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fields transformed into car washes and real estate ‘pelotazos’

Cervià de Les GarriguesWhen Cervià opened the 2012-2013 season by beating Puigvertenc 5-0, few could imagine that the club’s days were numbered. The Garrigues team finished in mid-table, but did not continue competing the following year. Its field, which years ago had witnessed Primera Catalana matches, was abandoned and, months later, it became a municipal car park. Now the City Council is about to turn it into a car wash. “It’s been a long time since we’ve had football, and it doesn’t seem like there’s any chance of getting it back,” says Mayor Mercè Rubió to ARA, in the face of criticism. And it is that nostalgia pushed some neighbors to present allegations against the washing machine project. “It cost a lot to build this stadium and I’m sorry that it’s lost like this”, regrets one of the people who disapproved of the proposal. The majority of opponents had asked for a referendum that was never called.

Controversies aside, the disintegration of rural football is a fact that seems inevitable in the towns of Lleida. Cervià was founded in 1921 and became the first federated team of the Garrigues. But almost a hundred years later, the lack of athletes in the town made it disappear. The last president of the club, Salvador Muntanyola, remembers that in recent years “very few people came to the field”. And this is a story that repeats itself.

Sant Martí de Maldà (in Urgell) was another of Ponent’s fearsome clubs. At the end of its existence, it played two years in Primera Catalana and competed head-to-head against regional capitals such as Cervera, Tremp and Mollerussa. The great participation of young people in the 90s had pushed the City Council to build a new football field. But in 2005, due to some financial problems and the lack of involvement of the board, it closed. Now the town has two football pitches: the older one is in ruins and the other, totally impractical. The council admits that there are no resources to convert them. “When I walk past them, I have to hold back the tears of pain they make”, confesses one of the club’s historic leaders, Ramon Pallàs.

There are quite a few abandoned fields in the demarcation. Almatret (Segrià) is one of the most graphic. His team was always in Tercera Regional and at the end of the eighties it disappeared. More than a decade later, at the height of the real estate bubble, a construction company obtained the rights to the field to plan a dozen homes there. But the company went bankrupt and the building was unfinished. Later, the City took back the land and is still looking for funding to give it a way out. “We would like to build a service center, but we don’t have the million it would cost us”, regrets mayor Jordi Tarragó. In Almatret, more than half of the population is 65 years of age or older, they have to continuously look after the water supply and need to manage a large forest area. Too many open fronts.

In Sarroca (Segrià) there is another field that is so full of vegetation that some leisure companies use it to organize paintball matches in which the participants are camouflaged in the grass. Almost the same thing happens in Vilosell (Garrigues) and Alfés (Segrià). In Sunyer (Segrià), the old stadium is now a municipal warehouse, and the one in Montgai (Noguera) is used as a caravan park. There are many cases, and one of the most positive is that of Penelles (Noguera), where the disappearance of the club pushed the City Council to rehabilitate the field to make it available to a soccer school where children come from other towns to train. “We couldn’t let a green lung go to waste in the middle of the town,” says mayor Eloi Bergós.

Abandoned football pitch in Cervià de les Garrigues.

Transition to futsal

The Catalan Football Federation has 134 clubs and around 9,000 licenses registered in Lleida and Andorra. The figures are 60% higher than a decade ago, but it does not deny the depopulation of rural football. What is happening is that this sport is now more concentrated in the cities (there are more than twenty entities in the capital Lleida alone) and the number of futsal clubs has increased in the smaller towns (half a hundred in the whole demarcation). It is a natural transition for many towns that have lost traditional football in recent years. Fewer players are needed and it looks cheaper.

Maials (Segrià) is an example. The club went out of business in 2002 and the field was abandoned for use skates. In a few years, the new generations started practicing futsal in the neighboring towns until they realized that in Maials there were enough young players to create their own team. Now the club has 90 players of different ages and is one of the most competitive in Catalonia.

In Corbins (Segrià) this sport was launched in 2005 to contribute players to an 11-a-side football team that ended up being extinguished. With more than a hundred athletes and ten teams, futsal is now the king sport of the town.

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