This weekend, a small town celebrated their football club's promotion to Spain's top flight. These celebrations were tempered with a sense of realism and the preparations that come with inevitable disappointment as their promotion may be all but guaranteed because of a simplistic, yet nonsensical financial provision in place.
In Spain's north, smack dab in the heart of Basque country sits a town of 27,000 on the road between Bilbao and San Sebastián called Eibar. Flanked by the mountains which encircle much of Eibar, Ipurua is a football grounds reminiscent of the same ones inhabited by many of England's non-league sides: a simple design of one prominent stand covered by an aging aluminum awning. Despite its humble surroundings, this past weekend, SD Eibar gained automatic promotion to Spain's La Liga by virtue of being top of the Segunda Division, 1 point clear of La Liga mainstays Deportiva La Coruna.
On any other day and in any other town, a sense of jubilance would have swept over the small population and the Ipurua ground which holds no more than 6,500 people, as their local boys would begin preparations to be the minnow among a sea of carnivorous predatorial species the likes of FC Barcelona and European Champions Real Madrid. Instead, the future of SD Eibar as a La Liga sides floats in financial purgatory, as the club are being punished for their responsible financial practices, deemed not worthy of membership in Spain's top flight.
SD Eibar have not only climbed the many rungs of Spanish football playing well and using the most of what they have at their disposal, they've done so with the lowest wage bill (3.5 million euros) and by not incurring any debt. Eibar is by far the smallest town to reach such a footballing pinnacle, and their home ground's capacity is comparatively miniscule.
Because of an economic principle, Real Decreto 1251/1999, in place to govern the finances of clubs in Spain's top two levels - formally classified as 'professional football' - SD Eibar could find themselves relegated back to the Segunda Division. What is most frustrating about this is that it would be at no fault of their own. Real Decreto stipulates that every club must have a capital equal to 25 percent of the expenses (average) of all teams in the Segunda Division, with the two sides with the biggest output and the two with the smallest not included. It's a simple means of ensuring the financial viability of Spain's professional sides, but it's also on a scale incomparable to the modest expenditures and means of SD Eibar. At the moment, the club's capital sits just above 422,000 euros. Based on the stipulations of Real Decreto, the club would have to raise that to 2,146,525 euros to meet the standards that other clubs have created with their financial practices. Other clubs, that unlike SD Eibar, are in serious debt, mirroring the country's economic downfall, collapsing industry and abysmal unemployment numbers. Simply put, the club need to raise 1,724,242 euros by the beginning of the next La Liga campaign. In August, club members will be able to buy shares at 50 euros a piece, and shortly thereafter, sales will open to the public. That's a lot of money for a town of 27,ooo in a nation crippled by a poor economy.
SD Eibar, unlike many of their fellow clubs, are not in debt. They have exercised staunch fiscal policies and used modest means to climb to the zenith of Spanish football. Now, they are being punished for being a model club that may not have the chance to reap the benefit of their efforts, and this modern David Versus Goliath tale may fizzle in a boardroom before it has a chance to see one of La Liga's football pitches.