It’s Tuesday night. Valencia are hosting Lille at Mestalla. Not many stadiums can say that they scare their visitors – but Valencia’s is one of them. Tonight, Los Che are playing for their survival in the Champions League; if they lose they’ll have a foot and a half out of the exit door. When Valencia are up against it, though, Mestalla never fails to respond. This feels like one of those football nights that will be magical.
I’m lucky enough to live quite near the stadium. Two-and-a-half hours before kick-off, I jump on the train. By 7pm I’m on Avenida Suecia, where I meet up with fellow supporters close to the ground. There are pubs here where, waiting for the team bus to arrive, I can grab something cheap to eat and drink. When the bus arrives you can feel the ground shake. It’s as if Las Fallas, our March fireworks celebration, has been brought forward four months. Psychologically it feels like a big boost for the team with more than an hour to go before kick-off.
I enter the stadium as soon as the doors open. Though one of the oldest stadiums in Spain, Mestalla has many entrances. It is very easy to access. Once inside, I get goose bumps. I’m home. The Champions League anthem sounds and tears come to my eyes. Valencia had to fight to get back here.
At half-time Valencia are facing another fight: they are losing 1-0. But remember how I said that football nights can be magical at Mestalla? This one was. Valencia scored four goals to turn the match around and Mestalla roared like on few nights before. The dream of reaching the round of 16 was alive once more. The atmosphere at the end of the game was incredible; if you’d dragged a non-football fan in from the street, they might have thought we’d already won the competition.
Being a Valencia fan is a way of life. Mestalla, a stadium with more than 100 years of history, keeps on living its football in a very passionate way. The players always feel the warmth from the stands – and our opponents the heat. Outside there are posters that spell out it in several languages just what is waiting inside: This is Mestalla.