If Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso can’t compete with FC Barcelona, what chance does RCD Espanyol have? The museum at Camp Nou drew 1.53 million visitors last year, while the Dali museum, further north in Figueres, could only attract 1.29 million people. Picasso’s works, on the other side of Barcelona to Camp Nou, fell just shy of one million paying guests.
Espanyol’s average attendance this season is 17,000 and it’s fair to say that figure is rarely boosted by tourists visiting Catalonia. In fact, most American, Japanese and English sightseers walk around clutching a plastic bag full of Barça merchandise, blissfully unaware another club shares the city. Another club that plays its soccer in La Liga. Another club that could, should the cards fall just right, be competing against the towering Barcelona for the Copa del Rey.
Barcelona’s shadow is a sizable one, but Espanyol hasn’t always been obscured by its older brother. Founded a year after Barça, the club’s name was originally Sociedad Española de Futbol, the spelling of Español a hint it was not a flag bearer for an independent state. Early results were good, and in 1916 it handed a debut to a 16-year-old goalkeeper called Ricardo Zamora. He’s now remembered as the best stopper the country has ever produced, even if evidence is scarce, and at the end of each La Liga season the keeper who has conceded the least goals is awarded the Zamora trophy.
In 1930, Espanyol recorded perhaps its most infamous victory, beating Real Madrid 8-1 — to this day, los blancos’ heaviest defeat. Yet despite fans’ refusal to endorse the idea that in the 1930s FC Barcelona represented the city and the region — noted in Phil Ball’s Morbo — Espanyol continued to regularly finish behind its city rivals.
Should Espanyol manage to win the Copa this year, the side may be able to dodge out from behind its overpowering neighbor. The Pericos have already attracted attention for beating both Valencia and Sevilla, both tipped to go far; now it takes on Athletic Bilbao in the semifinal, with Barça likely to be waiting in the final.
Yet Espanyol is not simply counting on a cup final to push them into the limelight. At last realizing the potential it has in a city which has been bristling with sunburned Brits and American students since the Olympics were held in Barcelona in 1992, those in charge are beginning to branch out in search for a piece of the pie. Its Meravellosa Minoria marketing campaign is increasingly visible around the city, on posters and on buses, and may soon result in more awareness of the city’s “other” team.
It helps, too, that the club could be considered well-geared for success on the pitch as well, despite having financial worries like most Primera Division clubs. It’s Barcelona that sells over one million replica jerseys each year, and Barcelona that boasts 155,000 socios to Espanyol’s 26,000 members, but the latter has positioned itself in a way that it can certainly continue to grow. The Power8 Stadium has a capacity of 40,500 and what professional soccer player would not want to play his soccer in Spain’s top flight and live in Barcelona?
To do that the club would almost definitely need some foreign backing at some point, but in the short-term it can have a good crack at the Copa del Rey and thus Europe. Sergio González’s side is led by the Cap’n SS Garcia (or Sergio García, if you’re not a pirate), there is a balanced squad and Sergio has installed what’s known in the game as a healthy competitiveness among his players.
South American duo Christian Stuani (Uruguay) and Felipe Caicedo (Ecuador) rotate in and out of the side, both scoring regularly. Lucas Vázquez, on loan from Madrid, blows hot and cold but can be ridiculously exciting when he’s blowing hot. Elsewhere, there are solid defenders, disciplined midfielders and a safe pair of hands in Kiko Casillas — although Pau López has been the goalkeeper of choice in the cup.
Success in the cup, and the Europa League spot that it would bring, would be a huge stepping stone for Espanyol. The club has won the tournament four times, most recently in 2006. Espanyol then entered the UEFA League, eventually losing the final to Sevilla. If Twitter had been around then, the club may well have been able to earn some form of cult following across the continents. People may even have realized it lived in Barcelona.
An all-Catalan cup final likely means a lot more to Espanyol than to Barcelona. For Luis Enrique’s squires, it is merely their third priority after the Champions League and La Liga. For Sergio’s battlers, it is their priority. It is also a chance for them to let people know Catalonia is not all Picasso, Dali and Barca — Espanyol reside there as well.