The Rocketman of Real Sociedad Is Still Breaking News

Iturralde, a 56-year-old elevator engineer by trade and a lifelong fan of both Real Sociedad and fireworks, got the job. “The club’s announcer is from Hernani, the same town as me,” he said. “He called me and asked if I’d like to do it.”

By that stage, of course, the value of flares as a news source had diminished: radio, television and the internet meant people in San Sebastián did not need to check the sky to know if their team had scored, or conceded. Izagirre found it helpful if he was unable to watch a game, though perhaps a little unreliable. “If you’re in the kitchen and you heard one bang, you could never be sure if you’d missed the other,” he said.

That the tradition’s appeal endured, though, was not only because it was something unique to San Sebastián — “the fans see it as something that belongs to us,” said Iñaki Mendoza, Real Sociedad’s club historian — but because of the simple genius of Alkorta’s idea: that perfect moment of suspense between the two bangs, the silence filled by hope and dread.

“When people are walking through the city on the day of a game and they hear the first rocket, they wait in suspense for the second,” Mendoza said. “And when they hear it, they resume their walk with a smile, because La Real has scored.” Izagirre described it as “a beautiful moment, where everyone is waiting.”

Over the last year, though, the fireworks have come to symbolize something else. Iturralde has had to change the way he works because of the pandemic. He can no longer watch games from close to the field at the Anoeta, as the Reale Arena is known locally, darting down a tunnel to quickly reach the street; instead, he must sit in an executive box in the corner of the stadium, and navigate those stairs on his way out.