Off the Continent: The curious case of Ceuta and Melilla

Featured in the Raumdeuter Online Magazine – Edition #2

Spain is one of the hallowed, iconic footballing homelands in Europe, with La Liga firmly position as one of the continent’s big five leagues and its most dominant sides such as Real Madrid and FC Barcelona having a worldwide fan base and recognition. European football is intrinsically linked with Spain.

As such, it is fascinating to discover that not too far down the Spanish footballing pyramid you can find two professional football sides not even based on the continent.

UD Melilla and AD Ceuta play their football in the Spanish third and fourth tiers respectively, and are both based in Spanish cities but yet neither club is located in Europe. Instead, the two sides are based in Africa.

This isn’t a case of being located on some island off the continent’s shore, either.

Unlike the Canary Islands, which are located off the African coastline and does host a second division side in UD Las Palmas, both Melilla and Ceuta have a bit more unusual situation. They are both in fact based on the African mainland.

This occurs because they are both based in two small Spanish city enclaves located in Africa, squeezed between Morocco and the Mediterranean Sea. Their Spanish sovereignty is disputed by Morocco, but despite this regions are governed by Spain and by and large are just simply accepted as part of the European country’s territory.

All of this allows the unique situation to transpire which has in case of UD Melilla and AD Ceuta.

Teams from elsewhere playing in another country are not entirely unheard of. Even in some of the highest leagues around the world, there are sides spanning national boundaries.

Stretching continental boundaries is relatively new to football, but even that isn’t groundbreaking for some sports. Rugby for example has sides from not just over seas but other continents playing in their domestic tournaments, such as the Toronto Wolfpack rugby league side who, despite being based in Canada across the Atlantic Ocean in North America, play in the English domestic rugby league structure.

Yet, even in all of these rare cases, there is something they do not have that Ceuta and Melilla can claim to. These two Spanish football sides are not in a foreign country.

They might be in a different continent to Spain, yet are also technically still in Spain. It’s all a very confusing system.

In terms of actual football pedigree, neither side presents much to write home about. Supporters of each side haven’t seen too much success in their clubs’ playing histories, with Melilla having spent majority of their history since the late 1980s in the Spanish third tier, playing against sides from across Spain. In total, since being refounded in 1976 as UD Melilla have played 32 seasons in the Spanish third tier Segunda Division B.

AD Ceuta, meanwhile, have been something of a yo-yo club between their current fourth tier home and the regional fifth tier. More localised than the divisions above, Ceuta largely play against sides from the southern Spanish state of Andalusia. They also spent a period between 2007 and 2011 being dissolved before being refounded.

Despite the lack of immediate success, their very existence as professional clubs within the Spanish footballing pyramid means that they are still only a few successful promotions away from the top level of Spanish football.

In some not too far distant future, we could see a Spanish top division side based on the African mainland, playing domestic football in La Liga.

While Morocco’s stance on the status of the Spanish enclaves adds unwanted difficulty, La Liga bosses would likely still jump at the marketing opportunities of such a side. Having recently brought the Spanish Super Cup to Morocco in an effort to further grow Spanish football’s influence and support in Africa, and particularly North Africa, such a side could easily be marketed as the local side for the continent to get behind and back.

It’d be a huge opportunity for Spanish football overseas, but as noted the concept is at present purely hypothetical.

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