Asturias is a unique land in northern Spain. The birthplace of Premier League stars Juan Mata and Santi Cazorla, it is also home to a unique club with its very own soul – Unión Club Ceares. The words “against modern football”, which are written in massive letters on one of the club’s stadium’s walls, say it all.
The players are warming up for the game. So are the fans. Gloria Jones’ hit Gone With The Wind Is My Love is thundering out of Estadio La Cruz’s speakers. The Buzzcocks, Madness or The Specials could be next as the teams prepare to enter the field for this Spanish fourth tier fixture.
The scene is repeated every couple of weeks in Ceares, a neighbourhood with 18,000 inhabitants in Gijón, Asturias. There’s no tiki-taka to be seen, but there is always joy. There’s a sense of familiarity. There are the lifelong supporters who have seen it all and the young boys kicking a ball around. You will also find a bunch of mods, rockers and punks enjoying themselves. They are the board members of Unión Club Ceares. “Before we stepped in,” explains Iñigo Arza, a member of the board. “There was little interest in UC Ceares. There were hardly a hundred shareholders, now there are 450.”
TV killed local football. The fans left the lower division stadiums so they could watch the big names, sitting on the sofa at home. Better quality football and more comfortable to watch, perhaps, but with less passion on display. Due to the lack of fans, UC Ceares were in crisis and had to look for solutions. A merger with another local club was one option, but the shareholders at the time didn’t want this to happen. Then, Roberto Colunga appeared.
Colunga played up front for the club in the late 1990s. He was well known in the neighbourhood, not only because of his footballing skills; he was a musician, a politician, and co-owner of a bar in the town. “We used to go there to listen to British punk rock,” Arza says. “All of the club’s directors know each other thanks to Colunga and his bar. He convinced us to join the board and run the club. We had little experience, but as time went by, we learnt everything.”
Today, UC Ceares is a fan-owned club that has escaped from the verge of extinction and become a lively part of the community. They’ve organised cultural acts, football-writing contests and boxing nights, among other things. “Now you can find scarves and shirts in the shops around here. The people attending La Cruz always remain in the area, going to the bars and so on,” Arza explains proudly before talking about the club’s biggest off-field achievement. In 2013 the Neighbourhood Association of Ceares awarded the football club the title of ‘Neighbour of the Year’. “It’s a prize they usually give to an individual who has been giving something to the community for many years.”
The work of the new board meant a completely different scenario for the players. They celebrated the breath of fresh air which had been injected into the club. “It was a huge change from one board to the other,” former club captain Jimmy says. “They work hard for the club, they show real passion and everything they do has its influence on the pitch.” The attendance has increased, as has the number of shareholders. “Being in front of those noisy fans, who back you up every game, makes you feel like a pro footballer.”
“Last in money, first in heart” is one of the club’s mottos. They can’t count on finances, so they believe in their own passion. They have to sign players who believe in the project and the values of the club as they have one of the smallest budgets in their league – a regionalized fourth tier division. According to Jimmy, the atmosphere at the home games helps to attract good footballers.
Ceares have not only managed to stay up three seasons in a row, they even qualified for the promotion play-offs in the 2013-14 season. “If somebody had told me four years ago that Ceares could be in Segunda B – third tier – I would have laughed,” jokes Arza. “It was a great time. To be able to face the best teams of our level and play in other cities of Spain was great.” The club’s first play-off match saw them travel to Murcia on the Mediterranean coast, where they came away as victors over Águilas FC. Next up, the Asturias side met Madrid’s CF Trival Valderas and lost 5-2 on aggregate. The adventure was over, but afterwards there was no sadness at all. It was like holding a huge party on a Saturday night and avoiding the hangover the morning after.
Unión Club Ceares believed another style of football was possible. Now they know it is and will work hard to prove it. They are keeping the faith.