

They were understandably quick to heap praise on their new signing with an official statement hailing his arrival as “one of the most important in the sides modern history”. There was no bedding in period though with Los Periquitos in the midst of a nine game winless run. He was named on the bench for their trip to Villarreal, the La Liga TV cameras tracking his every move and reaction to the play raging before him. With 12 minutes remaining and his side facing up to yet another defeat he entered the fray. An estimated viewership of over 40 million in his homeland saw his new side pull back a one goal deficit to earn a point at the Estadio de La Ceramica.

His home debut followed just six days later agaisnt Rayo Vallecano after an injury to Argentine forward Pablo Piatti brought La Liga’s latest Asian sensation into the action. On 72 minutes the striker picked up the ball and cut inside the penalty area beating first one, and then another Rayo defender before being brought down, VAR confirming the referee’s original decision to point to the spot. Borja Iglesias converted the resulting penalty and an injury time Sergei Dardar winner ensured that Espanyol’s long winless run had finally come to an end. His first start, a 0-0 draw away to Valencia, passed without much fanfare however in his side’s next games at home to Huesca and then Real Valladolid Wu started to show that he had the ability to help drag his new side away from the bottom of the table. Against Huesca his improvised half volley was well saved by keeper Roberto Santamaria before another mazy run coming in from the left saw his effort smack off the near post. Eight days later, again at the RCDE Stadium, he made his most telling impact to date. Firstly a flick on from a deep cross fell to Mario Hermoso who put the Catalan’s 2-1 up against their visitors from Castille y Leon. Then on the 65th minute in front of another gargantuan viewing audience of 25m+ in his homeland he latched on to a through ball from Sergei Dardar before calmly sliding the ball past Jordi Masip in the opposing goal, sealing a victory for his rejuvenated side.

In his five appearance since his arrival he has scored once, assisted twice and looked more than comfortable in his new footballing environment creating chances and contributing to an upturn in his new side’s form. Whilst it is still early days the €2m fee that Espanyol’s owners paid has the makings of being the bargain of the season not just commercially but on the field as well. Zhang Chengdong and Wu Lei are currently international team mates and whilst in the red shirt of the People’s Republic of China they may for some be seen as equals, it’s safe to say that in just five games Espanyol’s newest acquisition has easily surpassed the achievements of his compatriot four years ago.

For more Spanish football commentary, opinions and stats follow @MFPTasty on Twitter on subscribe to Leading the Line.

Gareth Bale: A Welshman in White

Before Real Madrid lost the second of two Clásicos and the capitulation against Ajax that followed the pressure was on Gareth Bale to step up to the plate and prove he really could be the man to takeover the Cristiano legacy. Here at Leading the Line we took a look at what the Welshman has achieved since his move to the Spanish capital.

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So 13 trophies, key goals and a strong goal scoring record suggest that there is plenty to admire about Bale’s contribution to Real’s recent era of European dominance but has he played enough and now given the end of the era feel currently circulating the Santiago Bernabéu will he still be in Spain come the start of the 2019/20 season?

For more Spanish football commentary, opinions and stats follow @MFPTasty on Twitter on subscribe to Leading the Line.

Got a stat request then why not leave a comment below.

 

 

Are Valencia Having the Luck of the Draw?

Draws are big business in La Liga this season and whilst Villarreal (11) and Athletic Bilbao (12) have racked up more than their fair share it is Valencia who currently lead the way with the Gameweek 23 0-0 draw at home to Real Sociedad being the 13th of their season.

Currently residing in 8th place just outside the European places after a testing start to their campaign where new signings and the added pressure of the Champions League seemed to affect form it begs the question are Los Che better off with their baker’s dozen of “empates” or will these drawn come back to bite them come season end? Leading the Line delved into the numbers and took a look.

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So there you have it. From the games drawn this season Marcelino’s side could currently be four places and six points better off at the time of compilation if results had gone further in their favour. With 15 games still to go this season these single pointers could still prove vital in what is shaping up to be one of the most competitive La Liga tables in quite some time.

For more Spanish football commentary, opinions and stats follow @MFPTasty on Twitter on subscribe to Leading the Line.

Got a stat request then why not leave a comment below.

 

Stuani: La Liga’s Ultimate One Man Team?

In a previous post on Leading the Line we looked at how a missing Iago Aspas was impacting on a struggling Celta Vigo side. But the Galician Gazelle isn’t the only contender for La Liga’s most crucial player. At Girona, where they have now not won in ten La Liga games (nine at time of data compilation) Uruguayan striker Cristhian Stuani has been responsible for more than half of all his side’s goals this season. But what impact have these goals had? Have they mattered, and where would the Catalan side be without them?

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Note: This data was first compiled at the end of Gameweek 22. In Gameweek 23 Girona continued their winless run with a 2-0 home defeat to bottom side Huesca. Unsurprisingly, given the scoreline, neither Cristhian Stuani or any of his team mates scored.

For more Spanish football commentary, opinions and stats follow @MFPTasty on Twitter or subscribe to Leading the Line.

The Calleja Conudrum

Villarreal are not where they expected to be at the start of the season, after spending over £60m during the summer transfer window on the likes of Gerard Moreno, Toko Ekambi, Carlos Bacca and Ramiro Funes Mori to name but a few, hopes were high that former player Javi Calleja would lead his side to European qualification at the very least. 15 games in and the former midfielder was sacked as The Yellow Submarine sunk into the La Liga relegation zone.

Luis Garcia Plaza was brought in to arrest that slide, however only six games into his winless tenure he too was dismissed with the aforementioned Calleja returning. The question remains for the Villarreal board now though is this a case of twice bitten, once shy? Do Calleja’s numbers warrant a second try?

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Note: This data was first compiled at the end of Gameweek 21. In the two games since Calleja’s reappointment Villarreal’s record is played two, drawn two against Espanyol and Real Valladolid respectively.

For more Spanish football commentary, opinions and stats follow @MFPTasty on Twitter or subscribe to Leading the Line.

The Iago Aspas Effect

In a season where so many La Liga’s sides have struggled for form and consistency Leading the Line looked at how much the absence of Celta’s talisman, Iago Aspas, has had on their season.

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Note: This data was first compiled at the end of Gameweek 21. In Gameweek 22 the boys from Balaidos bucked their Aspas-less losing trend with a 1-0 home victory against Sevilla. Aspas made his return from the bench during Gameweek 23 as Celta lost 3-1 away to Getafe.

For more Spanish football commentary, opinions and stats follow @MFPTasty on Twitter or subscribe to Leading the Line.