"Call me a loser, but I for one would much sooner be among 7,000 souls at Recreativo's old ground than sit through the spiritual death of the corporate Premier League Experience."
– Phil Ball in his book Morbo, on Spanish football.
"We played at the opening of Recre's old stadium. Help save Spain's oldest club."
– Real Madrid, June 23, 2016.
In football, the interests of the romantics of the game and the global super clubs do not often align, but for only this June and in the far southwest of corner of Huelva, Spain, they do. Albeit overshadowed by the ongoing European Championship, the supporters of the first club in Spain, dated 1889, are undertaking an immense campaign to recapture, reclaim, and preserve the Grandfather of Spanish football.
Recreativo Huelva are entering the 127th year of their history and appeared in La Liga as recently as 2009. However, Recre barely survived the third tier this past season as a result of incredible financial issues. Due to an unpopular and toxic owner causing massive debt of about €21m, the fans had to rally to keep the stadium lights on while players performed without being paid. It is a minor miracle that the club have survived till June.
The joy of survival, however, only postponed the club’s demise until next week – June 30, 2016, the date on which the club must produce €2m to pay debts to maintain their status as a Segunda B club or face likely dissolution.
Faced with the tight window and ownership that has given up on the club, the Recre Supporters Trust took action to raise the money. The task at hand was simple: merely to unite and organize supporters, enlist the local government to expropriate the club's shares, raise the money to avoid bankruptcy, and reclaim the club – all in less than 30 days.
Inspired by the successful crowdsourcing campaigns of Eibar and Real Oviedo, the Trust, through their spokesman Narciso Rojas, has spearheaded a #LiberosDelDecano campaign to raise capital and accomplish all of this by the end of June. Recognising the historic value in the first club in Spain, and the commendable project of fans taking back their proud club, players and fans in Huelva and around the world are uniting to create awareness and raise the necessary money.
On a wider scale, Recre’s undertaking is part of a resurgence in Spain towards fan ownership. Fan owned clubs can be a solution to the wider problem of corrupt or exclusive ownership that plagues worldwide football. This model is a vision for a club in which the whim of a single owner or investment interest does not hold a club or their fans hostage for personal or commercial interests. Recre is not seeking to conquer Spain, Europe, or the world, but to once again be a proud and sustainable club, regardless of which tier it plays.
A football club in debt and near collapse is a story told many times over in Spain (and the rest of the world), but not often is there a great redemption story. There may be here. Presently, the movement has raised approximately €335,000. Events are being held locally, including sporting events, fundraisers, initiatives for businesses to donate revenue to the campaign, and many others. There is a long way to go still.
Visit liberosdeldecano.com to learn how to get involved (website available in English), with the campaign site and info. There are different levels of donations with corresponding rewards, a Raul jersey for raffle, and auction of some items, including a Nolito national team shirt, some Cesar Azpilicueta gear or a Sevilla signed shirt.
Image courtesy @recreoficial via Twitter