In the shadow of an unfinished 80,000-seater World Cup stadium is a community torn.
The Nou Mestalla was supposed to bring regeneration and hope to Benicalap, one of the poorer regions of Valencia. The project, which first saw ground broke in 2007, has been left abandoned and in a state of ruin for over a decade now.
It was supposed to be the new home of Valencia, who were riding high following LaLiga titles wins in 2002 and 2004, taking them to new heights and helping them truly break the Real Madrid-Barcelona equilibrium in Spanish football.
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But financial problems soon hit and the project was halted. When exactly work will begin is unclear, but the stadium has been mooted as one of the venues for the 2030 World Cup, of which Spain is one of the host countries.
The news fills residents with belief that their hopes for the local area can finally be realised – and they can stop living underneath the monstrosity of what was supposed to be one of the world’s biggest stadiums.
“Everyone asks about it because it is so big and it is so ugly for the views,” a local hotel receptionist tells Daily Star Sport as we walk around the outskirts of the stadium.
Another local resident says: “Whatever it is, it is better to have it finished. A building for business, a building for sport, a building for partying, whatever. But it needs to be done… not that.”
The stadium is as vast as it is tall. It sits on the site of an old factory and was initially touted to hold 80,000 people. The influx of tourism to the area was seen as an opportunity for the local people of Benicalap.
One woman tells us that her mum bought a cafe because of the business opportunities that could have changed the life of her family. But they now struggle to make ends meet, praying that one day the business can boom with football fans returning.
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“My mother bought this cafe 15 years ago,” she says, reluctant to speak about the stadium because of the strain it has put on her family’s life. “She bought it for exactly that point, for the stadium. But we are waiting for them to start again, to have a great business. We are waiting, I hope they will start again.
“This neighbourhood is not so rich. We try hard to pay our bills. We are a working family and we are working hard, but it is not easy.”
But for some in the local area, the stadium gives them a talking point – and the chance to live next to history.
Just a few doors down at a restaurant, a man beams with a smile when we ask him about the stadium. He believes he is living in the shadow of history. “When someone from outside comes, they always ask about it,” he says. “I am also a fan of football and I love to see something like that.
“I know the story of this but I do not feel like it is unfinished. Fans of football, if they see the stadium, they are feeling something and I feel the same. It is my dream to be near the stadium, near all the players of Valencia and the World Cup and more.”
Like his neighbours, he is desperate to realise the opportunities for the local area if it is finished. “If they make it, everything will be great,” he said. “Money will come to the people and the businesses here. Fans of football will always be here, hopefully with the Champions League and World Cup, everyone will be here. It will be such a beautiful opportunity for the people here. I wish, I hope that they will do it.”
One resident – also a big football fan – tells us that there could be concern for the safety of the structure if they were to continue the project – and that they might need to knock it down to be able to use the site.
He said: “Engineering wise, it cannot be safe, so if they want to build, they will have to knock down the whole thing. It will take time and money.
“But when you remember the World Cup in Qatar, they did not have the stadiums but in six months, they build stadiums. They can do the same and that is what I wish for.”
The owner of a local Irish pub – which would undoubtedly be an immensely popular venue for football fans – told us of his delight at the idea of a stadium when it was first announced.
He said: “I have owned this place for 20 years. I was the first bar here on the street. It was like ‘wow, we are going to have a stadium’, but no, no. We want to have a stadium. If we have a stadium, maybe it is better for the business.
“I hear a lot of things about it, but I don’t have any information about the time. I was happy to have the stadium. So many times they say ‘we’re going to start, we’re going to start’, so I don’t care now. If it goes on, perfect.”
Around the stadium, the overriding emotion is hope. Hope that the project will one day be finished. The site is an eyesore, but also a site of potential opportunity in the future. And the World Cup in 2030 might just help reinvigorate the entire community in Benicalap.
“If they finish, it will be an amazing place,” one man says. “It is so big to walk around it. I have seen some stadiums, but I have never seen an area like that. It is so huge. It is an amazing thing.
“If they finish it, the city, the area, the economy, the people, everything will be amazing.”