iPhone Archive: Eibar's Paper Airplanes
If 19th place SD Eibar don't make up a three point gap in the La Liga standings over the last nine games this year, worldwide soccer will lose one of its most charming and romantic stories for at least a season.
You've probably heard of the improbable rise of Eibar by now, a village of 27,000 halfway between Bilbao and San Sebastian in Basque Country. The club probably even surprised themselves by earning promotion to La Liga for the first time in 2014.
They almost weren't allowed to join up with the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid because of outstanding debts, but a crowdfunding campaign raised the capital required to play in the league for the 2014-15 season.
I don't think anyone expected them to actually stay up, but Eibar now competes in their seventh straight La Liga season. The increased revenue they've garnered from their status in La Liga allowed them to twice upgrade the only stadium they have ever called home. It now seats 8,164, roughly one seat for each of the supporter-owned club's shareholders.
When I attended a game between Eibar and fellow Basque club Alaves in 2016, the proud region of roughly two million accounted for roughly four percent of the overall Spanish population, but 20 percent of the country's first division. This stat becomes more impressive considering Athletic Bilbao's policy of only fielding Basque players, while the other three teams draw heavily from local talent as well.
Pound-for-pound, this might be the best region for youth development in the entire world.
I enjoyed the game despite it ending in a scoreless draw watched by roughly one-third of the local population. The actual town featured a few oddities -- its streets were so cramped that our bus could only drop us off at the bottom of a hill where we'd have to climb a steep upgrade about a mile to the top.
This is probably why the city has outdoor escalators that you can ride to the stadium while overlooking what I assume is a former bull fighting ring.
What really stood out for me, though, were the paper airplanes. I took the photo that leads this post at halftime of the game while they flew down from the stands onto the field.
Then the second half started and no one cleaned any of them up. Not the security, the referees, or any of the players. Five years later, I'm still confused about this as the little club from Basque Country continues to defy the odds in La Liga.