Talking about Eli Ibarra is the same as talking about Athletic Club women’s football. Together with Iraia Iturregi, she epitomises what being a lioness means. The footballer from Azkoitia, who has turned 39 today, is the player that has appeared in the highest number of games since the women’s section of the club was created in 2002. Ibarra has worn the red-and-white shirt in 413 official matches, counting 367 league fixtures, 32 cup contests and 14 Women’s Champions League games. These are historic numbers for a player who left an imprint on the pitch and who is still doing it thanks to her job in the Athletic Club Foundation.
The player from Gipuzkoa began her career at Eibartarrak in the 90s, taking her first steps in a footballing world where women had just started to have their place. At home, her father and her brother Josu had already showed them the way. In the summer of 2002, Iñigo Juaristi recruited what would be the first women’s team in Athletic Club’s history. Left-footed player Elisabeth Ibarra Rabancho was among the chosen ones. She was a skilful forward, a very incisive footballer, with a nose for goals and game vision. Since 2002 -and through 15 seasons- Eli became the only footballer to have taken part in the five league championships the club has won. She played hundreds of times at Lezama, but she also did it at a San Mamés stadium full to the brim with people, and scored decisive goals for the team. She sent the ball into their rivals’ net up to 111 times, being the third top scorer, just behind Erika (260) and Nekane (157). She is also the player who has appeared in the most Copa de la Reina matches (32 encounters), although she never lifted the trophy. In addition, the ex-lioness was an international footballer with the Spanish senior national team (44 matches) and with the Basque Country representative national team.
In May 2017, at the age of 35, she hung up the boots. In her farewell press conference -which she shared with Iraia Iturregi and Irune Murua-, she could hardy hold back her tears. Visibly moved, she looked back over her career, expressing her heartfelt appreciation to both Athletic and her supporters. “It is amazing how people know who I am and say hi to me in the street. They smile at me and that reminds me of how great this club is. Each and every year here has been special to me. I never had a doubt about where I wanted to build and finish my career”. That inevitable goodbye was painful for Eli, but it was also sad for the world of football. Thankfully, it was then that she started working as an ambassador -an outstanding one- in charge of passing down the red-and-white values.