By Sulaiman Iqbal

Taking into account the focus of this project, Nationalism/national identity and regional identity. How this operates as an ideological discourse in the cultures of football. Relating to how the identity of a nation reflects onto football.

During our field trip in Bilbao, we were very fortunate to interview to localists from Bilbao and find out from them why they believed in the culture, traditions, beliefs of the city as a basque nation and further why the city has created a passionate and most certainly unique identity for the city, in terms of national and regional identity. It will give you that sense of identity through football, three words that will appear quite often throughout this post.

Transcription of interview with two women from Bilbao. It very much shows the passion and unique identity which Bilbao stands for.


Camera personRobert Bailey – Coventry University

Interviewee A – Enam Gartziar (Bilbao)

Interviewee B – Vie Cazmen (Bilbao)

SULAIMAN IQBAL: Firstly, are you happy to do this video interview?

Enam Gartziar: The video is for you or for public?

SULAIMAN IQBAL: No, the video is not for the public, it is for our University project on Basque Bilbao?

Vie Cazmen: Is it better for you to do a video recording?


Vie Cazmen & Enam Gartziar: Ok no problem, that’s fine, we will do video recording for the interview. And Yes, we are happy for you to do it this way.

SULAIMAN IQBAL: Ok, first I want to ask you that during the period of Francisco Franco’s death between 1945-1982, the elected left wing government bought full democracy back to Spain. I want to find out from the Basque community, why they were happy to be part of that transition?

Enam Gartziar: The elected government was not left, it was centre. Not left or right but centre, the president was diplomatic and he didn’t do a bad job. In the Basque area, the political situation was different from the rest of Spain. We had a lot of political confrontment with the Spanish War government because for years Franco was against the beliefs of the Basque country, the language and the progress, he wanted all of Spain to be the same and for him to have the power.

SULAIMAN IQBAL: Why did he receive a lot of support from non-Basque people?

Enam Gartziar: Because they were fond of dictatorship and wanted this because he makes everything feel safe with security and the possibilities of the country were new to him so they depend on him. People were very dependent and not very robotic. Here in the Basque country, people are the opposite with rights, human rights, culture and language.

SULAIMAN IQBAL: Athletic Bilbao is a club which since the birth of the Basque nations in 1939, have chosen only Basque players from the youth, why are you so passionate about this and why do you support this?

Vie Cazmen: The philosophy of the team makes us feel very special and unique because there are no football players from other parts of Europe. The club is not in the market of business and it not the question of how much you can play for football players but feeling of Basque, feeling of a good players…… like it’s a dream for that player to play for the club. We believe that this philosophy of belonging is the reason and it’s not that you have to be born in Bilbao; you can be born in Africa e.t.c.

We have had players who have been born in other areas but if they have the passion and belief, and you want to play for Athletic Bilbao, nobody is going to say no. It’s not a question of whether you are from that region and the blood of it but it’s about philosophy. If you believe in this philosophy, the team place is very beautiful and everyone is collective and they connect.

Many people feel can feel offended that we are so proud but it’s like this with you, we are very public because our players may be offered millions and millions of pounds from other clubs and they say no and to have that belief and mentality is why we are so proud and it’s also good for the future and our children.

SULAIMAN IQBAL: The club has never been relegated and you are currently just below a qualification spot for the Champions League.

Enam Gartziar: Yes, there has only ever been three teams to have remained in the first league, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bilbao. Also never has it been signs of the team being violent. Basque people are meant to be well hearted and we have a proud saying which shows how proud we are of our style.

SULAIMAN IQBAL: Are you both from Bilbao?

Vie Cazmen & Enam Gartziar: Yes.

SULAIMAN IQBAL: Ok, Do you know many people who are not originally from Bilbao or born and bought up in the area, but yet they support the beliefs and passion of the Basque community?

Enam Gartziar: Yes so many people, our fathers are not originally from here, they are from Zaragoza and Lyon but have always supported the beliefs of Bilbao and the football club but also support their original backgrounds!.

SULAIMAN IQBAL: Why do you think they support the tradition having not been bought up or born in the region?

Enam Gartziar: Anyone who has come here have felt very hospital and welcomed, my father was very happy to come here and marry my mother, his wife and he has always been very grateful because he has lived a very good life, having very good friends, all things very easy for him because of the life here.

SULAIMAN IQBAL: I just want to ask, when a derby match takes place, both fans do a march in protest of a kidnapping of an industrialist by ETA, why do you do this?

Vie Cazmen: That only happened during the time when the industrialist was kidnapped, not anymore. With Real Sociedad, we are big rivals because of competition and we have a big war against each other but with ETA, we are against ETA together because we are both Basque and the teams get together when something is affecting Basque and Basque football. With Football we are enemies but in politics, we are together. Sometimes Bilbao has taken players from the Basque youth or team and school because they come from them to play for us and the Real team hate that Athletic steal their players. Such a big rivalry with football and sport but never violence. It’s like rivalry between brother and sister but big rivalry.

SULAIMAN IQBAL: Has there been any violence with a derby game or any Athletic Bilbao game?

Enam Gartziar: With Bilbao? No, not really, probably never, maybe you can say slightly with Real Madrid but no not really violence. But as a Basque city, we are strong and not afraid.

SULAIMAN IQBAL: What class are people in Bilbao?

Enam Gartziar: In Bilbao, everyone is middle class but the partnership to belong to the club is expensive, to go to a match is expensive, you have to pay a lot of money. They are now building a new stadium and to be a partner, you have to pay a lot of money and to be part of the club when the stadium is built; you have to pay every month to them, which is a lot of money.

SULAIMAN IQBAL: When will the stadium be built?

Enam Gartziar: The project is just beginning now, so it will take time but it’s important to pay to them if you want to have a chance to be part of the new stadium.

SULAIMAN IQBAL: How is it being funded?

Enam Gartziar: The government, past government and then also the province government. So the three governments as you have the Bilbao government, the province government and the Basque government. The Basque government slightly less support because they say it should not only be for football but other sports but people in Bilbao say, it should only be for football!

SULAIMAN IQBAL: Ok thank very much for the interview.

Vie Cazmen & Enam Gartziar: Thank You.

Reflection on the interview…………………..

From the very beginning up to the end of this interview, I was amazed by the passion and beliefs coming through the answers given by these two women. They felt very strongly about the political beliefs of the city of Bilbao, the culture and heritage it stands for across the world and the label it has given to the name of the city. This interview showed me and my group a big difference in what we took with us to Bilbao and the assumptions we had, compared to what we found out and realised when we were there.

The women reflected a whole city, the identity it stands for and the regional uniqueness. An identity to be one and not divided, to be a community and not individuals, to be a family and stand together. From the death of Franco and the political changes during that period, they showed whether it is politics or sport, the city of Bilbao will stand by what they believe in, the idea of human rights and cultural beliefs and a united front. Whether one city or the rest of the world don’t believe in what Bilbao stands for, they would never walk away from their traditions and will always honour what this city has built and what makes it different from others.

Without a doubt, Bilbao has rivals and rivalry is evident with its biggest opposition, Real Sociedad, who also compete in Spain’s La Liga along with Athletic Bilbao. A rivalry built over the years but as you would see from the interview, both teams will always remain big rivals but when it comes down to politics, they are together but with football, they are rivals. For me, one answer which stood out for me from this interview from Enam Gartziar – “with ETA, we are against ETA together because we are both Basque and the teams get together when something is affecting Basque and Basque football. With Football we are enemies but in politics, we are together. Sometimes Bilbao has taken players from the Basque youth or team and school because they come from them to play for us and the Real team hate that Athletic steal their players. Such a big rivalry with football and sport but never violence. It’s like rivalry between brother and sister but big rivalry”.

Something which very much sums up the national and regional identities of Bilbao and the basque nation, the culture and heritage it has created and the strong beliefs it shows through the unique identity it stands for. A basque nation who are big enemies through football but stand as one with political interferences with their nation.

A national identity and regional identity that without a doubt will continue to build and expand and stay stronger since the day the basque nation was born.

Football has always been part of Bilbao’s unique, yet fascinating identity. Football dates back to as early as the 1890s when sailors who imported coal to the UK and engineers who worked for local coal mineowners and shipbuilders would often play football on any flat surface, this being their first sight of the ‘beautiful game’. The football game grew and the first ever friendly to be played in the city was between British and basque teams on 3rd May 1984, the basques winning 6-0. With the popularity increasing, it was shaping a new era for the cities identity with players forming their own clubs. Athletic Bilbao was formed in 1901, something you may have read often in this blog.

The support from locals in the core of this identity as pointed out at the beginning of this post and from the transcription. Achievements,. success, medals are not the only factors that localists are passionate for, as they very much believe in what the name represents, a group of players of the Vizcayans, the province whose capital is Bilbao, the name being the team representing the basque nation. It’s incredible to see the level of support for the traditions of the club and noted from the transcription. Athletic Bilbao is not a limited company but jointly owned by its members. The club doesn’t believe in allowing the richer to take over but in return they increase subscriptions for members. Clearly, this is not a good model to raise and maintain a good financial position every year.

With the well known policy of the club to use basque players from its youth academy, it also means that the majority of the money the club has is focused on the academy. It is known as ‘la cantera’, ‘the quarry’, getting local talent and not big paid players. Athletic Bilbao has what is known as ‘the virtual academy of football’, youngsters who get the high level training and knowledge the team believe in and further, what the city is in support of, shaping the core of its traditions and beliefs.

It is evident that tradition and uniqueness continues to show when you look into the identity of the city and its relation with football and this is very much down to general members of the city taking advantage of their physical attributes for the passion it gives them and to bring the community together and united in belief. Whether it is in the stadium or outside a local pub, togetherness and the will to support can be seen through conversations, body language, expressions e.t.c. One famous reflection of Bilbao’s identity through football is Gabriel Ortiz, a famous fan from the 1950s and 1960s. He was and always will be famous for his incredible loud chant of ‘Athleeeetie!’, with thousands in the stadium responding with ‘Eup!’.

Identity through football, as it has been said more than once in this post, identity through football…….

You may never think it but journalists have had an amazing role in broadcasting, talking and writing everyday about this wonderful club, city and people. Some of the most famous commentators and journalists would relate to the unity and togetherness of the team and the press, mirroring the team and its unity with its people, a special thing that is still visible today. Every main newspaper in Bilbao each has one journalist who daily write about the clubs current news and stories. For matchdays, more is written and without any doubt, through each word, whether the team has been successful or not, you can feel the passion and support which mirrors the traditions every single person living in the city stands for and what adds to the special identity of the basque nation. Identity through football, identity through football……………

People feel that the club belongs to them and its part of them. Many senior fans have stated how the colours red and white bring such history to the team and the cities identity. As basque children, they evacuated overseas during the war and stayed together by wearing a red and white t-shirt and calling their team, ‘Athletic de Bilbao’. It’s a moment that many believe gives immense reflections of the community and its support.

I will end on a famous note which for me represents the true meaning of those three special words for Bilbao – IDENTITY THROUGH FOOTBALL. In 1984, the club came back to the city as league champions and it remains one of the most famous moments showing the relationship between the club and the community and something that brings that moment together is from the words of Castresana (1996:189) – “Bilbao yesterday was something more than a frenzy and something more than a fiesta. It was an experience. It was the communion of a people with its team and, at root, the communion of a people with itself….. Athletic is ourselves (El Correo Español, 7 May 1984).

Identity through football………

References:- MacClancy, J (1996) Sport, Identity and Ethnicity. Oxford: Published by Berg

Papastergiadis, N (1998) Dialogues In The Diasporas, Essays And Conversations On Cultural Identity, New York Washington Press

Capozza, D & Brown, R (2000) Social Identity Process, London: SAGE Publications Ltd

Armstrong G & Giulianotti (1999) Football Cultures and Identity, Basingstoke: MACMILLAN PRESS LTD

Harris, C & Alexander, A (1998) Theorizing Fandom, Fans, Subculture and Identity: Hampton Press Ltd

Giulianotti, R & Williams, J (1994) Game Without Frontiers, Football, Identity and Modernity. Ashgate Publishing Ltd

Hall, S & Du Gay, P (1996) Questions Of Cultural Identity. London: SAGE Publications Ltd

Heiberg, M (1989) The Making Of The Basque Nation. Cambridge: Press Syndicate

Anywhere you would look, something would give it identity and link to the club, whether it was the endless number of club flags, shops, the site of the new stadium, even bins, you can see the identity of the club, the special values the red and white colours stand for.


Pictures by Sulaiman Iqbal