The recent charges of ex-Manchester United boss David Moyes, Real Sociedad have a past as grand as their name: ‘Royal Society’.
Representing the equally grand Basque resort of San Sebastián, Real Sociedad gained their regal title a year after being formed in 1909. Their club was comprised of sport-focused sons of wealthy locals educated in England, their first president classics professor Adolfo Sáenz-Alonso.
In sundry regional competitions, Real Sociedad built rivalries with Bilbao, Arenas de Getxo and Real Unión de Irún. These four became founding members of the Spanish League, a Basque initiative instigated in 1927 by Getxo director José María Atxa.
Sociedad became Donostia under the 1931 Republican government, before reverting to Real Sociedad under Franco in 1939. Until the dictator’s death in 1975, the Txuri-urdin (‘White and Blues’) drifted between mid-table Primera and Segunda. A year after Franco’s funeral, at the seminal Derbi Vasco in San Sebastián, Bilbao and Sociedad captains walked out bearing the previously banned ikurriña, the Basque flag.
Within ten years, each club twice won the league. Behind Sociedad’s success was Basque-born coach Alberto Ormaetxea, a Sociedad player for over a decade. A strong defence backed by locally born goalkeeper Luis Arconada had allowed Sociedad to claim runners-up spot in 1980. A year later, another meagre goals-against tally allowed Sociedad to pip Real Madrid to the title, both clubs equal on points.
Goals for came from one-club Jesús María Satrústegui and strike partner Jesús María Zamora, whose equalising goal at the very end of the last game against Gijón took the title – minutes earlier, Madrid players had already been celebrating.
There was another dramatic finish to Sociedad’s successful defence of the title in 1982, a late strike against Bilbao (!) putting paid to Barcelona’s hopes.
In the European Cup, Sociedad were knocked out straight away by CSKA Sofia. Although they put out Celtic to make the semi-final in 1983, a defeat to Hamburg, it was obvious that the club needed to modernise.
In September 1989, the day after scoring for Liverpool at Anfield, prolific goalscorer John Aldridge signed for Sociedad, breaking the club’s non-Basque policy. His successful first season encouraged Dalian Atkinson to follow him. European success, though, eluded Sociedad. Some attribute the decline to the move from the intimate Atxoxa Stadium out to the newly built Anoeta, in 1993.
It was another foreign striker, Darko Kovacevic, who led Sociedad in their next memorable league campaign, the third-place finish of 1998. Linking with Nihat Kahveci and young attacking midfielder Xabi Alonso, in 2002-03 Kovacevic helped Sociedad to a convincing title challenge. This time, it was Real Madrid who stole in on the last day.
Despite a creditable debut in the Champions League, losing to Lyon after the group stage, Sociedad then dropped back, selling Alonso to Liverpool.
After a brief spell in the Segunda, Sociedad surprised many with a fourth-placed finish in 2013, driven by San Sebastián-born captain Xabier Prieto, a veteran of the Alonso era. Thanks to goals from ex-Arsenal striker Carlos Vela, Sociedad overcame Lyon to make the Champions League 2013-14.
Despite a winless campaign, players such as forward Antoine Griezmann and keeper Claudio Bravo impressed enough to be sold on in the close season. But this allowed the likes of David Zurutuza to shine, most notably for his man-of-the-match performance for Sociedad to reverse a 0-2 scoreline and beat Real Madrid 4-2 early in 2014-15.
Despite this, coach Jagoba Arrasate was sacked, David Moyes hired, and Barcelona were duly beaten 1-0 in the highlight of his short time in charge. His replacement, Eusebio Sacristán, then managed to avoid a relegation battle.
The Anoeta is the modern-day centrepiece of a sports complex built in an equally new suburb of town, Amara Nuevo, south of a bend in the Urumea by the outer ring road. A 32,000 all-seater the Anoeta was inaugurated in August 1993.
Before then, Real Sociedad had spent 80 years at the Atotxa, near the railway station. Also squeezed between the fruit market and a factory, that lent each end its nickname, the Atotxa was the classic atmospheric anachronism in the city centre.
With 27,000 fans squeezed up to the touchline, it was here that captain Inaxio Kortabarria walked out brandishing the Basque flag with his Bilbao counterpart José Iríbar in 1976, and here that Kortabarria led two successful league campaigns five years later.
Along with the signing of non-Basque players, the building of the Anoeta opened a new chapter.
With a running track between stands and pitch – its opening event was the European Junior Athletics Championships – the Anoeta is also used for rugby and rock concerts.
Beneath its undulating roofs, home fans gather in the Fondo Sur, with the Fondo Norte behind the opposite goal also divided into Alta and Baja with an Entreplanta divided Upper and Lower.
The main stand, Principal, sits opposite the other sideline stand, Este. Away fans access their allocated section in the Fondo Norte via gate 9.
Anoeta has its own station on the local train line, one stop from Amara-Donostia station 3min away. Trains run every 15mins.
Several buses run from downtown San Martín 25 to the Anoeta. These include No.21 and No.26 (every 15-20min, six/eight stops) and the more frequent No.28 (eight stops). The No.17 runs from the Estación del Norte (Iparreko Geltokia) seven stops, via focal Plaza Bilbao, to Madrid 17, the nearest stop to the Anoeta.
As well as the ticket offices (before match days Fri 4pm-7pm, Sat/Sun 11am-1pm, from 5.30pm) at the stadium, the club distributes tickets through a handful of bars in the region, including three downtown – Adarra (Zabaleta Kalea 5), Antonio (Bergara Kalea 3) and Casa Bartolo (Fermín Calbetón Kalea 38) – as well as online.
Prices are set at €25 in the Fonde Sur/Norte behind the goals, €40 in the Laterales, and €50-€60 in the Tribuna Principale Baja/Alta.
As well as the store by gate 7 of the stadium (Mon-Sat 10am-1.30pm, 4pm-8pm, 90min before kick-off, 45min after final whistle), the club have a downtown outlet at Gipuzkoa Plaza 16 (Mon-Sat 10am-1.30pm, 4pm-8pm).
On offer are match-day scarfs for the current Champions League campaign (€18), branded umbrellas for the unpredictable Basque weather (€29-€36) and models of the much-loved old Atotxa Stadium (€29).
Museum & Tour
Entrance to the museum (Tue-Sat 10.30am-1.30pm, 4.30pm-7.30pm, Sun/hol 10.30am-1.30pm), opened on the club’s centenary on September 7, 2009, can be combined with a visit to the stadium (Tue-Sat 11am & 5pm in Basque, noon & 6pm in Spanish, Sun/hol 11am Basque, noon Spanish, not match days or day after). Admission costs €4/€6, €2/€3 under-14s.
A fan zone of old tickets, photos and souvenirs is constantly being added to, while the supporters themselves form part of a huge mosaic of portraits from different eras. There’s also a trophy room.
Bars lined the main avenue, De Madrid Hiribidea, that runs from Pio XII Plaza towards the stadium. Bar Maite (No.30) is attached to the Pensión of the same name while La Venta de Curro (No.34) is known for its pintxos. Bar Sacha (No.30) is small, simple and unpretentious.
Lorea (No.21) proffers the post-barhop favourite of chocolate y churros, long thin doughnuts and hot chocolate, but doubles up as a decent bar, too. On the corner of the street that crosses Madrid, De Isabel II Hiribidea, the Pata Negra (No.15) is a typical, traditional Basque bar/restaurant.