The “Yellow Submarine” That Could

By Andrew Gillenwaters

Villarreal CF
Villarreal CF
8 min readMar 9, 2023


100 years of the small town team that has made a big splash

Everybody loves a good underdog story and Villarreal CF is certainly one of them. The Yellow Submarine have challenged and come out victorious against some of the world’s biggest clubs in recent seasons and have been going toe to toe with soccer giants for over two decades now. Villarreal is a small town club that has given itself a big name. And they’re in good company. It’s not the first time we’ve seen a small town make a big name for itself in the professional sports world. Green Bay is one of, if not the smallest towns to ever produce a pro sports team, but everybody knows the Packers now. Even Buffalo is a comparatively small town, but everyone knows the Bills.

After president Fernando Roig’s arrival in the late 90s, the Yellow Submarine has proven to be one of the best clubs in Spain and Europe, and the sky’s the limit for this big in spirit, small in stature, town and club.

Villarreal CF is one of the top ranked teams in LaLiga, and yet is one of the least known teams in the league. The team has worked hard to get to where they are in the table, and in the first division. So why is it that the Yellow Submarine doesn’t have the following of so many other teams in LaLiga?

How did they get here?

The LaLiga club Villarreal Club de Fútbol turns 100 years old on March 10th, 2023. The team from the small town of Vila-real was founded by a group of sports enthusiasts who wanted to take the sport a bit more seriously. In 1923, Villarreal played exclusively friendly matches, not for league play or standings, and did so for the next several years. The team survived after the competition break during the Spanish Civil War, made their way up the ranks, with different variations of the club’s name (Club Deportivo Villarreal, CA Foghetecaz, CAF Villarreal) and made their way into the third division in the same 1955/56 season that they changed to their current name, Villarreal CF.

Villarreal CF made their way into the second division after the 1969/70 season, on July 7th, 1970. They fluctuated between the leagues for several years, before making their way into the first division of LaLiga in 1998, where they stayed until dropping down to the second division in 2012, but immediately getting promoted back to the first division the following season, and have stayed in the top flight of Spanish soccer ever since.

The “Yellow Submarine”

Villarreal CF has been affectionately known as the Yellow Submarine for a long time. And yes, the name comes from exactly what you’re thinking: the very famous song by The Beatles. During the 1967/68 season, a year after the release of the popular, repetitive and catchy song in 1966, several fans would bring in a battery powered radio to the stadium, and played the song, singing in Spanish, “Amarillo el Submarino es / amarillo es / amarillo es” (“The Submarine is yellow / it is yellow / it is yellow”). The name stuck around for a long time before the team even wore the uniforms to correspond. The team wore yellow shirts with blue shorts until the all yellow uniforms were released in the 2004/05 season, in honor of the nickname they had carried for so many years.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Villarreal CF is located in the second smallest town in all of Spain to have a LaLiga team. The small town has a population of a little more than 50,000 people, which means that almost half of their population can fit in Villarreal’s Estadio de la Cerámica, which holds just over 23,000. The town is about 150 miles south of Barcelona, which is home to one of the most popular clubs in the entire world, and about 35 miles north of Valencia, which is home to two other first division LaLiga teams, Valencia CF and Levante UD. On top of being so close to other, larger cities, Vila-real is a coastal city, making outreach even less available. This makes the location of Villarreal difficult to attract many people, as the bigger cities grab much more attention than the small town stuck in between them.


Despite the smaller following of the team, they have had plenty of success. After making their way into the first division, Villarreal CF finished in 3rd place in the 2004/05 season, behind only FC Barcelona and Real Madrid. On top of this great success for the Yellow Submarine, their own Diego Forlán was the top goal scorer in, not only Spain, but all of Europe with 25 goals.

In the 2007/08 season, Villarreal finished in 2nd place in the first division, being beaten by only Real Madrid. This season was a record breaking year for the club with 24 games won, 77 total points, 12 wins at home and 30 away goals scored. Unfortunately, the club wasn’t able to cap off this great season with any UEFA trophies, but they certainly had more than enough to be proud of in this year.

Villarreal reached the semifinals of the Copa del Rey (King’s Cup) in their 2014/15 season. They faced FC Barcelona, which asked everything of Villarreal. Things got off to a rocky start for the Yellows, with Barcelona going up in the first 5 minutes of the match. Villarreal got some hope back in the 39th minute with a goal of their own, to head into halftime tied with Barcelona. After an uneventful beginning to the second half, Villarreal’s Tomás Pina was shown a red card, and sent off the field. Barcelona was able to put 2 more goals in the back of the net with the 11–10 men advantage on the field. After fighting hard, the Yellows were beaten by FC Barcelona 3–1.

Most notably, Villarreal CF beat out Arsenal to punch their ticket into the finals of the UEFA Europa League in the 2020/21 season. This was the first final Villarreal CF had seen in any European tournament. Having reached the finals, Villarreal would have to face Manchester United, who finished the season ranked number 2 in the Premier League. It was a big match for the Yellow Submarine and, of course, Manchester United would prove to be a very difficult opponent. The first half didn’t have too much going on until the 29th minute when Gerard Moreno put the ball into the corner of the goal off of a free kick from Dani Parejo to give the Yellow Submarine the lead into the first half. After ten minutes in the second half, Manchester United was able to equalize in the 55th minute. The match continued through regular time and all the way through extra time with no change in the score. The 2021 UEFA Europa League Final came down to a penalty shootout. After 5 shots, neither side had missed a shot, and the first team to miss would be the one that fell short. After 5 more shots, still, neither team had missed. Finally, the goalkeepers stepped up to take their shots against one another. Gerónimo Rulli buried his shot for Villarreal, but Manchester United’s David de Gea’s shot was blocked by Rulli, and the Yellow Submarine got their victory in an 11–10 shootout, and took home their first European trophy.

Following the win of the Europa League trophy, Villarreal fought their way deep into the UEFA Champions League tournament. They faced off against Liverpool in the semifinals, Villarreal’s second appearance in this late stage of the tournament. Things looked great for the Yellows in the second and decisive leg as they took a commanding 2–0 lead in the first half. Unfortunately, fatigue took its toll, as Liverpool equalized with two goals of their own in under 25 minutes in the second half. Villarreal fought hard, but Liverpool got the best of them with a third goal, and cutting the Yellows’ journey for the trophy short. It was a bitter 2–3 loss, but their fight was nothing to be ashamed of.

The Yellows were also well represented in the 2022 FIFA World Cup, in Qatar, with five players making their way into the international competition. Nicolas Jackson was called up to the Senegal squad, Pau Torres and Yeremy Pino were called to Spain, and Juan Foyth and Geronimo Rulli, who transferred from Villarreal shortly after the World Cup’s conclusion, represented the Yellows for the 2022 World Cup Champions, Argentina.

The small town team has proven themselves to be anything but small. They’ve overcome a lot of struggles, but they’ve only come out stronger on the other side. Villarreal CF have one of the smaller budgets, fanbases, and player pools, but they have gone up against some of the biggest names in the world on multiple occasions since making their way into one of the top leagues in the world. This has been achieved through stable management from a family-owned club, and having one of the best and most well-rounded academies that develops players from all over the world.

The team has never forgotten the pride of their city, or its incredible, unyielding supporters. Thanks to great management, ownership, the strength of the academy, and the proud hometown of Vila-real itself with its supporters, Villarreal has thrived for 100 years.

And they’re just getting started.