I have never seen my team beat our local rivals, Valencia, away from home. No one has, actually. There's a hidden treasure inside Mestalla for us Levante fans, but the Granotas have never been able to figure out how the map works. Or maybe they’ve just got the wrong piece of parchment. Either way, on this day, to get away with a single point could make the trip worth it for a set of fans too used to being knocked out in such venue.
We hoped, at least, to have a good day out. Valencia are battling to get into Champions League and, as they say, keep their options of a league title alive. Meanwhile, Levante are trying to avoid relegation. It's only our 10th season in top flight — quite a small number for being the oldest team in the region, but it’s our fifth consecutive year in La Liga. This stability is our club’s biggest achievement.
The week leading up to the match has been weird, to say the least. The feeling you expect in a city waiting to host a football derby wasn't there — not, at least, for the vast majority who got lost in a series of other Spanish football headlines, including the Atlético–Real Madrid Champions League derby being played just 24 hours later. Levante fans were just waiting for their time to appear on the scene, hoping to avoid another painful loss at the home of Valencia.
We had been given hope for the derby because of what had transpired on Tuesday, when we pushed Sevilla to the brink. We still lost as usual, but played well against a side who captured Europa League glory last year and are pushing for more of the same this season. After that performance, an away win began getting floated about as a more likely prospect as the week wore on. After all, in football, you never know. We wanted to believe — and, if we didn’t, then who would?
The weekend arrived, but our derby was to be played the following Monday, meaning there was nothing to do on Saturday and Sunday but watch La Liga’s other sides do battle. Astoundingly, all of Levante’s rivals at the end of the table gained points, with an unlikely few even winning their fixtures. Suddenly, the derby’s stakes grew even higher for a club whose prospects of survival were growing slimmer each day.
At long last, though, it was Monday. Derby day.
The words “us” and “them” were created for these days. The days where one meets one's people and rebuffs the others. A day to feel proud of one's convictions and let the world know about them. So, after a meal with mates washed down with a few beers, there we were, trespassing across enemy lines, brandishing scarfs, banners and flags after a three-kilometre walk from one stadium to the other. We were now on their turf. Derby day. This was it.
We were in seventh heaven as we entered the stadium. Not because we were happy — we were, though—but because the section for away fans is located in row Z, at the very top of Mestalla. After a few minutes of breathing the thinner air, the players came out of the tunnel — and it all became real. One of the highlights of the season, the fixture we had circled on our calendar when all the dates were published, was about to kick off.
The anticipation mounted and Levante was buouyed by the occasion, keeping the ball well in the very first moments of the match and even collecting a few chances. We were buzzing, both on the field and on the stands, but after just 16 minutes, Valencia striker Paco Alcácer put his name on the scoresheet after a fine header between two Levante defenders. He then pointed to the badge he was wearing on his shirt: Valencia CF. End of story.
Two more goals came, bringing the final tally to 3-0, and the mocking that we knew so well from the past, commenced. Valencia fans gloated, telling us to go down to the third division, but I’m confident we’ll meet again next season. We’ve still got a job to do, and a hidden treasure to find inside Mestalla.