Real Sociedad vs the baker boys: The Copa del Rey returns
Thursday’s Copa del Rey draw threw together 10 Primera División sides (all of the top-flight clubs were involved in the draw with the exception of the four that contested the Spanish Super Cup: Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atlético and Athletic Bilbao) and the same number of teams competing in the regional divisions, whose names don’t always permit us to guess which part of the country they are from. The remainder of the Primera sides were drawn against teams from Segunda RFEF, which is the fourth tier of the Spanish football pyramid, and sides from Primera RFEF, which was created this season to replace the old third-tier Segunda B. All of the smaller clubs in the draw are there having battled their way through the preliminary rounds, due to their Copa Federación results or, in two cases, because of their league position last season.
It is a system that is practically impossible to explain but it is a fair one and serves to take the magic of the Copa to places it has never travelled before. Other countries already do this, In France for example numerous amateur sides compete in the Coupe de France, many of them from overseas departments and territories and there are surprises every season. In England, teams of any level at all can enter the FA Cup as long as they are registered with the Football Association and meet the eligibility requirements. The record for participation in the world’s oldest cup competition stands at 763 teams, set in the 2011-12 season. There is a very entertaining book by J. L. Carr titled How Steeple Sinderby Wanderers Won the F.A. Cup, which tells the fictitious story of a football team from a village of 547 inhabitants beat Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal to reach the final.
The Copa is a chance to dream
Today on television, radio and in the newspapers the small teams paired with the big clubs in the Copa del Rey are in the headlines. One of the most evocative is the tie between Panadería Pulido San Mateo and Real Sociedad. Having reached this stage on merit, the Canary Islands side, who were originally formed by the employees of a local bakery and are still sponsored by them, will have their day of glory and a sizeable pay day from gate receipts and television revenue. It’s a shame that many of these sides will give up their usual homes, with no floodlights and sometimes no stands, to play in another better-equipped one nearby. And I doubt any will make it as far as Steeple Sinderby Wanderers, but all of them will be dreaming of making it past the opening round. And if they don’t, at least they will have written the finest page in their history.
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