On this day, July 28, but in 1935, Athletic Club faced a Mexican team, Club America, for the first time. It was the first of five matches that the red-and-white team played in Mexico. They lost by the minimum, 2-1, with a goal scored by Iraragorri. The reputation that preceded Athletic at that time was extraordinary, and their visit raised unusual expectations in the country. As a chronicle of that first encounter states, “No foreign team has ever received such a show of sympathy and admiration from the Mexican people”.
Club America’s unexpected victory in the first match of the tour was celebrated enthusiastically in the country, and a revenge match not scheduled in the initial tour was immediately organised to dispel any doubts about the level of the competitors. If the opening match had raised expectations, the rematch was far from predictable. Athletic won 5-0, thanks to a hat trick from Iraragorri and goals from Bata and Mundo Suárez. “They were beaten from head to toe, but the men from Bilbao were undaunted… No one in Mexico had ever seen such skills,” said one of the match reports in the local press.
The rest of the tour
Athletic Club played three more matches within the 1935 summer tour.
– Against Atlante they lost 2-1, goal by Gorostiza. The chronicles mention a sensational game, roughly played by the local team and a tricky result, as Athletic played with a decimated team due to Muguerza’s injury.
– The Lions beat RC España 3-2 in their fourth match of the tour. It seems that, according to the reviews of the time, the match turned out to be “boring, white-collar” and the public protested by throwing cushions.
– The first tour of Mexico ended with a heavy defeat against Necaxa, 4-1. Athletic’s coach, Patricio Caicedo, on his return from a long voyage on the “Orinoco” boat, apologised to journalists, saying that “our people had not gone there to have their legs broken”.
Second tour of Mexico
Athletic Club repeated its tour around the Aztec lands at the end of May 1976. Before that, in 1949, the red-and-white team had faced the Mexican national team in San Mamés, winning 6-3, with goals from Zarra (3), Iriondo, Venancio and Panizo. This second tour of Mexico began with a match against La Tricolor, who took full revenge for their defeat in Bilbao with a 3-0 win at the Azteca stadium.
– Athletic beat Club Veracruz 2-1 in the second match of the tour, with goals from Irureta and Carlos.
– The Tigres UANL de Monterrey won 1-0 in the last match played by the lions in Mexico to date, in June 1976.
Athletic Club has faced two other Mexican clubs since then. In September 1979, the red-and-white team drew 1-1 at San Mamés against the Tecos of Universidad Autónoma de Guadalajara. The home goal was an own goal. Athletic coach Helmut Senekowitsch had previously coached the Tecos, which led to this friendly encounter.
Finally, in the summer of 2015, Athletic beat Club Tijuana 2-0 in Boise (USA), with goals from Aduriz and Beñat. The Xolos are the last Mexican team the lions have faced in their history.
In total, Athletic has faced 8 Mexican clubs (Club América, Atlante, Club Tijuana, Club Veracruz, Necaxa, RC España, Tecos UAG and Tigres UANL) playing 9 matches, with a balance of 4 wins, 1 draw and 4 losses. Among the rivals, the absence of Chivas de Guadalajara stands out, a club with which Athletic has coincided and against which they almost faced on June 8, 1976. This is what José María Mujica, special correspondent for the Gaceta del Norte, said during the second red-and-white tour of Mexico: “It is very possible that Guadalajara will be visited by Athletic at the Jalisco stadium in this city. Both Guadalajara and Athletic are teams that have maintained a proud tradition: to only have players who have emerged from their respective regions.”
Photo: Mexican national team in San Mamés (1949). Athletic Club Museoa.