A Pilgrimage of Aston Villa supporting Real Oviedo Shareholders
In the picturesque northern Spain region of Asturia plays a football team that’s blue home kit unfortunately resembles a certain unfortunate championship side, while their lime ‘glow in the dark’ green away shirt is a match made in heaven with god’s (Paul McGrath) own team, Aston Villa. Just over a decade ago they graced La Liga, until greed, corruption and miscalculation (including buying an over-the-hill Stan Collymore) crippled them. The team that nurtured the talent of Michu, Santi Cazorla, and Juan Mata , were suddenly threatened with extinction. Step forward Madrid-based Guardian journalist and Real Oviedo supporter Sid Lowe, who’s #SOSRealOviedo twitter campaign captured the international football community’s imagination and hearts, in promoting the club’s fund-raising share offer.
Three of MOMS writers were already Real Oviedo shareholders and with the share deadline a mere 24 hours away, MOMS put up a couple of website posts about the share offer. Soon there was an influx of Villa fans alerting us to the fact they had become shareholders. After a quick head count, we realised we’d managed to purchase between us, over 100 shares and thus the Villa supporter Oviedo shareholders consortium ‘Holte Enders in the Sun’ was born and had joined the ‘Más de 100 acciones’ club.
In less than a day, as Villa fans we’d raised over 1000€ for the Spanish club. The next day, the world’s richest man Mexican Carlos Slim had joined us, and Real Madrid football club, the aforementioned former Oviedo players and thousands of football fans around the world as proud Real Oviedo shareholders.
Our adventure was about to start. At the start of April, the first shareholding Villans visited our new friends in the north of Spain…
The Real Oviedo Experience
After joining the movement started by the Guardian journalist Sid Lowe to help save Real Oviedo by purchasing two shares in Real Oviedo for €21.50 back in November, I decided to make a pilgrimage to Oviedo to attend their 87th supporters anniversary celebrations this month (April).
This year’s celebration represented special significance to the club who saw it as an opportunity to say ‘thank you’ to the international shareholders (accionistas) of which there are over 20,000. The events and weekend had been organised largely by Real Oviedo’s Ultra group called Symmachiarii 94.
Upon arriving in Oviedo on Friday afternoon and being directed by the Hotel receptionist to Bar Cadillac, a local bar that runs a supporters club, I met the owner Javier and one of his patrons Carlos. Immediately being greeted warmly as if my 21.50€ investment had personally saved the club was maybe a little generous on their part, however, this was a sentiment to be repeated throughout the weekend by everyone we met.
I was immediately signed up as member number 56 of Bar Cadillac Real Oviedo supporters club. Javier then insisted on giving me an immediate tour of the Carlos Tartiere Stadium. We arrived at the stadium at 5 pm and I was introduced to member of the Symmachiarii who were spray painting a massive banner known as a tifo, which was in honour of the international shareholders and was due to be unveiled at the match on Sunday. The message was ‘proud of you’ and this was the tag-line adopted for the weekend. After receiving some badges I also handed out some Villa pin badges I had taken with me. The stadium itself is very impressive and holds around 30,000, although the pitch is in a dreadful state and seems to dictate the style of play the team adopt.
After my impromptu ground tour we headed for more drinks prior to attending the exhibition of Real Oviedo’s history which preceded the annual congress meeting. With an audience of 200 or so, a panel including the journalist Sid Lowe and club officials updated everyone on the state of the club and the way forward.
We had a city tour scheduled for Saturday, as well as visit to the club training ground ‘Requexon’ and football tournament. I met up with another 20 or so English guy’s who supported various clubs. Upon walking into the beer tent at the training ground, the local Oviedo Ultra’s applauded all the foreign shareholder, which was a nice spontaneous gesture. After a few drinks and barbecue the football tournament got underway. After deliberating whether to play, as it had been many years since I had last kicked a ball, I had dug out my Villa away kit from 1987 and bought it with me. I decided I would offer my services in goal.
We played two matches, the first losing 3-1 to the eventual winners and the second drawing 1-1. The opportunity to play at a professional club’s training ground was brilliant and with the Symmachiari creating a great atmosphere with smoke bombs flares and chants, everyone had a brilliant time. After the tournament, we returned to Oviedo as they had arranged for a cider tent to be erected and a fiesta thereafter ensued. Later we went for more drinks at the Desvan Bar, the home bar of the Symachairii. Many of the guys at the Requexion were there and the atmosphere was great. One guy in particular made it his mission to make sure I never bought a drink!
Having been hugged a thousand times and my glass never being empty, much of the evening is a blur and I recall managing to drag myself to bed around 4am.
Sunday was match day and an event had been organised for us at the ground, including the dedicating of a door to all of the international shareholders. Significantly from a Villa fans perspective, it was a nice coincidence that the door chosen was number 19.
Sid Lowe did the grand opening of the door and we were also shown murals in our honour and photographed by the local and national press. Our football exploits from the previous day had led to a photo us in that day’s Marca. That Villa 87 away kit was getting some exposure.
Fittingly, the match was against Atletico Madrid B; the corresponding away game was the first match for Real Oviedo after the share issue. A win was essential to remain in the play-off places and also keep the pressure on top-of-the-table Tenerife. To mark the occasion, the Oviedo fans unveiled the massive ‘proud of you banner as the team came out.
We chose to sit/stand by the Symmachiarii, who created a great atmosphere with non-stop chanting throughout the game, orchestrated by a guy on microphone who spent the whole match demanding more from Ultra’s. Word got to us that one of the English lads was going to be allowed to start an English chant on the microphone to Symmachiarii. The guy that did it happened to be fellow Villa fan, Michael Hayler . The local Ultras loved it and he had some brilliant photos in the next day’s papers (see the lead picture of this post). See Michael in action in the below video – a classic!
The match was a fairly drab affair until with about 10 minutes to go, Oviedo scored two goals sending everyone wild. It had been the perfect end to a brilliant weekend. The people were great, the city itself, which is the provincial capital of Asturias is lovely, very picturesque and voted the cleanest in Spain, the weather…well, lets just say, we might have to rethink the name ‘Holte Enders in the Sun’!
Rain or shine though, roll-on next year…or even the upcoming play-offs. It looks like the start of a beautiful relationship. Hala Oviedo!
Thanks to both Dan Powell and Michael Hayler for representing their fellow Villan shareholders in Oviedo. Thanks to the tireless and ever helpful Matias Garcia, who’s been with us from the start, and a big thanks to Sid Lowe for getting this party started!
For those Villan shareholders who are scared of flying, you can do the trip to Oviedo vicariously through the fun ‘Road to Oviedo’ blog. Run by yet another Villa fan and his friend.
Follow MOMS on twitter at @oldmansaid
Follow Real Oviedo World Fan Club of shareholders and supporters on twitter at @RealOviedoWFC