The Spanish top flight, La Liga Santander is one of the most attended football leagues in the world, with over 10 million fans going to watch a game throughout the season, but there is one thing that almost always seems to be missing, Away fans.
La Liga has some of the best and most passionate fans in world football and having been to multiple games myself I can safely say that the atmosphere is incredible and can mesmerise fans of the game, whether you support the team or not. But when you’re in the stadium you can only hear fans of the home team, as there is little to no away support.
When compared to the rest of the ‘Big Five’ leagues around Europe (English Premier League, French Ligue 1, German Bundesliga, and the Italian Serie A) the away day is a huge part of football culture and in England especially it is common practice to travel long distances to go and see their favourite team. But in Spain, it is not part of the traditional fan culture to do so. There are many Spaniards that find it completely justifiable to stay at home on a matchday if the weather is not the best. With legends like Xavi agreeing. This is more understandable in Spain as the majority of football stadiums in the country are not actually completely covered, only partially.
There are a few reasons as to why fans decide not to travel to away games with all of them playing a part as to why away support is so poor.
The Size of Spain:
Spain is a huge country when you compare it to the rest of Europe, with it being the fourth largest by area and its population density being four times less than the United Kingdom, and half that of Germany. Because Spain is so big 21% of the population in rural areas, and that 21% would have to travel hours to the nearest city to attend a game. When you compare that to the UK, they have a population density of 17%, although those numbers are quite similar the UK is significantly smaller than Spain and a fan wouldn’t have to travel more than four hours to go to their nearest top flight game, chances are they live close to a team in the EFL. Not to mention that if a fan were to go to every away game in a season, they would have to travel nearly 10,000km more than the average Italian football fan.
Transportation ties in to the problems along with the size of Spain. Yes, you can use train links to get to major cities, but the issue is that nearly every city to city train link from one side of the county to the other has to go through a major city hub like Madrid. For example, it would take nearly 20 hours and 4 trains just to get from Vigo in the north west to Málaga in the south. This is completely different to England where there are very good transport links between all the towns and cities. Meaning that if a fan wanted to travel to an away game in Spain they’d have to fly or drive to a game which isn’t financially viable and very time consuming.
Kick off times:
Kick off times play a big part into football attendances, and not even just away support. Although every fixture to be played is announced before the season starts, the actual date and time aren’t announced until two weeks before the game is set to kick off as television rights have to be sorted out. If a game is being played on a Saturday or a Sunday, then it can kick off at any time from 12m to 8pm meaning if you get the late kick off the game might not finish until gone midnight. This can cause problems for fans to get back to where they have come form as transport may have stopped by the time the game has finished. There is likely no coincidence that Barcelona’s lowest league attendance of last season, with figures under 50,000, kicked off at 10pm local time.
Ticket prices have to be one of the worst things about being a football fan in Spain. Barcelona’s last home game before all football in Spain was cancelled verses Real Sociedad, a game where tickets will be cheaper than some of the bigger games (e.g. top six teams). Tickets for that game started at 39 euros for the cheapest ones in the highest part of the stadium and can be as expensive as 209 euros for a standard ticket. When you compare this to premier league sides the prices don’t differ that much but when you take into account all of the other aspects (Travel, Accommodation) then it adds up to be an expensive weekend.
Where away games may not be as heavily attended, Spaniards show their support in different ways, by buying season tickets to their local team and watching them instead or heading down to local cafes and bars to watch the game. They also like to attend player unveilings. For example, when Torres returned to Atletico Madrid, 45,000 fans showed up to welcome him back to the club. Not to mention the iconic unveiling of Ronaldo where a record breaking 80,000 fans packed into the Santiago Bernabeu to welcome him to Los Blancos.
Even when fans do decide to make the journey to an away game, they don’t have the best of matchday experiences. As mentioned before the ticket prices aren’t the cheapest, you normally have an obstructed view by a net or a piece of glass. La Liga clubs get to choose how many tickets they can sell to away fans for league matches. But UEFA make sure that at least five percent of the seats are given to away fans for Champions League and Europa League matches. With a match in 2016 between Granada and Real Madrid attracting only 11 away supporters making the journey from the Spanish Capital.
So, whether its transport, ticket prices, the size of Spain, uncertain game starting dates and times, or just poor matchday experiences. Fans of the Spanish game just don’t travel to football matches.