Manager – Ernesto Valverde
Captain – Carlos Gurpegui
Ground – San Mames Stadium
Nickname – Los Leones
Rivals – Real Sociedad (Basque derby)
Founded in the year 1898, Athletic Bilbao also known as Athletic Club is one of the most successful clubs in Spanish football history having won the La Liga title a total of 8 times and the Copa del Rey a total of 24 times.
Athletic Bilbao is one of the only 3 clubs along with Barcelona and Real Madrid to have never been relegated from La Liga. Nicknamed “Los Leones” (The Lions) have a great tradition of bringing up young Basque players up the ranks.
Bilbao plays their home games in the new San Mames Stadium since 2013. Their biggest rivals are Real Sociedad with whom they play the Basque derby.
Athletic Bilbao beginnings
Athletic Bilbao owes it’s formation to the influx of British migrant workers that came to Bilbao in the late 19th century. Athletic finds it’s roots in two local Bilbao clubs both with British connection.
Bilbao Football Club – Founded in 1898 by British migrant workers from Sunderland, Portsmouth and Southampton working in Iron mines and Shipyards.
Athletic Club – Founded in 1898 by a group of Basque students belonging to the Gymnasio Zamacois that had completed their studies in Britain and brought the game of football back with them.
In April 5, 1901 a meeting was held between the two clubs at the Cafe Garcia and a decision to form a combined was taken.
The club at that time was not known as Athletic Bilbao, instead the two teams decided on the name Bizcaya and it is under this name that they competed in the first ever Copa del Rey and won it by beating Barcelona in the final.
The success in the Copa del Rey resulted in an official merger between the two teams in 1903 and were which became to bear the name Athletic Club.
The name change from Athletic Club to Athletic Bilbao took place in 1941 when then Spanish dictator general Franco made a ruling that football club names should be fully in Spanish, a characteristic of the present nationalism the country was going through.
Athletic Bilbao Trophies Cabinet
Copa del Rey
Following their win in the Inaugural edition of the Copa del Rey as club Bizcaya, the newly formed Athletic Club went to win the 2nd edition of the tournament held in 1903 by beating Real Madrid FC in the final.
In 1904 Athletic Bilbao was the hottest club in Spain winning 3 out of 3 tournaments in a row by once again beating their opponents Real Madrid, which failed to show up for the final.
Athletic Bilbao would go on to win a total of 24 Copa del Rey titles till date and are second only to Barcelona in having won the competition the most number of times. Bilbao’s last Copa del Rey title till date came way back in 1983/84 when they once again beat Barcelona 1-0 in final.
Athletic Bilbao Copa del Rey title wins – 1902, 1903, 1904, 1910, 1911, 1914, 1915, 1916, 1921, 1923, 1930, 1931, 1932, 1933, 1943, 1944, 1944/45, 1949/50, 1955, 1956, 1958, 1969, 1972/73 and 1983/84.
Athletic Bilbao track record in La Liga
Athletic Bilbao is the 4th most successful team in the La Liga having won the league a total of 8 times with the last one coming in 1983/84 when they did the double by also winning the Copa del Rey title.
Athletic Bilbao La Liga wins – 1929/30, 1930/31, 1933/34, 1935/36, 1942/43, 1955/56, 1982/83 and 1983/84.
After finishing as the second runner-up in the first ever edition of the La Liga in 1929 Athletic Bilbao won the second edition of the league in 1929/30 by finishing 7 points clear of runner-up Barcelona. Bilbao also won the Copa del Rey that year thus winning the double for the first time.
Athletic would go onto repeat this feat of a double three times since then – 1930/31, 1955/56 and 1983/94.
Despite being a force to be reckoned within Spain Athletic Bilbao could never impose themselves as a power in European competitions.
Their best performance in Europe is a couple of runner-up finishes in the Uefa Cup – 1976/77 and 2011/12.
Players who made a difference
Best Athletic Bilbao Managers
- Fred Pentland
Pentland joined Athletic Bilbao from Racing de Santander in 1921. His first title with them came in 1923 when they won the Copa del Rey by beating CD Europa 1-0 in the final.
He led them to a further 6 honors during this two terms including 2 La Liga titles and 4 Copa del Rey titles.
- Javier Clemente
A former Athletic Bilbao midfielder that played a total of 47 games for the Spanish club and scored a total of 6 goals. He joined Bilbao as coach in 1981 at the age of 31, his first honor with them came in the form of the 1982/83 La Liga title.
This was followed by a double of the Copa del Rey and La Liga title in the 1983/84 season. He would leave Bilbao in 1986 for the first time and would return twice more in 1990/91 and 2005/06.
- Ferdinand Daucik
After managing Barcelona for a period of 5 years Daucik joined Athletic in 1954 and would win a total of 3 major honors during his 4 years with including 1 La Liga title and 2 Copa del Rey titles. It was under Daucik that Athletic Bilbao achieved their best performance in the European Cup now known as they Champions League by reaching the quarter finals.
- Luis Fernandez
Although Luis Fernandez doesn’t have much to show as trophies in his time with Athletic Bilbao but it is under him that Athletic achieved their best ever performance of a 2nd place finish in the La Liga in 1997/98 and thus qualify for the Champions League.
Best Athletic Bilbao Players
- Rafael Moreno Aranzadi – Pichihi
Athletic Bilbao won the title three times in a row in 1914, 1915 and 1916 mainly thanks to the efforts of striker Rafael Moreno Aranzadi nicknamed “Pichichi”. Pichichi was the first person to score a goal at the old San Mames Stadium against Real Union in 1913.
Pichichi has also famously netted a hat-trick in the 1915 Copa del Rey final against Real Espanyol in a 5-0 win. Unfortunately Pichichi passed away at the age of 29 due to typhus disease and in his honor the award given to the top scorer in the La Liga is known as The Pichichi trophy.
- Guillermo Gorostiza
Gorostiza joined Athletic Bilbao in 1929 and played a crucial role as the club won two back to back leagues and Copa del Rey titles in the 1929/30 and 1930/31 seasons.
He would win a total of 4 La Liga titles and 4 Copa del Rey titles during his time with Athletic. He has won the Pichichi trophy twice in 1929/30 and 1931/32. Gorostiza played a total of 256 games for the club scoring a total of 193 goals.
- Agustin Sauto Arana
Agustin Sauto Arana or otherwise known as Bata was a Basque that helped Athletic Bilbao win a total of 8 honors including 4 La Liga and 4 Copa del Rey titles during his 7 seasons with them. He played a total of 118 games for Athletic scoring an impressive 108 goals.
- Telmo Zarraonandia Montoya
Telmo Zarra is widely regarded as one of the best ever to play in the La Liga and spend majority of career with Athletic Bilbao. He had an incredible 332 goals for Athletic Bilbao in the 351 games he played for them. He helped Athletic to a total of 5 honors including 1 La Liga and 5 Copa del Rey titles.
Until recently he had held the record for the most number of goals in the La Liga with 251 (surpassed by Messi in 2014). He still holds the record for being the top scorer in the Copa del Rey with 81 and also the record of having won the Pichichi award the most number of times, 6.
In honor of his memory the Spaniard who scores the most number of goals in the La Liga is awarded the Zarra trophy since 2003.
- Jose Angel Iribar
Jose Angle Iribar was a Spanish goalkeeper that went on to make over 600 appearances for Athletic Bilbao in his 18 seasons with them. During his time with Los Leones he helped them with 2 Copa de Rey titles and also finished as the Uefa Cup runners-up in 1976/77.
- Joseba Etxeberria
Joseba Andoni Etxeberria Lizardi or simply Joseba Etxeberria was a former Spanish International that spend a total of 15 seasons with the club playing a total of 514 games for them and scoring a total of 104 goals in the process.
Etxeberria made his La Liga debut for Athletic’s fierce rivals Real Sociedad at the age of 17 however after a single season with Sociedad he made a conversational switch to Athletic for a record fee of 3€ million.
Though he hasn’t won a major honor with them Etxeberria will always be remembered as hero among the Athletic supporters.
- Jose Francisco Rojo
A product of the Athletic Bilbao youth system Jose Francisco Rojo was one of those rare one club men that spend 17 years with Athletic Bilbao between 1965 and 1982 appearing in a total 413 league games for them and 48 goals in total.
During his time with Athletic he helped the team to two Copa del Rey titles in 1969 and 1972/73. He is only second behind Jose Angel Iribar in the list of most appearances for the club.
- Fernando Llorente
Another product of the Athletic Bilbao Fernando played his way up through the ranks and made his first team debut for the club in the 2004/05 season against RCD Espanyol. He would spent a total of 9 season with the club making 333 appearances and scoring a total of 118 goals.
After the end of 2012/13 season he made the switch to Italian side Juventus.
Athletic Bilbao Jersey Club Crest
Athletic Bilbao’s first official jersey was a half blue, half white shorts similar to those of Blackburn Rovers. In 1909 Juan Elorduy a student from Bilbao who was spending Christmas in London was asked by the club to bring back Blackburn Rovers jersies however Elorduy couldn’t get the required amount of jersies.
Not to want to return to Bilbao empty handed Elorduy bought Southampton jersies which were identical to the colors of the city of Bilbao and on returning the club officials decided to change the strips from blue and white to red and white.
The Lions of Saint Mammes
Saint Mammes of Caesarea was a christian who was fed to the lions by Romans however mammes made the lions docile and was later made a saint. His church is situated near Athletic Bilbao’s ground hence they are known as Los Leones which translates to “The Lions”.
San Mames Stadium
Athletic Bilbao play their home games at the new San Mames Stadium since 2013 and has a seating capacity of 53,289. The stadium was built near to the old San Mames Stadium which was their home from 1913 to 2013 and had a seating capacity of 40,000.
- Athletic Bilbao holds the record for the biggest win in a La Liga game – 12 – 1 vs Barcelona in 1930/31
- Agustin Gainza holds the record for the most goals in a single Copa Del Rey game (8 goals)
- Jose Angel Iribar holds the record for the most goals in a single La Liga game ( 7 goals)
- Most number of appearances in the La Liga along with Real Madrid and Barcelona.
- Biggest win in a Copa del Rey game – 12 -1 vs Celta de Vigo
- Most appearances for the club – Jose Angel Iribar (614)
- Most number of goals for the club – Telmo Zarra (333)
- Won the 1929/30 18 game La Liga unbeaten
- Most expensive transfer buy – Roberto Rios ( From Real Betis for 12€ million in 1997)
- Most expensive player sold – Javi Martinez (to Bayern Munich for 40€ million in 2012)
- Telmo Zarra of Athletic Bilbao holds the record for having won the Pichichi trophy the most times (6 times)
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