In a matter of days, what once felt like the impossible dream for Girona supporters finally becomes real as the Catalan club step out of the shadows and into the top-flight limelight, which their success of the previous season most certainly deserves.
From 1930, when the club was founded, to the present day, Girona have been more up and down than an amusement at nearby PortAventura, often breaking out of the third tier of Spanish football after years of trying with a number first-place finishes, before dropping back down from the second tier shortly after. By any standards, 18 successive seasons in the Spanish third division between 1959 and 1977, repeatedly finishing just outside the all-important playoff positions with no real signs of either promotion or relegation, is impressive. Even with the creation of the sub-division within the second tier, it ultimately did very little to help facilitate Girona’s move towards La Liga, with the side in fact heading the other way on three occasions into the regional leagues within Catalonia.
Yet almost 10 years to the very season that Girona achieved the unthinkable and joined neighbours Barcelona and Espanyol as the third Catalan representatives in the Spanish top flight, Girona's back-toback promotions between 2006 and 2008 certainly laid the foundations that would stand the club in good stead for the future, both on and off the pitch. A greater optimism around the team equalled the growing enthusiasm amongst supporters, with reaching La Liga the ultimate ambition, which seemed a pipedream just shy of a decade ago.
Nevertheless, mighty oaks grow from little acorns and significant changes to the ownership and infrastructure of the club, coupled with widespread improvements on the playing field, have helped Girona become the power that they are today. The failure of reaching the playoffs three times in the last five years have clearly bred success with Girona under the guidance of Pablo Machin, making sure of their long-awaited promotion last season with a runners-up finish behind title winners Levante. It’s likely that many won’t remember just how Girona got there, but the mere fact they did will forever be in the history books.
To the club’s fans, to the city of Girona and – in fact – to the region as a whole, Girona’s promotion has adopted a much greater significance, in what is in an interesting and exciting time for all three. Leaving politics aside and speaking solely in footballing terms, it has undoubtedly been a summer like no other for Girona fans, who are used to seeing their club sign players that simply do a job or fit a specific role rather than the luxury, glamour signings with hefty price tags. It’s a far cry from 17 years ago, when the club opened the 2000-01 campaign with a 1-1 draw at home to local rivals Tarrega, a side with currently 250 season-ticket holders.
Although Girona may not have the same following as their neighbours down the road, they do appear to have something of an Eibar about them – a fighting spirit and genuine determination to both do well and cause an upset in one of the biggest Leagues in world football. Only time will tell whether their ambition will match their output on the pitch, but by emulating the Eibar model with regards to establishing a mixture of both youthfulness and experience, plus effective player recruitment, they certainly stand a good chance of following in their footsteps and establishing themselves as a top-flight club for many seasons to come.
Likewise, while more will undoubtedly become much clearer in the next few days, the club’s partnership with Manchester City is an interesting one – a more than amicable relationship which has seen fellow Catalan Pep Guardiola allow four of his highly-rated youngsters swap Manchester for Spanish soil. Nobody quite knows to what extent the two clubs’ relationship will stretch or indeed whether anything will materialise from the warm rapport between City and Girona throughout the season, but for Machin’s side, the arrival of the likes of Aleix Garcia and Douglas Luiz can only have a positive impact in their fight to stay up this season.
However, away from the finances, business deals and transfers, what must be remembered is that the heart of it stand several thousand, loyal fans and even more followers from afar, who are excited to see Girona take to the biggest stage and see just how far they can progress in La Liga. In what will be the biggest rollercoaster ride of their entire history, it won’t be easy, with even more ups, downs, twists and turns along the way, but for Girona’s growing fan base and I, it’s time to forget about the past and worry about the future at a later date. For us, it’s time to sit back, relax and enjoy the ride.