In 2003, one of Northern Spain’s biggest clubs, Real Oviedo, were a matter of weeks away from liquidation.
Having been in La Liga just two years previously, the financial impact of relegation to the Segunda on the final day of the season had caused immediate, serious consequences for the Asturias club. Another relegation followed the next season and things went from bad to much, much worse.
Dan Davison traces the fortunes of the the Spanish footballing phenomenon, showing how they managed to drag themselves back from the brink.
For most Spanish football clubs, at least those who aren’t lucky enough to be Real Madrid or Barcelona, local government funding is the biggest source of financial support available to them. Back in 2003, the local government department responsible for Real Oviedo’s funding decided that enough was enough, withdrawing their funding and deciding to fund smaller club Astur instead.
This decision understandably threw Oviedo into complete disarray. With players complaining to the authorities about unpaid wages and serious internal disagreements amongst senior members of the board, they were in serious financial turmoil and the end appeared to be nigh.
It was at this point that the fans stepped in. Raising a substantial amount of money, they forced the local authorities to abandon their plans to take their stadium away from them.
The people of Asturias are renowned for their stubbornness and loyalty and, since this period of turmoil, there has not been one season where they have sold fewer than 10,000 season tickets, despite them being still yet to return to La Liga.
Despite this brief respite, Real Oviedo’s off-field problems continued to escalate. In 2006, the fans agreed to allow businessman Alberto Gonzalez to take over the club.
However, Gonzalez turned out not to be the saviour that the club desperately needed and, before long, he was on the run from the Spanish tax authorities. He was later sentenced to a long stretch in prison. With this happening at such a critical juncture in the club’s history, Real Oviedo were close to financial collapse, needing 2 million euros immediately just to continue to exist at all.
This is where the power of the internet came in. A number of Oviedo fans set up a PayPal account and allowed people to buy shares of the club over the internet. Against all expectations, the 2 million euros were raised in remarkably quick fashion with shares being bought all over the world.
To date, the number of different countries Real Oviedo shareholders are believed to come from is somewhere in the region of 70 to 75, an incredible figure for a team who are not even in their country’s top flight.
Although, inevitably, the Real Oviedo story attracted some interest from major businessmen and the sort of sharks that tend to circle around a failing business, the club is now 40% owned by its shareholders with plans to increase this percentage in the future.
One thing is missing though: a return to the top flight.
Having fallen just short after looking promising for long periods last season, Oviedo currently sit in mid-table in the Segunda and look comfortable. They are yet to win away from home this season and are not finding goals particularly easy to come by, particularly on their travels.
In a match played last month against fierce Asturias rivals, Sporting, summed up how far Oviedo have come from those dark days where they found themselves facing extinction. Despite some trouble outside the ground before the match, Oviedo more than held their own against a Sporting who were in La Liga last season with the fans showing their delight throughout.
A return to La Liga at some stage looks inevitable. But, given their recent history, Real Oviedo fans are happy enough just to have a club to support.
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