Villarreal, a Spanish football club from a city with a population of around 51,000 people (2010 data), won the first major trophy in their history, last night. They defeated English titans Manchester United in the final of the 2021 Europa League in Poland’s Gdansk, following an epic penalty shootout 1(11)-1(10).

 

Villarreal FC (also known as the Yellow Submarines because of the colour of their home kits) was founded in the year 1923, with a special objective to promote football following among females. The club decided to grant free admission to women, as compared to ticketed prices for males and children. With such initiatives through the years, they have been able to build a close-knit community around the football club.

On the field, they spent most of the 20th century in the lower rungs of Spanish football, up until the mid-90s. Back-to-back promotions between 1996 and 1998 meant that the Yellow Submarines went from Segunda B to La Liga within a couple of years. But the run didn’t last long and Villarreal were relegated back to the Segundas, after finishing 18th in the 98-99 season.

However, Villarreal bounced back at the turn of the millennium and established themselves as a top-half side in the La Liga, during the following decade. They even made it to the semi-finals of their maiden UEFA Champions League campaign in 2005-06, being narrowly bettered by Arsenal 1-0.

The highlight of their La Liga achievements is a runner-up finish in the 2007-08 season, ahead of the likes of Barcelona and Atletico Madrid. In the following Champions League season, they made it to the quarter final stage, but couldn’t get past Arsenal yet again.

Since then, Villarreal have appeared in Europe’s second-tier competition, the Europa League on three occasions, despite bouncing back from relegation in 2013-14. Before the final on Wednesday, their best performance in the tournament was a semi-final finish in the 2010-11 campaign.

 

The odds were stacked against Villarreal (seventh in the La Liga this sesaon) once again, with England’s second best team Manchester United favourites to lift the trophy in Gdansk. However, this time they were being managed by the Europa League’s most-decorated manager, Unai Emery. He had previously led Sevilla to three Europa titles and had also finished runner-up with Arsenal a few years back.

They stuck to their strengths against the Red Devils by defending deep and making the most of a first-half set piece. Despite Edinson Cavani’s second-half equaliser, they were able to take the game to penalties, where David De Gea was the only one to miss a spot-kick after 21 takers.

“We were talking about enjoying these moments. In the end you are proud to reach the title (decider) but if you don’t win, you are sad. Winning is another step, an important step ahead. We do this profession for these moments. We have been able to give joy to many people,” Emery said after the match.

Travelling fans from Spain’s small town were seen in tears of joy after the historic result. They could be heard throughout the game, galvanising their players in a hard-fought fixture. After the final spot-kick, the players also rushed towards the stands to celebrate with the small sea of yellow shirts.

For a city that has lesser people than Old Trafford has seats, this achievement is something that you might not hear the end of in the coming years. After all, they’ve undoubtedly earned the bragging rights.

Images: Twitter/Villarreal FC English