Granada CF had a sublime second half of the 2018/2019 La Segunda campaign, coming from 5th place in March to earn promotion back to La Liga by finishing the season in 2nd place. Yet arguably more impressive than the East Andalusian club’s hard-fought journey to Spain’s top flight has been its outrageous performance in it since.
At time of writing, Granada CF sits in 9th place in the league. The club is equal on points with Getafe (21) in the final Europa League spot, and a single goal in Getafe’s favour separates the two. Only 4 points stand between Granada CF and a Champions’ League position. Below the newly-promoted are some big names, including Real Betis, Espanyol, Villareal and current Copa del Rey champions Valencia, and Granada took a major scalp in the form of FC Barcelona at home in September.
It is refreshing to see a promoted side from one of the country’s smaller cities performing this well. Admittedly, unlikely success stories in the shape of Eibar and Alavés have enthused neutral La Liga aficionados in recent seasons, yet both of these minnow clubs hail from the green hinterlands of the industrialised Basque Country; one of Spain’s traditional Football strongholds. The fantastic performance of the club from Granada, a beautiful city that serves as a far better symbol of Spain’s past than its future, is in many regards a far more unlikely story.
Yet Granada CF has become everyone’s “second team” in La Liga this year not purely thanks to on-pitch performance. A fan culture of staunch apoliticism also makes it an easy club to root for.
This is not the norm in Spain, where political sectarianism has characterised terrace life in the post-Franco years. It is even more unusual in Andalusia, the country’s second largest and most populous region. Recent elections and polls have seen the right and far-right make a lot of ground in this Mediterranean agrarian region that has traditionally been a PSOE stronghold. The abundance of Football fan groups that collectively identify with the right here has perhaps served as a subtle foreshadowing of the evolution of the political climate in the region. Almeria, Real Jaén, Málaga, Recreativo de Huelva, Real Betis…. excluding Cádiz, Sevilla and Xerez, the right dominates Football fan culture in the south of Spain.
Not in the case of Granada CF. The club stands somewhat at odds with the regional trend, refusing to get sucked into a partisan world of ideological badge-wearing that has become so typical of Spanish Football fandom. As such, it is easy for fans of other clubs to take a shine to the outfit that kinda flies under the radar. The obvious question is; why Granada? Well, the city’s history may play a role.
Granada was the final stronghold of the Islamic Moors, a civilisation that reigned over the majority of the Iberian peninsula in the 8th and 9th centuries. The influence these North Africans have had in the development of contemporary Spanish culture cannot be understated. From language to architecture via cuisine, Spanish traditions, customs, habits, institutions and behaviours in our times would not look the way they do if the Moors had never conquered the peninsula in the middle ages.
A drawn-out campaign of Castilian reconquest saw settlements topple one back one back into the jurisdiction of Catholic monarchs. Much of Andalusia was recaptured in the 12th and 13th century, but Granada remained the sole city ruled by the Muslim Moors in Spain until 1492. An additional 300 hundred years of Moorish settlement have made Granada the distinct city it is today. When you visit Granada (which you should), and you stare at the outrageously magnificent Alhambra palace on the other side of the valley from the Albaicín neighbourhood, where the artisans and working folk of Moorish Granada resided, Spain’s historical links to North Africa and Islam become heart-warmingly self-evident.
Such constant exposure to a past that has been shaped by different cultures and civilisations (pre-inquisition Granada had a significant Jewish population to boot) has the inevitable affect of encouraging individuals to question the notion of a set narrative of national history that the right often likes to peddle. For example, Granada has spent more time as a separate nation state than it has as part of the same country as San Sebastian. Such an understanding of the almost arbitrary nature of statehood is a catharsis to right-wing political dogma, and as such, it may be that Granada CF’s immunity to the right-wing fan culture that has dominated Andalusia in recent decades may be thanks to the city’s unique past.
This would be an excellent explanation for this observation, if only it were consistent. The thing is, a few hours drive from Granada lies another Andalusian city whose past is defined by the interaction of world civilisations. But here, the fan culture of the city’s eponymous Football club is entirely different to that of Granada CF.
For part II of “Nonidentical Twins”, please click here.