Córdoba: Andalusia’s Sleeping Giant
Written by Alan Feehely
Córdoba is a seductive city. The first time I arrived there was by bus at the end of August. I had spent the previous months working on a farm in the Alpujarra mountains, a mystical land in the province of Granada close to the sea and high in the air.
Life there was simple and rustic - we rose and set with the sun and I lived in a little hut. For my final week working on the farm a family of rats broke into the narrow space between my roof and ceiling and I could hear them at night, an event that perhaps hastened my exit. I left the farm before dawn one Monday morning - the spare, dramatic prose of Federico García Lorca, especially in the poem he named for the city had sparked action. Something was pulling me to Córdoba.
Lejana y sola.
Far away and alone.
The bus arrived in brilliant morning light - Andalusian summer heat descended upon a cinematic cityscape soaked in sun. After months in the countryside it was a shock to the system, a confluence of metropolitan clarity and lived-in vestige, a city permeated by the culture of flamenco, laced with drama and soul. As I disembarked the bus I thought back to the first time I listened to Camarón de la Isla at a house party in Barcelona some years before. The DJ that put it on had been flicking through her records before coming across Castillo de Arena. “Esto es de Andalucía,” she had said. “Tienen un alma brutal allí.”
My time there was brief but significant - Córdoba left a lasting impression. It reminds me of Seville, but in a way that’s less obvious. Like Seville it’s shrouded by hills of Andalusian legend, a world stalked by the ghosts of bandits, but it doesn’t proclaim its uniqueness to the world in the way in which Seville does - it’s not as assertive or direct. Córdoba is content with itself. It doesn’t need your approval - it looks you in the eye and bids you farewell secure in the knowledge of its own serenity.
I visited Córdoba’s stadium, El Arcángel. They didn’t run tours but some of the people outside the ground took an interest in what I was doing there. Their kindness, enthusiasm and passion struck me, and I developed an immediate interest in their football club.
Jaca negra, luna grande,
y aceitunas en mi alforja.
Aunque sepa los caminos
yo nunca llegaré a Córdoba.
Black jackfruit, big moon,
and olives in my saddlebag.
Although I know the way
I’ll never arrive in Córdoba.
“Once the capital of Al-Andalus and the greatest city in Western Europe, [Córdoba] was a memorial to a time when Muslims had been guardians of the most advanced culture in the world,” wrote Jason Webster in Andalus. “The Moorish Golden Age had begun here when, during the tenth century, the Emir Abd al-Rahman III claimed the title caliph for himself in opposition to the established caliph in Baghdad and a rival contender in North Africa. The caliph was theoretically the religious head of the world Islamic community in a similar way as the Pope is for Catholics.
“Home to 500,000 people - 200,000 more than today - Córdoba had boasted street lighting, 500 mosques, 300 public baths, 50 hospitals and 70 libraries. The Caliph Al-Hakam II was said to have built [a library] with half a million works in it and filled it with the advanced philosophical, scientific, mathematical, astronomical and medicinal learning that had been a part of the Islamic world since it came into contact with the disparate intellectual schools of Greece, Persia and India.”
Córdoba is the only city in the world to boast four UNESCO World Heritage Sites - the Medina Azahara, the Mosque-Cathedral, the Patio Festival and the Jewish quarter. The link between its history and present makes it a tourist’s dream - the summers there are the hottest in Europe, its gardens are world-renowned and its girls are apparently the prettiest in Spain. “It has a glorious past,” remarked Córdoba-based journalist Toni Cruz. “In Roman times it was the capital of Hispania Baetica and the Muslim occupation - with the emirate of the caliphate being Córdoba - has left a deep legacy on the city’s streets.”
Por el llano, por el viento,
jaca negra, luna roja.
La muerte me está mirando
desde las torres de Córdoba.
Through the plain, through the wind,
Black jackfruit, red moon.
Death is watching me
from the towers of Córdoba.
“Córdoba is a historic city in the context of Andalusia and Spain,” said Córdoba-based journalist Paco Merino. “It was one of the most prosperous capitals in the world - along with Damascus - during the period of Muslim domination and was a cradle of miscegenation and multiculturalism. This is reflected in its principal landmarks and attractions, all connected to its history of past splendour, as well as its way of being anchored in earlier times and more obsessed with what it was than embarking on plans of modernisation. This also carries over to football - the club enjoyed its golden age in the 1960s and since then has always lived on a tightrope.”
“It’s a city of tremendous heritage and monumental cultural wealth,” said Córdoba-based journalist Rafael Fernández. “Generally, Córdoba is seen to be a city with greater potential than it actually has, and this idea applies to its football club. Football supporters in Córdoba believe that they should be much higher in the Spanish football pyramid than they are, and that poor sporting management has always been what condemned it to the lower reaches.”
“Córdoba is the great sports institution of the city,” said Merino. “Its people identify with a club whose main characteristic is that of suffering, having gone through many difficult moments in its history. It was in absolute economic ruin and suffered relegation to Tercera División in 1984, but managed to return to Segunda B thanks to the help of footballers from Córdoba who dropped down a level or two to help their club return from ignominy. Pepín, for example, was in Primera with Real Valladolid and returned home to play.
“For a club that has never won titles and probably never will, the main attraction for supporters is the closeness of their relationship with the players,” Merino adds. “Here, coming from the academy is highly valued. Córdoba people like to see kids from the city make it to the first team, although inevitably the ones who stand out the most will be signed by clubs with greater financial strength in the higher divisions.”
Córdoba CF was founded on 6th August, 1954 due to a merger between San Álvaro and RCD Córdoba, the latter of which had operated since 1929 as Racing Córdoba. Before all of them was Sporting Córdoba, who were founded in 1928. Córdoba have won four titles in their entire history - Tercera, Segunda B (twice) and Segunda. “I’d love to tell you that Córdoba is of great importance to the city but it’s not really the case, said Fernández. “Córdoba has 325,000 inhabitants and when it played in the Primera back in 2014/15, it had 16,000 members. Now that’s dropped to about 6,500.”
¡Ay qué camino tan largo!
¡Ay mi jaca valerosa!
¡Ay que la muerte me espera,
antes de llegar a Córdoba!
Oh, what a long road!
Oh, my brave jackfruit!
Oh, death awaits me
before arriving in Córdoba!
“The future of Córdoba lies in getting out of Segunda B as soon as possible,” said Merino. “In this division, a project like Córdoba’s is simply unfeasible. The young players who stand out will leave in search of a better future and the club will only be able to sign veterans. At present, its squad is full of experienced players who have come from the higher divisions to help, such as captain Javi Flores, who joined from Elche, and Bernardo Cruz, who arrived from Granada.
“The changes in the ownership of the club have given Córdoba a stability and economic security that wasn’t there before. Córdoba has been through a horrendous era, with a president, Jesús Léon, who was arrested by the Civil Guard and accused of the commission of various white-collar crimes. Before him was the González family, who had lawsuits against them and accusations of unfair administration. In addition to all this, there were several unfortunate sporting seasons, with a deserved relegation from the Segunda and a year in the Segunda B that didn’t end in the desired fashion. The COVID-19 pandemic left the club unable to squeeze the potential out of their winter signings and the arrival of its new coach, Juan Sabas, who couldn’t even make his debut. To make matters even worse, in the last game before the end of the season, they were defeated at El Arcángel by Cartagena, who ended up earning promotion to the Segunda.
“Sabas is a figure of great importance. He’s a former footballer of great repute, and while he has little experience as a coach, he proved able to earn promotion with Extremadura. Córdoba have a sizable squad with lots of big names, so this campaign has seen them tipped as one of the favourites for promotion. It will be complicated, however, as there are 102 teams and just four can get out of the division. There are many other historical outfits in Segunda B including Deportivo de La Coruña, Racing Santander and Leonesa. The challenge is great, but Córdoba simply must escape from Segunda B to guarantee its future. The club’s Bahraini investors will only contemplate the narrative of a rise, and that’s a great pressure under which the club must perform.”
“Córdoba has just experienced possibly the worst season in its history,” said Fernández. “After relegation to Segunda B, the club were close to disappearing. The president and owner were arrested and is under criminal investigation for economic crimes he committed while at the club, and in his place came a judicial administration that enabled the club to survive. The current owners are the Royal Family of Bahrain, who control the club through an investment fund called Infinity Capital. The objective for this season is to gain promotion to Segunda and then to fight to be in Primera. They have one of the highest budgets and best squads in the division.”
“Right now, the only ambition for the club is to gain promotion to Segunda,” said Cruz. “Córdoba is simply not viable as a project in the semi-professional category of Segunda B, especially given the profound restructuring it’s undergoing within the next season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.” Córdoba as a football club has potential. Look at the passion exhibited on the terraces when Barcelona came to town back in 2012, or the band of supporters who travelled to the Canary Islands to witness their dramatic last-minute promotion to Primera back in 2014. All they need to do is to find a way to channel this historical significance and cultural strength into sporting success, and the injection of Bahrain capital and impetus could be the means to do that.
Lejana y sola.
Far away and alone.
Córdoba by Federico García Lorca.
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