As the spotlight returns to European leagues and the much-awaited El Clasico tonight, spare a thought for some of the ‘lesser’ clubs who play the role of eternal bridesmaids while the superpowers grab the dollars and headlines. Today, we’re going to spend some time understanding how Sociedad Deportiva Eibar or simply, SD Eibar, a football club from a town of 27,000 people, roughly the population of all the buildings on Marine Drive in Mumbai, became La Liga‘s smallest club and captured the imagination of football fans all over the world along the way.
Eibar, home to the club and nestled in the foothills of the Pyrenees in Spain, used to be a busy industrial town in northern Spain that now struggles with a flailing economy in recession. With jobs hard to come by and money short in several homes, the people have found hope in their last standing refuge, their football club SD Eibar. Founded in 1940, the club with humble beginnings (they had to borrow Barcelona kits from the regional federation to play games in 1944) is now rubbing shoulders with the likes of FC Barcelona themselves and Real Madrid.
After playing 28 seasons in the Spanish Third Division (Segunda B) and a handful more in the Second Division (Segunda), Eibar are now playing their second season in La Liga, thanks to a little help from Elche. (They finished 3rd from bottom in 2014-15 but were able to stay up because Elche violated the league’s financial regulations.) Eibar’s story is one of patience and prudence and serves as a model for self-sustaining clubs the world over to follow. From having 1800 shareholders only in Eibar about 5 years ago, today, the club has crowdfunded their way to 10,000 shareholders in over 60 countries around the world. At the moment, the greatest achievement for Eibar would be to survive in La Liga on their shoestring budget.
As Roberto Albizu, Eibar fan and local bar owner says, quite honestly:
“We know we’re going to suffer this season. We know this. But who cares? If we’re going to enjoy ourselves, who cares?”
How about that kind of spirit from a football fan? Top class.
Here’s a great video by the Guardian on Eibar’s rise over the years:
At a time when leading Indian I-League clubs like Pune FC, Royal Wahingdoh and Bharat FC are struggling and scaling down operations, stories such as these serve as an inspiration and a sustainable model for football clubs to operate in the country. To our minds, it’s not about starting with a bang. Rather, it is about putting in the hard yards and building an institution from the ground up, from the grassroots. It’s about creating a solid foundation for club that will serve as a base for years and generations to come. It’s not easy and it takes several years of seemingly thankless work in the dark alleys of Indian city and state federation football, but given the alternatives, there are few other sustainable ways to develop a football club.
In the years to come, it is our hope that we will be able to write a feature about an Indian club that has been able to create an robust institution capable of dealing with the inevitable ups and downs of the football world. As Albizu blithely said, “If we’re going to enjoy ourselves, who cares?”