The northern district of Gracia is home to one of Spain’s most historic, but probably forgotten clubs, Club Esportiu Europa. Founded in 1907 following the merger of Madrid de Barcelona and Provençal, the club played at several rented grounds in its early years, including one at Calle Marina, in the shadows of the Sagrada Familia. Club legend has it that Antoni Gaudí would watch the team train whilst working on his masterpiece.
The pitch at Calle Marina. Now a park next to La Sagrada Familia
In 1920, the lease was not renewed at Calle Marina, and the club moved a short distance north to a pitch at Calle Industria. In 1921 the club bought a strip of land between Calle Marina & Calle Encarnacion, and set about building its first ground. Campo del Guinardó as it would become known due to its proximity to the neighbouring district, would be the home of the club during the clubs most successful period. Europa along with FC Barcelona, were the dominant forces in Catalan football in the 1920’s. Their golden season occurred in 1922-23 when the club won the Championat de Catalunya and reached the final of the Copa del Rey, only to lose 0-1 to Athletic Bilbao at Barcelona’s Les Corts stadium. Under tutelage of Englishman Ralph Kirby, the club also finished second in the Campionat on three occasions 1920-21, 1921-22 & 1923-24. Three further second place finishes followed in the 1920’s and based on this success, the club was invited to take part in the inaugural season of the Spanish Football League.
Campo del Guinardó - Europa's home during the club's golden years was changed into a velodrome in the 1950's
Europa narrowly missed relegation in the first two seasons, but eventually fell to La Segunda in 1930-31. This coincided with a financial crisis which saw the club merge with Gràcia FC to form Catalunya FC for the 1931-32 season. It was not a marriage made in heaven and the club folded before the end of the season, failing to play their away matches at CD Castellon, Celta de Vigo and Sevilla FC. Gràcia FC kept Guinardó and continued in the Catalan youth leagues for a few seasons more. Europa went to the amateur leagues and played on some land at the top of Calle Sardenya. After the Civil War, the pitch on Carrer de Sardenya was unusable, so the club moved around for a few seasons until Camp Sardenya opened on 1 December 1940. It was a basic ground of terracing with a dirt pitch, but three years later the club built a 1,000 seater grandstand from the proceeds of the transfer of Antoni Ramalletts to FC Barcelona, and it was Barca who were the guests on 26 January 1944 when the new stand was officially opened. 1960 saw the installation of a grass pitch (later removed) and floodlights followed in 1963.
Old and tired. Camp Sardenya in the 1980's
The Sixties also saw the club win promotion to La Segunda and their first season in the second tier in 1963-64, almost saw the club win promotion back to La Primera. They finished in third position, one place and two points off a play-off berth. Europa survived for four further seasons until the reorganisation of La Segunda from two regional to one national league, saw the club return the the Tercera. Apart from a rather sorry performance in Segunda 2b in 1994-95, the club has spent the majority of the past forty years in the Tercera.
Warning! Crap weather related pun alert - Snow match today
In the 1980's, the urban sprawl of Barcelona began to strangle the Camp Sardenya and with the construction of the northern ring-road, the club saw some of its offices and terracing reduced. Finally in 1990, the municipality decided to completely redevelop the site and Camp Sandenya was demolished. For three seasons, the club shared its home matches at UE Sant Andreu's Narcis Sala and UE Sants Camp Magòria. However, what the club returned to was a vast improvement on Camp Sardenya and an ingenious piece of urban architecture.
Noy Sardenya takes shape in 1993
Officially opened on 4 May 1995, Nou Sardenya occupies the site of the former ground, only it is approximately 5 metres higher. That is down to the fact that the stadium sits on top of a municipal sports centre and underground car park. Along the north side of the ground is a modern 1,144 seat cantilevered stand, whilst five steps of blue and white terracing surround the remainder of the ground. Not an inch of space is wasted as the club offices sit in the vaults under the west terrace.
Not an inch wasted. Entrance to the Sports centre is below the nearest goal. The northern ring-road cuts underground in the foreground
The whole complex still looks spruce and when I visited it in March 2011, it was being utilised by every conceivable age-group, from local school kids on the artificial turf to pensioners doing aqua-aerobics in the sport centre's pool. Europa is a genuine community club that is proud of its history, but still wants to make its mark as a football club. Just as they did in 1997 & 1998 when they beat FC Barcelona, containing the likes of Stoichkov, de la Pena, Couto, Sergi & Reiziger, to win the Copa Catalunya. You can read more about this great club on their official website.