The sense of occasion was palpable. On public buses, screens wished Real Sociedad well. In the numerous bars of San Sebastian’s old town, blue and white scarves hung in this one-team city where the kids dream of playing for La Real rather than Barcelona or Real Madrid.
Their optimism had been dented by three straight defeats in their opening matches, but the visit of Manchester United was their reward for reaching the Champions League for the first time in a decade. They took 6,000 fans to Old Trafford, an away following only matched by their neighbours Athletic Bilbao last year.
San Sebastian’s main newspapers devoted whole sections to the big game against United, they put their visitors on the front pages. They marvelled at the statistics – that there would be eight Japanese journalists alone to cover the exploits of Shinji Kagawa.
They dedicated spreads of photos to English visitors drinking beer in blustery city squares as the nearby Atlantic battered the beaches and coastal defences. Curious English language students watched them singing from a distance, trying and failing to understand their version of David Bowie's 'Starman' dedicated to Adnan Januzaj.
Every detail of their visitors' whereabouts was deemed newsworthy, their flight number, hotel and restaurants where the rival directors went the night before the game. When the United team braved the wind and the rain to go for a pre-match walkabout, television cameras were on the scene within minutes. Madrid and Barca visit San Sebastian once a season, but there was something more exotic about a first visit from United.
It's easy for the big clubs who reach the Champions League season after season to get blase about it. They enjoy it, but it's the norm. They're used to dining at the best restaurants. Unlike the old European Cup, the competition is designed to have as many of the biggest and best teams playing season after season and they structure accordingly.
When a smaller team gets into the group stage, they inject impetus and excitement. They become the story and live the story. The home fans get to see big teams, the away fans get to visit somewhere new and wonderful - cities like San Sebastian.
Players can finally say that they've played in the Champions League, something the vast majority of Real Sociedad players hadn't done before they beat Lyon to qualify for this year's tournament. Five United players have played more individual European games than the entire La Real squad combined.
The Basques didn't want to appear overawed, but they were. It's one thing watching games on television, another when Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney walk past your local bread shop. Cynical journalists were silenced when Giggs trotted past, before they marvelled at his presence in the same room and the longevity of his career.
Being in the Champions League lifts a city, lifts the mood, the finances too. San Sebastian's taxi drivers, bar owners and hoteliers all benefited from the big game. Their fans were so excited about their trip to Manchester that they created a special website.
Real Sociedad have been economically challenged for much of the last decade. They've had no option but to offer managers one-year contracts, sell their best players and promote youth. Champions League prize money gives them breathing space, it gives their players a platform to impress – though they've been caught out by inexperience against wilier opponents.
Their fans had a reverential tone and were even singing 'We are Champions League' in English outside the concrete hulk of the stadium. They waited for both teams to arrive, camera phones flashing as the United players got off their team bus.
It wasn't only the players who attracted attention. Inside the ground, Basque fans took photos of the 1,800 travelling fans and helped hang out their red, white and black tricolours in sections which are reserved for home supporters. At other European venues, the flags would be torn down, but La Real have no reason to hate teams they've never played before. It was all new to them, the singing, drunken Englishmen who danced in the rain, the banks of television cameras and the Champions League music. It was part of the spectacle, their reward for finishing fourth last year.
They don't mind the increased prices because they think it will be a one-off. And, in the case of the Sociedad, it probably will. Their domestic form has improved, but the extra challenge of European football can sap moderate squads.
Real Sociedad are structured to stay up, mid-table in ambition, size and finance. European football is not expected, nor demanded. It’s a bonus. When it was won last year, it was celebrated, an unlikely over-achievement by a team who deserved their moment in the sun.
It wasn't shining in Sebastian yesterday and their team won’t be going beyond the group stage. There was no fairytale ending, but for the record European crowd who saw their side hold Manchester United, they’ll be able to say ‘I was there.’