Remote possibilities

Alan Pattullo tells the remarkable story of a tiny club from Andorra's adventure in the UEFA Cup

A principality dug into the Pyrenees between France and Spain, Andorra is not the pastoral haven you might assume. Thanks to its tax free status it has been variously described as “a drive-in supermarket” and “a cross between Shangri-La and Heathrow Duty Free”. Not surprisingly, football too has managed to breach its borders, though the Andorran Football Association was only founded in 1994. Now members of UEFA, they will be playing in the next set of European championship qualifiers.

The Andorran national league consists of twelve teams, and is emphatically amateur. Indeed, ask the FA when the season begins and you are met with an airy “September, October time”. That’s not to say that their organizational skills are wholly lacking, however. On the last day of the season all six games were played consecutively on the same ground, CE Principat snapping up the chance to compete in this season’s UEFA Cup with an impressive title winning record of 22 played, 20 won, 1 drawn, 1 lost. They even managed to dispatch a mighty 115 goals, a haul bettered in Europe only by Barry Town. A UEFA Cup First Preliminary Round tie with Dundee United was their reward.

Forget the debate about the futility of allowing such glorified pub teams (they are actually sponsored by ‘Charlie’s Restaurant’) entry into a once prestigious competition and glory awhile in the sheer absurdity of it all. Here is a team formed eight years ago that has risen to the heights of European football. The club’s president, Tomas Gomez, crops hair by trade and his barber shop in downtown Andorra La Vella doubles as CE Principat’s nerve centre. Consider too the Estadi Comunal in which they play, as stirringly beautiful a venue for football as there could be, where the surrounding mountains regularly outnumber the spectators, all usually relatives and friends of the players.

Dundee United, of course, put these noble gentleman to the sword, rattling up eight in Andorra and another nine at Tannadice. You almost sighed with relief that no ludicrous goal records were set, and you almost wept at the rapturous reception afforded CE Principat by United’s fans. One moment in particular sparkles in the memory; Jose Pasqui, the printer-goalkeeper, deliriously punching the air as he left the pitch at half-time, as if he himself, and not a gaggle of United forwards, had snaffled the goals that made for the 5-0 interval scoreline.

So what next for Principat? Their coach Manuel Marin said that they “would be back, after having worked on a few things”. At least when their league season does start they won’t have Andorra’s only professional side, FC Andorra, to contend with. On the night of the first leg, the president of FC Andorra was handing out club badges and pens with abandon to the Scots who had congregated at his seafood restaurant. However, even good humour could not disguise his being a trifle miffed at those pesky amateur upstarts from the barber shop down the road.

Having watched CE Principat’s European build-up with growing envy, the professionals, who currently slug it out in a regional division of the Spanish league, wanted a slice of the action and seriously considered a move to the Andorran amateur league. They have since decided against such a downgrading of status, though this might come anyway given their perilous financial plight. Until then the schoolgate keepers, travel agents and postmen of CE Principat with continue to hold sway in the clubs and bars of Andorra, replete with exotic tales of far-off Dundee.

From WSC 127 September 1997. What was happening this month