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TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH? - The lack of travelling support in Spain | El Centrocampista
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El Centrocampista

TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH? – The lack of travelling support in Spain


By Richard Thorburn

Tuesday’s invasion of the ‘Tartan Army’ into Alicante was a sight that natives of the Andalucían city will not be forgetting for a while.

It is estimated that up to 15,000 Scottish descended into the Jose Rico Perez stadium, and while ultimately the night ended in defeat and failure to qualify, the kilt wearing Scots certainly caused some bemusement on the southern Spanish coast.

And you can certainly understand why, especially to a footballing nation that hasn’t quite grasped the concept of ‘away travel’.

Sure the aforementioned kilts, combined with traditional bag pipes and the stereotypical ginger wigs, would have had many European countries rubbing their eyes with disbelief, it was perhaps the sheer volume of Scottish support that raised the most eyebrows.

Any ideas of mid-afternoon siestas quickly dampened.

When Spain lifted the World Cup in South Africa it was widely regarded that they were the least supported team from Europe.

Even Slovenia, with an estimated population of two million, saw more travel agents scrambling about looking for those last minute flights to Cape Town.

So why is it then that the fourth most populated country in Europe, isn’t replicating the dominance that their country is currently showing, in the stands.

Perhaps a lot stems from the difficulties of travel in domestic competitions. While it may be highly populated, Spain is also a vast country.

Racing Santander enthusiasts, for example face a 487 mile trek if they wish to go and watch their heroes face Malaga, and it is a similar story for a lot of other team’s fanatics for whom away travel in these circumstances is almost impossible.

And that’s not even mentioning the two island based teams of Mallorca and Tenerife.

While Norwich City and Newcastle United fans may approach the 201 mile drive to each other’s grounds with dread, it is fair to say that nothing in England can match it, January snow or not.

Even the two powerhouses of Real Madrid and Barcelona, two of the best supported teams in the world, usually only have a travelling contingent for domestic games that is in the hundreds rather than thousands.

It is also worth considering that Spain has historically not had a public transport system of any worthy note since the 1980’s.

And although that has improved beyond recognition today, the notion of going to watch your team away from the luxury of home is something that probably hasn’t been considered possible by many Spanish fans.

Combine this with the fact that kick-off times aren’t confirmed until ten days before the match and that they usually finish so late, and you begin to get a sense of the difficulties of making any concrete plans.

A couple of years ago, Barcelona and Sevilla kicked off at five past twelve at night after a dispute with television companies. With the game not finishing until nearly two o’clock, it certainly isn’t an environment that lends itself to a visiting fan.

Although there have been a few rare occasions recently where the fans loyalty and dedication to the team has shone through.

Unfortunately however it is the exception to the rule, rather than the rule itself.

Last year Sporting Gijon took 8,000 fans the short distance to Deportivo, while when Espanyol were striving to stay up in 2009 they regularly took thousands to away matches come the business end of the season.

Ask any fan, home or away, who was at those games and I’m sure that they would all agree that the ‘match day experience’ was a  better one and one that needs to be encouraged on a more regular basis.

And while it may be impossible to change the size of Spain, and it might be impossible to set up 1000km trains linking every stadium in the country, more initiative ideas are needed to promote away travel.

While in my previous article I argued how Spanish football was in a league of its own, that was purely on the pitch matters.

If the Spanish Football Federation wants to make La Liga the undoubted king of the European leagues they need to promote, instead of presenting obstacles for travelling fans.

There is every chance that an even a small change in logistics could see away fans flocking back, and who knows? Maybe in a few years Spain will have its own ‘Tartan army’.


  1. Iain McMullen

    14 October, 2011 at 09:22

    An interesting look at the complications around travelling to away games for Spanish fans.

    I have followed FCB around Europe and also a away La Liga games and, from a Barça perspective, they do get a decent following.

    This probably isn’t the greatest example however, as the fan base is spread far and wide and (this is very true for European games) there are a great number of ‘travelling’ fans who are actually from the surrounding area, or the country where the game is being played – be that British, French or Polish culés.

    I have also seen Atletico travel in Europe and, although a few years ago, I was slightly disappointed with the numbers they brought (probably explained by the fact that most of them are Madrid-based as opposed to fans of FCB and also RM).

    Spain has a long way to go until it matches the level of away support in countries such as England and Germany, but you also have to remember that, until 1975 (and the death of a certain dictator) travel was very much a rare occurrence – especially for a sporting event.

  2. Lee Roden

    14 October, 2011 at 09:53

    Awesome piece, really got me thinking and certainly arrives at a moment when this subject is being thought about.

    It’s crazy to think that (no factual basis here, just an educated guess) you may have more “foreign” (ie: non Spanish resident) supporters in the Camp Nou or Bernabeu for a home game than there are Barça or Madrid fans at an away game that season.

    I think one of the key issues is definitely scheduling. Times not being confirmed til’ a week before doesn’t exactly help matters when fans could travel for a reduced cost if they book months in advance. The train between Valencia, Barcelona and Madrid for example would be an ideal link but it can get crazy expensive if I recall correctly.

    Really enjoyed this one mate, thanks.

  3. Heath Chesters

    14 October, 2011 at 16:34

    This weekend Granada face Atletico Madrid at home.

    Whilst there won’t likely be many supporters travelling from Madrid to the game, there is expected to be the biggest contingent of “away” supporters of any match so far this season. This is due to there being seven Atletico Madrid supporters clubs in the city of Granada.

    No doubt when Granada play Barcelona this month, then Real Madrid towards the end of the season, it will be the same situation. Most of the “away” supporters will actually be from the city of Granada.

    Undoubtedly the size of the country, length of journeys and the costs to travel are the biggest obstacles for travelling supporters to overcome.

    Whilst from Sevilla and the same overall region (Andalucia), Real Betis brought few fans to Granada. It still takes around three and a half hours to drive between the cities of Granada and Sevilla though.

    Against Villareal and Osasuna, there were probably no more than thirty away fans travelled for either team, to Granada.

    Whilst on the one hand the size of the country, travel costs and difficulties could be blamed for this, I do feel the clubs themselves could possibly encourage away travel more.

    I know for a fact that Granada have reached reciprocal agreements with several clubs, to only charge away fans €25 for their match tickets. This is compared to away supporter match tickets costing anywhere between €50 and €100 at some grounds.

    Add ticket prices to travel expenses and you can soon run up a hefty cost, just to go to a football match, as some might look at it.

    Clubs and possibly league authorities, could perhaps help more when it comes to subsidising travel to matches.

    This is something Granada CF did when playing away at Málaga CF earlier this season. Match tickets (as part of a reciprocal agreement) were €25, plus just €5 to travel by coach from Granada to Málaga. I can’t recall the exact number of Granada fans who travelled, but I believe they pretty much sold their ticket allocation.

    Although it was during the Segunda play-offs last season, Granada also subsidised travel for their away trip to Celta Vigo, with a discounted chartered flight from Granada to Vigo and coach travel from the respective airports as part of the package.

    So as I say, perhaps if the clubs themselves, with the support of the respective leagues, subsidised travel and match ticket costs, I really do think you would see a growth in the number of away supporters going to games.

    Personally, I tend only to travel to the more “local” venues. This month I’ll be going to the Sevilla v Granada game and later in the season, I’ll likely also travel to Sevilla again for the away match against Real Betis. I made the short trip to Málaga, because where I live in Granada province, it takes only fifteen minutes more in my car to get to La Rosaleda in Málaga, than it does driving to Nuevo Los Cármenes in Granada.

    Travel to other destinations will likely depend upon the costs involved and possibly the dates and kick-off times, because like many people, I work and may have to consider the possibility (or impossibility) of time off from my work.

    Late midweek or Sunday kick-off times are something that many working people will have to take into account, as to their decision to travel or not… even the most ardent fans.

    I will be travelling to the away matches at Barcelona and Real Madrid though, but this is because I have long standing invitations from friends in both cities, who are supporters of these teams. The added benefit being I won’t need to pay for accommodation, plus there’s five flights a day each from Granada to Barcelona and Madrid, which with a couple of the airlines, are quite cheap.

    Good article Richard and a situation that I’ve pondered on for a while myself.


  5. Chris Collins

    21 October, 2011 at 21:20

    I’ve been aware of this for many years, but after attending a handful of la liga matches in the last few years realised its very true. More of a culture thing really, as opposed to say the huge away followings in Britain, Germany and to a certain extent Holland. Finances and distances of course play their part. I went to Espanyol v Malaga last season and there were absolutely no away fans there. I saw Espanyol at Rayo last week and they had a 100 or so which I thought was acceptable. I was at the Bernabeau on saturday night and Betis had approx 3000, I was amazed and pleasantly suprised as they more than added to the occasion. I spoke to a few and while I accept many would work in the capital, quite a few had made the 6 hour journey from Sevilla.

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