Guest Blog written by Real Oviedo shareholder James Howson (Twitter: @James_V_Howson)
Who have the best fans in the world? This is a question that seems to be an age-old debate with many clubs claiming they have the best fans. Some may suggest Borussia Dortmund who have regular attendances of about 80,000 at nearly every game, others may suggest Leeds United who averaged attendances over 20,000 even when in England’s 3nd division. I’m sure you have your own clubs you may inject into this conversation but how many of you have suggested Real Oviedo?
The recently promoted Spanish club currently in the Segunda Division, the country’s 2nd tier league under the famous La Liga where clubs such as Real Madrid and Barcelona compete in. How I know about this club’s fantastic fan base is because I am a shareholder like over 30,000 other people spanning over 190 countries worldwide in the club but with that said we’ll get to that later.
Real Oviedo have come back from the dead twice thanks to their fans. Firstly, in 2003 they were forced down to the Tercera Division (3rd tier) due to financial mismanagement. The Tercera is a division split into 17 groups, made up of 20 teams – a world where you can forget about media interest, replica shirts and television coverage, where many matches are played on pitches comparable to those in parks and where average gates occasionally reach the low thousands but generally number hundreds. And yet a Real Oviedo match attracted a crowd of over 25,000 blue-shirted, flag-waving fans in the Estadio Carlos Tartiere stadium that recently played host to the Spanish National Team. Although the then mayor tried to kill off Real Oviedo by withholding funding to the team and instead giving it to local club Astur, renaming the club Real Oviedo Astur, it back fired thanks to the Real Oviedo fans. Real Oviedo fans fought back taking to the streets in mass demonstrations. They boycotted council-run fiestas. T-shirts declaring, “I didn’t abandon Oviedo in the Third Division” sold in the thousands. Oviedo bring-and-buy sales sprung up at the stadium, fans selling old shirts, scarves and memorabilia, with all the proceeds going to the club. With Real fans buying over 12,000 season tickets within months, especially in this league, the council had to relent to such support.
Sadly though, in 2006 Alberto González took a controlling share in the club. He paid €200,000 for a team bus that was too big to park in most of the grounds where Oviedo played. He did not pay social security or tax to the Inland Revenue, then he disappeared. He is wanted on two counts of fraud with an international warrant taken out for his arrest, and is believed to be in Cuba or Panamá.
So in 2012 with €1.9 million needed immediately to avoid a winding-up order, €2.5 million to make it to the end of the season and €4 million to secure the club's medium-term future the new five-man club board came up with a new idea. Sell small individual shares worldwide at €10.75 per share. Not only would it serve to raise the cash the club desperately needed, but it would also dilute the missing owner González's stake in the club.
The world responded to this fine club, former players Santi Cazorla, Michu, Mata and Adrián were fundamental in not only buying shares but also giving the campaign international attention, helping spread the word and encourage many others to do so too. As momentum built, in just two weeks €1.93 million worth of shares were bought by more than 20,000 people in more than 60 countries. Incredibly small shareholders alone had rescued the club in the short term; long-term viability was secured too.
Meanwhile at the same time as all that was going on, journalists Paco González and Marcos López hatched a plan via a local radio show. They called the son-in-law of the richest man in the world Mexican Carlos Slim, and joked that he should come and save the club. López kept up the pressure forming links between Slim with Oviedo's president, Toni Fidalgo, and skillfully saw through negotiations. On the final day of the share issue Carlos Slim bought €2 million worth of shares; further investment is anticipated although the fans own the majority stake still. With that said why wouldn’t Carlos Slim want to be a shareholder? You become part of a family, part of a community where events are organized even in England to celebrate being part of something special, if you were to visit the town you would be welcomed with open arms with the current hashtag “proud of you” proving a very popular expression to describe everything that is going on right.
So what does the future hold for Real Oviedo with such support worldwide? Well as it currently stands 21 games into the season, they stand 3rd in the Segunda Division, just 3 points off joint leaders Alaves and Cordoba. If they are promoted they will return to La Liga, where they spent 13 consecutive years before their last season there in 2001. They would get to share the pitch with some of the finest football players in the world including Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale. The hope and belief is with backing from the shareholders and the fantastic fans anything is possible!!!