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Imagine being in the beautiful city of Barcelona during the trophy parade for Barca's Champions League victory. Imagine the celebrations, the flags, the ticker tape and the flowing Estrella. Imagine seeing some of the best players in the world holding up the most coveted club trophy in world football.
Words by: Dan Lovering
I was there when it happened, but I didn’t watch it.
Instead, myself and a large coach full of other Bristol Rovers fans were making our way to Sabadell, a nearby town, to watch already relegated CE Sabadell’s last game in the Spanish second division. Why? Because, like us, they wear blue and white quarters. That’s it.
At least that’s why the relationship started. Rumours are that a number of years ago some Rovers fans were in Barcelona and saw what they thought was another group of Gasheads in a bar. They were in fact Sabadell fans wearing their blue and white quartered shirts. After a chat they made friends and established a link (I guess following some bemused looks in response to the initial shouts of “Up the Gas!”). Since then, fans from Rovers have made the trip to watch Sabadell play and vice versa. Some Sabadell fans recently came to our last game of the regular Conference season against Alfreton. At half time directors from both clubs exchanged gifts, making the link a little more official.
We’d had our trip planned for a while. 65 Bristol Rovers fans headed over to Catalonia on Friday 5th June for a few days in the sun, a fair few ciders, and to watch a game of football. On the Saturday night we watched Barcelona win the Champions League in the pub and joined in the celebrations with the locals. Through social media we discovered that the trophy parade would be the very next day, when we were due to watch Sabadell vs Osasuna. We’d hoped that it would be after the game, so we could head to the city centre and soak up the atmosphere. Sadly it was scheduled for 7pm, with the Sabadell game kicking off at 6pm.
Bit of a dilemma. Do you spend the evening with Messi, Neymar, Suarez and the Champions League trophy, or a club just relegated into the third tier of Spanish football. No brainer. We were off to Sabadell.
When we got off the coach at 1:30pm at the Estadi de la Nova Creu Alta, we were met by a large group of Sabadell fans. Some chanting our club song “Goodnight Irene” for us, others holding up blue smoke bombs. As we entered the gates a club ambassador shook all of our hands. We were given free beer and plates of paella. Hot dogs were also made available for those that, like me, tend to vomit at the thought of seafood (I was struggling anyway. A few of us had been for a night out in Lloret de Mar on the Friday and the last thing I remember was one lad saying “Please give us the worst shots you’ve got”. Even on this Sunday afternoon I felt like I was going to either pass out or drop dead).
By 4pm we had to leave the stadium so the security staff could make preparations for the 6pm kick-off. Outside the ground is a row of 4 bars so we headed there. They were all full of Osasuna fans.
I didn’t know an awful lot about Spanish football support. I’d been to a Barcelona game at the Nou Camp earlier in the season, but that was full of tourists with iPads and selfie sticks. This was different. Passions were high as Osasuna needed at least a draw to avoid relegation. Over 2000 people had made the 4 and a half hour journey to Sabadell. I knew there were a lot of Ultras groups in Spain. I didn’t know if fans from England would be welcomed with handshakes or a bike chain to the face.
It was handshakes. Lots of handshakes. No bike chains. Thankfully.
As we put up Bristol Rovers flags on the fences outside the ground, the curious Osasuna fans came to chat to find out what was going on. They were intrigued and impressed with our story of friendship. They wanted pictures with us, we all had a sing song and it was absolutely brilliant. All that went on for a while and then it was time for kick off…
Sabadell had printed “BRISTOL ROVERS” in big letters on the tickets for us. We were behind the goal at the North end of the ground. The Osasuna fans were packed into the opposite side. There weren’t many Sabadell fans there, which is understandable considering they’d already been relegated. We stood with the loud section of Sabadell supporters right behind the net.
The Osasuna following were in fine voice. Until the 6th minute that is when Sabadell took a 1-0 lead. Osasuna were quieter still on the 17th minute when it was 2-0 to Sabadell. Our turn to sing. The home fans joined in with Goodnight Irene. The Rovers fans tried to sing Sabadell songs, but as you can imagine, anything that didn’t just feature the word “Sabadell” was a struggle. We had a go though and it was appreciated. We got involved in a Poznan. Flags were flying. It was a special atmosphere.
As it got to half time Osasuna looked doomed. For a club that were recently in La Liga and made it to the UEFA Cup semis in 2007, relegation to the third tier was unthinkable. Then the second half started.
Apart from the occasional counter attack, Osasuna were all over Sabadell and if it wasn’t for the heroic goalkeeping of Sabadell’s David de Navas, they would probably have scored 3 or 4 goals. Time ticked away and the Osasuna fans sensed that it wasn’t going to be their day. Then on the 77th minute the ball found its way into the net and Osasuna had a lifeline. The away stand erupted, but the tension hadn’t been released. Frustrations ran high as Sabadell’s supporters started holding up the ball when it went out of play.
More chances. More saves. Then it was the 90th minute. Then it was the 91st minute. Then Osasuna scored again. 2-2. They had the draw they needed to survive.
A pitch invasion, some flares and Osasuna’s players piled on top of each other, signalled their safety. The police and stewards eventually got the fans off the pitch and after the ref had booked basically every Osasuna player for time-wasting (including those on the bench), the match resumed and the final whistle was then quickly blown. There was no booing from Sabadell’s fans. Their season was over before the game had started and whilst they hadn’t come to terms with relegation yet, they had to accept it. I hadn’t passed out or died either, so it was all good as far as I was concerned.
We made our way out of the stadium. A few of us went to the exits from the away end and shook hands with the Osasuna fans. Some of them gave us their red bandanas out of respect. We don’t like red stuff much, but it they were gratefully received. On the way to look for somewhere to eat I found myself stuck in the path of Osasuna’s ultras coming my way, shirts off and waving flares. As they approached gave a thumbs up and one guy put his flare down and shook my hand and patted me on the back. Not what I’d expected, but again it was appreciated.
We got food, said farewell to our new friends from Sabadell and headed back to the coach, then on to the hotel before an early return to England the next day.
It had been an epic weekend. I’d discovered that Spanish football fans were friendly and welcoming, I’d done my first Poznan and I’d learned that when you go to Lloret de Mar, you should drink responsibly.