In July 2015, bagpipers struck up ‘Scotland the Brave’ to a packed football stadium, the host club celebrating its 75th anniversary.
The opposition was Celtic. The host team… SD Eibar.
In a demonstration of the historic and cultural links between Celts and Basques, the club from Guipúzcoa, from the town of the same name halfway between Bilbao and San Sebastián, had chosen the Scottish champions to mark the occasion.
But the event also signalled another major achievement for this proud community club: Eibar had survived a first season in La Liga. Armaginak (‘The Gunsmiths’) had defied the bureaucrats by insisting on their rightful place in the top flight – then been saved by administrative good fortune at the end of the campaign.
It hadn’t been easy. Eibar had won promotion on merit but were initially refused admission to La Liga due to budgetary issues. A global appeal was put out and the club duly raised the €2 million necessary to sit at the top table.
Then… at season’s end, Eibar were relegated. Or rather, Gaizka Garitano’s men finished in the drop zone on the same 35 points as Deportivo La Coruña and Granada, with a better goal difference but poorer head-to-head record. ¡Segunda! But, past the eleventh hour, La Liga came down hard on poor Elche and their tax debt. Elche’s appeals dragged on all summer but they were forcibly relegated and Eibar lived to fight another day.
Garitano having already resigned, and inspirational midfield captain Txema Añibarro having retired, it was all change at Eibar for 2015-16, and experts were predicting the worst.
The Gunsmiths were having none of it. Top ten for nearly all of the campaign, Eibar faded at the end but kept well above the relegation zone.
And Basque-born manager José Luis Mendilibar remains in charge for 2016-17, as does team captain Daniel García, who has also run out for the Basque national side in its Christmas fixture with Catalonia.
Both Mendilibar and García have long ties with the club.
Eibar, formed by amalgamation in 1940, had spent a short spell in the Segunda in the 1950s before encamping in the second tier from 1988 onwards.
With loans from Real Sociedad such as Xabi Alonso and Joseba Llorente, Eibar were always tricky opposition in a tricky league. The season that both these later successful top-flight players were at Ipurua, 2000-01, Sevilla, Betis and Atlético Madrid were among the opponents.
The closest Eibar came to promotion before 2014 was in 2004-05 – under Mendilibar. With later Espanyol and Athletic Bilbao keeper Gorka Iraizoz, Eibar came within three points of promotion. Scoring the goals was Llorente, who then moved on to Valladolid and Villarreal.
Txema Añibarro arrived in 2008, coach Gaizka Garitano in 2010. A late developer after stints all around the Basque Country, Añibarro became a steady and fixed presence in the Eibar midfield in 2012-13. It was his goal that almost gave The Gunsmiths a win over Málaga in the Copa del Rey, the Andalusians getting a stoppage-time draw. In the previous round, a goal from Mikel Arruabarrena gained Eibar a 1-1 draw, and away-goals victory, at Basque giants Athletic Bilbao. That season, spearheaded by Arruabarrena, Eibar clambered out of the Segunda B. A packed Ipurua witnessed The Gunsmiths edge past Oviedo and L’Hospitalet in the play-offs.
Garitano then achieved the near impossible, taking Eibar up to the top flight after only one season in the Segunda. Star of the 2013-14 side was Xabi Irureta, a goalkeeper who had failed to impress Garitano in earlier campaigns. Conceding a meagre 28 goals in 42 games, Eibar slowly battled their way to top spot – and stayed there. Current team captain Daniel García was another factor, having arrived on loan from Real Sociedad in 2012.
Promotion to La Liga was confirmed in May 2014 with a memorable 1-0 home win over Alavés – confirmed but not assured until a global campaign to save Eibar from bureaucratic doom.
There’s plenty going on at the Estadio de Ipurua these days. Considered basic even by Segunda standards back in 1988-89, this municipal ground has been improved as its main occupants, Eibar, maintained a second-tier presence then rocketed to the top.
Opened in 1947, its main stand added in 1951, Ipurua saw it demolished and replaced in 1998. The rapid rise to La Liga demanded at least a minimum of immediate modernisation although, initially, capacity hovered just above the 5,000 mark.
Major improvements were timed for the hosting of the derby with Bilbao in August 2015, bringing capacity to its pre-2016-17 level of 6,285. In May 2016, the club also announced the rebuilding of the home Popular Preferente home end, domain of the most established and active of the club’s supporters’ groups, Eskozia la Brava (‘Scotland The Brave’). Along with accommodating an overall 7,100, Ipurua will see the opening of a club shop and museum, all by January 2017.
By the end of the 2016-17 campaign, capacity at the Ipurua is planned to rise to 9,000.
Away fans are currently squeezed into a section of the Tribuna Oeste – from June 2017, this is also being rebuilt with 800-plus new seats.
Eibar is almost halfway between Bilbao and San Sebastián, accessible by a Euskotren that runs every 30min from Bilbao Atxuri (70min journey time, €3.80 single) and hourly from San Sebastián Amara (1hr 20min journey time, €4.65 single) to Eibar Ardantxa.
From there, Eibar’s main square, Untzaga Plaza is a short walk and the stadium is signposted, a steepish 15min walk up Juan Gisasola Kalea and bearing right as you get to the bend at the top. A taxi from the station should cost around €5.
The DB01 bus stop you’ll see outside the stadium is for the infrequent Lurralde service www.lurraldebus.eu (every 2hrs) between Eibar and Elgeta that passes by the Eibar’s modest bus station on Ego-Gain Kalea by the main hotel of Unzaga Plaza – but it’s hardly worth the wait.
With Eibar’s average attendance of 5,200 in 2015-16, obviously availability is an issue at the Ipurua but this situation will improve as capacity reaches 9,000 by the summer of 2017.
Tickets are sold between four and seven days before the match, from the office (Mon-Fri 10am-1pm, 4pm-8pm) by the stadium at Ipurua Kalea 2, and from 1hr 30min before kick-off from the windows at the back of the stadium in the shadow of the flyover.
Prices start at €20 behind each goal, the Gol Tribunak Eki eta Mendebalde (ie Est and Oeste), rising to €30 along the sidelines – Tribuna Nagusi eta Iparra (ie Principal y Norte). There’s an across-the-board price of €10 for children (Haurrak Tribuna guztiak).
Shop & museum
A modest selection of souvenirs are laid out for sale on match days but this will change when a new shop and museum open behind the home Tribuna Este in early 2017.
All decked out in club colours, bars complete the match-day experience at Eibar.
If you’re walking from the main square, then just after you turn the bend in the climb up, there are bars on either side of the street, including the Eibar-focused Xania where Sostia-Tarren Kalea meets Ipurua Kalea and Bar Zelai-Bide at Sostia-Tarren Kalea 4.
Where Ipurua Kalea meets the stadium, on Indalezio Ojangyren Kalea, on the right-hand side is a small pedestrianised square with a panoramic view of the surrounding hillsides. Here is where you’ll find La Terraza, where a whole wall has been faithfully decorated in team line-ups, season-by-season, as old regulars play games of mus, cards laid out on a green baize. During the week you could hear a pin drop. On match days, it’s hectic. This is community-level football at its best.
Alongside, the Bar Ipurua is smaller and more modest, your entrance announced by a grey parrot happy to be outside until it gets a bit too noisy on match days.
If you get there early enough, you should be able to find a table outside.
On the other side of the stadium, at a meeting of three streets near the club offices, in the shadow of the flyover, the Bolera Ipurua is a large betting bar whose equally expansive terrace is set just right to catch the late-afternoon sunshine.