The 2014/15 La Liga season marked the beginning of a fairy tale for the small Basque city of Eibar and its adored football team, SD Eibar. Promotion to Spain’s top flight the season before propelled the club into dreamland, and four years later they are still dreaming.
From start to finish, Eibar’s debut campaign featured dramatic twists and tense moments. With issues over an accounting rule that requires La Liga teams to operate with a certain amount of dedicated capital, Eibar’s journey was almost halted before it had begun. However, an inspirational fan-led movement made sure that the club reached the requirement just in time.
La Liga giants Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid would all make the trip to Ipurua, Eibar’s 7000 seater stadium tucked in between large high rise flats of the very limited city skyline. Only a couple of seasons prior, these fixtures would have been deemed possible only in Football Manager.
A spirited campaign would leave Eibar in 18th position and inside the relegation zone by the time the final fixtures had been played. However, La Liga’s ruling body would demote Elche CF to the second tier instead as a result of financial mismanagement. Ironically, it would be financial implications that would almost deny Eibar its top flight position at the beginning of the season but also keep them in the league at the end of it. For Eibar, they would survive to fight another day.
For a club lacking any financial might in comparison to its fellow competitors, very few teams relished the away trip north. This was largely down to a rampant atmosphere, religiously led by Eskozia la Brava, Eibar’s supporter wing which in English translates to ‘Scotland the Brave’.
In addition to its fan base, the cramped pitch at Ipurua has been very unforgiving for opposition teams and offers a unique set of attributes not seen at other La Liga grounds. Despite Spanish football gaining a reputation for attractive and expansive football, the pitch at Ipurua caters for a different style of play. The pitch suffocates fluid play because of its size, allowing Eibar’s effective as well as tireless game plan to grind out valuable points.
The following season would lead Eibar to an immense 14th placed finish with 43 points on the board. The gap from Eibar in 14th to Sevilla in 7th lay at only 9 points, an achievement not to be ignored. The team so widely disposed of as relegation bound had once again defied the odds. The foundations had been laid for further progress.
Incomprehensible to many just a few seasons prior, Eibar would end the 2016/17 campaign in 10th place, leaving the likes of Valencia and Malaga in their trail. The club with an annual wage budget not big enough to keep Cristiano Ronaldo for a full season was holding its own against the top teams in Spanish football.
Returning to the present, Eibar’s 2017/18 season so far has been a campaign of two halves. A poor start to the season saw many jump to the premature conclusion that the second division finally beckoned. However, ignited by a five-nil romping of Real Betis in November, the club has taken 20 points from its previous 10 games. Eibar currently reside in eighth place, above their traditionally bigger Basque brothers of Athletic Bilbao and Real Sociedad.
Each of the last four seasons has seen Eibar assigned as relegation candidates and yet each season they have answered back by finishing higher in the table, that is of course assuming this season does not enter into recline. So at what point will Eibar be given its fair dues as one of La Liga’s established clubs or are they instead destined to be wrote off at the start of every season because of their slim stature.
The limitation of reason is when factual information is ignored by the human mind in favour of preferred views or opinions. This applies to Eibar’s La Liga endeavours so far, albeit in the most infantile of ways. At what point does the factual evidence overwhelm the tight grip of pre-existing thought. A deeply instilled view of Eibar as a traditionally small club has perhaps clouded their recent successes over the last few seasons.
People struggle to view the club as La Liga proven because at the back of their minds it is unfathomable how such a small club in every possible way, is in fact one of La Liga’s staple clubs with a growing reputation. However, this debate does not bother Eibar’s loyal fans that flock to Ipurua on match days, for them there is no clouding the achievements of their club as they march further into dreamland.