From an idea dreamt up in a local café on the famous La Rambla in the city to pitting their wits against some of the finest and most talented players in world football, Girona Football Club are the newest additions to the Spanish Primera Division after at long last making the jump from the second to the first tier after several years of trying. Founded in 1930 and in many ways helped by the disappearance of former side Unió Esportiva Girona around the same time, Girona started their footballing journey during the 1933/34 season in the third tier of Spanish football before fluctuating somewhat for at least forty years in between the second and third division. Despite first place finishes most notably in two of their first three seasons as an established outfit and several more that followed, elimination in the play-off rounds which ultimately determined those promoted therefore meant the club would face an uphill battle to make the step up – a battle which has almost taken an incredible eighty six years to fully achieve.
Despite initially offering Girona a way out of the third tier where the club applied their trade for an incredible eighteen consecutive seasons between 1959 and 1977, the creation of the Segunda Division B ultimately did very little to help Girona progress higher up the Spanish footballing charts. If anything it was only during the two decades that followed the inception of a sub division within the second tier in which Girona slid even further away from the top, dropping into regional leagues within Cataluña most notably for two consecutive seasons between 1997 and 1999. The turn of the millennium however with the benefit of hindsight appeared to bring new hope, greater optimism and a fresh start for the club as for once Girona not only began simply looking upwards but doing things right both on and off the pitch to help finally obtain their long standing objective.
Looking at the first decade of the modern era, in using one word to describe Girona’s development since the year 2000, whilst you could perhaps categorise the club’s return to and first five years back in the Tercera as ‘stable’ then Girona’s upwards progression ever since has been nothing short than ‘prosperous’ to say the least. Bookmarked either side by two Round of 32 finishes in the Copa Del Rey (2004/05 & 2013/14), the latter half of the 00’s saw Girona sow the necessary seeds and plant sufficient foundations which have contributed almost a decade later in the club’s recent ascension to La Liga. Consequently a successful return to Segunda B was soon topped by gradual progression throughout the Segunda itself, onwards from 2008 with the club perhaps coming closest to the big prize initially during the 2012/13 season only to be prevented by elimination in the finals of the play-off’s to the Primera Division.
In equal measure just as Girona began to show signs of recovery and even growth on the pitch, there was every indication away from the playing field of an incredibly forward-thinking club with their eyes firmly set on a highly sought after promotion to the Primera. Significant investment made in 2010 by a group of local businessmen not only witnessed the club change ownership with a 72% stake of Girona being bought but both the creation of a youth team in 2011 and the widely popular ‘Girona FC también es mío’ (Girona FC is mine too) two years later most certainly underlined the club’s ambitions going forward. With increased capital and internal stability you could really sense a corner being turned but for the club’s progress away from the pitch at the turn of the decade they still hovered around mid-table for some time making the next decade all the more important.
In a much greater search than ever before for the one thing that had eluded the club for over eighty years, as where Girona had failed previously to build on high placed finishes in the Segunda and opportunities for promotion in the playoffs, from the 2012/13 season Girona have been edging ever closer to the top tier with three top four finishes’ prior to last season. Therefore with their eyes firmly fixed on La Liga, the agony of being denied promotion by a last-minute goal by visitors Lugo during the final game of the 2014/15 season would be soon eclipsed by the emphatic scenes, jubilation and ‘ilusión’ of the last league campaign as Girona finally made certain of their promotion as runners up with second placed finish. Avoiding the playoff’s which had haunted the club on numerous occasions, Girona finished the season as the league’s top goalscorers and edged promotion by a mere two points, making ‘Historía’ in the process and providing the Spanish top tier with yet another team from the region.
At a cost of 28,000,000 pesetas, Girona’s Montilivi Stadium opened its doors to Girona in August 1970 and has since played host to Girona Football Club for just over forty six years. Situated in the local town of Montilivi in the city of Girona, the stadium is known at present to have a maximum capacity of 9286 seated supporters with redevelopment work ongoing this figure is subject to change given the notable reconstruction work taking place at the Gol Nord section of the stadium. Despite the maximum number of seated spectators standing at just over 9000 people, this didn’t stop almost 25,000 spectators taking to Montilivi at the start of the 1970’s for a match against FC Barcelona – a figure to this day which stands as a club record for attendance figures.
As well as hosting the annual Costa Brava Trophy organised by Girona each summer during preseason, Montilivi has of course been Girona’s home for almost five full decades hosting the club from the regional division’s right up until next season’s ascension to the Spanish top flight. Yet despite regular improvements made to the ground since 2010 to increase capacity and a long lease guarantee agreed with the local council, given the demands of top flight football Montilivi has subsequently had to adapt ahead of the club’s historic season in La Liga. From improvements and upgrades in lighting and the club’s media centre, Girona intend to complete an increase in Montilivi’s capacity to 15,000 in accordance with La Liga regulations in the next two years. Together with changes made to the playing surface and accompanying drainage, Girona’s promotion has led to a number of modern changes at Montilivi with the stadium almost in perfect shape and stature to welcome top flight Spanish clubs this season and beyond.
Although some have doubted the validity of the idea that those who perform worse during their playing careers ultimately go on to have success as a football manager, in the case of Girona boss Pablo Machín there is every suggestion to say that could be the case. After a five year playing career that came to a premature end at the age of twenty three years old, Machín continued working in the sport with Numancia, a club where he spent five years as player before joining the club as a youth coach for six years from the year 2000 onwards. It was from where Machín would develop and learn his trade, soon making the step up from Numancia’s youth setup to the club’s B team where he himself had spent his first season as a professional during the 1993/94 season before leading his side’s B team to the playoffs in the 2006/07 season.
His success certainly did not go unnoticed as Machín went from strength to strength, gradually progressing up the ladder at his beloved Numancia, first as an assistant with the first team for four seasons before replacing fired Juan Carlos Unzué as first-team manager in May 2011 before leading the club to solid mid-table finishes in his two seasons as manager of the club. Yet after Girona came calling after sacking former boss Javi López, Machín was to leave Numancia for pastures new for the first time in both his playing and managerial career. However in what have may originally been viewed as a risky move for the relatively untested manager tasked with keeping the club up in March 2014, a win percentage of 53.85% ultimately keeping the club up with games to spare earned Machín a two year contract extension with both his and the club’s sights firmly set on much more than Segunda safety.
Consequently aims of survival soon transformed into much, much more as Machín led Girona to a record points total during the 2014/15 season only to be narrowly beaten to promotion by Sporting after a surprise final day draw which ultimately halted the club’s charge to the top. In the season that followed, despite a poor start under Machín which would hinder Girona’s chances of promotion a year later, their end of season form not only perhaps kept Machín in the job but also provided solid foundations for the impressive league form which saw Girona at long last do the unthinkable and gain promotion to the Spanish top flight. Even with a similar early season purple patch which may well be something to keep an eye on as Girona head into the unknown of what is their first experience of the Spanish top flight, a run of title winning form from Machín’s men after eleven games into the season guided the club to automatic promotion and dizzy heights that had never been seen before at the club.
After obtaining an impressive win record of 46.62% at the club prior to the start of the 2017/18 season you could say Machín has not only exceeded expectations but perhaps exceeded those gained during his short playing career. Similarly no matter what his first season in La Liga may throw at him, his reputation as the man that eventually led the club to the holy grail of Spanish football and status amongst the club fans will never been forgotten making Machín the right man to lead Girona into their first season in the Spanish top flight.
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