Until the arrival of the Bosman law in 1995, the association between clubs and the territory they belonged to was a football club’s most important identifying feature. It was probably also a factor that helped football stand out compared to other sports.
The rivalry between clubs was born from the rivalry between cities and fans would project their emotions onto these teams because they represented their home.
During most of the twentieth century, the principle of origin (which boils down to: I support the team of where I come from because their players represent me and share my origin. They are “our players”) determined both the identity of the fans and the clubs.
What is more the performance on the pitch never never superseded the principle of origin. Even if other teams played better or there was an admiration for their style of play, this did not affect the affection for one’s own club.
Since the end of the last century, new ideas about attachment to a team changed the profile of supporters. The principle of origin has been marginalised by the power of industry and ‘the spectacle’ in such a way that the new fans tend to go for the winning horse.
But there are only a few winning horses playing in the five European leagues. The fact these superclubs are increasingly similar to each other and that that foundational principle of origin is now almost non-existent does not discourage fans either. The craving for trophies feeds passion and winning them is the only great goal. Simply put, there is nothing else. Win, win and win. The vicious cycle is repeated every season: increase the budget to sign the best players in the world and compete for trophies. More money, more power, more opportunities.
The principle of origin has already become something of a throwback, as if it were from another era. It is the remnants of a different kind of football we do not see anymore.
The last ‘One-Club Man’ of each team is protected and put on show like a valuable piece in a museum. But there is no concern for their replacement, just an obsession with winning more titles. Steven Gerrard in Liverpool, Francesco Totti in Roma, Raul in Real Madrid, Ryan Giggs in Manchester United … there are no heir apparents for these players, nor for Sergio Busquets, Gianluigi Buffon or Thomas Müller … And where are the last one-club men of PSG and Manchester City?
The principle of origin and belonging has been demoted in favour of the principle of the winning horse, which is basically a principle of wealth. And that is the greatest perversion of sport: only the rich can win. There is no limit to wealth or its expression on the field.
In view of this current situation, if Athletic Club can claim attention for anything, it would be for the way it competes. It is the only elite club that puts the principle of origin, the origin of football, ahead of wealth.
No matter how much money there is, Athletic Club will always be a Basque team from the city of Bilbao, and its squad will always be a faithful representation of that identity.
A unique sporting philosophy that inspires admiration and respect for its uniqueness. While the world of football advances down the path marked by the entertainment industry, Athletic Club goes against the current, using only players born or trained in the land it represents.
The One-Club Man and One-Club Woman award defend the importance of this principle of origin and they recognise footballers who have devoted their career to one club and this principle.
From the list of winners up until now: Matt Le Tissier is an Englishman who played for an English club; Paolo Maldini an Italian at an Italian club; Sepp Maier, a German at a German club; Carles Puyol, a Catalonian at a Catalonian club; Billy McNeil a Scotsman at a Scottish Club and so on.
They could have been born in different places, because after all a person is not necessarily from the place where they were born or where they live. But, in their own way, all the recipients of this prize have demonstrated a real connection (which goes beyond birth places, religion or race) with the region of their club. This is what this award seeks to honour, virtues which seem to have been lost along the way as football has taken a different path in recent years.