Spanish football: Athletic Club Bilbao
In the latest of our new Spanish football series, Spain Buddy’s Matthew Hirtes provides a brief overview of the country’s clubs. We’ll continue with the Primera Liga teams. Sticking with the alphabetical order, next up is Athletic Club Bilbao.
Athletic Club…in 90 seconds
The pride of the Basque Country, Athletic (note most definitely not Atlético although they were forced to use that name during the dark days of the Franco dictatorship) play their home games in the automonous community’s capital in all but name. For Athletic Club are also known as Athletic Bilbao. Their ground is the Estadio Mamés aka La Cathedral which they moved to from the stadium of the same name at the start of the 2013-14 season.
A club with British roots (hardly surprising given the beautiful game’s birth in the UK but strengthened through local shipyard workers hailing from ports such as Sunderland and Portsmouth in the late 19th century), Athletic Bilbao’s first coach for their debut 1910-11 season was a Mister (the early term given to managers in Spain due to them mainly being Brits) as in Mr Shepherd. But it was compatriot Fred Pentland who was to leave more of a mark on the club’s history, particularly in his second spell as manager when Athletic Bilbao won back-to-back Liga and Copa del Rey doubles in 1930 and 1931. On the playing front those who have excelled include early prolific forward Rafael Moreno Aranzadi whose nickname of Pichichi now describes the league’s top scorer following the introduction of a trophy handed to each season’s winner in 1953, fellow hotshot Telmo Zarra who over the course of his 1940-55 Athletic career notched 332 goals (a club record), and Bilbao’s current no 9 (OK, 20), Aritz Aduriz who recently became the oldest player to score for Spain.
No Spanish side (with the exception of Barcelona) has lifted the Copa del Rey more times than Athletic Bilbao’s 23. They’ve also won La Liga eight times and the Supercopa de España twice (including a 5-1 home-and-away humbling of Barça). These days, Athletic (who in common with Barcelona and Real Madrid have never been relegated from the top flight) can usually be found in the scrap for the Champions’ League fourth spot and after 12 games played in the 2016-17 season, they sit in seventh position.
Club-Shop Essential Purchase
Basques famously sport their distinctive black berets. These are known as txapelas. You can pick up one emblazoned with an Athletic Club badge for €23.
Buy this headwear HERE.
A peña is a group of Spanish football fans and La Peña Athletic in Bilbao’s Casco Viejo old town was set up by Athletic supporters in 1973. Located on the appropriately-named Calle Pelota (Ball Street), a popular combo is the six pinchos and four glasses of Crianza red wine which will set you back €16. If you’re after something more substantial, their three-course weekend menú costs €22,50.
The main reason Los Leones (the Lions nickname comes from the fact the stadium was built near to San Mamés church dedicated to a saint thrown to the maned animals by the Romans) moved ground was to better accommodate their loyal following. A one-club city, much like England’s Newcastle, Bilbao’s celebrated for its partisan football fans. Current capacity at the new San Mamés stands at 53,289.
You have to be Basque to play for Athletic Bilbao. A theme which is prevalent in the club anthem, Athleticen Ereserkia. This hurrah for club and (Basque) country ends with “Bilbo ta Bizkaiko gaztiak gora! Euskaldun zintzoak aurrera!” Which, translated into English, means “Viva, young people of Bilbao and Vizcaya! Noble Basque speakers, go forth!”
Damage to Your Wallet
Given Athletic’s passionate support, there’s a shortage of match-day tickets available for the more casual attendee. Yet you can purchase individual match tickets online HERE. Though, don’t expect much change from €200.
Matthew Hirtes has been an expat since moving to Las Palmas de Gran Canaria back in 2004. He's travelled extensively through Spain, covering it for such publications as Telegraph Travel, Metro, and The Independent. The author of Going Local in Gran Canaria: How To Turn a Holiday Destination into a Home, Matthew truly is a resident expert. He's also Mr Gran Canaria Local, the man behind the island's most discerning blog.