Although the climax of 2015/2016’s Spanish season brought misery for many Madrileños, with both ‘club of the people’ Rayo Vallecano and local rivals Getafe suffering relegation from La Liga, the small army of followers behind a tiny club from the southwest of the city were left enraptured, a tight win on the final day of the season meaning they would taste the glory of top tier football for the first time in the side’s 88-year history.
That history began in 1928 when Félix Pérez de la Serna founded a team named Club Deportivo. Once Leones (The Eleven Lions) – later to become Leganés. The team soon earned the nickname ‘Los Pepineros’, owing to the town’s reputation for growing delicious cucumbers and is surprisingly flattering considering that describing something as a cucumber in Spanish oddly equates to saying it’s very good.
By the 1930s, the club had reached the second highest division in Spanish football, but a reorganization of the system in 1934 resulted in the side’s removal from the competition. Two years later, the Spanish Civil War led to a cessation in all club activity that would last ten full years.
Returning in 1946, Leganés demonstrated their commitment to the cucumber cause by switching from a Barcleona-esque kit to green and white colours, before eventually settling on the current blue and white design in 1954. The impetus of the pre-war era wasn’t recaptured, though, and it took another 30 years for Los Pepineros to regain top-flight aspirations.
A sharp upturn in both ambitions and results meant promotion to Segunda División B – the third tier – in 1987 left the club as near as they had been in decades to the city’s giants. Six years later, with a side averaging 22 years of age and only a small minority of professional players, Leganés were promoted once more to finally reach Spain’s second tier.
The rest of the nineties were dominated by club restructures and near-relegations, a brief highlight being the loan signing of the side’s most famous ex-player, Samuel Eto’o making his professional debut for Leganés during a loan move from Real Madrid. Before moving on to Mallorca, Eto’o not only gained invaluable experience in La Segunda, but also found himself an agent, with teammate José Jesús Mesas becoming his representative.
Life in La Segunda continued to be difficult for Los Pepineros, however, and after a brief, disastrous takeover by Argentine music promoter Daniel Grinbank, they were relegated back to the third tier. Grinbank bought the club in 2003 and signed no less than 15 compatriots with the aim of immediate promotion to La Liga, but the results didn’t match his ambition and he abandoned them in January 2004, releasing all the players he had signed. Unsurprisingly, Leganés were back in Segunda B just a few months later.
The battle to reinstate themselves in the second division lasted until just two years ago, inspired by the appointment of former journeyman player Asier Garitano as manager. Garitano came in at the start of the 2013/14 season – and by June, the Madrileños had finally secured promotion.
A campaign in which poor results on the road cancelled out a terrific home record followed, but Leganés would only have to wait one more year until Garitano was once again taking them up, this time to the previously unattainable promised land of La Liga.
As the club’s official website puts it “On the 4th of June 2016, Leganés achieved what was unthinkable for many: the first promotion to La Liga in their history…Thanks to Asier Garitano and an exceptional group of players, Leganés made the dream of a city and generations of pepineros reality: Lega is in La Liga.”
An insight into how small the club’s infrastructure is can be found in a quick look at their stadium, Estadio Municipal Butarque. Until recent developments required by their promotion were made, the Butarque housed just over 8000 fans, making it one of the smallest grounds in Spanish professional football; even with the upgrades, Leganés still play in a stadium which holds less than not only the grounds of Madrid’s other four football but teams, but the city’s Estadio National Complutense – used by a collection of local rugby teams.
The lack of big budgets is also demonstrated by the side’s transfer dealings – until this year they hadn’t signed a single player of substantial worth, and have only splashed €3.2 million in preparing the squad for clashes against sides such as Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Financial weight might be an issue, but passion is certainly not lacking – that Leganés have sold all of their 8800 season tickets for the season is an indication of locals being as proud of their club as their cucumbers.
This support could be vital in the realization of the dream to remain in the top tier, with a town unified under the inspiring command of Garitano having already achieved so much, there’s no reason to suggest they’ll be heading back down immediately. Early results, too, indicate a team unwilling to surrender without a fight; a win away to Celta Vigo and a gritty, if somewhat fortunate, draw at home to Atletico Madrid positive early signs in the long season.