By Tunde Koiki in Eibar, Spain:
The incredible story of Eibar has been told many times around the world. The tiny club from a small Basque town of 30,000 inhabitants who got promoted against all odds to the biggest stage of all, the Spanish La Liga. On my visit to the town, it was only then that I began to understand and appreciate the magnitude of what they had achieved.
Eibar is a small town located in a narrow valley surrounded by massive mountains. The steep streets all around the town would make it hard going for anyone who was afraid of heights. On my arrival at Ipurua Municipal Stadium I was so stunned I didn’t know what to say. Ipurua is dwarfed by huge mountains and massive apartment blocks and buildings. Some had been there before the stands were constructed. Some of the apartment blocks were so tall that those who lived on the upper floors could conveniently watch matches at the stadium without paying. The small stadium can only seat 7,000 fans with plans afoot to expand it to 8,000. Yet, believe it or not, despite its compact size, Ipurua is a modern stadium with full UEFA certification.
Eduardo Valdes, the club’s international development manager explained that Eibar understood its limitations quite well. A tiny club surrounded by huge mountains competing with local and national monsters like Athletic Bilbao, Real Sociedad, Barcelona and Real Madrid, the only option was to seek international affiliations and co-operations. And this first occurred in 2014 when they were ordered by the Spanish La Liga to pay 1.7 million euros in ‘share capital’ in order to comply with new financial rules or face demotion back to the third tier. The little club did not have the money and so they embarked on an ambition crowd funding scheme that helped them raise money from all over the world. Today they have over 11,000 shareholders from all across the world and through social media, they are gaining fans from all corners of the globe with impressive social media numbers.
The club is also setting the standard for gender equality and inclusion in Sapanish football administration. 50% of the workforce are women including the chairman Amaia Gorostiza, the CEO Patricia Rodriguez and Arrate Fernandez the protocol and communications manager among many others. This gender parity even extends to the stands as we are reliably informed that as much as 50% of the fans on matchday are women. The club also has a unique family feel to it with staff and players regularly eating together.
As a small club, Eibar knows it can not compete with the biggest clubs in the Basque Country for the best young talent, hence they do not have a Basque only policy like Athletic Bilbao. Hence, their recruitment policy is to acquire experienced La Liga players, players from the second division as well as affordable international talent.
I left Eibar with comparisons of the iconic Hollywood movie “300” starring Gerard Butler playing in my mind. The movie is based on the Battle of Thermopylae during the Persian Wars, where Spartan monarch King Leonidas, payed by Gerard Butler, leads 300 of his men into battle against the Persian king Xerxes and his invading army of more than 300,000 soldiers. The Spartans held the tiny road by which the massive Persian army could pass for seven days before they were betrayed, outflanked and overwhelmed.
SD Eibar reminds me of the 300 brave Spartans, challenging great odds and facing them head on. The club’s motto says, “Another Football is Possible”. A brand of football not awash with the riches of Real Madrid, not marked with glorious edifices of the Camp Nou and not thrust into regional klieg lights at Bilbao and San Sebastian. A brand of football that is just as competitive, effective and grounded by the love of a small community with global affiliations.