Espanyol fans finally have home of their own

Espanyol opened their new stadium on Sunday night with a friendly game against last season’s Premier League runners up.

Like many clubs, Espanyol’s support is one of contrasts.

I sat on the metro to the ground surrounded by monied fathers in Ralph Lauren shirts and loafers proudly taking their young sons to a stadium their club could finally call home.

Upon leaving the metro, few knew the right direction and I followed the crowd the wrong way until were stood outside a bar where young, drunk, Espanyol extremists spewed fascist bile.

Leggy dancers christen the Cornella 

The bars in the Cornella, the working class barrio on the southern fringe of Barcelona in which the 40,000 capacity stadium has been constructed, can’t believe their luck.

I saw one flustered bar owner unload his little SEAT with fresh supplies of beer. He’ll get around 25 bites of that cherry each year.

Emotion and happiness cursed in the summer sun as bemused locals watched the stadium fill from their balconies. Espanyol reluctantly left their Sarria home in 1997 and were tenants in the unloved Olympic Stadium on the hill of Montjuic until now.

With its windswept open stands and running track, Montjuic could be a lonely place with as few as 14,000 fans rattling around the 55,000 seats.

At Cornella, fans were hugging each over and shouting, ‘we’re home, at last.’

There were numerous anti-Barca chants and the feeling’s mutual. I stood on Rome’s Spanish Steps before the European Cup fans as hardcore Barca chanted anti-Espanyol (and Guti) songs.

Once inside the fine structure, Espanyol president Daniel Sanchez Llibre was applauded by fans who appreciate his efforts moving the club to a home of their own.

Llibre is trusted by fans – a long time supporter with the best interests of the club at heart, as opposed to say, an American speculator who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

As the festivities continued, a section of turf from Sarria was inserted into the new pitch, another from Montjuic.

Leggy dancers were suspended from the white roof girders and the great and good of Catalonia made speeches to more applause. 

The game started with a match against an English team called Liverpool Football Club, who had more players who spoke Spanish as their first language than English.

In fact just three spoke English as their mother tongue: Carragher, Gerrard and Johnson.

An impressive away following of 900 Liverpool fans made the journey in the 40,000 sell-out crowd, bringing with them flags which bore legends like ‘ We Came We Saw We Conquered’ (with five European Cups) ‘Liverpool FC The Road End’ ‘The Globe Ratpack’ and ‘Gerrard Was Nine When We Last Won the League.’

Perhaps I was imagining the last one.

...and in the red corner 

The Espanyol fans applauded Liverpool fans singing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ before Luis Garcia (the one who plays for Espanyol and not the one who somehow owns a European Cup winners’ medal from 2005), scored the stadium’s first goal, prompting the crowd to do Mexican waves and make a din not heard since Sarria.

Up in the press box, a phalanx of Japanese journalists wired news of Shunsuke Nakamura’s every breath back to Tokyo and made approving noises about Espanyol as they won 3-0.

Liverpool’s players trudged off to the dressing room, with Jamie Carragher the only one bothering to applaud the away following properly. Some players get it, most don’t. Carragher is one of the few who does.

And Espanyol fans most definitely get their new stadium.

---------------------------------------------- More to read...Confessions of a Correspondent homeBlogs home Latest England newsNews homeInterviews homeForums home