Eibar, a tiny town dreaming big
The team has risen from the second division ‘B’ to stand on the verge of rubbing shoulders with Barcelona next year.
There’s an interesting story cooking up in the Spanish Second Division, one that centres around the tiny town of Eibar (population 27,000), located in the mountains of the Basque Country (northern Spain).
Founded in 1940, SD Eibar have never played in the top division, and after the giddy 2004-05 season, dropped down into the second division ‘B’ where they stayed for four years. Returning to the ‘A’ category this season, they have surprised everyone by moving steadily up to the top of the table, where they have now been for six consecutive weeks.
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The town’s industrial tradition is based on firearms and weaponry, and the team’s nickname is ‘Los Armeros’ (The Gunners). Eibar sits half-way between Bilbao and San Sebastian, the two cities which host the more famous top-flight Basque teams. Sentimentally closer to Athletic Bilbao, Eibar nevertheless ekes out a living by welcoming young loanees from both Athletic and Real Sociedad, who send out promising players to the mountains to toughen them up.
Xabi Alonso played 14 games here in 2001, while a skinny, unknown David Silva (loaned from Valencia) was part of the Eibar team that was almost promoted to Spain’s top flight back in 2005.
Up to Sunday’s game against Hercules at their tiny ground Ipurua (capacity 5,250), they had not conceded a goal in six outings and were unbeaten in nine. The Hercules game ended in a 1-1 disappointing draw but Eibar remain top of the tree, one point ahead of the more famous Deportivo and four points clear of Recreativo who are third.
While the six sides below them have all spent time in the top flight in the last five years. Eibar continue to dream.
Rumours still abound in Eibar regarding the alleged conspiracy that prevented them from being promoted nine years ago. SD Eibar’s tiny ground, with an average attendance of 2,500 hard-core followers, is sandwiched between flats and houses in an impossibly labyrinthine network of streets. The infrastructure required to run a top-flight club is still not in place (was non-existent back in 2005).
The thought that Real Madrid and Barcelona could be playing at that venue next season seems surreal and is fuelling rumours that once again, La Liga’s men in the shadows will prevent Eibar from going up. To put the whole thing into perspective, SD Eibar’s turnover this year just about reaches the €3m mark. Real Madrid’s is €515m.
If we’re still there at the end of the season, well – let’s just carry on dreaming. There’s no harm in that
Eibar’s manager, Gaizka Garitano, is in his second season with the club after having served them as a player between 2000 and 2005. He also played for Real Sociedad for three seasons, finally hanging up his boots in 2009. Post match, he seemed amused by a question that asked if Eibar will be ‘allowed’ to go up.
“You never know,” he told Al Jazeera. “Stranger things have happened.”
Ironically, Garitano was a defender in the side that missed promotion by three points in 2005, and he understood the question well. But he preferred to talk about the Hercules game.
“We played well. I can’t really ask for more. There was only one team trying to win the game, and we would have done, but for one mistake.
“We’ve got some tricky games coming up – Zaragoza and Mallorca, for example. But we just have to keep going. Nobody expected this, but we just take it game by game. This club has never been top of this division for six consecutive weeks. This is an achievement I’m proud of.
“If we’re still there at the end of the season, well – let’s just carry on dreaming. There’s no harm in that.”