Pitchside Europe

SOS Real Oviedo – when Twitter does good

SOS Real Oviedo

Social media can bring out some of the best and worst traits in people, especially when it comes to football.

People say things online that they wouldn't dream of saying to a person in real life, usually behind the perceived safety of a pseudonym. Message boards are packed with hatred and bile which go well beyond what most consider reasonable.

There's a flip side though, a big one which shows that not everyone is an angry keyboard warrior who hates the world and anyone who dares express an opinion different from theirs.

There will always be cranks about, but instant social media can show the genuine strength of opinion, it can bring like-minded people together and help lost causes. And at no time is this truer than when a football club is in financial trouble.

Take Real Oviedo, which has spent the last decade fighting for survival, lurching from crisis to crisis. The first thing most British and Irish people knew of Oviedo was when they signed the troubled footballer Stan Collymore in 2001.

The 6,000 fans, many brandishing Union Jacks, waiting to greet him didn't know it, but it was a last ditch attempt for the striker to save his career. Collymore was depressed, described the city as a "bit of a backwater" and compared it to Norwich. He lasted 34 days.

Collymore's head wasn't in a good place. He wrote that his Spanish team mates only spoke in - wait for it - Spanish, but English footballers don't always cover themselves in glory when they move abroad.

Ian Rush claims that he never made the oft-attributed quote that playing for Juventus with a home in Turin was "like living in a foreign country", but when John Aldridge joined Real Sociedad in 1991, he confessed than he'd never heard of San Sebastian, the beautiful city where he'd agreed to live.

Oviedo's latest crisis threatens their 86 year existence. They need €1.9 million before this Saturday to stave off liquidation. Their total debt, most of it in back taxes, is €12 million, a debt they service with annual payments of €2 million.

The Asturian club from Fernando Alonso's attractive home city of 225,000 may not be well known outside Spain, but they are 17th in the all-time Spanish league table ahead of clubs like Mallorca, Malaga and Villarreal. The team in which English Premier League stars Santi Cazorla, Juan Mata and Michu developed their talents now plays in the regional third tier alongside the reserve team of Sporting and Real Madrid's C team, which they met on Sunday.

Over 20,000, twice the average, attended in the beautiful 30,500 capacity Carlos Tartiere stadium, one of Spain's finest. It only opened in 2000, but saw just one season of Primera Liga action as the home club went down that season after 13 consecutive terms in the top flight, never to return since.

To get out of their crisis, a share issue (shares costs just over €10 each) was launched less than two weeks ago. The response has been phenomenal. Real Madrid bought €100,000 of shares and over €1 million has been raised so far. Michu (who was so loyal to Oviedo that he turned down a contract offer to play in the Primera Liga for the first time from bitter rivals Sporting Gijon in 2010), Mata and Cazorla have all bought shares, plus former striker Adrian who is thriving at Atletico Madrid.

But this has been a campaign led by social media and in particular by English journalist Sid Lowe.

The Londoner moved to Oviedo in 1996 (before moving on to Madrid) and fell for the club, a Guillem Balague in reverse. Balague is the Catalan who talks about Spanish football for English television and moved from Barcelona to Liverpool in the late 90s, becoming a Liverpool fan.

Lowe launched an online campaign which has seen fans from over 70 countries buy shares. Social media and the ease of buying through companies like Paypal make something possible which would have been difficult only a decade ago.

A regional story became an international one. From being given no chance of survival a week ago, Oviedo are on their way to surviving — at least for another year. It's the feel good story of the moment in a Spain which needs positive good stories, a country which will today (Wednesday) hold a national one day strike against the cuts, the deepening recession and the state of the economy.

Oviedo may get lucky. A football club is for life, yet they need an injection now. Some of the new shareholders may retain an interest in the club, others may move on to the next story.

Oviedo have been lucky too in having fans like Lowe to raise awareness and orchestrate a campaign. But what of the other clubs, not just in Spain, who have problems? There have been so many that their cause even attracts cynicism, with people saying: 'We've heard this before, they never go out of business.' Yet clubs do fold, clubs are still mismanaged and still live beyond their means. Fans don't always help either.

When a benefactor arrives on the scene, they ask few questions about where the money is coming from. Fit and proper people are often anything but. There were no flags in the Portsmouth end at the 2008 FA Cup final castigating their owners for living, well, well beyond the club's means. Fans want to live the dream, yet those fans have to pick up the pieces when things go wrong.

And it's all so ironic for there's never been as much money in football. Most of that money passes straight through the game and out as players' wages and astronomical transfer fees.

There'll be another club along soon, another campaign to raise funds. It might be in Asturias, at Betis or Coventry; same story, different characters and colours.

WANT TO HELP SAVE REAL OVIEDO? CLICK HERE TO DONATE!

Andy Mitten will be blogging for us on all matters in La Liga throughout the season. He contributes to FourFourTwo, the Manchester Evening News and GQ magazine amongst other publications.

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