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?