Pitchside Europe

More than just Liga in Spain with Yellow Submarines on the rise


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The crowds at Barcelona and Real Madrid for the last weekend were among their lowest of the season. The league had been decided, the games were the only two which didn’t affect the relegation or European qualifications. Every other game mattered.

Over 65,000 were at Camp Nou (65,000) to see Eric Abidal wave goodbye following a 4-1 victory over Malaga, for Manuel Pellegrini’s last game in charge for the Andalusians. At least five players will be leaving Barcelona while one, Neymar, has already arrived and was unveiled before 56,000 fans in Camp Nou on Monday. He said he wants to help Lionel Messi stay the best player in the world. How that works out will be as intriguing given Messi’s past partnerships with Zlatan Ibrahimovich and the England bound David Villa.

Over 55,000 – 25,000 short of capacity – were at the Bernabeu for Real Madrid’s victory over Osasuna. Madrid fans cheered and booed the outgoing Jose Mourinho, the younger Ultras in the minority who support the man who’d been in charge for three seasons. They’ll miss him.

There were huge crowds elsewhere in the Primera Liga. A 31,800 sell-out saw Celta Vigo beat Espanyol 1-0 to stay up. They’ll lose their best player and idol, Iago Aspas to Liverpool.

Another sell-out of 32,000 saw Zaragoza lose to Atletico (who had Falcao playing his last game before his €60 million move to play in front of tiny crowds at Monaco) and be relegated. Zaragoza fans continue to fume at their club president, more so now they’re down.

Mallorca’s biggest crowd of the season saw them beat Valladolid (whose manager Djukic is joining Valencia), but still suffer relegation. The Palma club will played second division football for the first time since 1997.

A full house of 34,600 watched Deportivo La Coruna lose 1-0 at home to Real Sociedad. The Galicians go straight back down to the second division and long time star playmaker Juan Carlos Valeron, who turns 38 this month, announced his intention to retire. The Basques will play in the Champions League, though their French coach Philp Montanier won’t be around to see it. He was only offered a one year contract and opted for the security of a three-year deal in France with Rennes.

Sevilla beat Valencia in front of over 35,000 and knocked them out of the running for the Champions League thanks to four goals by Alvaro Negredo. Those meant he leapfrogged Valencia’s Roberto Soldado (who scored two himself in the 4-3 defeat) to move up to 25 league goals and become to top scoring Spaniard in the league.

But Spain isn’t only about the big clubs and the Primera Liga. There’s a depth to the football support all over the country, as was evident in the second, third and fourth divisions at the weekend.

Over 10,000 Villarreal fans - pictured below - the largest away support in the city of Barcelona this season, watched their side win 3-0 against Barça B, the yellow of their flags and shirts taking over three sides of the Mini Estadi as they did so. The second placed Yellow Submarines will go straight back up if they draw or beat Almeria this weekend. That’s Almeria who are on the same points as them and are also hoping for promotion straight back to the top flight. Almeria beat Girona, the Catalan minnows who are attempting to play in the top-flight for the first time in their history in front of a sell-out crowd of 13,000. Girona were second until a few weeks ago, when they bizarely lost 4-2 at home to bottom of the league Xerez. Now they’ll have to settle for the play-offs. The second division champions are Elche, from the shoemaking city near Alicante. Their huge stadium staged World Cup games in 1982, but hasn’t hosted top-level football since 1988.

In the regional third division of 80 teams, there were crowds of 17,000 for the final ever game at Athletic Bilbao’s iconic San Mames stadium to see their B team, 12,000 at Albacete, 8,000 at Leganes, 5,300 at Hospitalet, a working class city that’s part of Barcelona’s urban sprawl (pictured above). That crowd included over 1,000 noisy fans from Tenerife, who’d flown over three hours to see their team get promoted. Among them were British expats from the Armada Sur who follow Tenerife. Immigration and emigration is changing football support, with fans adopting teams close to where they live. If that team is involved in the second and third division play-offs in Spain, there’ll be watching football until the third week of June.

In the regional fourth division comprised of 361 teams in 18 leagues, 9,000 watched games in Burgos and Algeciras, 7,000 in Ferrol, 5,000 in Toldeo and Lorca, local communities supporting their local teams. On the beautiful tiny Balearic island of Formentera, population 10,000, over 1,300 watched their team lose out on a chance of going up to the third division. That team begins every away trip with a boat journey to neighbouring Ibiza before a flight or another boat to a different island. They may have missed out on promotion, but at least they won’t have to spend half their lives travelling even further to play football next season, where away trips could take them 10 hours each way.

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Andy Mitten - @andymitten

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