Lost in…Pamplona

C.A. Osasuna 1-1 C.D. Numancia

Estadio El Sadar, Segunda División, April 12th 2015

Club Atletico Osasuna

Club Atletico Osasuna

“Football fans are fickle.” “There’s no loyalty in the game.” This is what we are told again and again: Fans calling for a manager’s head one week and hailing the same man a genius a week the next; Players forcing through transfers then refusing to celebrate out of respect as they score the winner against their former club. It’s all very boring, but it’s also probably true.

Take me, for example. Five years ago I lived in Pamplona and happily spent a year cheering on the local team, Osasuna. Now, however, living back in Spain and just an hour away from Pamplona, I’ve abandoned Osasuna in favour of Real Sociedad, all the while cheering on Gareth Bale and Real Madrid when it comes to the actual business of winning trophies. Where’s my loyalty?

I have never forgotten about Osasuna, though. I named the cat my wife and I adopted shortly after leaving Pamplona ‘Patxi’, after the club’s legendary captain Patxi Puñal (the team’s young right-back was my favourite player the season I followed them, but Azpilicueta perhaps wasn’t the best name for a cat). I was sad when they were relegated from the top-flight last season and stuck up for them earlier in the season when some of my Real Sociedad-supporting students accused Osasuna of playing “the worst football in the world.”

2009/10 was a good time to watch Osasuna. As well as Cesar Azpilicueta at right back, there was Nacho Monreal at left-back. In front of Azpilicueta was the then tricky winger Juanfran, who is now a league champion with Atletico Madrid and ahead of the Chelsea man as Spain’s first choice right back. At the extreme ends of the field were one-time (literally) Manchester United keeper Ricardo in goal and feisty Uruguayan Walter Pandiani up-front. Former Spain and Real Madrid manager Juan Antonio Camacho was in the dugout. The club were in the tenth year of a 14-year stint in La Liga and with survival and an eleventh campaign secured three games from the season’s end, the final home game ended up being one of my favourite football memories. Xerex had collected just eight points and were relegation certainties at the halfway stage. However, a miraculous second half of the season meant they still had a chance of survival going into the final day. Cheered on by Osasuna’s supporters, who even cheekily booed home scorer Dady, Xerex weren’t able to get the win they needed and were relegated.

No visiting teams are likely to receive a similar welcome any time soon. Now in the Segunda Division, Osasuna need all the points they can get as things are looking particularly bleak. I visited El Sadar earlier to see a thrilling, come-from-behind win against Real Betis. 0-2 down at the break, Osasuna rallied to win 3-2 and moved to within three points of their opponents. By the time of this day out in Pamplona, the gap between the same two sides stood at 30 points; Real Betis were league leaders, while Osasuna were in the bottom four and staring at a second relegation in two years.

Pamplona Cathedral

Pamplona Cathedral

The start of the Bull Run - Pamplona City Hall

The start of the Bull Run – Pamplona City Hall

The barriers between you and the bull

The barriers between you and the bull

Calle Estafeta - the bit where people get trampled

Calle Estafeta – the bit where people get trampled

End of the road - Pamplona Bull Ring

End of the road – Pamplona Bull Ring

Statue to the Encierro (Running of the Bulls)

Monument to the Encierro (Running of the Bulls)

My wife was joining me for the trip, but wouldn’t be coming to the game. As the bus wound its way along the picturesque, mountain motorway, she asked me about Pamplona’s Pintxo Week, a celebration of local food innovation. I told her I knew nothing about it, but when we arrived we quickly saw advertising for this celebration of food. Was this a taste of my own medicine? Had I been duped the way I often suggest a trip only to later drop in a convenient game of football?

Fortunately, I like pintxos much more than she likes football, so a fun afternoon of eating and drinking ensued. We strolled the streets where in summer the bulls famously run, eating blood-sausage brownies, emulsified eggs and crab lasagne.

Cod, prawn and beetroot mash, with pop-rocks

Cod, prawn and beetroot mash, with pop-rocks

Emulsified egg with ham and potato

Emulsified egg with ham and potato

Blood sausage brownie

Blood sausage brownie

Mini Osso-buco (left); Crab lasagne

Mini Osso-buco (left); Crab lasagne

Carpaccio of veal

Carpaccio of veal

At 5 o’clock, I did the gentlemanly thing and escorted Kathryn to the bus station, before the less gentlemanly act of ditching her for the evening to head to the stadium. Estadio El Sadar is a short walk out of the city centre, near the city’s two universities. The stadium opened in 1967, replacing the club’s former Campo de San Juan home. In a bizarre twist, the first game at the new ground was actually between Real Zaragoza and Vitoria Setubal of Portugal, who were participating in an Osasuna-hosted tournament. Since then, a second tier has been added to one side of the ground that currently holds just shy of 20,000 spectators. The stadium did, however, briefly change its name, going by the moniker of Estadio Reyno de Navarra between 2005 and 2011.

From my visits there five years ago, only fullbacks Flaño and Oier- back-up to Azpilicueta and Monreal back then- and Javad Nekounam remained in the team. The veteran Iranian spent part of the interim years back in his homeland and, strangely enough, I saw him line up in alongside J’Loyd Samuel in an AFC Champions League quarter-final for Esteghal in Seoul.

My first stop was the club shop. I´m regularly told off by my wfife for my habit of buying football shirts. At the Real Betis game, a long-sleeved version of last season´s shirt was available in my size at a bargain €35. I joked with her that if it was still there, I would buy it. Amazingly, six months on it was still there and I made the purchase. Next I got a beer from one of the street vendors and headed to the rear of the stadium to get my ticket. Prices were reduced for this game in order to try and get as large a crowd as possible to cheer on the team in their fight against relegation. I took a €20 seat in the upper tier for it´s great views of the pitch, the city, and across the Navarrese countryside.

Estadio El Sadar

Estadio El Sadar


In my new (old) Osasuna shirt

In my new (old) Osasuna shirt – Yes, it has cows on it

As well as the reduced entry-fees, there was a also a Twitter campaign using the hashtags #YoSoyRojillo #NiGorritxoNaiz which encouraged supporters to proclaim redness in Spanish and Basque. Navarra, the province of which Pamplona is the capital, is not part of what is currently the political Basque Country, but it is indeed part of the wider Basque-speaking region and Osasuna is a great symbol of that. For one, the name Osasuna is Basque, meaning ‘health’. The club hymn is in Basque, the official club programme is bilingual and there are always plenty of Basque flags among the crowd.

On match-day, the local newspaper exclaimed there would be an experienced eleven for this game against comfortably mid-table Numancia. I can only imagine how that headline writer felt when the experienced 11 quickly became 10. After just 15 minutes Osasuna’s Cedric Mabwati collected his second yellow card, the first booking for dissent, the second harshly given for diving in one of those cases that was probably neither a penalty nor a dive. The home crowd are the most partisan of the Spanish crowds I’ve experienced, and they turned up the noise to full for the remainder of the half. There was plenty of singing from the faithful behind the away goal, but they were joined by the whole crowd in jeering the referee. On this occasion it was hard to have sympathy for either Mabwati or the referee. Given where and when the offence took place, Mabwati’s reaction was ridiculous and deserved a yellow. I’m not one to condone the vilification of referees, the man in black took until the second half to book a Numancia player, despite lots of niggly fouls, while handing out four yellows to Osasuna players in the first half.

Osasuna were first to get the ball in the net, but Loties’ close range finish was ruled out for offside. The crowd’s reaction wasn’t overly-aggressive, but the club’s official Twitter account tweeting the goal had wrongly been disallowed probably did the referee few favours. So, it was Numancia who opened the scoring when Vicente put the finishing touches to neat move. The referee’s departure and re-emergence either side of break were met with ever louder boos from the crowd, but they were soon back to the job in hand of supporting the team.

Captain Oier had the half´s first chance, but headed over. The next chance came only a few minutes later and fell to topscorer Nino. He played a one-two with Sisnho and made no mistake with his finish, side-footing a low shot into the bottom corner. Osasuna continued to attack, looking threatening from set-pieces and a few long-range efforts from Nekounam. Eventually they tired, while, a few quick counter attacks apart, Numancia seemed happy with their point.

There was less booing at the end, the fans instead applauding the efforts of their ten men. The efforts of the marketing men had also paid off; there certainly was plenty of red in the stadium and the 14,000+ crowd was a few thousand up on some recent home fixtures.

After a blast of the club hymn, it was Lou Reed´s Perfect Day that rang out through the stadium loud speakers as everyone was departing. The was song was apt. Not because it had been a perfect day (although the point coupled with other results did move Osasuna out of the relegation zone), but rather because the team had reaped what had been sown. I´m sure that the team would have won had things remained 11-vs-11.

Heading home

Heading home

One of the loudest and most frequent chants from the home crowd is ‘Osasuna nunca se rinde’ (Osasuna never surrender) and the team will need that attitude now more than ever. A week after this game they lost again, which brought the winless streak to 12 and dropped them back into the bottom four. I’d like to think I’ll be back at El Sadar one day, I just hope its during a more successful time.

GOOD: The passionate home fans; A nice goal from Nino; A sunny day in a good, old-fashioned ground; A new football shirt at a bargain price; Great pintxos

BAD: Mabwati´s silly red

5 thoughts on “Lost in…Pamplona

  1. I expect it was nice to return and visit your old club, but the food looked so good I may have stayed with that, and missed the game.

  2. Pingback: Lost in…The Basque Country (and beyond): A 2014/15 Review | Lost Boyos

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