Valencia is on Life Support and Peter Lim wants to charge his phone.

It was a muggy late afternoon as I made my way to Mestalla. It was one of those rare days in Valencia when the greyish, cloud filled sky incubates the humidity in the city and makes for a sweaty, sticky atmosphere. The close air fizzed with tension as I edged closer to the towering gradas of Estadio Mestalla. While scores of fans paced towards the 100 year old stadium, I was unsure just how many of them would take their seats inside.  

Valencia were due to play their final game in front of their own fans of the 2023/24 season. However, they played in front of a barely half full stadium made up of tourists, day trippers and kids. Season ticket holders, fan groups and ultras staged a massive boycott of the final game of the season in an attempt to convince Peter Lim to leave. 

Sunday 19th of May saw the biggest protest so far against the ownership of the club of Singaporean business magnate Peter Lim. Outside the ground on Avenida de Suecia thousands of fans gathered, angrily protesting his ownership. 

I arrived at Avenida de Suecia close to 6pm, about an hour before kick-off. I felt as though I was late. Hundreds of fans usually occupy this avenue that sits below the old, balconied stand that bears the images of heroes past. Usually they greet their team as they arrive and insult their opponents before entering the stadium to cheer on their team. This time they would not enter the stadium. 

Fans gather outside Mestalla before protest

It smelled. It smelled good. It smelled of beer, sweat, cigarettes and anger. It reminded me of being at a punk-rock gig or standing on Hill 16 in the mid noughties watching a substandard Dublin Gaelic football team stink the place out. Football creates a lot of emotions, or rather it allows these existing emotions to manifest. Peter Lim’s stewardship of Valencia makes fans angry. It’s more than just the normal, “the ref’s a donkey” anger. More than, “the manager’s shit” anger. It’s an anger that’s born out of frustration and sadness. This is a club that now sells their entire midfield for a pittance to its baby brother, Villareal. This is a team that is being gutted from the inside out. This is a team that plays in a crumbling stadium while a new stadium sits unfinished 15 years after ground was first broken. This is a team that is likely to sell their most impressive players over the summer. This is a team that has had no real investment in over a decade. This is a team that went from playing Champions League football to the cusp of relegation in three short years. So, the fans are angry. Very fucking angry. 

Before I reached the ground I bumped into two fans, I’d guess in their fifties. They were both half a foot shorter than me but covered the ground at a quicker pace. I wondered if they were rushing to make kick-off or if they were rushing to make the protest. I also wondered if they’d be interested in talking to me about the state of affairs at their club. I should have known however that any Valencianista is more than eager to spill their guts about Peter Lim. The most forthcoming of the two was Vicente, a season ticket holder at Mestalla for more than a quarter of a century. He, like most Valencia fans, was resigned to the fact that as long as the current ownership is in charge, things are unlikely to change. “It’s complicated because he’s the owner and he does whatever he feels. He is doing nothing for Valencia”

I asked him if he planned to take part in the planned protest. “Yes. Today, half and half. I’ll go in after the protest in the second half to encourage the kids. They deserve a bit of support, don’t they?” They do. It’s worth remembering that this Valencia team is made up of kids. They are by some distance the youngest team in La Liga, relying on the impressive output of their cantera. Cantera translates literally to quarry, and the Valencia academy is famed for unearthing gems. 

What has been happening with these gems once unearthed has been another source of dismay. They get sold for peanuts. “Almost gifted” according to Juan , another fan who I spotted on Avenida de Aragon underneath the towering Grada de la Mar. Juan was more than happy to talk to me. I knew he would be. He had a kind face and stood at least 6ft 2 inches tall. On his ample frame he wore a t-shirt emblazoned with a simple message. Lim Go Home. This simple message is seen on balconies throughout the city but this was the first time I had seen it on such a dashing t-shirt. Juan explained to me calmly yet passionately his gripes against the current ownership. “A historic club like Valencia is in the biggest rubbish you could ever see. We’ve been witnessing the decapitation of the team. He’s selling all the best players we have. The Stadium is falling down – we’ve no new stadium and they’re giving us no solution. Peter Lim, when he took over the club, told us that by 2019 the new stadium would be completed. In 2024 the stadium is still the same. He doesn’t want to invest money, he hasn’t invested anything. The only thing we have is Baraja.” 

Juan stands in front of Mestalla wearing his Lim Go Home t-shirt.

For how long Valencia will have Baraja is anyone’s guess. He has squeezed every drop out of this team of kids and is likely to be asked to do more with less next term. Georgian ‘keeper Georgi Marmadashvili is almost certain to be leaving Mestalla this summer. Javi Guerra, Cristhian Mosquera and possibly club captain José Gayà may all depart too.

At Avenida de Suecia it was now approaching kick-off. 7pm Spanish time. Tension was building. Veins bulged in foreheads and necks as angry fans strained to be heard belting out anti-Lim chant after anti-Lim chant. The fury spiked as those fans committed to staying outside Mestalla noticed others entering through the turnstiles. Whistles, jeers and then, unifying chants of Peter Vete Ya (Peter, go now) broke out. The repertoire so excellently honed in recent years was now to be unleashed for 45 minutes straight. Two ultras in their thirties paced in front of the sea of people, conducting their mob choir. Another with a drum kept time. They whipped their army up into a frenzy. They screamed intensely. Stared intensely. Moved intensely. They gave small nods of approval to younger fans who looked on in awe of their hooligan heroes. They continued with their songbook. 

I’ve always been fascinated by football chants. How is it that gay anthems like “Go West” become terrace hits? Valencia’s songsmiths have chosen some perplexing songs to anchor their chants but most of them, amazingly, really work. Even Michael Jackson’s You Are Not Alone works in Mestalla. 

Bonnie Tyler has had some bangers but I’m not sure I’d have ever expected to witness furious, angry fans sing Heartache quite so beautifully. It’s true that when the words are changed to Peter que se vaya, de una puta vez (Peter, leave, for fuckin once) it carries a different weight. A non Spanish speaker might have found the moment quite touching and actually, in a strange way it almost was. People were uniting. This was their city. Their club. Not Peter Lim’s. 

Possibly the most emphatically sung was the Valencia Anthem. A song learned by every born Valencian, not just Valencianista. It’s the song that opens and closes the city’s spectacular Fallas festival. The Verbena (party tent) on the street below my flat will wrap up their nightly rave with this beautiful song and instantly I’m teary-eyed, goose-pimpled and have forgotten the previous four hours of garbage dance-pop that kept me from my sleep. It’s the song that is sung to celebrate famous wins. It’s a glorious old song that when sung well is Valencia’s answer to Nessun Dorma. For me, it hits those heights. Most of the men giving it a go on Sunday 19th of May couldn’t quite hit those heights but what they lacked in pitch, they made up for in fervour. Sang in perfect Valencian, it finishes on something even we immigrants can latch onto. Visca Valencia. Visca. Visca. It was moving. It always is. 

La Senyera with Valencia badge in front of Lim Go Home signs
Los Ultras de Valencia

Sentiments moved as fluidly as the cans of amstel slid down the raw throats of the screaming hoard. The mob moved from their nostalgic songs of glory to chants wishing death to their club’s owner. Then back to chants expressing their pride in their current players. Then to self glorifying chants, reminders that while the players and presidents may move on, the fans will always be here. The final, most drastic sway came at half-time. Valencia were losing one nil – not that anyone seemed to care or even notice. The fans who had crossed the picket line to take their seats in the stadium slowly emerged onto the emblematic balconies that jut out from the old stand above Avenida de Suecia. Fury. Rage. Anger. Hatred. Ear piercing whistles greeted them as they looked out from their elevated positions. Their own fans hated them. “Esos que entran, de que equipo son?” (those who enter, which team are you on?) was chanted at deafening levels. A man above me kissed the badge on his replica shirt as if to plead forgiveness for going to watch his beloved team. Other fans on the balconies made gestures back at the hoard, telling them to fuck off. The bulging neck veins made a return. Men in their thirties and forties, faces contorted by anger, called on their fellow fans to come down and settle their differences with their fists. Objects were hurled up towards the balconies. The riot police who lined the VIP entrance to the stand now began to make movements. Their shields appeared. In an orchestrated display their sleeves were now being rolled down and their batons grasped. I followed a middle aged couple, who had also noticed the sleeve rolling, a few metres away. Then a policeman was struck on the helmet with something. Fuck. Was it going to kick-off? His pals grabbed him to make sure it was ok. They appeared genuinely startled. Upon seeing the projectile they settled themselves and things calmed quickly. Hilariously the offending object couldn’t have been more spanish. It was a half empty packet of sunflower seeds. Jesus Christ. It was a little on the nose. 

The vitriol continued until the perceived scabs returned to their seats for the second half and with their absence the energy faded. The sadness of a fanbase turning on itself in what had promised to be a united protest against a parasitic owner sucking the life out of the club seemed to hit home with many of the congregation. As droplets of rain spat from the low grey clouds above, the once united and sizeable crowd dissipated. One of the bars on the corner had the match on their enormous screen. Girona were now 2-0 up. I decided to go home. 

Lim Go Home balloon floats above the heads of protesters below the famous balconies of the grand old Mestalla

I passed behind the south stand and more fans were leaving the ground. Some of the more vociferous protesters from earlier had beaten me to it and managed to get a peak inside. Valencia were now losing 3-0. An own goal. Their opponents Girona, traditionally an also-ran from the small Catalan city of the same name, had already qualified for the Champions League. This stung for Valencia fans. Girona are part of the City Football Group and are an example of what smart investment can do. Valencia’s demise on the other hand is an example of what can come from a lack of investment. In Spain’s third biggest city, their top club is dying. As my new friend Juan said, “We have everything to be a huge club, but he (Lim) doesn’t want that.”  

I crossed Aragon and a few moments later I was sipping on a cold bottle of Estrella Galicia 0.0 and watching the closing stages of the match on the television of a shisha bar. It was an unusual location to watch the last quarter of an hour of Valencia’s final home game of the season. The bar was full of fans who had either decided not to go to the match or had left early. There was no anger here. Here there was only the comforting embrace of gallows humour, so familiar to me as an Irish football fan. They cheered the award of a never-was-a-penalty penalty and laughed that it was the start of a famous comeback. 

I was so exhausted from the tension of the protest that when a visiting Valencia fan asked me for a recommendation for some decent tapas I pointed vaguely and told him he’d find some decent ones a few blocks away.   

I walked home slowly, trying to make sense of the previous three hours. A few streets from Mestalla, near Calle Yecla, I followed two old gentlemen into a shop to buy some water. They were looking for the cheapest beer available and were pleased that the shopkeeper was able to source it for them quickly. He was about to close up for the evening but was happy to chit-chat. He remarked that the sky had changed colour to a strange yellow. “Maybe they’re burning down the Mestalla” I joked. He didn’t get it or else he didn’t care. And despite the protests today, I doubt even if the Mestalla had been set ablaze that Peter Lim would care. I’m sure it’s covered by insurance. I wondered what his plans were. Valencia have an average attendance of over 43,000 for home games. There are usually at least three teams worse than them in the league so it would take a disaster for them to drop into the second tier. However, the club is drifting further and further away from the top and a true disaster looks more likely than a return to the pinnacle of Spanish football. Under Lim the fans have no hope. The club has no hope. The club has no future. The club is slowly dying. 

The club is on life-support. 

Visca Valencia. Visca. Visca.