Both clubs have actually enjoyed much success in recent years. Having finally managed their elusive Decima in the Champions League in 2014, Real reclaimed the trophy for an 11th time in 2015/16, went on to become the first club in the post-1992 era to retain it a year later, before then managing to complete a historic ‘three-peat’ in 2017/18 – a 13th title overall.
Since 2013, Real have also won the Copa del Rey, La Liga and four FIFA Club World Cups.
Unionistas have had their own success. In their very first season, the club won promotion from provincial sixth tier, followed by a second immediate promotion from the fifth tier Primera Regional.
Two seasons in the fourth tier Tercera Division ended with promotion to Segunda Division B Group 2 in 2018, the same level of the Spanish football pyramid as many of the country’s top-flight B teams, including those of Athletic Club, Real Sociedad and Osasuna.
Last season, in their first year in the third tier, Unionistas finished ninth of 20 in Group 1 of the regionalised league. They also reached the Copa del Rey second round in their first-ever entry into the national cup competition, but fell to fourth tier Lorca.
This season, Unionistas are having a difficult league season and face relegation back to the Tercera Division unless things improve in the second half of the campaign. But their glamour – more than glamour, even – Copa tie with Real Madrid is the perfect respite.
COPA DEL REY | El bombo ha decidido que nuestro rival en la tercera ronda sea...— Unionistas de Salamanca CF (@UnionistasCF) January 14, 2020
Nueva cita con la historia al jugar por primera vez contra un equipo de Primera División.
21, 22 o 23 de enero#CopaDelRey#UnionistasDeYParaSalamanca#FútbolPopular pic.twitter.com/oZ3BXgp7y6
Unionistas have reached the third round of the competition, which equates to the last 32, by beating Mallorca-based Atletico Balaeres by a single goal to nil in round one and then prevailing 8-7 against Deportivo La Coruna on penalties in the second round.
Deportivo may have fallen on hard times since being crowned La Liga champions back in 2000, but Unionistas’ win was still a significant upset against a second tier side.
The next round will be played on 22 January in Salamanca. And while it will more than likely be a heavily rotated Real side without most of the club’s star names, it will still be by far the biggest night in Unionistas’ short history. Seeing Real’s name drawn was cause for celebration alone.
Unionistas’ existence is even more romantic than simply a new club facing Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey. High level football did previously exist in the city Salamanca, but UD Salamanca were dissolved in 2013 after 90 years of history, folding under a cloud of financial trouble.
UD were a La Liga club for much of the 1970s and spent three further seasons in the top flight as recently as the late 1990s. Back in 1977, they even reached the last four of the Copa del Rey.
What Unionistas are is a phoenix club, the creation of heartbroken UD fans determined to protect the legacy of football in Salamanca. Facing Real Madrid is further proof it was all worth it.