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Ismael Chico - the hard-working face of a club representing a hard-working town (12th December, 2017)

Sometimes a blog entry becomes less about the subject matter and how it came about.

I was going to publish this piece a week ago, and it started it like this:

"This weekend, Rayo Vallecano will face Córdoba, coached by Juan Merino. The former center-back, and Real Betis and Recreativo legend, was born in La Línea de la Concepción, in Andalusia, and is one of its most famous sons.

But there is another, lesser known, face of the city. He is no Betis legend, or even a Recreativo one. Heck, he hasn't even played professional football so far."

But on the 4th of December, Juan Merino was sacked. Nevertheless, he has been replaced by Jorge Romero, and this piece remains hanging in the air. Oh well...

"The very name La Línea de la Concepción is a reminder of Gibraltar's proximity. The town derives its name firstly from the línea or boundary line separating Spain from Gibraltar, and secondly from the Immaculate Conception of Mary, the Mother of Jesus.

The town is famous for its manufacture of cork, liquor, and fish paste. It also had an important military garrison with substantial fortifications and a port. Across the línea, major supplies of fruit and vegetables make their way to Gibraltar.

In other words, Gibraltar depends on this town of 63,000 people to prosper, not just in terms of goods but people too - the people of La Línea have traditionally found work in the naval port Gibraltar. When Franco closed the border between them due to the sovereignty issue, between 1969 and 1982 (fully reopened in 1985), Gibraltar certainly noticed, suffering a huge social and economic toll.





People who live in this town are not Andalusians, but linenses, and everything is linked to the town's name. Here, football is not fútbol or even balompié, but balompédico. Perhaps that's why, just a few hundred meters from Gibraltar, the local football club is called Real Balompédica Linense, and the stadium's name is the rather elongated Estadio Municipal de La Línea de la Concepción.

Everything about this town is spectacular. And everything spectacular about this town is summed up in its local club's captain, Ismael Chico."

I guess today is a good day to publish it. Maybe it's not linked to Juan Merino. But today is Ismael's 33rd birthday...

"Alfredo Gallardo came to the club in 2002, facing many difficult problems. The club accounts were neglected, staff were not being paid and the first team had just been relegated to the Tercera. Endorsed by Linense entrepreneur Miguel Rodríguez (owner of Lotus-Festina), he brought in local businessmen to advertise at the club, and took on the challenge of paying off debt. Linense is now a success story in terms of club management.

And at the heart of that is Ismael Chico who started his senior Linense career in 2003, and is set to become a one-club man. The linense debuted in the 2003-04 season under the command of Diego Rodríguez, and has become part of the side that are now promotion playoff contenders in the Segunda B.

He was there when, in the 2007-08 season, the club qualified for the Tercera promotion playoffs after a third place finish. And when they defeated Anguiano due to the away goals rule. And when, in the first leg of the tie against Mirandés at home, Copi scored a 94th minute equalizer to tie the scores at 1-1. And when, at the Estadio Municipal de Anduva, in front of 350 Linense fans, Mirandés were held 3-3, breaking 6,000 Mirandés hearts and sending La Balona back to the Segunda B.

Linense celebrate their promotion to the Segunda B


He was there for the 2008-09 season, when the Segunda B dream lasted just a season. And when, in 2011, Linense came first in the Tercera, and then destroyed Tudelano 4-0 to overturn a 1-0 deficit away to get back to the Segunda B - meaning that the club which was formed in 1912 would get to spend its 100th anniversary in the Segunda B. And when Linense became immediate Segunda B contenders, finishing second in the 2011-12 season and sixth the season after.

He has been there for all those moments, and will be there for many more. And the footballer, forged in the lower categories of Atlético Zabal and brought back to the town he was born in, has become synonymous with the town's reputation - little-known and little-noticed, strong defenses and hard-work.

But, when he's missing, it shows."

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