Betfred Sport

CE Europa - Small club, with a big history

In the western rises of Barcelona you will find the bohemian neighbourhood of Gracia, still known as ‘Vila de Gracia’ (Gracia town), an independent borough up until the late 20h century.

Somewhat surprisingly, in this laid-back barrio, you will discover it is not just the city’s art crowd that reside there but also one of the founder members of the Spanish league.

CE Europa were formed in 1907, the merger of two Gracia based clubs, Provençal and Madrid de Barcelona, and have a rich history which includes not only being part of the inaugural league in 1929, but also three Catalan Cups and an appearance in the King’s Cup final.

However, mention their name and a shrug of the shoulders or a blank expression will most likely be the response so far away are they from the glory days of the 1920s and top division football.

If you go along with the other 600 or so souls to El Nou Sardenya and watch a game on a Sunday lunchtime you’ll be watching a team that currently occupies a place in ‘La Tercera División’, effectively a regional fourth division.

Neat and tidy

The stadium is neat and tidy, reflecting the pride that is still present in a club of such historical importance, with a capacity of 7,000.

A monolithic block of apartments towers over the side of the pitch facing the main stand, yet significantly a brief perusal of the facing windows and balconies will reveal no presence of their occupants enjoying their free vantage point.

The ones that have paid their entrance fee are largely made up of senior citizens, which whilst giving the club a homely, inoffensive feel to it, does little to help raise the energy levels in the stands and thus inspire the boys in blue and white to victory.

Indeed, a look around the ground leaves you wondering what will happen once this generation has had its day.

Like many lower division clubs in Spain, CE Europa play their games on an artificial pitch which helps diversify their income streams.

Training sessions

In fact, you won’t find a night of the week when the pitch is not fully booked up for training sessions and seven-a-side games such is the demand for, and relatively small supply of, pitches in the city.

Ironically, a recent game on their all weather pitch against El Masnou was suspended at half-time due to a torrential downpour in what was a fairly dour 0-0 in keeping with the difficult conditions it was being played in.

A chat with Àngel Garreta, press officer at the club, made it clear how tight and precarious the budget of the club is. A couple of seasons back, local rivals Sant Andreu were a win away from going up to the Spanish second division.

They choked at the final hurdle of the play-off from Segunda B, which I was informed was received with wild celebrations at Europa.

This was less a case of some locally directed sense of schadenfreude and more about the prospect of the cold reality of less sponsorship money going from local businesses towards a fourth division team and more going into the pockets of the newly promoted second division side.

Extra pleasure

Mind you, no doubt there was some extra pleasure gained from the fact that Joan Gaspart, the uncharismatic and largely unpopular former president of Barça, was, and still is, the president of Sant Andreu.

Àngel described the funding situation in Catalan football as a cake from which Barça gobbled up the lion’s share leaving Espanyol a slice to feed off and the rest to scrap it out for the remaining crumbs.

In many ways the club still feels like it belongs to the era when it was at the vanguard of Spanish football with its ageing crowd and old-fashioned music played through a tinny PA system greeting the team as they trot out onto the pitch. Herein lies much of the attraction of going to a game there.

Reminiscent of the pre-commercialisation of football when you could just walk up to the gate pay your money and go and stand behind the goal, the freedom to be able to change ends during the game is one to be cherished in an age where our liberty to do as we please has been sacrificed in the name of ‘security’.

The sight of the two old groundsmen on Sunday entering the playing surface at half-time, armed with a broom each in a vain attempt to clear the water, brought chuckles all around me.

It seemed like a fitting end to a half-played match that served to remind that it is, after all, just a game.

By Christopher Mason

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