Every year during the third week of August, the city of Bilbao holds its traditional annual celebrations. Known as Aste Nagusia (Basque for ‘The Big Week’), the week of festivities includes concerts, theatre productions, cultural events and a whole lot of fun. Unfortunately, Bilbao’s Aste Nagusia (The Big Week) will not take place this year due to the current health crisis. However, we would like to to take advantage of the date on which Aste Nagusia was supposed to kick off in order to remember some of Athletic Club’s best ‘Big Week’ matches of this century.
Let’s go in chronological order, first up we’re heading back to August 26, 2001. The lions closed out the festive week with a resounding 1-3 away victory against Real Sociedad in the opening fixture of the LaLiga 2001-02 season. Striker Ismael Urzaiz scored a header from Julen Guerrero’s indirect free-kick to open the accounts. Dmitri Khokhlov got an equaliser for Real Sociedad, meaning it was all even at the break. After the restart, midfielder Tiko put Athletic 2-1 up with a stunning effort from the edge of the box. In the 81st minute, Urzaiz was in the right place at the right time and an easy finish guaranteed the victory that served as the perfect end note to the last day of Aste Nagusia 2001.
The next stop is August 27, 2005. Same rival but this time in San Mamés. Athletic Club won 3-0 against a Real side that held on until half-time. After the break, Fran Yeste opened the scoring with a right-footed shot —a bit of a rarity for the natural left-footer from Basauri. Target-man Fernando Llorente got the second and Luis Prieto added a third to ensure victory for the lions.
On a European night in 2019, Norwegian side Tromsø IL made life extremely complicated for Athletic Club in the home-leg of the Europa League group stage play-offs. The european fixture took place on August 20, 2019, and the lions -then coached by Joaquín Caparrós- won the match 3-2. Athletic Club twice had to come back from being a goal behind. The Norwegians went 1-0 ahead through Morten Moldskred before midfielder Javi Martínez equalised from the penalty spot. As the match was coming to a close, the visiting side surprised keeper Gorka Iraizoz again, going 2-1 up in the 78th minute. It was a critical situation, but Athletic were saved by goals from Oscar De Marcos (86′) and Fernando Llorente (90′) in the dying minutes. The lions went to Norway with a small advantage, and qualified for the group phase after drawing 1-1 in the second-leg.
On August 23, 2013, Athletic had one of its most peculiar Aste Nagusia victories. With the new San Mamés still being prepared for its first game (September 15 against Celta Vigo), Athletic defeated 2-0 Osasuna… in Anoeta. The goals came courtesy of De Marcos and an own-goal by Alejandro Arribas. It was a second victory in as many game for the lions, putting them top of the LaLiga table. The fans who headed to San Sebastian to watch the game returned to Bilbao celebrating the win.
We’ve arrived to the night of August 19, 2014 and the away-leg of the UEFA Champions League play-off against Napoli. Athletic lined up against one of Europe’s best and gained a useful 1-1 draw. Centre-back Aymeric Laporte fired the first warning shot after almost getting on the end of a Beñat Etxebarria corner. But it was playmaker Iker Muniain who got the all-important away goal three minutes before the break, with striker Gonzalo Higuain getting a 68th minute equaliser for the Italian side. Eight days later, Athletic qualifed for the group stage of the Champions League after beating Napoli 3-1 in San Mamés.
A last-minute goal is always enough to send any fan crazy. That’s exactly what happened on August 20, 2018, when Muniain scored an injury-time winner against CD Leganés (2-1) in the first game of the 2018-19 LaLiga season. Earlier in the match, youngster Peru Nolaskoain scored his first goal in the top division, before Leganés responded five minutes later. Just as the tie seemed destined to end in a draw, Athletic Club’s no.10, Muniain, got on the end of a Raúl García cross inside the box to make sure Athletic started the season with three points on the board.
And to finish, one of the greatest explosions of joy to have ever occurred in the run-up to Aste Nagusia. On the night of August 16, the Friday before the start of Aste Nagusia 2019, striker Aritz Aduriz came off the bench with five minutes to go and blessed us with his iconic bicycle kick. With what would be his last Athletic Club goal, the no.20 kicked off the festive week a few hours earlier by defeating the all-powerful FC Barcelona 1-0.