When Alavés took on Europe – and nearly won

Communities across the Basque Country are united by a flag, a language and a way of life they have fought to retain.

This solidarity makes Basque football a complex beast. The rivalry between the two biggest clubs in the region, Athletic Club of Bilbao and Real Sociedad of San Sebastián, is particularly intricate. Meetings between Athletic and La Real are characterised by the passion and intensity of the most fiercely competitive derbies in the world, but without the same depths of animosity. Continue reading “When Alavés took on Europe – and nearly won”

Julen Guerrero: The Lion King

The nickname ‘El Rey León’ was given to Athletic Club’s attacking-midfielder Julen Guerrero in part as a reference to his floppy, blonde locks, but mostly it’s a recognition of his loyalty to the club he loved and his prowess as a player. If you were to head into the city of Bilbao and ask anyone between the ages of twenty-five and forty who their favourite ever Athletic player is, the response would most likely be swift and unambiguous, Julen Guerrero. Continue reading “Julen Guerrero: The Lion King”

Real Sociedad: Thirty-Eight Years Unbeaten

“You can take away the record, but not the pride.” Alberto Gorriz.

For thirty-eight years it stood, and for many of those years it stood alone. The last in a long line of records that had slowly but surely succumbed to the land’s powerhouse duo, Barcelona and Real Madrid. It also served as a reminder of a time when Spanish football wasn’t dominated by those two. A hark back to one those brief moments that seem to skip generations where a club or two break their confines, escape the middle-table status imposed upon them, roll up their sleeves and set their sights firmly on the chin of the big two, hoping that if they hit hard enough it might be able to force a wobble, or even a knockdown, even if it’s just momentary. For Real Sociedad, the first punch thrown came in 1979/80. It wasn’t a knockout blow, but it did enough damage to ensure that Basque football got its renaissance, and that La Real got their own passage in the annals of footballing history. This is the story of Alberto Ormaetxea and his unbeaten legends. Continue reading “Real Sociedad: Thirty-Eight Years Unbeaten”

Bixente Lizarazu: Le Basque

On a balmy July night in Paris in 1998, France’s ‘Rainbow team’ lifted its first World Cup. A racially diverse squad had not only enthralled the nation with its football but also sent a message to the Front National that players of different origins and creeds could come together and unite France. Naturally, the racial composition of the squad was explored and celebrated. Desailly was born in Ghana, Karembeu grew up in the French pacific and Zidane was the son of Algerian parents. Nevertheless, the backgrounds of two players, Didier Deschamps and Bixente Lizarazu, went somewhat unnoticed. Lizarazu and Deschamps, starters in the final against Brazil, both hailed from an often-forgotten south-western corner of France: le Pays Basque, the Basque Country. Continue reading “Bixente Lizarazu: Le Basque”

SD Eibar: The Club That Moves Mountains

It was my first journey on the regular coach from Bilbao to San Sebastián, when at about the halfway mark we started to drive, quite literally, over an entire city. The small city was sandwiched into a deep but narrow gorge amongst the dense Basque mountains. As I stared out of my window in awe, I noticed how it had started to overflow the bowl in which it was situated; the buildings had even begun to climb up the mountain sides, and below me in the distance I could just about make out a tiny football stadium. Once we arrived in San Sebastián, I asked my girlfriend about the place I had encountered, she informed me that it was Eibar. Continue reading “SD Eibar: The Club That Moves Mountains”

Lezama: The Cornerstone of a Philosophy

Ex-manager Joaquin Caporros: “Logically due to its philosophy, the best academy work in the country is done at Athletic.”

In 1912, after being accused of fielding ineligible foreign players in the 1911 Copa del Rey, Athletic Club made the most important decision in its history. It was decided that Athletic Club would only use players who were either born in one of the seven provinces of the wider Basque Country or had some tangible familial connection to the region. For many years Athletic were supplied players from smaller clubs in and around Bizkaia, and most training sessions were conducted at their stadium, San Mamés. Continue reading “Lezama: The Cornerstone of a Philosophy”