Welcome to Volume Two of my blog paying homage to the football clubs I've visited all over the world and the wonderful people responsible for keeping them going and their maintenance.

Since I was a little lad I've been fascinated in football and more so where games are played. With my love of travel and curiosity of the game I wanted to visit as many grounds and see games wherever possible.

I was fortunate that my Dad also loved the game and spent so much of his spare time taking me to matches. As I got older the boundaries widened owing to my location and increased wages to Europe and indeed the world. The sight of a stand or a floodlight pylon in the distance immediately heightens my senses and eagerness for a closer look.

I hope this site gives you the chance to share in my pleasure and experiences and maybe one day set you on the road to adventure. If you get half as much out of the hobby as I've done, I can guarantee some great memories, good friends and stories to pass on to future generations.

Give your local club a try today. They'll be delighted to see you!

Everlasting thanks primarily to my late and very much missed and dearly loved parents; my Dad Bob Bernard and my Mum; Ann, who put up with endless years of football chat and my brothers Nick and Paul who gave me the chance and encouragement to do what I have. Thanks to all my friends who offer encouragement and Sally and Stan who inspire and give me great pride. Stan is showing a keen interest in my hobby as he grows into a young man!

Please feel free to post any comments (please use sensible language - I want everyone to be able to enjoy reading) or ask any questions relating to visiting grounds or events. If you want to see any ground reviewed please let me know. It will take quite some time for everywhere to appear, but make sure you keep having a look as the site is continually updated.

If you click on a lot of the pictures you will get a larger version on your screen.

I have also added links to video clips on YouTube where appropriate for those of you who are bored of reading or are filling in time at work. I haven't always gone for the most obvious choices, but items that will be in some cases unusual but always historically interesting.

Click to see volume one of HAOTW.

Rob Bernard


November 2018

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Athletic Club (Spain)

Athletic Club or Athletic Bilbao as the club are more regularly known, is a professional football club from Bilbao in Spain’s Basque Country who were formed in 1898. The club only sign players with a Basque background.

In the late nineteenth century, Bilbao was a leading industrial area and port with many Britons working in the area. Some were miners from the north east of England, and others shipbuilders from Southampton and Portsmouth. They introduced the locals to the game of football.

In the early 1890’s the ex-pats formed Bilbao Football Club. At the same time some of Bilbao’s educated classes carried on their studies in England and formed Athletic Club, using the English spelling in 1898 and playing games against the workers.

At a meeting in the city’s Café García in 1901, the club formulated rules and regulations. The two clubs merged to play in the 1902 Copa Del Rey; defeating FC Barcelona to win the trophy under the name of Club Bizcaya.

The two clubs merged formally in 1903 as Athletic Club, while the students also formed Athletic Club Madrid, who would evolve to become Atlético Madrid. Bilbao began life playing in blue and white halved shirts, winning the 1903 Copa Del Rey following a 3-2 win over Real Madrid in the capital’s Estadio del Hipódromo.

The competition of the day only featured a few regional sides. Athletic retained the trophy in 1904 without even playing a game, before being runners-up in 1905 and 1906 to Real Madrid on both occasions.

In 1910 students visiting Southampton obtained fifty red and white striped shirts, with the colours being adopted by the club. Englishman Mr Shepherd became the teams first manager as the team won the 1910 Copa Del Rey with a win against Real Sociedad, before retaining it the following season with victory over RCD Espanyol at Campo de Jolaseta, where the club were based at the time.

In 1913 Athletic moved into a new home to the south of the Nervión called San Mamés. It was named after a nearby church who in turn had been named after Mammes; an early Christian who was thrown to the lions by the Romans where he survived by pacifying them. The club became as Los Leones; The Lions.

Under new boss Billy Barnes; a Londoner who played most of his football for Queens Park Rangers, Athletic won the Copa Del Rey in 1914, 1915 and 1916; with wins against Espanya, RCD Español and Madrid FC. The star of the day was tiny goalscorer Rafael Moreno Aranzadi, who was better known as Pichichi.

Barnes’ side were cup runners-up in 1920 before the regained the trophy with a 4-1 win over Atlético Madrid at San Mamés the following season. Managers Mr Burton and Juan Arzuaga had spells in charge of the team before Englishman Fred Pentland took over in March 1922.

Europa were defeated in the 1923 Copa Del Rey final as Pentland introduced a short passing game to the team. After a spell away managing the national team, Athletic Madrid and Real Oviedo before returning to Biscay in 1929 as the club became founder members of La Liga.

In 1929-30 Athletic won the La Liga and Copa Del Rey double as Real Madrid were defeated in the final at Estadio de Montjuïc. The feat was repeated the following year with Betis defeated in the cup final at Madrid’s Estadio Chamartín. In the 1930-31 season Athletic defeated FC Barcelona 12-1.

The Copa Del Rey was won twice more to make it four in a row with victories over FC Barcelona in 1932 and then Real Madrid in 1933. Bilbao were also runners-up in La Liga in both those seasons before becoming league champions once again in 1933-34 under manager Patricio Caicedo.

José María Olabarría and then William Garbett who was a founding father of coaching in Italian football led Athletic to the La Liga title of 1935-36 as the Englishman introduced players such as Ángel Zubieta to the side.

The Spanish Civil War started in 1936. Garbett returned to Italy where he was exiled by Mussolini's fascists when he returned to coach Genoa. Under the rule of General Franco following hostilities all Anglicised names were banned, so the club changed their name to Atlético Bilbao.

Future record scorer Telmo Zarra and José Luis Panizo were introduced into the team under coaches Roberto Etxebarria and then Juan Urkizu, who led the side to the 1942-43 season La Liga title. The double was secured with a Copa Del Rey triumph over Real Madrid.

Bilbao went on to make it a hat trick of Cup wins with two final wins over CF Valencia in 1944 and 1945. Valencia avenged their defeats by beating Athletic in the 1949 final, by which time former Fulham player Harry Bagge was in charge at San Mamés.

The club won the 1950 Copa Del Rey with a 4-1 win against Real Valladolid with Athletic fielding the legendary forward line of Zarra, Panizo, Rafa Iriondo, Venancio and Agustín Gaínza, with the team being led by José Iraragorri.

After a spell under Antonio Barrios, the Czech Ferdinand Daučík arrived at San Mamés. He led the side to the Copa Del Rey in 1955 with a win over Sevilla before a league and cup double followed in 1955-56, with the cup being sealed with a win against Atlético Madrid.

Baltasar Albéniz was in charge of the team as Athletic beat the mighty Real Madrid in the 1958 Copa Del Rey final with a victory in their Santiago Bernabéu home. Several managers; Martim Francisco, Juan Antonio Ipiña, Ángel Zubieta, Juan Otxoantezana and Antonio Barrios took their turn at the club before Athletic came close to honours.

Agustín Gaínza arrived at Athletic in July 1965 as he took the team to the final of the Copa Del Rey in 1966 where they succumbed to Real Zaragoza before ending as losing finalists in 1967 with defeat to CF Vaencia.

Legendary goalkeeper José Ángel Iribar made his mark during the period as Rafael Iriondo led the team to the 1969 Copa Del Rey with a win against Elche CF. Ronnie Allen and then Salvador Artigas took charge of the team before Milorad Pavić led the side to Cup victory in 1973 over Castellón at Madrid’s Vicente Calderón.

After Franco’s death the club returned to their Athletic name before the club embarked on a memorable 1976-77 season. Wins against Újpest FC, FC Basel, AC Milan, FC Barcelona and R.W.D. Molenbeek took the team all the way to the final of the UEFA Cup.

In the final Athletic were defeated on away goals by Juventus. In the final of the Copa Del Rey Athletic lost on penalties to Betis. Stars of the time were skipper Iribar, Andoni Goikoetxea, Javier Irureta and Dani under manager Koldo Aguirre.

Helmut Senekowitsch and Iñaki Sáez were the next managerial appointees before former Athletic midfielder Javier Clemente took over in July 1981. He soon introduced youngsters Santiago Urquiaga, Miguel de Andrés, Ismael Urtubi, Estanislao Argote and Andoni Zubizarreta to the team.

Clemente’s side was notorious for their aggressive and defensive style of play. However, his system worked as Athletic won La Liga in 1982-83. They retained their title the following season as they lifted Copa Del Rey with a win over FC Barcelona to complete the double in 1984.

In 1985 Athletic were the beaten finalists in the Cup as they went down to Atlético Madrid. After a run-in with star player Manuel Sarabia, Clemente departed in 1986, before returning four years later. By then Iñaki Sáez, Iribar, Howard Kendall and Txetxu Rojo all had fruitless spells at San Mamés.

Clemente’s second spell didn’t work out. He was followed by a returning Sáez, Jesús Aranguren, Jupp Heynckes, Javier Irureta, José María Amorrortu and Dragoslav Stepanović before Frenchman Luis Fernández arrived on the scene.

His side finished as La Liga runners-up in 1997-98 as he was allowed to select any player as long as they had spent their youth development in Biscay. Patxi Ferreira and Biurrun were added to the team along with Bixente Lizarazu, Ismael Urzaiz, José Mari García and Joseba Etxeberria.

Fernández was replaced by Txetxu Rojo, Heynckes for a second spell and then Ernesto Valverde as Bilbao found themselves trying to avoid relegation in 2005-06 and 2006-07 as Clemente returned for a third go in charge of the team before Félix Sarriugarte and then Mané were appointed.

In July 2007 Joaquín Caparrós was appointed as Athletic manager as he took the side to the 2009 Copa Del Rey final, where the team were defeated by FC Barcelona. The club stabilised and had a decent 2009-10 season in the league and UEFA Cup as promising youngsters Javi Martínez, Markel Susaeta and Óscar de Marcos blended well with star striker Fernando Llorente.

The Argentinian Marcelo Bielsa came in as manager in July 2011 as Ander Herrera was added to the side. Bielsa’s team progressed through the group stages of the Europa League before knocking out Lokomotiv Moscow, Manchester United, Schalke 04 and Sporting CP to reach the final.

The Europa League final of 2012 was held at Arena Națională in Bucharest, where they were defeated 3-0 by Spanish rivals Atlético Madrid. Athletic were also runners-up to FC Barcelona in the Copa Del Rey.

The success led to other clubs making bids for players. After a stalemate Martínez and then Llorente both left the club after a period of animosity. Relegation threatened the final season in the old San Mamés before safety was secured as Bielsa departed to be replaced by Valverde who returned for a second term.

Valverde brought in several new players and took the side to a fourth place finish in the 2013-14 season in the new San Mamés; which was three quarters complete for the entire campaign. Herrera was sold for a large fee to Manchester United in the summer of 2014.

Valverde led the team to the 2015 Copa Del Rey final. Once again Athletic ended runners-up after defeat to FC Barcelona. However, revenge came as the club won the Super Cup at the commencement of the 2015-16 season as Aritz Aduriz had a splendid goalscoring campaign. Athletic also reached the last eight in the Europa League, before going out to eventual winners Sevilla FC.

Mikel San José, Sabin Merino, Iñigo Lekue and Iñaki Williams and Raúl García were prominent players of the time. Athletic ended the 2016-17 La Liga season in sixth place. Valverde departed for FC Barcelona with former club forward José Ángel Ziganda taking over as team manager.

Athletic Club will play in La Liga in the 2017-18 season.

My visits

Sunday 21st March 2004

My first visit to Bilbao was with my Willesden drinking pal Colm Carton. I had planned a week in Spain to take in three matches after arriving via the Portsmouth to Bilbao ferry. Our intended match in Biscay was Athletic v Real Madrid.

However, Spanish TV had scuppered our plans as it moved the game to the Saturday evening while we were aboard the ferry. Despite this we still headed up to San Mamés after booking into our Hotel Arenal room.

The stadium was locked and we were out of luck as the last tour of the day had finished just a few minutes earlier. It was a shame as it looked a real beauty. We walked round to Calle de Briñas which was the small road opposite, where we found a small bar.

We were the only customers in the souvenir laden establishment, but the man behind the counter was most friendly and was keen to mention that he knew that Howard Kendall was also an Englishman! We departed after a couple of beers.

Athletic Club 3 CF Granada 1 (Sunday 26th February 2017) La Liga (att: 37,563)

Just less than thirteen years after my first visit to Bilbao I had returned for an altogether different experience. I had fallen in love with the place; from its laid back lifestyle, nightlife, architecture, climate to its passion for football.

The day was going well as I'd been to a fourth tier match at Erandio in the morning and made some new friends as well as been taken to a proper local bar afterwards for beers. I'd also been to Deusto, another local side, to take photos before heading home for a brief siesta.

I'd met some English lads at the Arenas match the previous teatime and taken the Twitter name of Mark, who posted as Orient Braces to keep in touch for the Athletic match. The weekend carnival was gradually winding down so I headed on the Metro to Indautxuko where I grabbed some food before having a beer at a place on Pozo Lizentziatauren Kalea.

The Atlético Madrid v FC Barcelona game was on TV, as it was in nearly every bar in this football mad city. Then Mark came by after buying his tickets for the game at the stadium. I followed him to join the rest of the gents who were getting stuck into drinks and pintxos.

The whole street was busy with bars and Athletic fans. I found it a little bit similar to matchday in Newcastle. After a good chat with some smashing folk it was time to head up to San Mamés.

I'd purchased and printed my ticket online a week or so earlier. It cost €30 for a seat up in the Gods at the far end. I found the signage a bit confusing, but eventually I was in and climbing the many stairs after grabbing a free programme.

San Mamés was a really beautiful venue. from its outer cladding to everything inside. I was really gutted I never did the old place, but as someone in the pub observed; San Mamés makes the Emirates like Dagenham & Redbridge.

It had two continuous tiers of seating, with the upper level raising in height down the side. The tiers were separated by corporate facilities. The stunning roof covered every seat in the house. The seating was steep so it felt close to the pitch, even upstairs.

Athletic went 1-0 up after just eleven minutes as Beñat Etxebarria set up Markel Susaeta to slot home from six yards. However, the lead lasted just three minutes as Granada broke down the left. Héctor crossed for Mehdi Carcela-González to fire home from around the penalty spot.

Yeray Álvarez had a header saved before Íñigo Lekue fired high and wide for the Lions. Lekue put the Bilbao side back ahead just past the half hour mark with a fine shot from outside the box into the bottom left corner of the net.

I decided to remain in my lofty position at the break rather than going through the rigmarole of purchasing a club card for food and drink.

Soon after the restart Adrián Ramos of Granada had a header at goal blocked. Iñaki Williams had an effort saved by visiting keeper Guillermo Ochoa with thirty minutes left on the clock.

He also kept out Muniain shortly afterwards. As the game entered its final quarter Mikel San José shot home to make it 3-1. Athletic piled on the pressure as Markel Susaeta had a shot saved.

Mikel Rico had a shot blocked for the home team as the game entered its closing stages. Sabin Merino also had an effort nullified before the referee Daniel Trujillo blew his whistle for full time.

It'd been a fabulous game; especially with Granada drawing level to give Athletic a proper test. I hung around as the crowds dispersed so that I could take some extra photos and enjoy every last moment.

Once outside I took it all in from where the old stadium stood. I even bought a scarf before enjoying drinks, which were taken at regular intervals on a steady meander home as Real Madrid got every decision going to eventually overcome Vilarreal in the evening's live match.

My evening ended at the Mo'r o'r Less Irish bar on the fantastic Ledesma Musikariaren Kalea; which contained many excellent establishments and had given me my first proper pintxo and beer experiences a couple of evening’s earlier. A couple of pints of stout were just what the doctor ordered.

It had been fantastic stuff. I really enjoyed the decent enough game, especially with the visitors drawing level to give Athletic a proper work out. Once the crowds stremed out I took some more photos. I was probably one of the last ones to leave. I simply loved the place.  

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