LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

Real Sociedad

New stadium and second Copa del Rey for Basque royals

A fan’s guide – the club from early doors to today

Proudly crowned 2020 Spanish Cup winners in 2021, Real Sociedad have a past as illustrious as their name: ‘Royal Society’. They now also have a stadium worthy of contemporary football, the Reale Arena fashioned out of the functional multi-sports Anoeta Stadium.

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 had 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 equaliser 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, before defeat to Hamburg, it was obvious that the club needed to modernise.

In September 1989, the day after scoring for Liverpool at Anfield, prolific striker 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 Kovačević, 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 Kovačević 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 locally-born captain Xabier Prieto, a veteran of the Alonso era, and academy graduate Asier Illarramendi anchoring the midfield. 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, another academy success, and keeper Claudio Bravo impressed enough to be sold on in the close season. But this also 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, and the club struggled until the inspired elevation of former stalwart Sociedad right-back Imanol Alguacil from reserve coach to the seniors in 2018.

The new Anoeta had not long opened, or the two-thirds of it that could welcome spectators. Having moved from the revered Atotxa ground to a new functional sports stadium in 1993, Sociedad had always lacked that intimate passion with fans when playing at home. The major revamp of the Anoeta changed all that, removing the running track and upping capacity, eventually, to 39,000. For the curtain-raising visit of Barcelona in September 2018, the gate was nearly 27,000, the difference in experience exponential.

With forward Mikel Oyarzabal finding top form for the club he joined as a boy, and Asier Illarramendi warming to his role as the inspiring returning captain after a demoralising spell at Real Madrid, Sociedad picked up under Alguacil at the new Anoeta. 

Buoyed by the arrival of promising young Swedish striker Alexander Isak, Alguacil’s men overcame Real Madrid in the cup and Athletic Bilbao in the league within the space of four days shortly before the pandemic. Isak hit two in three minutes in a ding-dong 4-3 victory at the Bernabéu, then the late winner in the first derby in front of a near full house at the newly completed Anoeta.

The enforced lay-off seemed to do Sociedad few favours, a string of defeats in the league discounting the club from potential Champions League qualification. Europe still beckoned, as did the long-debated Copa del Rey final, eventually postponed from 2020.

In between semi and final more than a year later, Manchester City legend David Silva arrived to see out his stellar career. As a statue was being prepared for him at the Etihad, the hero of Euro 2012 illuminated the Sociedad midfield, lifting the club to top spot in La Liga for seven weeks. An eventual fifth-placed finish was the most impressive since 2013.

In Europe, a stoppage-time goal from Brazilian striker Willian José earned Sociedad a draw at Napoli and passage to the knock-out stage. Having to forego home advantage due to Covid restrictions, the Basques were subsequently hit for four by Manchester United in Turin.

A month or so after their exit, and 13 months after the 2020 Copa del Rey semi, Alguacil’s team lined up in the driving rain of Seville to take on Basque rivals Bilbao in an emotional cup final despite the empty stadium. The game turned on a penalty kick on the hour, converted by Oyarzabal, who then passed his captain’s armband on to the injured Illarramendi to hobble up and collect the huge trophy.

Another run again pushed Sociedad to the top of the table in the autumn of 2021, Silva belying his age to still shine, but it was the youngsters coming through the club’s Zubieta academy who impressed the most as Sociedad earned more admiration to claim sixth place by May. 

Qualification for Europe allowed Alguacil’s team to make amends for a surprisingly slack performance against RB Leipzig in February 2022, failing to take advantage of a 2-2 draw in Germany and missing out on the chance to make the Europa League final in Spain. 

Again, Sociedad fell at the first knock-out hurdle in 2023, to Mourinho’s Roma, before a return to the Champions League after ten years was marked by two feisty wins over Benfica. A first group-stage qualification for 20 years pitted the Basques against Paris Saint-Germain, just as interest was growing around locally born midfielder Martín Zubimendi, outstanding in the 2023-24 campaign.

Stadium Guide

The field of dreams – and the story behind it

The new Anoeta, until 2025 going by its sponsor’s name of the Reale Arena after the Italian-owned insurance company Reale Seguros, was unveiled in 2018 and was opened to its full 39,000 capacity a year later. Its running track removed, the stadium now brings to life a utilitarian sports complex that was built in an equally new suburb of town, Amara Nuevo, south of a bend in the Urumea by the outer ring road. The then 32,000 all-seater Anoeta had been inaugurated in 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, lending 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.

Estadio Anoeta/Ruth Jarvis

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 was also used for rugby and rock concerts.

The rebuild brings everyone closer to the pitch, keeping the home fans in the Fondo Sur, named the Grada Aitor Zabaleta in honour of the Sociedad fan stabbed to death at Atlético Madrid in 1998. Away supporters are allocated around 500 seats in a upper section of the Fondo Norte nearest the Tribuna Este and the statue of Aitor Zabaleta just outside. Access is via Gate 9.

The main stand, Principal, lines the west side of the ground, the priciest seats set in sectors 1 and 20 closest to the pitch and either side of the halfway line.

getting there

Going to the stadium – tips and timings

The stadium is on the southern outskirts of town, way too far to walk from the centre. Fortunately, Anoeta has its own station on lines E2 and E5 of the Euskotren network, one stop/3mins from the main station of Amara. Trains run every 10-30mins. The station is set on the north-east corner of the stadium right alongside.

The fastest and most frequent bus running from the city centre is the 28 from Boulevard 9 (every 7-8mins, 6 stops).

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

Apart from visiting supporters, 92% of the Reale Arena is occupied by season-ticket holders – making availability a real issue. Online is the best way to source tickets, perhaps the only way in most cases. 

For all enquiries, contact realsoc@realsociedad.eus.

For lesser opposition, you can try the club shops (see below What to buy) at the stadium and in town at Elkano Kalea 4, or the taquillas on match day, usually open 10am-1pm and 2hrs before kick-off.

Given the home sector, the Grada Aitor Zabaleta, will be full, ticket prices effectively start at €40 in the corners of the Fondo Sur, rising to €50 in the upper Fondo Norte and Sur, €60 in the Tribuna Este and €70-€80 for better seats in the Tribuna Este and Principal.

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

As well as the main store (Mon-Sat 10am-8pm, match days), Denda Ofiziala, by gate 3 of the stadium nearest Anoeta station, the club has a downtown outlet (Mon-Sat 10am-8pm) at Elkano Kalea 4.

Amid the blue-and-white stripes of the storied shirt, note the Basque flag sewn into the nape of the neck. Retro tops feature lace-up collars, club legend Xabi Prieto gets his own T-shirt but the range of merch is surprisingly light on beachwear, given the location.

tours & Museum

Explore the club inside and out

Entrance to the museum (Tue-Sat 10.30am-1.30pm, 4.30pm-7.30pm, Sun & hols 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 in Basque, noon in Spanish). 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.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

The nearest hostelry to the ground is right next door, the restaurant of the Hotel Anoeta, the Xanti Jatetxea. Proximity is its biggest advantage, as well as a  terrace, but if you’re after a more atmospheric pre-match spot, you’ll need to cross the main road and head over the roundabout to the main avenue, bar-dotted Madrid Etorbidea, that runs towards town. 

Bar Maite is attached to the pensión of the same name opposite while Bar Sacha is small, simple and unpretentious. Gozona wears its blue-and-white heart on its sleeve, part-bar, part-bakery, part-shop. 

In the same block at No.30 facing the roundabout, the Arkupe Taberna offers superior pintxos, a classic table-football table and solid Sociedad support. TV sport, too. 

Alongside, the Victoria 10 gastrobar puts the emphasis on the gastro, but a handy TV means you can also order a glass of decent wine and watch the action.

Across Plaza Alta Donostia on Illunbe Kalea near the stadium, Bar Gol Donostia and adjoining Bar Gu are both perfect pre-match choices, with TV screens. If those are crowded, across the street, the Bar José offers another option.

On match days, the Keler Espazioa comes into its own, a fan zone and family-friendly entertainment attraction with a huge video wall.