It was just a week to Christmas in 2019 and at a hospital in Valencia, the likes of Goncalo Guedes, Cristiano Piccini and Ferran Torres entered a ward. But football was not on the agenda that day. Instead, their appearances were meant to bring some Christmas cheer to the patients spending the festive season in a sickbed. The stars came bearing Valencia footballs and scarfs – the perfect gifts for these fans unable to watch them at the Mestalla – as they mingled, took photographs together and signed autographs.
This little annual Christmas treat for fans is just one of the programmes the Valencia CF Foundation – the club’s charity arm – has for the city and the region beyond. Established in 1996, the foundation is one of the main reasons why the club has established such strong bonds with the Valencian community.
In turn, Valencia have looked to give back to their supporters who have shown unwavering dedication, styling themselves as a club for the Valencian people.
“The other clubs like Real Madrid and Barcelona have charities all over the world, but we wanted to focus on Valencia,” said Pablo Mantilla, the foundation’s director-general who heads a team of six people. “We’re confident that the club can do more than just make our supporters happy, by helping the Valencian society as a whole.”
Visits such as the one done by Guedes and Torres fall under the education and health pillar – one of three key areas that the foundation oversees. It has also pitched in during the Covid-19 pandemic currently ravaging Spain, providing 50 fully-equipped apartments for healthcare workers to use.
Besides health, the foundation also places an emphasis on education, grooming future football administrators through university programmes and sport management courses.
This focus on education is also channelled through another key pillar – social responsibility. And Valencia promote this through the best way it knows how: football. The foundation organises football classes under the Valencia brand in public schools, employing former players as coaches. There are 50 public schools with over a thousand underprivileged students in the programme.
The incentive to play football ensures that the children stay in school, shared Mantilla. “We tell the schools that they have an instrument to motivate the children to improve their studies – if they work hard in their studies, they can stay in these football schools.”
There is also a football school for people with disabilities who train twice a week and compete in tournaments with their able-bodied peers, in the spirit of inclusivity.
Beyond football on the pitch, the foundation looks to establish an even closer bond with fans through Valencia’s rich heritage. Under the pillar of culture and roots, it organises forums where icons such as Mario Kempes and Ricardo Arias have been invited to share about the club’s historical moments.
Word is also spread through the region with exhibitions held in Valencian towns every other month. “Many fans only know of Valencia’s recent history, and we also want them to understand the club’s history since its founding,” said Mantilla.
Fans are the lifeblood of a football club, and Valencia have established that invaluable connection with them on and off the pitch. “We’re very proud and grateful for the support that the Valencian people have given to the club, and we want to return this favour,” said Mantilla. “So we have to help Valencia city as well.”