At the heart of the Basque Derby in Bilbao !
I often visit the Landes region and I decided to go and discover Basque football in Bilbao (two hours away). Athletic Bilbao is known for its conservativeness, like the Spanish Basque Country. They only have Basque players or players of Basque origin in their ranks. It is a unique policy at this level, and the results are quite breathtaking when you consider that Athletic has never been relegated to the Second Division in its history, and that it is the 4th most successful club in the country.
I therefore chose to go there for the Basque derby, one of the most important matches of the year for Bilbao, which faces Real Sociedad from San Sebastian.
Athletic Bilbao – Real Sociedad : Basque Derby October 2018 :
Before that, a short diversion to visit Bilbao, a beautiful and contrasting city. The contrast is first of all geographical, as Bilbao is situated between two small mountains, which gives it the appearance of a vat and offers splendid views of the city when you are arriving. Secondly, a visit to Bilbao can be divided into two main areas: old Bilbao (Casco Viejo) and the modern district, where the stadium is located. The Casco Viejo and its Seven Streets are worth a visit, but it is in the modern district that I spent the most time. The Guggenheim Museum, one of the 3 museums in the world famous Guggenheim Museum collection (New York, Venice, and therefore Bilbao), is the flagship of this district. Despite not being a museum-guy at all, I had a pleasant time there discovering the modern art exhibitions of the moment. The outside architecture of the building, although incomprehensible, is nonetheless breathtaking (which is why it is internationally renowned)!
Then on to the stadium. For the purists, San Mamés is an emblematic place for Spanish and European football. Recent renovations to the neighbourhood have given Athletic Bilbao fans a new toy in 2013, and not the least. Rest assured! The stadium may be nicknamed the cathedral, but it is definitely not for its silence. That night (like every match night I suppose?), “La Catedral” lights up red and white in the Basque night, and it is absolutely full! The area around the stadium is also overcrowded. Well… it is derby day after all… To my great surprise, the Real Sociedad jerseys are on display, and no one seems to have any problem with that. As I enter the stadium, I quickly realise that wearing the jerseys of today’s visitors does not prevent you from entering the stands. And although there is a section of the stands specifically for the away fans, the blue and white Sociedad jerseys can be seen everywhere in what is still a veritable red sea, in the colours of Athletic Bilbao. It is then understandable that, quite intelligently enough, the rivalry between the two clubs remains purely sporting. That won’t stop the San Mamés from turning on fire when the Athleti anthem starts playing. An absolute highlight of the night, when the whole stadium takes up the anthem in unison.
The game is on, and despite what is at stake in the Basque derby, Bilbao’s players will be at a level far below what they are known for that night. Munian’s 1-1 equaliser and the subsequent explosion of the San Mames was the most beautiful moment of the night, but it was an illusion since Real Sociedad won 1-3. This is enough to cut short any possible night-time celebrations by Bilbao fans…
Although I was disappointed with the outcome of the match, because I would have liked to have seen the San Mamés merger, I had a great time in this stadium. I was very keen on discovering it,and it gave me a glimpse of some of those moments of jubilation that I am looking for when I go to the stadium. , back in the Landes, a new Derby awaits me, the Atlantic Derby between Bordeaux and Nantes. Article available soon.
Thank you Bilbao