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File photo of Estadi Montilivi in Girona. SUR
The remarkable story of Girona FC
A look at LaLiga

The remarkable story of Girona FC

The ever-lasting memory of a visit to the high-flying club's municipal stadium will be the pre-match paella sandwich

Rob Palmer

Malaga

Friday, 8 December 2023, 12:05

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After three decades of covering football around the world, it's refreshing to experience a whole new adventure in an untapped region of the great game.

Visiting the medieval city of Girona for the first time was like entering a fairytale. This is the small-city club that is level-pegging with the global giants Real Madrid after 15 rounds of the LaLiga season.

It was quite a cultural exchange. I was part of the broadcast team from the USA transmitting the home game with Valencia to an eager new audience.

It was all a little bit different from anything else I've ever encountered. The ever-lasting memory will be the paella bocadillo. I've tasted tons of pies of various flavours, hot dogs, burgers, popcorn and even sunflower seeds. But the Spanish delicacy encased in a cob, barm, bap, bread roll or whatever you'd call it was unique.

The Estadi Montilivi is hardly "welcome to hell" unless you arrive without an umbrella. It's one of those municipal stadiums that are built to serve the community. This is normally code for a local council trying to squeeze as much out of a facility as possible for as little as possible. Only two of the four sides of the arena are covered from the elements. The corners are filled in with temporary stands to ensure everyone gets a glimpse of the heroes who are putting Girona on the map.

My American colleagues have seen more impressive high school stadia. It's humble, to say the least - and so are the locals. It's quite a collection of followers, from the wizened fans who've followed the club through the years in the regional leagues to the families who welcomed aboard the showboat.

Everyone is squeezed in. Everyone must compromise. There wasn't enough space for the international TV crews, so we had to commentate from the opposite side of the ground to the cameras. It was dizzying to see the actions with our eyes occurring at the goal to our left and then see the mirror image on the television screen.

A noisy band of Valencia supporters had made the journey for only the fourth visit to the Catalan club. They were celebrating until the final 10 minutes when Girona introduced a 37-year-old journeyman striker, Cristhian Stuani. The Uruguayan weighed in with two goals to twist the game and ensure they emerged from the weekend of football on the same points as Real Madrid.

Now they head to Barcelona. Bear in mind that the 90,000 population of the city of Girona would fit into the Camp Nou. This weekend, the game takes place at the Olympic Stadium which gives the team from the regions a fighting chance. This is only Girona's fourth season in the top league but they have no inferiority complex. The remarkable story of a club that has contested in the lower divisions for most of its history but is now disrupting La Liga continues.

Our ESPN team took the tale to a whole new audience. Girona is famous for the filming of Game of Thrones, paella sandwiches and a "fear no one" football team. The word is spreading.

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