Real Sociedad: A TEAM WHICH IS BUILT ON HISTORY AND PASSION
by Sulaiman Iqbal
Real Sociedad is a Spanish football club from the Basque city of San Sebastián/Donostia in Guipúzcoa/Gipuzkoa. It was founded on September 17, 1909. It was relegated to Segunda Division at the end of the 2006-2007 season. The club is known in Basque as Erreala or the txuri-urdin (meaning “white-blue”), from their colors: blue with white vertical stripes and white shorts. The club name means Royal Society of Football. A blue quarter on white also appears in the flag of their home town. The home stadium is the Estadio Anoeta, which seats 32,000 spectators.
|Football was introduced to San Sebastián in the early 1900s by students and workers returning from Britain. In 1904 they formed the San Sebastian Recreation Club. In 1905 they competed in the Copa del Rey. In May 1905 the San Sebastian Football Club was formed as a separate branch of the original club. In 1909 they applied to enter the Copa del Rey but some complications over registration permits saw them compete as Club Ciclista de San Sebastian. This team defeated Club Español de Madrid by 3-1 in the final. Out of the confusion finally the Sociedad de Futbol was formed on September 7th, 1909.In 1910 Spanish clubs played in two rival cup competitions and Sociedad de Futbol entered the Copa UECF as Vasconia de San Sebastian. In the same year Alfonso XIII, who used San Sebastián as his summer capital, gave the club his patronage. They subsequently became known as Real Sociedad de Fútbol. Real Sociedad were founder members of La Liga in 1928. The team came fourth with Francisco “Cuqui” Bienzobas finishing as top scorer. The team’s name was changed to Donostia Club de Futbol in 1931, with the advent of the Second Spanish Republic, but changed back to Real Sociedad after the Spanish Civil War in 1939.The team rankings have fluctuated always between the Primera and Segunda divisions, in one period (during the 1940s) managing to be relegated and promoted seven times. Around that time the sculptor Eduardo Chillida was the team’s goalkeeper until injury put a stop to his football career. The best period of the team’s history must be the early 1980s where they won the Primera for two seasons running.For many years, Real Sociedad followed the practice of their Basque rivals Athletic Bilbao of signing only Basque players. But in 1989, they abandoned the policy when they signed Irish international John Aldridge from Liverpool. Real Sociedad’s best league performance in recent years is their 2nd place finish in La Liga in 2002-03. While they still attempt to keep a core of Basque players, whether coming from their own teams or signed from other clubs, they will also employ non-Basque Spanish players, as well as foreigners.On 9 July 2007, former Welsh international and Fulham manager Chris Coleman was appointed as the new coach of the club, a recommendation by former Real Sociedad (and current Welsh National team) manager John Toshack, who remains a respected and influential figure at the club.
The period between the death of Generalissimo Francisco Franco in 1975, and 1982 when the elected left-wing PSOE governemnt brought full democracy back to Spain is known as La Transición.
This was a period of great excitement but also tense apprehension, as the many Spaniards wondered if their country could shake-off the legacy of a 36 year dictatorship and become of the modern, democratic world.Nowhere were these two emotions felt more acutely than in The Basque Country, where ETA were embarking on a campaign of armed-violence in an attempt to gain full independence for the region.Although supported by a significant number of Basques at the time, most in the region were simply happy to be part of a democratic Spain again.
A degree of autonomy had returned to the region where they were now free to celebrate Basque traditions, fly the ikurrina flag and speak in their own language without fear of persecution.The 1970′s had not been a vintage decade for Spanish Football and during this period Real Madrid had been overwhelmingly dominant, making La Liga sterile and uncompetitive.Just as the country was experiencing the winds of political change, a revolution was also taking place in football.
The main protagonists were from the lush green hills of The Basque Country.
However this wasn’t taking place in the traditional footballing stronghold of Bilbao, but up the road in Gipuzkoa in the beautiful costal city of Donostia (San Sebastián) – home of Real Sociedad.The seeds of this transition in footballing power had begun in the 1979-1980 season, when ‘El equipo Txuri-Urdin’ (blue and whites) under the command of Alberto Ormaetxea had remarkably remained undefeated for 32 games, only to lose 2-1 in the penultimate game of the season in Sevilla. The loss in Andalusia meant Real Sociedad were tragically pipped at the post by the hated team from the capital. Real Madrid were lucky as ‘Er Reala’ as Real Sociedad are known in Basque, were widely considered to have played the best football.
Their high-tempo style of play gave the side some great victories at their legendary old stadium Atotxa (a compact British style arena), including a 4-0 thrashing of Real Madrid.
Such a tragic end to the season could have destroyed a lesser group of players, but this team were made of stronger stuff and players who would become legends such as goalkeeper Luis Arkonada, dynamic midfielder Periko Alonso (the father of Xabi) and forward López-Ufarte were determined the following season to make amends and bring some joy to the long suffering Basque Country. However season 1980-1981 didn’t start well with ‘Er Reala’ being frustratingly inconsistent and after a 2-0 defeat in the Camp Nou with just 10 games to go, the Basques found themselves six points off league leaders Real Madrid.
Perhaps with the pain of the previous season still fresh in the minds, the players re-grouped and would remain undefeated until the end of the season, while both teams from the capital started to drop points.
After winning away to Murcia in the second to last game of the season ‘La Real’ (please note the club are never known as just Sociedad in Spain) reached the submit of La Liga.
A further victory at home to Español left the club on the brink of an historic first league title, but would the team throw it away again? Real Sociedad’s final game of the season was in Gijón against Sporting.
Sporting’s are from Asturias, a region that has traditionally held no great love for the Basques, yet Real’s fans with their newly un-banned Ikurrina flags took over the El Molinon stadium, in the hope of seeing their heroes crowned champions.
The game couldn’t have started any better for La Real as they took the lead after only six minutes after a goal from Kortabarria. Two goals from the home side however turned the game around one minute either side of half time, and the visitors found themselves trailing.
Given that Real Madrid were winning away at Valladolid, it seemed that history was going to repeat itself. As the match drifted towards it’s finale, the Basque supporters were disconsolate.
In the final minute of the game however, Jesús María Zamora carved a name for himself in the history book when his thunderous right foot shot brought the sides level.
It was the goal that clinched the league title. Real Sociedad were champions for the first time and the starting XI from that deciding game can still be recited by fans today, even those that were not even born at the time. Arkonada, Celayeta, Górriz, Kortabarria, Olaizola, Diego, Alonso, Zamora, Idígoras, Satrustegi, López Ufarte, José Mª Bakero and Larrañaga had become immortals. Remarkably the team would win the title again the following season, with the added bonus of the decisive match being against Basque rivals Athletic, whom Real defeated 2-1.
ATHLETIC BILBAO AND WHERE IT ALL BEGAN
by Sulaiman Iqbal
Although Athletics’ statutes were not signed until 1901 and the Bilbao team that won the first Copa de España the following year was called Club Viscaya, the proud Basques claim 1898 as the founding date and the first Cup as theirs and nobody in Spanish football, not even the Liga de Fútbol Profesional, is prepared to argue with them.
As Spanish Champions in 1902, 1903, 1904, 1910 and 1911, Athletic Bilbao were without doubt the force that dominated football in Spain throughout the early years. Furthermore, that early Athletic team in Rafael Moreno Aranzadi better known as ‘Pichichi boasted the first legendary goalscorer in Spanish football and to this day Spain’s top goalscorer each season is known as the Pichichi.
By 1913, the club was so successful and popular that they opened Spain’s first stadium San Mamés, which is quite rightly known as The Cathedral of Spanish football.
The Lions continued to dominate Spanish football with five more Copas del Rey in 1914, 1915, 1916, 1921 and 1923.
It’s significant too that not only Bilbao dominated Spanish football but theBasques did in general. In the 1920 Antwerp Olympics in which Spain won the Silver medal most of the team was made up of Basques, and of the 10 teams that made up the first Liga in 1928, 4 were were Basque – Athletic Club, Real Sociedad, Arenas de Getxo and Real Unión de Irun, who in 1930 were joined by Alavés making half of the Liga Basque.
Just as with FC Barcelona in Catalonia, Athletic Club is associated with the defence of the Basque cause against fascism and it was an ex-Athletic Club player, José Antonio Aguirre, who presided over the first legitimateBasque government at the start of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 – a government that was in power when Franco allowed Hitler to send his airforce to rain bombs on the Basque town of Guernika.
When football resumed in 1939, Athletic Club’s successes just like Barcelona’s were seen as a blow to the regime and what’s more Athletic Club’s successes were based on their cantera (youth team) policy – the club to this day will only field Basque players – and in 1941 Telmo Zarraonaindia, more conveniently known as Zarra, made his debut for the club. In the following 13 seasons Zarra went to score 294 goals including 38 in 1950-51 season, a tally equalled by Hugo Sánchez in 1989-90, but to this day unbeaten.
Franco banned foreign words in club names so Athletic Club so it was Club Atlético de Bilbao that won the Liga-Copa double in 1943 and further Copas, now renamed the Copa del Generalísimo, in 1944 and 1945.
Other Copas del Generalísimo followed in 1950, 1955, 1956, which was also another Liga-Copa double season, and 1958 but, just like with Barcelona, the sixties and seventies were a relatively fallow period as hegemony in both football and politics had definitively moved to Madrid.
In the first Basque derby between Athletic Club and Real Sociedad on the December 5 1975, just two weeks after the death of Franco, Athletics’ Iribar and Real’s Kortabarria walked out onto the pitch carrying the Ikurriña, the still illegal Basque flag, and democracy brought with it another period of success for Athletic Club.
Under Javier Clemente, the club won the Liga in 1983 and bagged the double again in 1984. However, whilst remaining amongst the three Spanish clubs never to have been relegated to Segunda, the last two decades have been increasingly difficult for Athletic Club, an unquestionable ‘grande’ of Spanish football.
The increasing globalisation and commercialisation of football, particularly since the Bosman ruling in 1996, has brought more international stars to Spain and for Athletic Club, who have remained true to their ‘cantera’ policy, success has been difficult to come by and have been happy to finish the season mid-table when not involved in relegation battles.
However, a survey in the nineties revealed that 76% of Athletic supporters wanted the club to remain true to its roots and perhaps the words that club president José María Arrate wrote in the introduction to the club’s centenary book best sum up the sentiments that many of us would like our clubs to uphold.
‘Athletic Bilbao is more than a football club, it is a feeling – and as such its ways of operating often escape rational analysis. We see ourselves as unique in world football and this defines our identity. We do not say we are better or worse than others, merely different. We only wish for the sons of our soil to represent our club, and in so wishing we stand out as a sporting entity, not a business. We wish to mould our players into men, not just footballers, and each time that a player from the cantera makes his debut we feel we have realised an objective which is in harmony with the ideologies of our founders and forefathers.
The rivalry between Real Sociedad of San Sebastian and Athletic Bilbao, representing the capitals of the most populous and industrial of Spain’s Basque provinces, is fervent and deep-rooted; but from its beginnings in the early twentieth century it has been complicated by a consciousness of Basque brotherhood which has, from time to time, brought the teams and their supporters together in displays of solidarity in response both to external pressures (above all from the Madrid government) and to internal conflicts (especially, since the 1970s, those involving the definition of attitudes towards the terrorist activities of the violent nationalist movement ETA and its associated political wings). The best analogy is that of the family at war within itself, which is at the same time capable of presenting a belligerent united front against outsiders and of composing a public face of unity, for particular purposes and when the occasion demands.
The local media’s has had rhetorical expressions of amity between Real and Athletic in pursuit of greater pan-Basque enterprises, and by the sight of fans of both teams fraternizing before a local derby and marching with the common goal of protesting against the kidnapping of an industrialist by ETA, as to refer in affectionate tones to Athletics’ stadium as ‘la Catedral’ in the first draft of a joint article with a
colleague who was a member of ‘la Real’. His friendly rebuke at this trans-gression was immediate.
It’s incredible looking back from when this rivalry was born and how it is as big as it was the moment it began.
The sides first met on 10 February 1929, the opening day of the inaugural Spanish league season, with the game ending in a 1-1 draw. Since then Real Sociedad andAthletic Bilbao have faced each other 126 times in the league, Los Leones holding sway with 53 wins to La Real’s 41, scoring 218 goals to their rivals’ 171.
The defining feature of the story of the Basque derby is the largely cordial relationship between both cities. Less than 100 kilometres separate the elegant San Sebastian, a favoured retreat of the aristocracy in 19th century, and the industrial and economic hub that is Bilbao. Those contrasts have fuelled the local power struggle between the two conurbations, one that in footballing terms at least, has always been played out in an amicable atmosphere.
Relations have been somewhat more fraught between the two boards of directors. Attempts by both sides to lure the opposition’s most talented youngsters have provided a source of friction, the tension being heightened at times by the fact the two clubs traditionally pursued a policy of fielding only local-born players.
The winners of eight league titles, 23 Spanish cups and one Spanish Super Cup, Athletics’ stated policy is to select only players born in the Basque country. However, the club’s rules also allow for natives of the neighbouring region of Navarra to wear the red-and-white-striped jersey, as well as players of proven Basque heritage, such as former full-back Vicente Lizarazu, who hails from the French Basque country.
The less successful of the two teams with two leagues, two cups and one Spanish Super Cup to their name, Real Sociedad also pursued a strict recruitment policy between the 1960s and late ‘80s. Following an intense debate, club president Inaki Alkiza took a landmark decision in the club’s history by making Republic of Ireland international John Aldridge the first foreigner to play for Los txuri urdin (Basque for “white and blue”) in the modern era. The change in policy proved especially fruitful at the turn of the millennium, with the deadly strike duo of Nihat Kahveci and Darko Kovacevic and Russian midfielder Valery Karpin taking Real Sociedad to the brink of a third title in 2003.
The biggest away win in the history of the fixture was Athletics’ 7-1 triumph in 1930, a game that began with La Real taking the lead and which included hat-tricks by Guillermo Gorostiza and Jose Iraragorri. As for Los Donostiarras, the 5-0 wins they chalked up in the 1976/77 and 1994/95 seasons remain their most emphatic.
Down the years, some 13 players have turned out for the two clubs, their switches of allegiance adding to the tension generated by the repeated attempts on both sides to poach their neighbour’s talented youngsters. The first player to ‘defect’ was Isidoro Urra in 1947/48 followed shortly afterwards by Antonio Aldonza. Thirteen years an Athletic player, Rafael Iriondo swapped red and white for blue and white in 1953, with Pedro Uralde, Luciano Iturrino and Loren the next to cross the divide.
From the 1990s onwards, a steady stream of Real discoveries have made their way to the San Mames, namely David Billabona, Bittor Alkiza, Jon Andoni Goikoetxea, Joseba Etxeberria, Mikel Lasa, Andoni Imaz, Igor Gabilondo and Iban Zubiaurre. And in a case of divided family loyalties, one derby match saw Real Sociedad midfielder Gaizka Garitano come up against his father Ondarru, an assistant to the then Athletic coach Mane.
Given the rich seam of local talent the two clubs have successfully mined over the years – from Athletics’ great goalscorer Telmo Zarra to La Real’s most famous sons, Luis Arconada and Xabi Alonso – it is little wonder they have sought to hang on to their carefully nurtured assets.
The derby’s a special game, there are points at stake but there’s also the rivalry and the passion. Along with Real Madrid and Barcelona, Athletic have never been relegated from the Spanish top flight.