José García-Nieto Romero was a footballer and defended the Republic in the Battle of the Ebro. He arrived there as a hero for the Levante Football Club fans, since a few months earlier, in July 1937, a goal of his had given the Valencian club the title of the Free Spain Cup-President of the Republic Trophy in a final held in Barcelona. After the war was lost, Nieto crossed over to France and ended up in the Argelès-sur-Mer concentration camp, from which he was released thanks to the mediation of FC Setè, who signed him to play in the French League. When he returned to Spain, Levante was his first team.
His is one more of the stories of the eleven players who jumped onto the Sarrià field that July 18. “There was Agustí Dolz, who was already at the front then and who asked permission to go to play the games, there was Ernesto Calpe, who was a marble worker, or Salvador Artigas, who later became the last aviator of the Republic. Now I remember them and their relatives. When I met them for the first time in 2000, I realized that they felt like they were winners of the Cup, even though history had made it into oblivion. Because history was written by the victors and the Franco regime made a clean sweep with everything that happened in the Republic, also with football”, reflects Emilio Nadal, historian, and promoter of the club’s Heritage department. granota.
🏆 Quico Catalán after the official recognition of the Republic Cup – Free Spain Cup:
“You have to remember the footballers, the fans who were so brave, this is for them”
“This is the fans’ trophy, today the #LevanteUD win a title” pic.twitter.com/0Or5w8LlRA
— Levante UD 🐸 (@LevanteUD) March 25, 2023
After more than two decades, first turning a deaf ear to the claim and then denying its legitimacy, the Spanish Federation recognized this Saturday the official status of the title. It did so pushed by the new Law of Democratic Memory last October. “The law creates a framework as historical reparation for something that happened on Republican soil. It is a historical fact for which Levante was harmed ”, sums up Nadal.
“Today Levante wins a title, although we had already won it, it already existed for us. We already carried it in our hearts” claimed Quico Catalán, president of the club, upon hearing the news. “It is a day that all Levantinism was dreaming of. It is a trophy that some brave people won one day and that makes our history proud”, stressed the leader of a club that at the moment does not have another national title in its showcases.
The story of that feat passed from father to son during the dictatorship but without leaving, for obvious reasons, the walls of the houses of the footballers who starred in it or the fans who enjoyed it. After the return of democracy, it was Penya Tòtil who recovered that memory about to become extinct from the ‘Republic Cup’ and began to spread it and claim it. Its president Xavi Rius, leader of the CCOO and member of Compromís, is another of the key figures in this story because his political contacts have been key in the pressure for this recognition.
“In my case, in the mid-nineties, I went to the field with the nephew of the then president Ramón Victoria and one day he told us that the most veteran fans were talking about a cup that had been won in the War. It was very strange that a club that then moved between Second B and Third could have a title. As a joke, I always tell my friends that a sacred mission fell on me that day. I went to the newspaper library, I took the newspapers from July 18, 1936 and from then on”, recalls Nadal.
The search for evidence continued and in those years he had a stop at the club’s old trophy room. “We spent an entire afternoon looking for her and she appeared lost in a corner. She was not in a very good condition but I remember that we took photos with her. We were Indiana Jones, ”she recalls.
Among the first arguments that Levante used to defend the official status were the press reviews giving continuity to the trophy compared to previous editions of the Cup and, above all, a key figure in Spanish football: Ricardo Cabot. “He was the general director of the Federation, before and during the War and he was behind everything that was organized, including this tournament. After a few months of confusion, the three competitions that existed before were cloned, with changes due to the difficulties of the moment, of a war. The regional championships continue, the league becomes the Mediterranean one and there is this Cup ”, he sums up.
With these arguments, Izquierda Unida presented a proposal in Congress in 2004 to have the title recognized as official. Three years later he went ahead and the fact that the then PP deputy Vicente Martínez-Pujalte was on the Levante board helped a lot. But the Federation, then chaired by Ángel María Villar, submitted to a report commissioned ad hoc to the Research Center for the history and statistics of Spanish football to refuse to fulfill that mandate in 2009.
The controversial Cihefe defended this same month of November, in an article by José Del Olmo, that the claim was born in 2004 from the “revisionist tendency”. It is, he defends, a “false story” that had “the predisposition of all the anti-Francoists and reprisals, the authentic ones and those of etiquette who at that time came out from under the stones.” He maintains that the tournament was a friendly competition organized by the then president of Valencia, Rodríguez Tortajada, given that the Federation had officially suspended state competitions and that there were none in the 1936-37 campaign.
Arguments have also been used about the classification system (geographically limited to the Republican zone) or that some players played matches. But in the National Tournament of July 1939 there were also banned teams and footballers who wore various shirts, Levante has always defended, and its winner was incorporated into the official list.
the final offensive
It was precisely Sevilla, who lifted that first Franco trophy, who provided Levante with their new arguments. “In 2017 they provided us with the minutes of the 1937 FIFA congress. On the one hand, it is the first international organization that recognizes an organization from a fascist state, because it contacts the federation that created the Francoism based in San Sebastián but On the other hand, it is determined that there are two federations with the possibility of organizing tournaments”, defends Nadal.
That same 2017 other acts reinforced the position of Levante: those of the FIFA congress in Calcutta. The International Federation, whose resolutions are binding on the Spanish one, recognized the winners of the Intercontinental Cup as ‘world champions’, which were organized by two territorial federations associated with it, such as the South American CONMEBOL and the European UEFA. Since then there are certain titles that transcend their geography.
With the complicity of the Valencian Federation, which was in the organization of that 1937 tournament, Levante resumed the offensive in 2019 and Compromís redoubled parliamentary pressure. Finally, although in the approval this October of the new Law an amendment on this matter was rejected, from the Government of the PSOE and Unidas Podemos the Levante was encouraged to present the documentation immediately to the Federation. The body that Luis Rubiales now presides over assumed this Saturday the arguments and the title of Levante, although he did so under the memory law… of 2007.