The title is a bit of a stretch, but hopefully succinct. The Basque Country is comprised of 4 provinces of northern Spain and 3 of southwestern France, even though the País Vasco is an administrative, semi-autonomous region of Spain. Known is the Basque language as Euskal Herria, the Basque Country can be best conceptualised as the land straddling the border where Basque cultural traditions have survived and are most celebrated to this day. Across the Easter break, we decided it was time to explore their ways and history by checking out some great Football matches in Spain’s most enigmatic region.
The reason we describe our trip to watch Football in the Basque Country as “a stretch” was because the first two games we attended were not actually located in the Basque Region, but in its neighbouring regions that share much of its culture. The first match was a tasty La Liga clash between Club Atlético Osasuna and Deportivo Alavés SAD at the El Sadar; a famously difficult place to visit given the strong home support lead by Osasuna’s boisterous Indar Gorri fan group. The atmosphere lived up to expectations without any aggression between home and away fans. Alavés from the nearby Basque city of Vitoria share a fan-friendship with their Navarrese brothers who identify as culturally Basque. The home side took the 3 points with a very late winner that compounded the relegation fears of Alavés fans.
Our following match was a Primera División RFEF (third tier) clash between clubs of provincial capitals. UD Logroñes is one of two clubs of Logroño of La Rioja. La Rioja’s Castilian culture and famous wines are the product of a far greater historic Roman influence that did not shape the culture of the Basque Country on the other side of the Ebro River (the traditional physical boundary of the Basque region) to the same degree. UD Logroñes took the short trip to the stunning El Sardinero stadium to take on Real Racing Club de Santander – a participant in the first ever La Liga season in 1929 with a strong Football pedigree that has fallen on tougher times in the past decade. But relegations have not damped local enthusiasm for their club. The Cantabrian home support was one of the best and loudest we have experienced in Spain – shown off to its full extent with a 1-0 victory.
After 2 matches in territories close to the region, we finished our tour by visiting the pride of the Basques. It is no secret that Athletic Club de Bilbao is something special – one of only 3 teams to have competed in every La Liga season and a club that famously only employees Basque players. Both factors contribute to its status as one of Spain’s megaclubs, and though it has arguably struggled in league competition in recent seasons, the size of beauty of the San Mamés stadium indicates Athletic Bilbao’s popularity. A beautiful day attracted a large home following, but Athletic’s very poor movement off the ball was punished by an assertive Celta de Vigo side who took a 2-0 away win finished off by a spectacular second goal. The modest away following sang their team’s praises all match but also applauded the home fans’ atmosphere in the final minutes. The Athletic support on the day was surprisingly similar to the British model but without any antagonism to their guests; Athletic and Celta fans socialised together before and after the game and swapped scarves and shirts with each other come full time.
A few photos of our tour to tease for the time being. Longer posts to follow once we have completed our research! Happy Easter.