“Real Oviedo is a football club like no other, it’s a club that almost died but it was saved by fans all over the world, I grew up there and it is where I go home” – Michu, former Real Oviedo Captain and Swansea City player.
Just as Michu, who spent 14 years working through the youth teams at Oviedo, said, Real Oviedo is not a normal football club. Having produced the likes of Juan Mata, Santi Cazorla and Adrian; it seems weird to think that the club was bankrupt and nearing dissolution only 10 years ago. Real Oviedo had been one of the most famous teams in Spanish footballing history during the 20th Century. After nearly 20 years of success, the team were relegated for the first time since 1979 in 2001. This relegation coming just after opening a new 30,500 seat stadium meant that Oviedo were put into colossal financial trouble. However the small club from the North of Spain were helped by football fans all over the world to rebuild financial stability and this story shows the beautiful game to be exactly that, beautiful.
To understand why the financial problems of Real Oviedo were such a huge shock to Spanish football one must first understand the history of the club. Real Oviedo were founded in 1926 due to a merger of two acute clubs in the Spanish low divisions, Real Oviedo soon found fame and reached the top division in Spain (La Liga) just 7 years later. 1933-36 were some of the best days for the club, they managed to create a style much like the “tiki-taka” tactic we link with the current Spanish team. Fred Pentland, the English manager of the time trained the team with a tight regime that allowed them to break the Spanish scoring record with 174 goals in just 62 games. However at the outbreak of war the team split and in 1939 due to a non-playable pitch (Franco used it as an ammunition dump) the team was relegated.
Oviedo had a quiet couple of decades where they often switched between the first and second divisions; however Oviedo reached continental fame in the 1962-3 season when they qualified for the UEFA Cup and finished a record third in La Liga. In 1982, Oviedo had a new stadium in order to compete for a chance of a World Cup game being hosted there, and they were successful. Over the next twenty years, Oviedo competed seriously in the second division and after being promoted in 1988, spent 12 great years in the first division.
Then disaster struck in 2001, Oviedo, having spent 12 years successfully battling in the Spanish top tier, were subjected to two consecutive relegations. The club had attracted international players during the 90’s and had just built a new major stadium (The Carlos Tartiere Stadium.) The severe lack of money, due to these relegations, meant that the club was not able to pay its players and was therefore subject to an administrative relegation which took them to their all time lowest league in the Spanish Fourth Division.
Many Oviedo fans blame bad management for letting the situation get so atrocious; the current president Antonia Fidalgo said “the situation came from regrettable, reckless management, based on ignorance and impudence.” This management has become a taboo subject for many of the Oviedo fans; however this is not where the story ends. Instead in the 2012-13 season Oviedo claimed international fame once again. Oviedo called on supporters, not just those who had been following Real Oviedo all their life but supporters of football, to help the club (who were on the brink of destruction) survive.
Oviedo needed over €4,000,000 to alleviate the terrible financial situation they were in. This is where footballing history was made; over 25,000 people bought shares in the club from 61 different countries (including one football fan from the North Pole,) the overwhelming support that Oviedo achieved is testament to the greatness of football fans. Having raised €2,000,000 from supporters all around the globe (including special financial help from past players such as Santi Cazorla, Juan Mata, Michu and Adrián), the richest man on the planet Carlos Slim decided to get involved and support a tiny club in the north of Spain; Slim donated the rest of the money needed to rebuilt the club. Whether an opponent of Oviedo or not, football fans never want to see another club go out of business because they know that one day their special club might be in the same situation.
The story of Real Oviedo however did not stop there, having regained financial stability the club was determined to become a great club again. Over the past few years Oviedo have not only started to attract bigger name players again but also the club have rebuilt their youth academy. The Head of the Youth Academy Fermin Alavarez said of the new youth academy “it’ll be hard to repeat [past successes] but it is a good base to start from.” The future is bright for Real Oviedo and this will come as a relief to many of the dedicated supporters who were left in darkness for so long. The saying “sometimes we see clearest in the darkness” is really true for Real Oviedo. Football fans all around the world proved this with their staggering support for the club who were so close but yet so far to dissolution.
In May this year, the future got even brighter for Real Oviedo, as they finally secured their place back in the mainstream Spanish Second Division for the first time since their financial collapse. The restoration of Real Oviedo to the Spanish League is a great sight to see; hopefully in years to come the amazing legacy that Real Oviedo started to leave behind can be continued and reborn. This time it is a legacy of the essential fans at the core of the beautiful game.