I Was There

Published on March 13th, 2018 | by Yusuf Ali

Espanyol: fan culture thrives in the shadow of Barcelona

How does it feel to live in the shadow of one of the most popular football clubs in the world?

Not many people know that there is another professional club in Barcelona. That club is Espanyol, currently in the lower reaches of La Liga.

Attending Espanyol’s match against Villareal, I noticed the fans were nearly all Spanish citizens. Everyone wore clothing in the club colours and the stadium atmosphere was alive for all 90 mins, even when the home side was 1-0 down.

Almost two years ago at Camp Nou, I watched Barcelona take on Athletic Bilbao in a league cup game.

The majority of the fans were tourists who hardly paid attention to the game, only there to take selfies. This was the difference between a local club and a global one.

Local passion

At Espanyol, you were looked at strangely by local fans if you weren’t wearing the famous blue and white colours.

Almost all the adults in the stadium are allowed to smoke. I was among local fans who had so much passion for their club and the game.

Villarreal needed all three points to edge closer to a top-four finish. Espanyol, on the other hand, managed to equalise late on to gain a point, giving them a 10-point gap from the relegation zone.

Espanyol’s 40,500-seater stadium is almost full at most fixtures. It has an atmosphere that is hard to forget and most importantly, local fans that have stuck with the club regardless of the success of FC Barcelona.

Barca’s poor relations

Espanyol were promoted in the 1993-94 season, and since then the club has managed to stay in La Liga. The club has not won a La Liga title in more than 80 seasons, despite coming close at times.

In contrast, just over five miles away from Espanyol’s RCDE Stadium lies Camp Nou, the Barcelona stadium with a history of showcasing the greatest players ever, with over 120 trophies won and a capacity of over 95,000.

Espanyol was founded by Spanish citizens, unlike Barcelona, which was established by Swiss, English and Catalan players in 1899.

Barcelona has more than 150 million followers worldwide. An estimated 1.6 million people visit Camp Nou each season. The club also has one of the best youth academies in the world. Eleven products of their academy all played in a La Liga match in 2012.

Espanyol’s trophy cabinet does include winning the Spanish Copa Del Rey on four occasions, the latest in 2006.

That same year Espanyol lost in the UEFA Cup Final to Sevilla on penalties. This was a devastating defeat as they had never won the UEFA cup ever before.

Teams that aren’t challenging for trophies each year struggle for mainly two reasons, poor youth development or their finances are low.

Espanyol is a club who have recently improved on both aspects and seem to be attracting big names, such as having a goalkeeper Diego López and midfielder Esteban Granero who both played for Real Madrid.

The difference between the two cubs is marked. At Barcelona, there’s the selfies, an atmosphere full of tourists who aren’t watching the match and fans repeatedly shouting ‘Barcelona!’

At Espanyol it’s full of vibrant local fans singing the club’s songs, wearing the club colours with eyes glued to the game. And they are hoping to someday become as successful as Barcelona, to step out of the shadows and be known worldwide.

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