Forza Futbol

A Better Lens at Spanish Football

I got a message the other day from a guy who frankly saw the elephant in the room that everyone has been ignoring. He wrote to me asking why Espanyol wasn’t more popular in Spain. It’s a fair question. I mean, there is a place for Real Betis in Sevilla or Atlético Madrid in the capital, but in Barcelona where one club is mes que un club, and pretends to represent all that it means to be Catalan in such a cosmopolitan and modern city, there is no space for a club like RCD Espanyol, or is there?   Although, their home stadium Estadi Cornellà-El Prat, has brought many visitors. With the capacity of 40,500 make sure you check into a hotel in Barcelona  Spain on time and show your support for RCD Espanyol on their next game!

 

First of all, the name explains the brand: Espanyol. Even with the Catalan spelling of the word, and for much of its existence the club held the Castilian spelling of Español, the club has always represented an opposition to Catalan independence even if the reality is more complex. The casual observer might say, well if FC Barcelona casts itself in the light of being progressive, left leaning, democratic and independent of the centrist state of Spain, well Espanyol must be all that isn’t. It’s just not true. I mean, are people in the Basque country saying the same thing of Real Sociedad? They have just as long a history of royal patronage as Real Club Deportiu Espanyol. If you want to get technical, I mean, a Swiss citizen founded FC Barcelona while Espanyol were one of the first clubs in all of Spain to have been started by locals.

 

Sure, there is a history of regrettable violence and actions by certain factions of our support, but are we going to quibble over that really? I know much was said after monkey chants were overheard at Cornellà directed at Barca’s Dani Alves, but how much of that is indicative of the national sporting culture and not the inherant character of the club. How quickly we forget that the same thing occurred to Alves at the Santiago Bernabeu last year and also to his countryman Marcelo at the Camp Nou when Real Madrid visited. It´s a regrettable occurrence seen at many of the grounds in Spain and not just at Cornellà-el Prat.

 

While it is a shame to be cast aside by Catalans, I get the reasoning. If Barça is all you need then who in their right mind has enough to seek out its antithesis. I was going to say eternal rival, but that’s a term that is held for Real Madrid. Espanyol aren’t even a rival really. It’s the club that won’t go away and live comfortably in the Segunda or Segunda B where all the other Catalan clubs like Sabadell, Europa or even Nastic have been forced to eke out an existence. Every time the local derby comes around Espanyol’s mere existence brings to mind the fact that there are those, some surely that came to support Espanyol because they were outsiders who emigrated to Barcelona looking for work and fell into a club that was less insular, but also that there are others who were rightly Catalan and weren’t so sure that one entity could represent all of what made them who they were.

 

What is not so understandable is why the rest of Spain has a problem with Espanyol. As we sit today, Espanyol are fifth on the table behind media darlings Levante in fourth on goal differential alone. It is an amazing feat considering the chaos that has surrounded the club. Our top goal-scorer was sold off to AS Roma in the summer. Injuries have decimated the rest of the striking corps and the squad has lacked key players in the center of midfield, on the wings and on defense. Our management is fiscally responsible, some would say to a fault, our youth-team is one of the most successful canteras in Spain, and we have one of the brightest young coaches in Europe, let alone Spain.

 

All that should be enough you would think for at least some respect nationally; especially with that five-star UEFA class jewel at Cornellà that puts to shame most stadia in Spain, and yet, during both legs of the Copa del Rey against a Cinderella like Mirandés, there were incongruous cries from the stands of “Catalans go home!” and “Long live Spain!” Practically the whole country got behind that third division side from a small town in Burgos 50 miles from Bilbao. Having eliminated Espanyol, are we seeing the same amount of Mirandés fever against Athletic Bilbao that you saw two weeks ago? I don’t think so.

 

This isn’t a new phenomenon either. It isn’t just that we are relegated to half a page or so in Barcelona papers, or that we’re an after-thought in television or radio coverage, but that we’re an after-thought period. Deportivo La Coruna had their day in the sun, as did Recreativo de Huelva for a brief moment, and Villarreal have been on a decade long renaissance. Malaga have had their miracle. Isn’t it time for Espanyol?

Forza Futbol On February - 4 - 2012

12 Responses so far.

  1. Anonymous says:

    great piece Mando! Totally agree with you on everything you said and you know what the irony is – with all these catalonian barca supporters, if there was a vote tomorrow in catalonia to break off from spain, what i’ve seen from the statistics, most of barcelona itself would vota against separating … so maybe espanyol needs to just recruit a better marketing team because i feel like a lot of it is fair weather fans at the moment in barcelona’s case … when their 15 minutes of fame dies down, the sun will rise for espanyol … everyone gets their 15 minutes at some point … some just get it over and over …

    • Raul Pope Farguell says:

      15 minutes of fame?
      And what part of Barcelona’s ideology makes you believe it’s behind separating from Spain? It in no way has ever backed any such policy. The club under every president, even Laporta, has maintained the position that Catalonia should remain a part of Spain but with Catalonia being recognised as a national team like Scotland, England, Wales and N.Ireland within the UK structure.
      Also, the majority of Barça fans are from outside of Catalonia and while generally there may be more people who say they support Barcelona because of the recent success of the team, this is no different to any other team when they’ve been successful. There’s no other reason why there’s Liverpool, Manchester United, Juventus and Real Madrid fans in India.

  2. Raul Pope Farguell says:

    Well, where to start?

    Espanyol, as you said, have a long history of ties to Spain, that is, the Spanish nationalist side of Catalonia. When I think of the typical perico there’s actually two images that come to mind: the first is the thug who lives in somewhere like Cornellà (I know because I grew up there) or Hospitalet, usually exclusively Spanish-speakers and they seem to stand around on street corners all day. A friend of mine complained they used to beat people up, but I never saw anything like that, but they certainly gave the impression they weren’t adverse to a bit of violence should the occasion call for it. The second perico lives in Sarrià. Sarrià is posh; very, very, very posh and that says it all. It’s old establishment, old Spanish establishment: public school types that go to the Deutsche schule. With support that’s so polarised, traditionally (and stereo-types have a way of sticking), it’s difficult to build a narrative around either set of fans that makes you want to care about the club. That would be the first problem. With Mirandés it was easy: the bank manager, the postmans etc,, we’ve seen it all before and the everyone laps it up.

    The second problem is Espanyol aren’t enough “español”. I think the move to being espanyol and more Catalan to represent their actual place in society may have harmed them in that sense. Do you doubt at all that if the club became a bastion of Spanishness then Marca et al wouldn’t be a bit more in favour of Espanyol coverage? The problem is marketing. By trying to occupy two ideologies, or at least associated with two, they occupy none. It smacks of the efforts of a small time club to gain popularity. There’s plenty of room in the Catalan nationalist camp to align themselves with a political body, but while most Catalans are centre-right/ centre-left, it means maybe going a bit further, one way of the other: PP, Ciutadans, ERC, Iniciativa. And for them, the parties, there’s no real political base at Espanyol to draw on. Artur Mas supporting Barça is an obvious ploy to gain popularity (he needs it), but would Alicia Sánchez-Camacho or Albert Rivera gain votes by ‘coming out’ as Espanyol fans?

    Finally, Espanyol are pretty boring. We know they’re doing well now, but they are just a Wigan that’s further down the road. We’ve seen them fail too many times to get excited about a few good seasons and after a history of poor managers and very dodgy players, perhaps the press are weary of championing things. The club may be doing the right things, and I think Pochettino gets a good lot of press about his abilities as a manager, if he weren’t at Espanyol he’d get more, of course. Espanyol aren’t the elephant in the room, they really are enjoying the success they created. Other teams will rightly cry about the same thing instead of seeing the league as something that’s dominated by two and then the scraps fed to the others which Valencia, Athletic, Atlético, Betis and Sevilla get first dibs on. Espanyol, like those teams, needs to challenge and have a go at the title or win some silverware. That’s the only way of getting noticed. Ask Numancia or Osasuna.

    • I take your point Raul as skewed as it is. You´re right, the main reason Espanyol are the way they are is primarily because of their own mismanagement, but it doesn´t help that there is so little room left in Catalunya for people who don´t define themselves in azulgrana. You prove my point with the Wigan quip. Would a merengue call Atleti no more than Fulham on the Manzanares? I think the first step to respectability for my club is to stop defining ourselves in relation to the real Elefant Blau in the room.

      • Raul Pope Farguell says:

        I think people who support Madrid call Atleti much worse than Fulham. They don’t really take them seriously and it’s pity more than respect; mockery more than acknowledgement.

        I think there’s tons of room in Catalonia for another team. The problem, like I said, is the political line any new attempt to define a club might take, Like it or not, there will at least be an attempt to make it political and the de-facto position at the moment, which you allure to, really doesn’t help your club: Espanyol’s attempts to simply be Barça’s antithesis or anti-Barça, as the build up to the Derby showed. It might reflect the reality of blaugrana dominance in Catalonia or maybe even a deeper-complex, but the reality is it doesn’t help Espanyol if you’re wanting recognition in your own right – which you deserve.

        In this light, Espanyol might be a victim of its own success because it’s in the same division as Barça.

        My point in no way was meant to be skewed or offensive, so I apologise if I crossed the line.

  3. guest says:

    An interesting article until the idiotic comment about no-one being interested in Athletic vs Mirandés.

    • Armando G says:

      Let me repeat that for you ¨Guest.¨ `Having eliminated Espanyol, are we seeing the same amount of Mirandés fever against Athletic Bilbao that you saw two weeks ago? I don´t think so.´ See, my point was not that NO ONE was interested about Athletic and Mirandés, but that the FEVER behind the Cinderella squad was not as FERVENT (having or displaying passionate intensity). It´s not, and this was before they lost to Athletic in the first leg.

  4. [...] wrote a piece for my website Forzafutbol.com defending RCD Espanyol primarily from a comment I noticed here a few months ago. It´s a question [...]

  5. [...] wrote a piece for my website Forzafutbol.com defending RCD Espanyol primarily from a comment I noticed here a few months ago. It´s a question [...]

  6. [...] For more on Espanyol, see this piece, also on Forza Futbol: “A Barcelona Outsider: The Case for RCD Espanyol” [...]

  7. Guest says:

    Well, I don’t know how many of the things you mentioned in the article are still defendable. Only 2 months after the article, Espanyol is no longer 5th in the League, it has been accused of arranging results, its debts don’t allow the club to pay for players and employers salaries. But (or because ?) they built a wonderful new stadium

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