Athletic Bilbao vs. Real Madrid: Spanish Football’s ‘Old Classic’ Rivalry

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The ultra groups of Spain’s premier multiplication teams have their possess names. Athletic Bilbao’s hardcore fans are called Herri Norte Taldea (HNT); Real Madrid‘s are famous as a Ultras Sur. Neither organisation likes a other.

There’s a song that HNT sing whenever Athletic play Real Madrid (a balance to a balance of “When a Saints Go Marchin’ In”): “We don’t like assault in football grounds/We don’t like assault in San Mames/We have to kill, we have to kill/We have to kill an Ultra Sur/We have to kill an Ultra Sur/We have to kill an Ultra Sur.”

The loathing between a dual fan groups comes easily. Politically, HNT have severe Basque autonomy tendencies, while a Ultras Sur are a cadre of worried Spanish nationalists. In Jan 1997, Jose Luis Ochaita, a Ultras Sur personality during a time, was stopped by confidence perplexing to enter a Santiago Bernabeu before a compare opposite Athletic with a steel doorway hoop and 3 screw guns, as minute in Carles Vinas Gracia’s book El Mundo Ultra.

In a same tie a year later, some HNT fans weren’t authorised inside Real’s home with 31 ball bats. Although it has frequency spilled over into violence, there has always been tragedy in a terraces when a dual sides meet, a essence of that Real Madrid can design when they revisit Athletic’s stadium, San Mames, on Saturday in La Liga.

“Since a late 1970s and into a 1980s, a acquire for Real Madrid has been very, unequivocally hostile,” says Professor Angel Iturriaga, author of Dictionary of Athletic Club Players. “The atmosphere has always been unequivocally exhilarated when Real Madrid arrive during San Mames, generally after General Franco’s genocide in 1975, yet ‘the blood never came to a river,’ as we contend in Spain.

“There has never been a large fight or bad assault between a fans. It has always been some-more like written violence, a fight of words. It doesn’t get earthy or out of hand. Maybe in some removed moments there has been some aggression, towards a train of fans, for example, yet it customarily never goes over being a hazard of violence. 

“The ambience is a lot some-more charged politically in Bilbao compared to a lapse tie in Madrid. In a terraces during San Mames, there are always banners vicious of Real Madrid as a deputy of centralised energy in Spain. Until recently, we used to see a lot of Athletic fans with banners ancillary a recover of ETA [a Basque armed separatist group] prisoners, or a send of them closer to a Basque Country. 

“You will also see banners seeking autonomy for a Basque Country from Spain. Athletic Bilbao, a club, has always been related unequivocally closely with PNV, a Basque Nationalist Party, and a some-more radical fans are related to a Basque severe autonomy movement.”

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The dual clubs have an ancient adversary with claims to being a oldest, postulated matchup in a story of Spanish football. It is infrequently referred to as “El Viejo Clasico” (The Old Classic). Both clubs were widespread army in Spain in a initial half of a 20th century, winning La Liga 7 times between them after a arrangement in 1929 (Athletic prisoner 5 of those titles).

Until Dec 2011 (when it was overtaken by Barca-Real Madrid), it was a most-played tie in Spanish bar football. The change reflected a ascent of Barcelona as Real Madrid’s pivotal rivals given Johan Cruyff’s Dream Team won 4 joining titles on a rebound in a early 1990s. When Cruyff took over as Barca manager in 1988, it was usually as Athletic Bilbao had begun to blur domestically, unwell to win a joining pretension given 1984. The 3 clubs are a usually ones to have defended premier-division standing each deteriorate given La Liga began. 

Athletic vs. Real Madrid shares a same domestic dynamics as a Barca-Madrid rivalry: both Athletic (Basque Country) and Barcelona (Catalonia) are flag-bearers for their regions opposite a competence of executive Spain, Real Madrid. The Basque Country, with Bilbao as a capital, and Catalonia are dual of a categorical engines of a Spanish economy; both regions have their possess languages, Euskara and Catalan.

In 2011, ETA announced a ceasefire. The Basque people instinctively know their separatist history. Writer Phil Ball, author of Spanish football rivalries book Morbo who has lived in a Basque Country given 1991, believes it’s ingrained. The domestic qualifications of a adversary are partial of a flesh memory for fans.

“Spanish people are unequivocally atavistic,” he says. “They know accurately what went on. They’re flattering intelligent in that sense. They competence not be means to tell we dates and so on yet they know a simple informative norms. They all heed to them. The informative normal in Athletic is to loathing Real Madrid. Why? Because of a Franco persecution and a history.

“The Basques have their viewpoint of Spain, and Madrid has a opposite viewpoint of Spain. If we took a cranky territory of Athletic fans and asked them who was their many despised enemy, they would contend Real Madrid. That Madridistas still paint this bulls–t thought of ‘Madrid casta’—that they are a standing that has postulated Spain.”

Ball believes a drivers for a animosity have altered, however, given a epoch of Florentino Perez’s presidency and a galactico plan he began during Real Madrid in 2000. Real Madrid has turn a tellurian selling phenomenon. The organisation is now a multinational organisation stocked with some of a best-paid players in football, such as Thibaut Courtois (Belgium), Marcelo (Brazil), Toni Kroos (Germany) and Gareth Bale (Wales). The bar is no longer a citadel of Spanish identity.

“There has been a bit of a change during a Bernabeu in a final 20 years,” says Ball. “Real Madrid has turn this arrange of chulo [cocky], moneymaking machine. They don’t unequivocally mount for anything anymore. There’s approval that Real Madrid is now usually a outrageous multinational, tellurian thing. They’re not perplexing to be super Spanish anymore, ‘looking down on us Basques.’ They’re disliked for a wider operation of reasons than before when it was ‘Franco’s team.’

“How do we plan your domestic loathing on someone like Cristiano Ronaldo, who came adult to Bilbao scoring goals for 9 seasons? If we hated him, it’s given of who he is—an conceited goalscorer. It’s not like Juanito [Real Madrid, 1977-1987] entrance up. They couldn’t mount him. They chanted some terrible things when he died in a automobile pile-up [in 1992].

“Fernando Hierro [Real Madrid, 1989-2003] was a loathing figure. Or [current director] Emilio Butragueno [Real Madrid, 1984-1995], for all his little-boy looks, is all that your severe Basque despises. What is there left to loathing now? There’s usually a vestige of that loathing for an comparison generation. It’s shifted. I’m not observant they don’t dislike them, yet it’s for opposite reasons.

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“There is a myth that [the fans’] domestic viewpoints are unequivocally pushing a rivalry. we don’t consider they are anymore. Athletic’s opinion and truth hasn’t changed, yet a inlet of Real Madrid has shifted. The loathing is no longer quite political. It competence be a notice yet it’s usually partly political.”

Athletic are worshiped a universe over for their process of regulating usually players who are innate in a Basque segment or who have been scholastic in Basque football academies. Perhaps a many important complicated instance is Aymeric Laporte, who assimilated a club’s girl academy as a teen before personification for a initial organisation and eventually being sole to Manchester City in Jan 2018 for a reported fee of €65 million. Real Madrid fans demeanour on a Basque-only process ambivalently, though.

“In a partial of Madrid there is magnetism for Athletic Bilbao and a philosophy,” says Iturriaga. “It’s a magnetism that we can see in roughly all of Spanish football—for what a truth means, not to pointer foreigners, to play usually with home-grown players. All this creates Athletic unequivocally dear by reduction radical Real Madrid fans that are some-more into their football. There is a bond, an appreciation for that idea.

“It’s presumably a minority of their fans who see them with this perspective, though—in a certain way. The infancy see them indeed as a Basque rival—far divided from what Spain represents. They don’t know their vasquismo (Basque identity). It’s over their parameters.”

Athletic will be looking to better Real Madrid on Saturday during San Mames, something that has been over a bar given early 2015, when Aritz Aduriz scored in a 1-0 victory. It will be a burning atmosphere in San Mames, even if a blood doesn’t upsurge to a river.


Follow Richard on Twitter: @Richard_Fitz

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