BY ANTHONY HIGGINS
Tony Higgins, author of the forthcoming book Homage to Murcia – A season of football anarchy, looks at the current situation at Spanish Segunda side SD Eibar and tells us why their fight against injustice is important to all real football fans.
My family home has been in southern Spain for about ten years now, although those years have been punctuated, because of work reasons, with a couple of two year stints in London, along with few shorter periods back on my native Tyneside. I now however have seemed to have permanently settled in my new country.
Most people I know, back in the UK, think I’m living the dream; they don’t believe me when I tell them that in the winter, where I live, temperatures can fall below zero and it can actually snow. They prefer to hang onto the illusion that I’m running around in flip-flops all year and drinking Martini spritzers by the pool all afternoon. Nevertheless, the reality is far from the truth, I work long hours here and the laid back life style can frustrate the life out of you when you quickly want to post a letter or make a bank transaction of some kind on your way to work.
I live in the south east of Spain, in Murcia, which is often an overlooked region sandwiched in between the much bigger Andalusia and Valencian regions. The main football teams in this area are Real Murcia and FC Cartagena, both of whom have not really had sustained periods in La Liga. Most people around here support the big two, Real Madrid and Barça, with Real Murcia normally getting around 8000 spectators for their home games, this in the seventh biggest Spanish city with a population of around 440,000. Being born and raised on Tyneside meant that becoming a Newcastle fan came as second nature to me and I still struggle to understand how football fans in Murcia can follow clubs that are hundreds of miles away from where they live.
Over the last few years, like many others, I have become more and more disillusioned with the direction in which the modern game is going. Multimillion transfer fees and sponsorship deals have left a bad taste and the way that the normal fan has been treated has left me feeling angry towards the faceless suits that seem to be running football.
Over the past season and a half I’ve been getting my football kicks at a fan run club called CAP Ciudad de Murcia, who run their club on a similar model to that of FC United of Manchester. Their story is a similar one to many clubs in Spain who have gone out of business and reinvented themselves on many occasions. This season two clubs in the same league as Ciudad went out of business and disappeared, so is the nature of Spanish football at the lower levels. Ciudad play in the fifth tier of Spanish football and whilst the football talent on show can sometimes leave a little to be desired, the craic on the terraces is second to none. I became a shareholder of the club just over a year ago, as I was impressed by the dedication and commitment of the people who run and follow the club.
Ciudad and their supporters group, (I won’t use the term Ultra because they don’t like that as they say it has right wing connotations) The City Boys, have links with other similar fan groups, like Cadiz and Tenerife, all over Spain and they hate the fact that fans in Spain tend to support the big two, they rally behind the mantra: Ni Barça Ni Madrid – Support Your Local Team. All of the clubs that Ciudad have formed fraternal links with are “Against Modern Football” and the vast majority have large antifa and left leaning followers; the football terraces of Spain can be very political.
It was through these fan links that I first became aware of the story of SD Eibar, a club based in the Basque Country, which is 800KM away from where I live.
If I’m honest I don’t know a lot about the north of Spain, I’ve visited Bilbao once, just before last Christmas, to see Athletic Club take on Rayo Vallecano in the new San Mamés Stadium. During my visit to the Basque Country I was impressed by how the people up there seem to be 100% behind their local team, with flags posters and banners adorning almost every bar and restaurant. I got the feeling that they are real football people in that neck of the woods and I’m informed that the people of the small town of Eibar are very similar in their attitude towards their own football team. The town of Eibar is situated about 50KM to the west of Bilbao and only has around 27,000 inhabitants and the club plays at the Ipurua Municipal Stadium, which holds just over 5000 spectators.
SD Eibar returned to the Spanish second division this season but with the lowest budget in the league and they were tipped as clear favourites to make an instant return to Segunda B.
However, this hasn’t happened and with three games to go in their league campaign they are sitting in second place, which is an automatic promotion position to La Liga. The team challenging SD Eibar at the top of the table, Deportivo la Coruña, have a budget seven times that of SD Eibar, which gives you an indication of what an accomplishment the little Basque club has achieved.
SD Eibar are one of the few clubs in Spain who are financially sound and their finances are in the black, with the club having no debts. They pay their players on time and have a solid economic model that even the head of the Spanish league governing body (LFP) Javier Tebas has commented on positively.
So what’s the problem I hear you ask? Well, a law passed in 1999 decreed that: Every team has to have capital equal to 25% of the average expenses of all the teams in the Second Division, excluding the two clubs with the biggest outgoings and the two clubs with the smallest outgoings in the division. This means that SD Eibar need to come up with €1.7 million by August 6th, otherwise they face an administrative demotion back to Segunda B. The club don’t have this kind of capital and face being punished for being financially sound when their rivals, whilst having bigger budgets also have far bigger debts. Faced with this situation and with the possibility of a historic promotion being taken away from them, SD Eibar have responded with a campaign called, “Defiende Al Eibar” / Defend Eibar, designed to raise capital via a share option. Shares can be bought via the club at €50 per share, with certificates to be issued to shareholders in September 2014. There is also talk of a commemorative plaque to feature the names of all new shareholders and new “Defenders of Eibar” at Ipurúa.
Last week Eibar’s club president Alex Aranzabal, supported by Real Madrid and former SD Eibar player, Xabi Alonso, made a plea to the football world in Madrid, to support the campaign. He also flatly rejected the proposal that the club could be sold to outside investment by capping shares. “We´d rather take the punishment and get demoted rather than share the soul of what SD Eibar is as a football club” he told journalists at a packed press conference.
It would be a fantastic football fairy-tale if SD Eibar – who won promotion last night – could raise the money they need to avoid any action being taken against them. It would be nice if occasionally footballing success was rewarded in an age when economics, not sport, seem to dictate the game we all love. Please, if you can afford it, buy a share and help defend SD Eibar and the sporting spirit of football in general.
TONY HIGGINS – @higgins1892