The first ever edition of Euskal Non-League Day was a resounding success. Held on September 9 and 10, with 18 different clubs getting involved, there was a buzz about Basque football this weekend as fans came out to support their local non-professional sides.
The Athletic partner clubs which took part were: Arenas, Aurrera, Basconia, Deusto, Leioa & Leioako Emakumeak, Cultural, Erandioko Betiko Neskak, Lakua, Mulier, Amurrio, Antiguoko, Aviron Bayonnais, Erandio, Gordexola, Indautxu, Santurtzi, Somorrostro & Zalla.
As vice-president Nerea Ortiz stated in an EITB (Basque Radio Television) report dedicated to the event: "If Lezama is the heart of Athletic's youth academy, our partner clubs are the arteries leading to that heart."
Thousands of fans came to the Euskal Non-League Day party, attending the scheduled matches and entering raffles for signed Athletic jerseys and San Mames VIP tickets.
Athletic Club would like to publicly thank the participating clubs and their respective supporters for the interest and enthusiasm with which they approached the event. There was a fantastic atmsophere at all of the 19 Non-League Day fixtures (SD Leioa put on two matches, with both their men's and women's senior sides playing).
At some of the grounds, the celebration of grassroots football went beyond the pitch and the stands, with a family and community vibe forming around the clashes - very much in keeping with the spirit of the initiative.
For example, this was the case at Amurrio vs Orduña in Basarte, where the home side linked their Euskal Non-League Day promotions with an invitation to support AEFAT, the charity to which part of the raffle proceeds were donated.
There was live music, a pop-up bar selling drinks and sandwiches, and the appearance of Athletic legend Gaizka Toquero. The fomer Lion was at Basarte to hand out the raffle prizes.
James Doe in attendance and Iribar's ceremonial kick-off
There were raffles at all 19 Euskal Non-League matches, with the prizes given out at half-time. In total, the various clubs gave away 38 Athletic first-team jerseys and 19 double VIP tickets for Athletic vs Cadiz this coming Saturday. Together with representatives of the local sides, figures from Athletic Club presented the prizes to the winners.
In addition to club president Jon Uriarte and members of the board of directors, the Athletic representatives included: Julen Agirrezabala, Iñigo Lizarralde, Eneko Bóveda, Pablo Otaolea, Gontzal Suances, Lorena Sánchez, Martin Urrejola, Kike Liñero, Jesus Gojenuri, Juan Luis Fuentes... and the aforementioned Gaizka Toquero.
Jose Angel Iribar's appearance at Basconia's match deserves a special mention. "El Txopo" had the honour of taking a ceremonial kick-off in Basauri, a town close to the legendary goalkeeper's heart.
James Doe, the founder of the Non-League Day movement, also attended that clash between Basconia and Derio as well as the previous day's Santurtzi vs Getxo and Arenas vs Barakaldo. The Englishman was impressed by the passion on show and thanked the Basque fans for their hospitality.
In short, a memorable weekend that served as a perfect tribute to Athletic's partner clubs and grassroots football in The Basque Country.
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