Of all the teams in La Liga the youngest is UD Almeria. Founded in 1989, the club is only 21 years old, younger than me. On Saturday they hosted Barcelona, arguably the best team in Europe. In the end they drew 2-2 but I left the stadium feeling they had missed a big opportunity not only on the park but off it too.
Almeria is a city of around 200,000 located on the south-east coast of Spain. Their football team is one of four Andalusian teams currently playing in La Liga. Almeria is not immediately close to any major Spanish city so the conditions are not bad for creating a half decent Premier League football club. And create a half decent team they have. However, there remains one major problem; a fan base.
Now it has to be said, being a young club isn’t easy. Most clubs in Europe have been around for close to at least 100 years. They have a history, legends and traditions. Fathers have passed the traditions onto their sons who will one day pass it onto theirs. It’s this fan base that has ensured the survival of the club for so long and will continue to do so in the future.
You may have heard the saying, you can change your car, your job or even your wife but you can’t change your football team. This sums up the problem for a young club in attracting supporters. So if you can’t attract those who already have a club, who can you attract? The answer is those who didn’t already have a club before you were created, i.e. those born after your foundation. They are the only group who are truly able to commit to such a club. The rest will always be Real Madrid or Barcelona first and Almeria second.
Your formative years as a football supporter are undoubtedly when you’re young. This is when you get hooked. The excitement of going to the stadium, getting your first scarf, learning the songs, going to your first away match and witnessing one of the unforgettable matches that come along every now and again. All football fans go through this process and it never leaves them, their loyalty is assured. It’s the type of loyalty that can only be assured from those who were there, those who were in the stadium, who felt the atmosphere first hand.
For most generations, the only option was to be there. If you weren’t there you didn’t see it, you couldn’t see it. Nowadays though there is Sky Sports and Canal Plus. Some people love them, think they have revolutionized football, changed it for the better and made it more accessible to everyone. However, the true football fans recognize the dangers. Who remembers Scotland beating France at Hampden more, the guy who was there or the guy who watched it on Sky Sports? I’ll be perfectly honestly, I’d rather sit in row ZZZ behind a pole in a full Hampden than sit in front of a 52 inch plasma TV watching the game of Sky Sports high definition, that’s the simple truth. Unfortunately not all of today’s generation will share my views on that. The reason is simple, they have never been to a match. They don’t have a team, they have Sky Sports or Canal Plus.
Back in Almeria, the results are clear to see. A match against European Champions Barcelona and only 11,000 of the 22,000 available tickets were sold. Of those 11,000, a good 1,000 or so were locals wearing Barcelona shirts. Pretty sad, eh? Well there is something even sadder. Almeria’s stadium has an outer perimeter fence. That means you have to show your ticket twice, once at this fence and then once again at the turnstile. To get through the outer perimeter fence I had to push my way through hundreds of young children who were all trying to sneak in but were being pushed away by security guards. By the way, the cheapest ticket for the match was priced at 90 Euros. So while the stadium sat half empty, hundreds of young children were being kept as far away from the stadium as possible. But it gets even sadder. At another entrance, BMWs, Mercedes and Land Rovers containing men in suits and their blonde girlfriends were being ushered through. Since I didn’t spot any of them in the stand I can only assume they were in the VIP boxes. I wonder how many of them paid for their tickets.
Call me idealistic but shouldn’t it be the other way round? Isn’t the young generation the VIP’s for a club like Almeria? Shouldn’t they be the ones allowed in for free to watch the football? Who is more likely to stick by the club during a rough period? The guys in suits with the blonde girlfriends or the local kids who think of nothing but football?
I’m afraid this story ends on another sad note. The match itself was terrific. Almeria had a real go at Barcelona, fought like hell and pushed them all the way. Almeria twice took the lead and were pretty unlucky to only get a point. In the end it was Barcelona who were the more relieved side. It was one of the biggest results in Almeria’s history. The atmosphere was great and it was a really proud night to be an Almeria fan. Why is that so sad? How many of the suits and blonde girlfriends will remember the match? How many of the kids outside would never have forgotten it?