17 years have passed since Athletic Club Women’s team clinched the first of the five league titles they have won so far. No other women’s team in the country have managed to reach this mark to date. The lionesses got three consecutive league titles (2002-2003, 2003-2004 and 2004-2005) during Athletic Club Women’s first three years in the official competition. The 2006-2007 title came a little later and, in the following decade, the 2015-16 one arrived.
During the 2002-2003 season, a new chapter full of successes started with the foundation of a female team for this section of the club. Andoni Zubizarreta, Ernesto Valverde and late president Javier Uria, gave the green light to a project that has not only been consolidated but have also become a reference point. Iñigo Juaristi was the person in charge of taking up the reins of the first group of players, most of them coming from Leioa EFT after having played at Sondika.
Lezama welcomes the first female team
That season, Lezama was witness to a small revolution. While the works to build new fields were still taking place, female footballers were seen using the facilities for the first time. It was a real luxury for those amateur women who played football back then. The first lionesses would train in the evening (7 p.m.), when their work day was over. In the first campaign, nobody was expecting the Red and Whites to have such a high level. Levante had won the previous two league titles and they were the chief opponents to beat. In fact, they ended up with the same points as the Red and Whites (55), but the goal average was in favour of Athletic. The lionesses gathered almost 2,000 people in their debut against Torrejón at Lezama. Months later, San Mamés opened its gates to the public to enjoy a female football match for the first time, a historic clash against Puebla on 30 March 2003, whose final result was 5-1.
The big date at San Mamés
Juaristi’s pupils lost only one game during the whole season and, on 27 April 2003, after defeating Híspalis de Sevilla 5-0, they were crowned Superliga champions in front of 35,000 people at San Mamés; the largest number of spectators attending a women’s fixture until then. Nerea Onaindia, one of the captains, saw how her teammates were wearing a shirt that day that read “Nere, arurrera”, since the forward had been seriously injured moths before. The ambiance was spectacular. Some Sevillian players captured the moment from the pitch using camcorders. The clash was increasing in intensity, and Tzibi Juaristi, Eba (twice), Eli Ibarra, and Lorena from the penalty spot added to the goal tally. The celebration on the pitch at La Catedral will remind in the minds of the people of Bilbao.
The Red and Whites showed off their trophy through the streets of Bilbao on a lorry, and were welcomed by former lehendakari Juan José Ibarretxe. This is how Athletic Club took their first step in the elite category, in the best possible way, and women’s sport started to regard the lionesses as an example to follow in the future.