Rivalry is one of the elements that gives football its essence. Compendiums of the world’s great derbies adorn the internet, listing the most explosive. Most are based on geographical lines — the local derby, the fight for pride of a city or region with the various social, political or historical aspects that lend each its flavour.
Others exist on a wider footing — huge clubs that play out their battles on a national level with titles often for the taking on top of the broader fault-lines that lie below.
There is however, a unique subset of football rivalry. That which ignites and burns so rapidly that it rarely achieves a permanence that would garner a place on an internet top fifty. One which erupts between two sets of players, coaches or fans who just in a particular circumstance rub each other up the wrong way, creating a kind of ‘flash derby’ that exists beyond the realm of the geographical or political.
One such beef that exploded recently is that between Valencia and Getafe.
Valencia will need little introduction to most. Spanish footballing blue-bloods with an established European pedigree currently featuring the likes of midfield metronome Dani Parejo, naturalised Spanish international forward Rodrigo and the successor to Jordi Alba’s throne on the left flank —Jose Gayá.
The diminutive and erudite figure of Marcelino García Toral was the coach who had restored Valencia from laughing stock to serious footballing proposition and was one of the main protagonists in fanning the flames of this particular feud.
Hailing from the blue-collar satellite towns to the south of Madrid, Getafe are an altogether different proposition. After ascending the entire Spanish football pyramid, they maintained their top flight status for a remarkable span of twelve seasons before finally tumbling to Segunda in 2016 with the feeling that they had never quite established themselves or managed to carve a lasting identity, despite heroic runs in the UEFA Cup and Copa del Rey.
However, far from sinking anonymously back into the lower reaches the club immediately found a head coach in José Bordalás, who not only led them back to Primera at the first attempt but instilled the team with a real personality. Getafe reemerged at the top level as uncompromising street fighters whose intense approach was best characterised by a friend who remarked: “They spend 90 minutes making you dig your own grave – then hit you over the head with the shovel.”
The exceptional Dakonam Djené and a nucleus of Uruguayans make them difficult to break down whilst the veteran, analytics-defying forward permutations of Jaime Mata, Jorge Molina or Ángel Luis have helped turn Getafe into firmly established European contenders and brought previously unheard of crowds and atmosphere to the stadium once mockingly referred to as the ‘Coliseum’ Alfonso Perez.
Upon Getafe’s return to the top flight in the 2017/18 season the two sides played out a pair of tensely fought league encounters from which Getafe emerged improbably with all six points. The December matchup in ‘el Coliseum’ was particularly notable as Getafe played for over an hour with ten men yet somehow managed to end Valencia’s unbeaten start to the season with a solitary deflected goal, holding out for a heroic win. A befuddled Valencia limped back on to the team bus with mutterings of gamesmanship — assistant coach Rubén Uría complaining of a dry, unwatered pitch and an opponent whose sheer physicality had surprised them.
That characterisation of their opponent’s style was the spark that lit the touchpaper as on the eve of the sides’ Copa del Rey quarter-final in January 2019, Marcelino spoke candidly to the assembled press about facing up to a “very intense team that plays on the edge of the rules”.
As much as Getafe have forged themselves an identity and won many admirers with the success borne of their spiky approach, one other feature of their return has been their bristly reaction whenever opponents and particularly opposition coaches have appraised their style.
Marcelino’s comments were to emerge as the main headlines of a feisty first leg in which Getafe substitute Molina lashed home the only goal of the game off the underside of the crossbar, sparking scenes of delight and mocking cries of ‘Marcelino llorón‘ (Marcelino crybaby) from both the stands and more pointedly from the opposing dugout.
Unsurprisingly, no handshake took place between the two head coaches although Bordalás insisted there was “no problem whatsoever” before then deftly adding that he had, however, noticed that “Marcelino had had problems with other coaches, including Jurgen Klopp in their last meeting. I’m sure you all know what was said”.
Bordalás had clearly been poring over press cuttings of Marcelino’s spell in charge of Villarreal. Amongst them he’d found a high profile ally in the popular Liverpool manager who after a bad-tempered Europa League semi-final complimented Marcelino as a “great coach” before adding the cutting qualifier: “I would not want to be like him for a second of my life.”
With just a week until the return leg in Mestalla, the tie was beautifully poised and there was little time for any ire to cool. In the pre-match press rounds Bordalás did attempt to strike a more measured and neutral tone however Marcelino drew up a play from his nemesis’ playbook combining the neutral “I am the Valencia coach, and I cannot respond to personal attacks” with allusion to a previous third party attack on his opposite number: “Just imagine if I used the words that the people around Cata Diaz used to speak about Bordalás.”
In Marcelino’s week of frantic googling, he had happened upon the social media account of the wife of former Getafe defender Diaz, who upon the loss of his place in the side attacked Bordalás as “false, a traitor, a coward”.
¡Tocó en Hugo Duro! ¡Tocó en Hugo Duro, que le negó el gol a su compañero!Miguel Ángel Román, commentator Movistar
As every good boxing promoter knows nothing draws the world’s attention quite like a bit of bad blood. By kick-off under the steepling terraces of Mestalla, Spain’s footballing public were tuning in with the anticipation of some fireworks. They were not to be disappointed.
Molina swept Getafe ahead after just 37 seconds, leaving Valencia with the task of scoring three without reply to progress. Urged on by a raucous home support, Valencia came close on several occasions but just on the hour mark when hopes had started to fade, Rodrigo finally made the breakthrough.
Further encouragement came when Djené saw a harsh second yellow with a quarter of an hour remaining. Still, the real drama was to come after the board went up to indicate that Valencia had seven minutes of added time to find the two goals that would see them through.
A minute and a half later Santi Mina teed up Rodrigo’s second, giving the Mestalla belief and setting up a frantic finale.
Then, in a scarcely believable passage of play, a Getafe break saw a tie-clinching opportunity fall to the reliable right boot of Jorge Molina. The series of events are best described in the words of the commentator on the night Miguel Ángel Román.
“There goes Jorge Molina who runs as if he were still a kid, still Jorge Molina who steps into the area, he can shoot… He hit Hugo Duro! He hit Hugo Duro, who denied his teammate a goal! And now the immediate reply of Valencia, how beautiful is football when it goes crazy. Sent into the area by Gameiro, Rodrigoooo… Bueno, bueno, bueno, bueno!” Gooooool! This is madness my friends, this is madness.”
Just thirteen seconds and eight touches of the ball had separated the unfortunate intervention of Getafe youngster Hugo Duro’s back and the ball hitting the net at the other end of the field. Rodrigo’s hat-trick sent Valencia through to the semi-finals amid delirious celebrations which included the goalscorer himself collecting a booking for an ironic and exaggerated ‘cry baby’ gesture in support of his coach and in mockery of their opponents.
The final whistle sparked a bloody brawl which the sports newspapers gleefully plastered all over their pages the following morning while simultaneously disapproving of such scenes. “What should have been a party, with a winner and a loser, turned into an embarrassing spectacle with scenes of punches, pushes and bloody faces that cannot be repeated”, opined a Marca editorial on the very same double-page spread that featured a huge photograph of the brawl with a bare-chested and bloody Gabriel centre stage alongside the headline ‘A Fight Foretold’.
Roman’s brilliant encapsulation of the moment was to become the soundtrack to what would become a famous Valencia season.
After eliminating Real Betis in the semi-finals, Valencia arrived in Sevilla for the final with many fans proudly sporting t-shirts with Roman’s words plastered across them. A surprisingly comfortable win against a Barcelona still in an Anfield-induced depressive haze saw Parejo lift Valencia’s first trophy in over a decade.
The ensuing celebrations elevated Román’s classic commentary to the more modern-day setting of internet meme. In the homecoming at Mestalla, Gabriel unapologetically led the chant of ‘Tocó en Hugo Duro, tocó en Hugo Duro…” the memory of their quarter-final opponents seemingly still fresh in the mind.
In the intervening months, the two had crossed paths in the league as they both had eyes set on 4th place and a place in the Champions League. Getafe returned to Mestalla on the 17th March, impressively neutralising Valencia in a goalless draw which kept them in 4th place with a healthy gap of six points over Valencia with ten games remaining.
Getafe, however, stuttered in their remaining games while Valencia strung together six wins out of nine which left them level on points and with the head-to-head advantage over Getafe as they went into their final league games.
Getafe conceded a late equaliser at home to Villarreal but by that time they were resigned to 5th place as Valencia were cruising to a facile 2-0 win at Valladolid.
At first glance, Valencia’s win looked like a typical end of season scenario where a motivated side had beaten a team that had the week before achieved safety and had spent the week enjoying some of the local nightlife.
Events took a darker turn, though, when police highlighted the match during Operation Oikos, alleging that several Valladolid players may have received money to lose the game as part of a gambling fix.
After a tumultuous season Valencia had emerged on top in both league and cup over their new rivals. But what would become of this enmity as summer rolled around, blood cooled, and personnel came and went at both clubs? Would it ebb away and become just another game? Or would there be enough fuel to keep passions smouldering for when they next met?
Fortunately, this season’s two matchups have given us more evidence of the latter.
Despite the removal of Marcelino after his early-season sacking, September in Mestalla saw a thrillingly full-blooded 3-3 draw, full of fist pumps and incident.
Valencia limped into February’s return fixture depleted by injuries but found a Getafe side in no mood for charity as they ruthlessly demolished their opponents in as one sided a 3-0 victory as it’s possible to see. Jorge Molina, whose unfortunate cup miss had become Valencia folklore, was simply unplayable; scoring twice before receiving a standing ovation as he left the field. The manner of defeat provoked something of a meltdown in the Valencia defence that would derail them for weeks to come.
Valencia arrived weakened, Getafe had been waiting, and Bordalás was not one to forgive and forget. “Tocò dos veces Jorge Molina” crowed Getafe’s official twitter feed, riffing on that now-famous commentary line.
This rivalry still has some chapters to be written.