Nick Hornby said it best in Fever Pitch when he suggested that the natural state of the football fan is one of bitter disappointment, no matter what the score. Sitting in the Estadio Riazor last Sunday evening as more than 33,000 Deportivo La Coruña supporters shuffled out glumly onto the sun-speckled streets on the back of a 2-0 win over Levante spoke painfully for that.
With results elsewhere falling against them, Depor now found themselves in a more precarious position in La Liga at the final whistle than they had at the first.
Rarely can the local brew of choice, the wonderfully more-ish Estrella Galicia beer, have tasted as bitter in victory as it did five nights ago because the scene as the season’s last day dawns tomorrow does not look favourable.
The mathematics are complicated but the basic premise is simple: Depor must salvage a draw against Barcelona at the Camp Nou and hope that other results work for, rather than against them this time or they face a third trip to the second-tier Segunda Division since 2011. To talk to the locals after that Levante game last Sunday was to truly appreciate what that means.
Regionalism being what it is in Spain only adds to the ties that bind clubs like Depor to their local area. Theirs is a bond that goes considerably deeper than the notion of ‘Irish by birth, Munster by the grace of God’ and it is visible at and around the Riazor in the sight of the thousands who wear Depor’s current away jersey, which is adorned with the light blue sash from the Galician flag.
Carlos Seco Gonzalez sought to explain that link between club and region to this column earlier this week. A lifelong Depor fan, he spent some time working as a liaison for the club back in the glory days when they were known as ‘Super Depor’ and embarked regularly on trips to Manchester and Milan rather than dreaded jaunts to the likes of Mirandes or Mallorca.
“First and foremost, I would say that Deportivo put A Coruña and Galicia on the map,” he explained. “We are a small city on the corner of the Iberian Peninsula but, thanks to Depor, A Coruña has become globally well-known. You can ask anyone in any country about A Coruña and they may have never heard of it, but as soon as you mention Deportivo they will immediately realise where the place is. And that has happened to me many times in England and Ireland, for instance.”
Depor has attracted a small but fervent band of fans abroad. Some of them were simply bewitched by their short time at the top, others were enchanted by spells living and working in the region. Many of them connect via an international internet forum, but Real Club Deportivo de La Coruña, to give it its full name, is the epitome of the underdog club beloved by neutrals everywhere.
Though they hail from a provincial town of just over 200,000, they are one of only nine clubs to have won La Liga (which they did in 2000). They came within an ace of a Champions League final not long after, and basically stared down Real Madrid and Barcelona for a number of years, with their chairman at the time famously declaring that they were no longer a selling club.
Among the highlights was a Copa del Rey won in glorious fashion at the Bernabeu when beating Real Madrid 2-1 in the decider on Madrid’s 100th birthday. The team eventually grew old and decayed together but the legacy lives on, if only in the fact that youngsters still wear their blue and white strip about town rather than the colours of the ‘Big Two’, as is the case elsewhere in Galicia.
With a new Spanish TV deal that offers greater funds to those clubs not named Real Madrid or Barcelona kicking in from 2017, Depor would need to pop straight back up again should they go down tomorrow in order to benefit from that largesse. Or they could face the possibility of an extended period outside La Liga and the economic, social and cultural repercussions that would involve.
Northern Spain has already lost sides such as Racing Santander, Sporting Gijon and Real Oviedo from that top shelf. For their part, Depor have come through one administration period, but they are still woefully imperilled, from a financial standpoint. The feeling among some fans last week was that the club’s very existence would be imperilled should they suffer the dreaded drop this time.
“Although I think we still have a lot of support, people could get frustrated if we get relegated again, and the attendance could decrease,” said Carlos Seco Gonzalez. “Some fans have already stopped coming to games due to the (economic) financial crisis, so others could follow the same path.
“Economically, bigger clubs bring bigger money, so getting relegated would mean in most cases less away fans and less money for the local economy. And let’s not mention taking part in European competitions again ... one day.”
For now, survival remains the loftiest of ambitions.
Vamos Depor, vamos!
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