Aupa Athletic 2!
Athletic Bilbao is of course one of the elements of the Basque culture. Their refusal over the years to sign players not born in the Basque Country, with no Basque roots or not grown up in their cantera, and the war against any other not Spanish culture (Basque, Catalan, etc.) carried over the years by Franco’s dictatorship, have strenghthened and united Athletic fans.
In this picture we can see Iribar and Real Sociedad‘s captain Kortabarria bringing the Ikurrina on the football pitch before a derby in 1976, at a time when the Ikurrina was still illegal and when both the teams were adopting a strict “just Basques” policy.
Maybe not everyone knows that, even though there is a huge rivalry between Real Sociedad and Athletic Bilbao, the two teams helped each other in winning 1982 and 1983’s Ligas, when the last match of the seasons was precisely a Basque derby and the team not involved in the race for the title didn’t put too much effort to win the game, allowing the rivals to celebrate a victory. In this case, Basque brotherhood prevailed over football local disputes.
Athletic Bilbao’s history is the history of Spanish football. They are the second oldest team of the Liga (the oldest is Recreativo de Huelva, founded in 1889) and people from Bilbao have also founded Atletico Madrid, which for about 20 years have been some kind of Athletic’s repository for players. This is the reason why the two teams have the same jersey colours.
Some critics say that the so called “Basque policy” contains racist and xenophobic elements. This is completely false because, just as a start, the club’s name is an English word, Athletic, chosen instead of the Spanish Atletico, because the team had been founded by English people living in Bilbao. Athletic have had English footballers in its first years of activity and have at the moment players born in Venezuela and Mexico, Fernando Amorebieta and Javier Iturriaga. Amorebieta and Iturriaga have Basque roots though, as their surnames clearly suggest, and what counts even more, they were bred in Lezama, the training camp where most of Ahtletic players have started their professional career. Not to mention, of course, the fact that most of the managers Athletic have had in their history were born outside Basque Country.
Their policy is, instead, just a choice, done in order to save those few elements of sport still present in modern football and to compete with passion, love and amor propio.