I first came across Osasuna football club whilst on the Camino de Santiago. I had been walking from Saint Jean Pied de Port in France, over the Pyrenees and arrived in Pamplona after three days. I was relieved to be in a city again and it turned out that I had arrived at the perfect time; local football club Osasuna were playing their most important match of the season and the bars in Pamplona’s old town were absolutely packed with fans. Osasuna, which means ‘health’ in Basque, needed to win the game to survive relegation and stay in Spain’s top league, and they won. A party atmosphere soon ensued with chants and celebrations in the streets.
© Photo: Adam L. Maloney (El Sadar at night)
Little did I know that two years later, I would be living in Pamplona, hanging out regularly with Osasuna fans, watching matches at their stadium – El Sadar – and even teaching English to one of their star players. I still remember the first time I went to El Sadar. I’ll be honest with you; my first thought was “this is not a pretty stadium”. Perhaps as an Arsenal fan I’m spoilt when it comes to stadiums but there was no denying it; the outside of El Sadar looked like one of the many architectural mistakes of the 1960s; too concrete, too grey. But the place would grow on me because of what was on the inside.
© Photo: Adam L. Maloney (El Sadar as Osasuna take on Celta Vigo)
Built in 1967 and named after a nearby river, El Sadar reminded me of how English football used to be and even triggered memories of those times I had watched Arsenal play at the old Highbury stadium. The seats were small which meant the fans were a little squashed together and the stands were close to the pitch. It might not sound comfortable but a good football stadium shouldn’t be too comfortable; it should be rowdy. El Sadar certainly ticks the ‘rowdy’ box. It’s a safe ground nevertheless with 18,761 seats and the fans are generally very cool people unless of course you play for the opposition team. Osasuna’s fans know how to intimidate the opposition in order to support their team and that is what makes El Sadar a fortress. Not a big fortress. Not a beautiful fortress. But a fortress nonetheless.
© Photo: Adam L. Maloney (Osasuna's ultras section as the home side take on Real Betis)
The Osasuna fans are not typical Spanish fans. Nor is the club a typical Spanish club. The fans are proud of being Navarros and proud of their Basque culture. Basque flags are constantly flown at their matches and any Spanish symbol would be rejected and perceived as insulting. The ‘ultras’ are called the Indar Gorri and are known to be anti-fascist and pro-Basque independence but they do not like Athletic Bilbao – The Basque Country’s biggest club – because Bilbao has a history of ‘stealing’ their best players.
They also can’t stand Real Madrid and absolutely loathe Real Zaragoza, who are the nearest major ‘Spanish’ club. It’s worth knowing this before you come here because you wouldn’t want to be that tourist who shows up wearing an I LOVE SPAIN T-shirt. You would be better off learning the words to ‘No Hay Tregua’ by Navarre-based 80s rock group ‘Barricada’. The song has become somewhat of an anthem for this club and for the counterculture of Pamplona and Navarre.
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