Europa gaining consensus in Catalonia
At first, I thought the sign in Barcelona was a joke. Ã¢ÂÂEuropa PratÃ¢ÂÂ it read, advertising a game of football in SpainÃ¢ÂÂs fourth division.
On first sight, I thought it read Ã¢ÂÂYouÃ¢ÂÂre a prat,Ã¢ÂÂ like someoneÃ¢ÂÂs idea of a bad joke. Not so.
Founded in 1907, CE Europa play in the neighbourhood of Gracia and in the 1920s, managed by Englishman Ralph Kirkby, they were the second strongest team in Catalonia after BarÃÂ§a (who therefore hired Kirkby).
In 1928 Europa were one of the 10 founder teams of the Primera Liga alongside BarÃÂ§a, Espanyol, Real Madrid, Racing Santander, Atletico Madrid and four teams from the Basque country: Real Union, Arenas Getxo, Real Sociedad and the mighty Athletic Bilbao.
Europa only lasted three seasons in the top flight and despite Kirby returning in 1930, they finished bottom, were relegated and merged with another club.
Europa have had their moments, notably in 1997 and 1998 when they won the Copa Catalunya, twice beating BarÃÂ§a in the final.
Then in the fifth tier, they beat Bobby RobsonÃ¢ÂÂs team containing Hristo Stoichkov in Ã¢ÂÂ97 and overcame a side starring Ivan de la Pena, Michael Reiziger, Sergi and Fernando Couto to win the cup a year later.
Europa have played in the regional fourth tier for most of the time since, to a hardcore of 600 fans at their Nou Sardenya home.
The Ã¢ÂÂYouÃ¢ÂÂre a PratÃ¢ÂÂ poster was actually to advertise a forthcoming match.
Europa usually kick off at midday on a Sunday, which isnÃ¢ÂÂt a problem for most of the elderly crowd Ã¢ÂÂ unlike most youngsters in Barcelona who go out very late and are usually sound asleep until Sunday afternoon.
The atmosphere was friendly in the clubhouse pre-match, as fans read the papers and caught up in the sun.
"YouÃ¢ÂÂre a prat," I thought one elderly man said to me as I queued for a coffee, but he actually thought that I played for Prat, the team from the neighbourhood near the airport.
EuropaÃ¢ÂÂs Nou Sardenya ground holds around 5,000 and includes an impressive main stand. Entrance is Ã¢ÂÂ¬10 and the club are firmly part of the community.
Two third-generation artificial surfaces mean that their facilities are in use until midnight seven days a week Ã¢ÂÂ mainly by hundreds of young players in the clubÃ¢ÂÂs associated youth teams.
Europa took to the field as their anthem played proudly in Catalan, the blue Ã¢ÂÂvÃ¢ÂÂ distinctive on their white shirts. Chants of "Europa! Europa!" were amplified by the surrounding high-rise apartments.
The club's website announces that they are proud to be Gracians, Catalans and Europeans (note, not Spanish), though their musical taste was definitely English, with Suede, Coldplay and Chumbawumba aired to the ever-increasing crowds.
Europa won 2-0 and are now fourth in the table, with gates growing weekly. Fourth would be good enough for a play-off spot to the 2B at the end of the season.
Promotion, while the aim, would mean a huge increase in travel expenses with five-hour coach journeys to Benidorm or flights to the Balearics, but Europa already have the support to play in the league above.
IÃ¢ÂÂll go again later in the season to see how they are getting on.
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