It is not often in La Liga that you hear of a ‘fairy tale story’. Clubs from top to bottom of Spain’s top divisions are carrying huge burdens of debt, and many sides are subsequently not as strong as they used to be. However, in May 2014, the story of SD Eibar was reaching its fairy tale ending. A club who’s ground holds less supporters than Dagenham & Redbridge, were promoted to the Primera Division for the first ever time in their 70 year history. But like all good stories, there was inevitably a dramatic twist on the way.
Located in the Basque area of Spain, Eibar has a population of around 27,000 people and a stadium which holds only 5,250 supporters, making them the smallest team to ever feature in Spain’s top flight.
After two promotions in two seasons, however, The Armeros were required to raise 1.7 million Euros before they had even kicked a Primera Divison ball. Due to the Spanish FA’s laws, Eibar had to meet the share capital quota of at least 2.1 million euros, despite the fact that the club are debt free thanks to the philosophy of president Alex Aranzabal.
Aranzabal and manager Gaizka Garitano are key to The Armeros’s incredible rise. A midfielder who played over 150 times for the Basque side, Garitano became Eibar manager in 2012 after spending the previous two years coaching their B team. Garitano is seen as a true icon of what Eibar stand for as a club; relatively unknown yet very hard working and deserve to be where they are now.
In April 2014, a campaign called ‘Defend Eibar’ was created with the aim of raising the required 1.7 million euros. Shares were sold at rates ranging from 50-100,000 euros. The campaign received backing from former Eibar players Xabi Alonso, David Silva and Aiser Illarramendi. Now the club is owned by over 8,000 people from across the globe thanks to the campaign’s success, and the prospect of double relegation back to Spain’s third tier was avoided.
Eibar took to the field for their first ever La Liga game against Real Sociedad playing to a full capacity Ipurua Municipal. The home side won the tie 1-0 courtesy of a Javi Lara strike. The following gameweek the Basque side narrowly lost away at champions Atletico Madrid, and on Monday night they were beaten 1-0 by Deportivo La Coruna, a side who also gained promotion with Eibar after finishing second in the Segunda Division. The signs are there that Eibar have what it takes to stay in the top flight beyond this season; they have quality out wide in the shape of Javier Lara, (who scored the winning goal against Real Sociedad in week 1 of the Primera Division), Mikel Arruabarrena has been with Eibar since 2009 and his experience will be key in the coming months playing in behind striker Angel Rodriguez, who has spent the previous three seasons playing in La Liga for the likes of Elche and Levante.
The next challenge Eibar will be faced with is that as of 2016 they are required to increase their stadium capacity to 15,000, again another La Liga rule. For now, The Armeros have began to start work on a new stand to increase the Ipurua Municipal’s capacity to towards 7,000 and they can stop pinching themselves when the likes of Messi and Ronaldo et al come to town. As the saying goes, ‘they all lived happily ever after’.