Out on a Lim: The Valencia fans protesting for dignity

Editor F365
Valencia fab protests against Peter Lim

On December 11, over 15,000 Valencia fans took to the streets to protest against their club’s owner Peter Lim and his leadership of the club. Their plan was to stand up for the ‘dignity of Valencia’ (Per la dignitat del Valencia). Or whatever dignity is still left.

Valencia are one of Spanish football’s most historic clubs, established 102 years ago and the winners of six league titles and eight Copa del Rey honours, as well as playing in two Champions League finals. But in recent years, the club has been embroiled in turmoil, with fans disappointed with the club’s current financial state, the owners’ apathy and issues surrounding a stadium move.

Anger from the fans had been brewing for years, but it reached a new level in 2019 after Valencia had dramatically won the Copa del Rey final against Barcelona but saw their much-adored head coach Marcelino and Sporting Director Mateu Alemany depart. A year later, several of their key players left, including captain Dani Parejo, who lifted the cup the previous year, joining rivals Villarreal.

Valencia expect to be one of Spain’s top clubs, fighting just behind Barcelona and Real Madrid, but they’ve been inconsistent for much of the last decade and mostly uncompetitive during Lim’s ownership of the club.

To understand the fans’ anger, it’s worth digging into Lim and the last seven years of his ownership.

Singaporean businessman Lim, currently worth $2.4bn, took an interest in football through Manchester United, and developed close connections with their 1990s and 2000s stars including David Beckham, Gary Neville and Paul Scholes. By shrewd stockbroking and opening United-themed cafes across Asia, he made his fortune and by 2014, he invested in Valencia, taking over at a club that had been affected by the financial crisis of 2008, which halted their plans for a new stadium.

When he took over, people were delighted, cheering him and chanting his name, believing that he was the saviour. His first season was an encouraging one as Valencia finished fourth in La Liga, qualifying for the Champions League. Eyebrows were raised when Lim hired Nuno Espírito Santo as head coach – a Jorge Mendes client, with whom Lim had very close connections – but the gamble paid off.

The second season was very different; Valencia were struggling, Nuno was sacked and Gary Neville was hired despite having no managerial experience, raising concerns over conflict of interest.

Neville ended up leaving quite quickly, recording the worst win percentage in La Liga history for a Valencia manager, and this would become a theme: personnel changes in the coaching staff and playing squad were constant. Several Mendes clients would go, often for hefty prices, while many others would join, often failing to do much of note for the team.

In 2017, they would hire Alemany and that signalled a new start; Lim would reaffirm his desire to see Valencia succeed, shutting down any rumours of a sale.

Valencia owner Peter Lim

Then came the joy. “I was excited when Peter Lim arrived. In time, you could see there were a few transfers here and there, but we understood because football is a business,” Valencia fan Marcos Colomer told F365. “We even had a fantastic centennial year with the celebrations, and we even won an incredible trophy against Barcelona, the Copa del Rey.

“I’ve seen clubs before win titles in their centennial and used to think that was incredible. We used to win a trophy every nine or ten years, so the chances of winning a trophy in our centennial year were quite small.”

That year, they also qualified for the Champions League, and that made many believe this was a new era for the club. They had a trophy, a strong squad, a brilliant head coach in Marcelino and an owner seemingly willing to invest further. But things turned sour a few months later – Marcelino and Alemany were gone after disagreements with Lim over his direction. Most fans took the side of the departing pair.

“That season, Marcelino said he wanted to win the Copa del Rey, but Peter Lim’s only ambition was to make more money, something we didn’t know at the time. When they fired Marcelino, he gave an interview explaining why he had gone. That was an eye-opener for me. But many fans didn’t see it that way,” Colomer adds.

More reports trickled out about how Lim had curtailed progression at the club: new coach Javi Gracia was not given the transfer targets he had requested, and after Covid had greatly affected football across Europe, Valencia took very cautious action.

In the summer of 2020, their best players were put up for sale to raise funds. Anil Murthy, the club President, said Valencia needed to sell to balance the books after revenues had been hit by Covid. The lack of clarity frustrated many, and that led to a group of fans raising their voice against the ownership.

José Benítez, member of the board at Libertad VCF, told us: “It all started when a bunch of people on Twitter were disappointed with the decisions at the club. We created this association, Libertad VCF (Free VCF), in the summer of 2020, with the intention to get Valencia back to their fans. Because of Covid-19 we couldn’t promote massive protests until May 2021, but we were working daily trying to convince every fan to join us. This movement is made up by the people, while the simple fans of this association and other historic groups of the Valencia CF environment are the promoters of the protests.”

Their first big protests were in May 2021, where over 8,000 fans attended. Since then, the phrase ‘Lim Go Home’ has become popular at the stadium and on social media, with fans creating hashtags and posters protesting the ownership. In December, the protests got bigger – over 15,000 fans took part, including some former players like ex-goalkeeper Santiago Cañizares.

Colomer, a member of the board at Libertad VCF, who flew from his home in London to take part, beating a stomach bug, says more former stars should join in: “I was delighted to see him, but I was also in shock because I didn’t expect him to be there. Roberto Ayala was there as well. I knew he was against Lim, but I didn’t expect anyone to be there. I didn’t say anything to him but spoke to a few of the other local journalists covering Valencia.

“It was great to see Cañizares, and I think many others should follow him. Santiago is not from Valencia, but he still supports us. Even in our centennial year, many ex-players played in a friendly game, and Santiago was the only one to give the fans a lap of honour. It tells you a lot about the connection with Valencian people.”

Former Valencia goalkeeper Santiago Canizares

So what exactly do the Valencia fans want? There are four main goals.

First, the club are €400m in debt and continue making the same errors. They are close to entering bankruptcy. The club will be buoyed by La Liga’s recent deal struck with private equity firm CVC which will see €1.994bn split between clubs playing in Spain’s top two divisions, but they still need a boost to help with their situation.

Secondly, there are issues with Valencia’s future home ground. Work on the Nou Mestalla – their proposed new home – has been halted since 2008 and any progress has paralysed. Their current stadium, the Mestalla, is set for demolition in 2025 and with no work on the new stadium, Valencia may not have a home.

Third, and quite strikingly, the club’s fans have seen their voice barred from Valencia’s official Twitter feed. Replies have been blocked to any tweets sent out from the official Valencia account (1.2m followers) for nearly a year and on Facebook (3.3m likes) and Instagram (1m followers), fans can’t comment on any posts, limiting fan engagement.

Finally, fans want a competitive team, which they have had a few times in the last seven years, but consistency is lacking. The 2019 side was arguably the best of those teams, but there has been a downward spiral since. Managers aren’t getting what they’re promised, and Lim’s relationship with Mendes is concerning many – several fans believe the two share profits from any sales.

Colomer adds: “The reason we are doing this is that we want people to know the truth. Like any other demonstration, there is a message, and we want people to know there is something unfair going on. We want to make Lim uncomfortable. He managed to make the club look good for a while, but he has been unmasked. He’s one of the world’s richest people and he doesn’t need to sell the club, but knowing that people in Valencia don’t like him, at some point, he will be tired of this.

“The worse the situation gets, the lower the club will be worth and at the same time, we will see how long Lim will keep this inconvenience with him. He has said in the past that he is not happy with the way things are at the club.”

As recently as February, Murthy said Valencia could win La Liga in the next decade, but fast-forward some 10 months, and that dream looks further away than ever. Lim and his group are not wanted in the city. There is an overarching desire to see Valencia become Valencia again: a club competing with the best, developing some of their own talent and having a home and future to savour.

Karan Tejwani – follow him on Twitter