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HISTORY
SUNDAY, 22 JULY 2018

Athletic Club emerged in a Bilbao that was waking up to industrialization. Bilbao, the small mercantile and commercial city circumscribed by the perimeter of the seven streets and Bilbao La Vieja, opened its doors to become a city that welcomes industrial and financial experiences of a diverse nature. There was a railroad, large iron/steel mills, small and large shipyards, metallurgical workshops, mining, chemical plants, banks, cultural and recreational societies, magazines and daily newspapers, along with a very powerful business class.

The Bilbao of those years gathered the necessary requirements for a prominent sector of its population to enthusiastically embrace the then novel practice of the 'sport". The development of the sport in Bilbao was neither accidental nor exceptional, it arose in a rather specific geographic and temporary sphere, as a bourgeois and, consequently, urban fashion. The birth and installation of the first gymnasiums in the villa must equally be interpreted as another manifestation of this social dynamism. The Bilbaoan bourgeoisie was a very active social group, enormously attracted to everything that came from Europe, and most especially for everything "English". There had even been talk about the "Anglo-mania" that invaded Bilbao in those years. In addition, Bilbao then welcomed a cultivated foreign colony, whose presence facilitated the integration of habits, fashions and customs until then unknown to our country.

The liking for sports was limited to the Neguri aristocracy and the wealthy Bilbao bourgeoisie: lawn-tennis, regattas, motorcycle races, cycling, "pelota" (hand-ball, Jai-Alai...) and football were the sports par excellence.

With regards to the practice of football, a small newspaper clipping from the Noticiero Bilbaíno gathered, in the year 1894, a challenge that would go down in football history. A local fan challenged the English colony to a football match at the Lamiako grounds. The match was disputed on 3 May 1894 with the adverse result for the locals of six "goals" to nil. But the seed germinated robustly and the Bilbaoans were soon interested in the practice of this sport.

In 1898, a group of 33 sportsmen, among which some met at the Zamacois Gymnasium to practice and talk about football, constituted a team that, without having legal form, denominated Athletic Club, with the definitive Athletic Club founding assembly being held on 5 April 1901 at the Café Garcia.

Football was being lived with a mixture of passion and sense of expectancy in view of its novelty. At that time, Athletic's main rival was Bilbao FC. The number of spectators that came by train to the Lamiako grounds was greater each time -sometimes reaching 3,000 spectators-, and rare was the day that the spontaneous field, an equestrian training ground, did not register a full house.

The only thing missing was the organization of important encounters that would allow the Basque team to make achievements. This opportunity came with the first state organized tournament to mark King Alfonso XIII's coronation in 1902. This trophy, the first obtained by Athletic under the name "Bizcaya" with a team made up by players from Athletic and Bilbao, was achieved after defeating "Español" by five to nil, the "New Club" of Madrid by eight to one and "Barcelona" by two to one.

In 1903, Bilbao FC decided in its General Meeting to dissolve the Society and merge all its members in Athletic. That same year, Athletic overcame a harsh crisis in which its dissolution was considered. Once those critical times were resolved, successes kept accompanying Athletic: Spanish Champions in 1903, 1904, 1910 and 1911.

Football matches increased and great players emerged, such as Belauste or Pichichi. The grounds, first Lamiako (Leioa) and later 1910 Jolaseta (Getxo), no longer met the appropriate requirements for the practice of a sport whose followers grew day after day. A team that had been champion so many times, with important stars, needed to have a permanent pitch in the city.

Under the presidency of Alejandro de la Sota, on 20 January 1913, the foundation stone of the new Athletic Club stadium was set in the lowlands of San Mamés, being inaugurated seven months later, on August of that same year. Athletic and Racing of Irún faced-off. The match ended with a 1-1 draw. Seve Zuazo had the honour of the initial kick-off and Pichichi of being the author of the first rojiblanco goal in the "Cathedral".

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