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.
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.
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.
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.