Lifelong Real Sociedad fan Oier Gastesi on why the Basque side’s return to Europe’s top table means more
In Donostia-San Sebastian, our blood runs blue and white. ‘Txuri Urdin’, the Basque translation of Real Sociedad’s distinct colours, flows up from La Concha Beach on the Bay of Biscay, through the old town and along the river up to the distinct Anoeta Stadium, home since 1993. In case you’re wondering then yes, it is blue and white.
Real Sociedad’s beating heart is 15 minutes up the road, though, at Zubieta. It is here where so many of the players who have starred down the years for La Real (the masculine, El Real, belongs to Real Madrid) were nurtured. Xabi Alonso, Iñigo Martínez, Joseba Etxeberria, Unai Emery and Antoine Griezmann all honed their talent on the complex’s six pitches, as did Imanol Alguacil, coach for the club’s triumphant return to the Champions League this season.
Alguacil came through the academy, spent two seasons with the B team and eight with the seniors, returning to the club after winding down his playing career in Spain’s lower leagues. He came up through the coaching ranks in similar fashion, ascending to the top of the ladder five years ago. When he guided La Real to Copa del Rey glory in 2021 – beating Basque rivals Athletic Club, no less, in the final – he celebrated by slipping on a team shirt and scarf and serenading everybody with time-honoured club chants.
Last season Alguacil led Erreala into the Champions League for the first time in a decade, his team possessing not so much a Zubieta spine as a Zubieta spine and a couple of limbs. Igor Zubeldia and Álvaro Odriozola have been on the books since they were 11; Martín Zubimendi, Ander Barrenetxea, Beñat Turrientes and Jon Pacheco arrived aged 12. Jon Ander Olasagasti was 14 when he joined while Mikel Oyarzabal was 15, his feet well on their way to the size-13s he sports. Oyarzabal is now club captain and, like his coach, Txuri Urdin through and through. Mikel is La Real; La Real is Mikel.
Club president Jokin Aperribay has a mantra about how La Real “must be the best from Monday to Friday”, and Zubieta is where the hard work happens. Anoeta is where the hard work bears fruit, and this season that reward has come in Lisbon, Milan and Salzburg too. The team that reached the 1982/83 European Cup semi-finals are through to the knockouts again, and dreaming big again. Dreams forged at Zubieta.