At the beginning of July of this year, Real Oviedo, a club founded in 1926 and which has spent 38 seasons in La Liga, had just 11 players in their squad, all of whom were owed money in unpaid wages. They had no coach and no director of football, and their employees had not been paid since February.
It was out of this dire situation that a global campaign was born, with the help of social media sites, and which hopes to have a happy ending this Saturday, the deadline by which the club must raise 1,905,000 euros in shares to avoid dissolution.
The club have already raised 1.1 million euros, with people in over 60 countries buying shares, a quarter of which have been bought on the internet thanks to an astonishing movement, and now it remains to be seen if a final push can help the campaign reach the finish line.
"We are on the way, but there is still work to do," explained Oviedo president Toni Fidalgo.
The city hall is the club's second biggest shareholder, owning 22% of capital, while the biggest shareholder Alberto González, has fled Spain and is on the run from Interpol for two counts of fiscal fraud.
On 12 July Fidalgo was named as the club's new president after being elected by five councillors, and immediately approved a 17 million euro capital increase. Oviedo need to raise over 4 million euros to pay off their short term debt (they have a long term debt of 10 million euros), 2.5 million euros before the end of the year to escape insolvency and 1,905,000 before next Saturday to avoid being dissolved.
An eventful August
The club signed 12 players in August with the 350,000 euros it had available. The final signing was Galder Cerrajería, a product of Athletic Bilbao's youth academy, who arrived two days before the end of the transfer window. They also recruited former Athletic player Félix Sarriugarte as coach, and have recorded their best ever start to a season in Segunda B, and are currently in the play-off positions.
On 3 November the club put shares on sale to the public, at 10.75 euros per share. It was then that Sid Lowe, correspondent for 'The Guardian' in Spain and reference point for Anglo-Saxon fans of La Liga, who has close to 100,000 followers on Twitter, wrote the following Tweet: "The club that gave the Premier League Cazorla, Michu and Mata is under threat of going out of business. PLEASE buy shares. #sosrealoviedo"
The reaction was so impressive that two of the club's advisers, Juan Ramón Tolrá and Pedro Zuazua, became convinced the only way of pulling off the miracle of raising almost 2 million euros was to exploit this medium. Tolrá, a member of West Ham United, applied the Anglosaxon logic of appealing to the sentiments of the fans, and on the same day launched the website yosoyelrealoviedo.es, in English and in Spanish, to sell shares online. In a week it had been translated into six further languages (French, Spanish, Italian, Arab, German, Chinese and Asturian).
300 foreign supporters bought shares on the opening day, prompting Tolrá to say "Sid Lowe is now Sir Lowe."
Santi Cazorla, Juan Mata and Michu, who all got their footballing education at Oviedo, have bought shares and called on their followers on social media to do the same, while Real Madrid have chipped in with 100,000 euros. Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, who plays for Ajaccio in Ligue 1, encouraged his compatriots to buy shares, and the son-in-law of Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim is reported to have bought 30 shares.
As of today, Oviedo have sold 278,000 euros in shares on the internet, while their Twitter account has 17,000 shareholders.
"Hurricane Sandy destroyed my computer, but as soon as I get a new one, I will buy shares," was a message left by one fan from the United States, while a work mate of his, who has friends from Asturias, convinced 300 people in Portland, Oregon, to buy shares.
The club now has shareholders in countries as diverse as Sudan, Ghana and Lebanon. "The fans have become commercial agents for the club," added Fidalgo, who has been inundated with media requests in the last week.
The uniqueness of the phenomenon has alerted the city of Oviedo, which has bought shares at an alarming rate, with 100,000 euros being raised in a single day. Now the club must save itself and then look for a stable investor.
The Erasmus student who became a Real Oviedo fanatic
Sid Lowe, The Guardian's football correspondent in Spain who sparked the phenomenon with a single tweet, studied Spanish and History at university in Oviedo in 1996-1997, thanks to an Erasmus grant.
"It was the year that Ronaldo started playing for Barcelona," he remembers.
"The day after I arrived, Oviedo lost at home to Real Madrid. Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao had already visited, but me and three other English mates still went to watch them at the Carlos Tartiere stadium every other Sunday."
In the same year, Lowe played for local amateur side Grisú, but broke his leg during his third match and spent five weeks in hospital. However, he still managed to attend the Asturian derby against Sporting Gijón, albeit in a wheelchair. "When I sent this Tweet I wanted to create a reaction, but I never expected the reaction to be this great," he adds. "It has made me a bit uncomfortable in a way - at the end of the day I am nobody."