BY DAVID MARPLES
Football can be a grubby, sordid and deeply squalid affair sometimes. But once in a while, there are moments, games, goals and even seasons, which remind us why we fell for the whole shebang in the first place. Euan McTear’s book, ‘Eibar The Brave’, chronicling SC Eibar’s promotion winning season to La Liga and their time thereafter, not only warms the cockles of the heart but is enough to warm the toes of even the most devout rejecter of all that lies within the cathedral of football.
Spanish football is no longer the unfamiliar and exotic interloper it used to be. With comprehensive coverage of La Liga and the Copa del Rey, not to mention good chunks of column inches in various broadsheets, it is as much part of the furniture in your average fan’s living room as the well thumbed Sky remote control. We’re all wise to Rayo Vallecano’s hipster status, we know all about the dimensions of Villarreal’s Stadium in relation to the area’s population and sometimes it seems more people from these shores have been to the Nou Camp than New York Stadium.
Yet still the big two dominate like a squatting behemoth, so it’s a delight to scratch the surface and learn about the nuances of not just Spanish football fan culture, but the surrounding social, historical and political culture too. McTear takes our hands and walks us down such a potentially difficult and dull track, all the while enlightening us with insight and wit. He’d make an excellent teacher, you know.
Structurally, the book hangs upon a match-by-match report, initially hinting at a mundane chronicling of Eibar’s season in La Liga in 2013-14. But McTear doesn’t fall for that trap and deftly sidesteps this by taking time to tackle various aspects beyond the football. Fan culture, Basque ideals, club ownership, governance of La Liga and TV deals all get the treatment, always delivered with a skip and a jump in McTear’s prose. On an Eibar vs. Seville fixture, he makes the ordinary seem interesting:
“(Raul) Albentosa…didn’t just have (Kevin) Gameiro in his back pocket, but had him buried so deep in it that Eirbar kitman Zapico will surely find Gameiro crawling out of his washing machine the next day, left in a pocket like a forgotten receipt or tissue.”
By this stage, we have come to see Albentosa and especially Zapico as friends whom we desperately root for. McTear has an eye for the human story, no more so than when dealing with the tragic incident at the Vicente Calderon Stadium (Athletico Madrid) on Sunday 30th November 2014 and the death of Francisco Javier Romero Taboada. The author uses this to scratch the surface of fan culture in general and enlighten us about Eibar’s own ultras, Eskozia La Brava. All of which makes it as far from a headers and volleys account of football games as can be – and it’s a fine story for exactly this reason.
If all that’s a bit heavy, there’s the lovely story of what happened when Marcelo Bielsa – then in charge at Athletic Bilbao – turned up at Ipurua Stadium with a gift for (Gaizka) Garitano (Eibar manager). No brown envelopes or any such thing in this story though.
By the end, it’s difficult not to find yourself paying a little closer attention to how little old Eibar are getting on at the moment and wondering whether the next holiday you take might, just might, take in the Basque country.