Brief Literary Review of ‘Nationalism at Play: The Basques of Vizcaya and Athletic Club de Bilbao’ by Jeremy MacClancy

By Leon Emirali

When researching the cruxes of how Basque culture has come to present such a fierce show of nationalism I came across a largely insightful piece by Jeremy McClancy found in Sport, Identity and Ethnicity (please find full reference at end of article).

McClancy gives insight in this particular chapter, about how Athletic Bilbao has managed to strike such a chord with the Basque people. He comments that ‘They wish to create a culture broad and supple enough to include both bereted farmers and urban skinheads’ (McClancy – 1988) when analysing ETA’s political ideology over the years. He ellaborates further and comments that ‘a culture is not a static entity but a continuing construction of it’s members’ (McClancy – 1988). A personal interpretation on this comment is to suggest that the issue of Basque identity is something that has encaptulated the masses and held their attention over a sustained period of time. Whereas the neo-liberalist hegemony that has swept the Western political system and arguably led to a lessened sense of national identity, due to relaxed laws regarding movement of labor and person.

However, Basque country has kept a national identity through their evolving culture which has manifested itself through several outlets such as art, ideology and of course sport; leading to a hightended desire for the differences in their culture to be recognised by ‘outsiders’ most notably mainland Spain as well as presevering a rich culture and society as well as developing it.

The history of the club, as with many European teams stems from a British introduction, with workers from the UK working in the coal-mining and sailing industries would often play football with their Basque counterparts, with the first recognised fixture for Athletic Bilbao coming against a British XI, which was won comprehensively by the visiting Brits, 6-0. However, with only 7 years separating their first fixture Athletic Bilbao later gained much recognition after winning the first ever Championship of Spain in 1901 in Madrid. (McClancy – 1996).

However, desptite the successes of the team both past and present; the focus of our studies is on the support gained not for the sporting aspects of the club but indeed the deeper running ties that bind the club and fans. The club isn’t a limited company like all other clubs in Spain, aside from Barcelona and Real Madrid but is instead jointly owned by it’s members (socios) which in 1988 made up roughly 32,000.

Instead of having one wealthy individual ploghing money into the club, funds can only be raised through raising membership costs. Perhaps at a normal club this would grieve fans who part with hard-earned money to support a club, but McClancy argues that fans of Bilbao prefer it this way giving them a greater sense of ownership and thus identity.

This chapter has given us a greater insight into the in’s and out’s of the club as well as providing insight and comparison with other clubs from around the world which we are looking to explore in the coming weeks.


McClancy, J. (1996). Sport, Identity and Ethnicity. London. Berg


Bilbao Defeat of Man Utd

By Leon Emirali

After a battle over two legs, Athletic Bilbao overcame one of Europe’s most famous and successful football clubs in Manchester United. As a result of these games Athletic received significant media coverage from all forms of media in the UK both print and broadcast.

The observation made by the group was the majority of coverage had been successful, praising Bilbao’s ‘Cantera’ policy of only fielding Basque heritage players. Prominent pundits such as Stan Collymore, Nicky Butt and Tom Vickerson all lauded the policy as the club are not relying on financial power and instead ‘farming’ their own players all of one collective, creating a greater sense of identity and direction within the club. Even the notoriously hard-to-please United manager Sir Alex Ferguson commented that “There is a great sense of unity at the club”.

But while the footballing world gashes over how wonderful such a policy is, one must be left to wonder what the consequences are of a highly tribal, charged and seperatist way of running a football club. During collective discussion we coming to the conclusion that on a socio-economic level such a policy can have highly damaging consequences.

In an increasingly globalised world we are given a constant reminder of how the gap between world cultures is closing and creating a unified global perspective, perhaps a reason behind their being no major escalative global conflict since 1945. However, whilst the Basque country strive for independence and recognition, and using the club as a vehicle for such a message; violent consequences have often ensued.

When considering the benefits of identity in football, and indeed the reasons why identity exists we can point toward the violent power struggles that are being undertaken by ETA. Killing almost 900 people over a blood-ridden half-century ETA have gained  a fearsome reputation in mainland Spain with attacks targeting public institutes and transport; culminating to their most deadly attack in years in October 2000 when a car bomb exploded in Madrid killing 75 people, including a supreme court judge.

Our task over the ensuing days leading to our presentation, will be to identify just how much support exists for the club’s policy and to find a link behind the correlation between the club’s identity and the more contentious issue of Basque independence.

With recent events of the collapse and near-death of Bolton player Fabrice Muamba has led to many pundits claim that ‘this shows there is much more to life than football’. Perhaps those lauded Athletic Bilbao had failed to take that speculation into account.


Photograph Available:

Epistemological, Ontological and Methodological Considerations (currently)

Research Question/Hypothesis/Approach

How far does Athletic Bilbao reflect the social/economic/political fields of habitus of Bilbao/ Basque Country and its people?

While none of this was directly considered before or during our primary micro-ethnographic study, our approach was similar to an inductive stance. We have and continue to conduct secondary research into the back ground of Basque culture and how it relates to football in their country in particular that of the City of Bilbao and Athletic Club Bilbao. The research consisted of finding documented events and instances which could be interpreted to shed light upon a culture we knew nothing about.

Given that our initial approach involved extensive interpretation of situations, events, anecdotes ect. Then this resembles an inductive stance where “the process of induction involves drawing generalizable inferences out of observations” (Bryman 2004:9) and “involves reasoning from a specific case to a general theoretical conclusion” (Priest 1996:9) this is also true of the micro-ethnographic study performed in Bilbao. From both our primary and secondary research (still ongoing) we hope to come to a theoretical consensus in relation to our hypothesis or in other words our final “theory is the outcome of research” (Bryman 2004:9) this would be the defining differences between our inductive approach and any possible deductive approaches which would attempt substantiate a theory with evidence.

To keep it simple:

“Figure 1.2 Deductive and inductive approaches to the relationship between theory and research” (Bryman 2004:10).

“Figure 1.2 Deductive and inductive approaches to the relationship between theory and research” (Bryman 2004:10).

While evidence certainly points our project in the direction of inductive logic after all the data collected so far is primarily qualitative which another indicator suggesting an inductive approach. However it is well known that these distinctions are not as simple as they have made to sound, as each stance contains modicum of the opposite approach “most of today’s social science research combines elements of induction and deduction” (Priest 1996:9).

What this leads us to is the possibility that while there has been a heavy inductive approach our study is utilising an iterative stance through a analytic induction or grounded theory strategy. This entails I constant “interplay between the collection and analysis of data” (Bryman 2004:399). It is currently unclear as to which strategy is being implemented as it shares its initial beginnings with that of analytic induction and constant parallel exploration of and comparison with that of grounded theory. Given the constant struggle to define the project as either inductive or deductive, grounded theory or analytic induction it becomes more and more apparent that our methodology will be mixed methodology attempting to utilise the best of both worlds.

This is supported due to the fact that our current Research Question/Hypothesis/Approach contains elements that may need to answer separately such as “how far does”. This suggests the necessity for quantitative analysis enabling a determination of distance or “provide[ing] the basis for more precise estimates of the degree of relationships between concepts” (Bryman 2004:66) something which qualitative research often neglects “for most qualitative researchers, developing measurements of concepts will not be a significant consideration” (Bryman 2004:271). However a qualitative approach is also needed given the area of social phenomena we wish to explore, something that qualitative methods are most suited for.

While this mixed methodology has potential, it also has the potential to become overly complex for the job at hand I hope that using an Interpretivism-Constructivist because stands by that “social reality – has a meaning for human beings and therefore human action is meaningful” (Bryman 2004:14) and the Constructivist stance where “social phenomena are not only produced through social interaction but that they are in constant state of revision” (Bryman 2004:17). Supporting the decision to the use of a mixed methodology and possible enable our project to keep a focus upon understanding of a culture with the quantification of how it representation as secondary given that “Nationality, or as one might prefer nation-ness, as well as nationalism are cultural artefacts of a particular kind” (During 2008:255)




Bertrand, I. and Hughes, P. (2005) Media Research Methods: Audiences, Insitutions, Texts. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillsn

Bryman, A. (2004) Social Research Methods. 2nd edn. Oxford: Oxford University Press

During, S. (ed.) (2007) The Cultural Studies Reader. 3rd edn. Oxon: Routledge

Huff, S. A. (2009) Designing Research for Publication. London: SAGE Publications

Priest, H. S. (1996) Doing Media Research: An Introduction. London: Sage Publications

It’s Far More Important Than That: Football Fandom and Cultural Capital

It’s Far More Important Than That: Football Fandom and Cultural Capital Brendan Richardson, UCC, Ireland Darach Turley, Dublin City University, Ireland

A clear focus on the following concepts: Neotribalism – Neotribalism or modern tribalism is the ideology that human beings have evolved to live in tribal society, as opposed to mass society, and thus will naturally form social networks constituting new “tribes.” (see also – The Time of the Tribes: The Decline of Individualism in Mass Society, a book by Michel Maffesoli) Subculture Cultural Capital Subcultural Capital – an idea touched on with the article, pretty self-explanatory… the non-financial and social assets of a culture that is (in some form) differentiated from the larger culture to which it operates within, or belongs. Habitus The following extract from the article outlines, in essence, the relationships and roles between fans, players, the game itself , in a sense of ‘neotribalism’. ‘Participation in ritualised singing and chanting has a number of additional effects. It bonds the fans together as a group, deepening the felt sense of group identity (Belk 1988, McCracken 1988:87).

It provides opportunities for narcissistic display (Maffesoli 1996) while satisfying the taste for communal festivity and immediate gratification at times when the match itself is not entertaining (Bourdieu 1984:34). It also deepens the felt sense of participation in the tribal hunt (Morris 2002:467-469). Morris conceptualises sports activity in terms of a pseudo-hunt which allows both participant and spectator to exercise the instinctive need to hunt, born of primeval man but still subconsciously present in the contemporary consumer.Football in particular provides all the necessary excitement of the hunt, with its drama, physical exertions, and the need to aim (the football) at the prey (the goalmouth). The supporters, with their rhythmical drumming, singing, and chanting, actively participate in encouraging the lead hunters (the players) and intimidating or attempting to intimidate the hunters (both team and supporters) from the rival tribe, who, in providing the opposition, play a central role in the drama.

The atmosphere at a football match is therefore most highly charged when the home fans’ main rivals are in town, because this chief group of ‘others’ allows the ‘home’ fans to experience a particularly intense celebration of their own identity (Aharpour 1999:11 & 228). The ‘away’ fans are thus an important catalyst in enabling the home fans to maintain the sacredness (Belk et al 1989) of their tribal identity with an intensity that is usually only experienced on a handful of occasions. The presence of major rivals is usually required, so there is a noticeable qualitative difference in the atmosphere when Liverpool play against Manchester United rather than against Fulham, for example, or when Cork City play against Shamrock Rovers rather than Derry. The die-hard fans see it as their duty to contribute to this atmosphere, in order to secure a successful outcome to the hunt.’ The following extract helps outline the strong sense of fandom within the Athletic Bilbao community, as their financial independence and non-consumer attitude is revered.

‘A clear pattern in studying so called hardcore fans is that their definition of ‘real’ fandom typically does not make reference to consumer goods. It is interesting therefore to consider the choices of goods and services that they do make. ‘Real’ fans are those who practice voluntary frugality in relation to consumption of goods and services. Fans will sometimes go to extraordinary lengths to follow their team, home or away, using the most frugal means of transport available.’ The article gives a clear framework and understanding of concepts like cultural capital, and habitus in relation to the world of association football. Some areas in the article also point strongly to why Athletic Bilbao have such a strong sense of community and passion as ‘real’ football fans. For example, is is arguable that the article provides factors for measurement of ‘hardcore’, ‘real’, or ‘true’ fandom within the football clubs community.

Those factors are:

Stress/weight of cultural capital – VS – stress/weight of consumer capital

Sense of clear identity and a strong habitus


Use of Space

Richard Serra

Born in 1939, Richard Serra’s sculptures have been seen around the world often taking up whole gallery space for his large-scale productions.In 1966, Serra made his first sculptures out of nontraditional materials such as fiberglass and rubber. Serra’s earliest work was abstract and process-based made from molten lead hurled in large splashes against the wall of a studio or exhibition space. Still, he is better known for his minimalist constructions from large rolls and sheets of metal. Many of these pieces are self-supporting and emphasise the weight and nature of the materials. Serra’s site-specific works often challenge viewers’ perception of their bodies in relation to interior spaces and landscapes, and his work often encourages movement in and around his sculptures.

Circuit Bilbao 1972 (picture from google images)

Four large sheets of hot rolled steel have been tailor–made to fit in to four corners of the gallery space. At the center of the artwork is an opening. The structure’s scale and physical presence dominates and divides the space. There is nothing else, just the four large metal plates.

Serra has said that he is interested in making sculpture that has no obvious function. It is the context of the work that interests him. Its scale and its structure make us alert to the architectural space in which it stands. Each defines the other.

The Consequence of Consequence 2011 (picture from google images)

Two eight and a half ton steel blocks stand opposite each other. Both have sides of identical length. But Serra has placed the two blocks in different orientation. Because of this they play tricks on us. We imagine their proportions are different. They look as though they might even have differing weights and volumes. There is a seemingly endless series of ways in which we can view and try to understand these works. It is as we consider these things that we become active participants in the sculptural project. And we react physically to the work: it is as though there is a force–field between the blocks.

Serra has created a work that is hard to define. It has nothing to do with the human figure, and it does not represent anything we can easily recognise. It forces us to look beyond imagery that we can readily understand and identify with.

Àngels Ribé

Born in 1943 in Barcelona, Ribe was considered one of the most important Catalan conceptual artists of the 70s. Ribe’s work, contextualised in the conceptual art of the late 60s and 70s, utilised nontraditional material, which she gradually discarded to concentrate on the ephemeral–light and shadow–and the location of the body in space.

6 possibilities of occupying a given space 1973 (picture from google images)

Use of space is in much of Ribé’s work. Whether in photography, installation, film or performance, the relation with space is essentially established through the artist’s own body.

Bilbao’s Use of Space

Looking at how Bilbao use’s its city space is interesting. In our short stay in the city, I do not recall ever seeing a park, ie grass and fields with swings etc for children. But there were parks with swings for children……just small and concrete surrounding.


Pictures by Jason Kurmoo

Buildings also used every inch of available space, never any gaps between buildings, whether an old building was connected to a new building or not. And when a building had apparently reached the end of its life, it appears to just get ripped out leaving a gaping space ready for the next building to be built.

Pictures by Jason Kurmoo

Considering how the city use’s space on top ground, you suddenly realise there are no outdoor car parks and again Bilbao uses this space by putting the car parks underground and some supermarkets too! I also noted that car and bike showrooms were all indoor with no display vehicles outside, utilising all possible space within the city.

Pictures by Jason Kurmoo



Aahhh Bilbao….. Part 3

Monday 6 February

We tried one of the Derive tasks – Random directions. We all wrote some directions on a piece of paper and followed it to see where it took us. Below are the directions and some pictures I took on the way.

1. Turn Left

2. Go straight for 5 mins

3. Turn right

4. Go straight for 10 mins

5. Turn left

6. Go straight for 2 mins

7. Straight till underpass

8. Turn right

9. Go uphill for 20 metres

10. Turn right at T-Junction

11. Straight for 30 metres

12. Stop at service station

13. Straight for 2 mins

14. Right for 1 min

15. Straight until we see a dog

16. Right until we see Athletic flag, scarf, badge, colours

17. Straight for 5 mins

18. Turn left and go Straight

19. Go straight for 5 mins

20. Turn right and go to the last left

21. Go straight and pass 4 left turns

22. Turn right

23. Go straight for 5 mins

24. Take 3rd right

25. Take 2nd right

26. Straight for 4 mins

27. Turn left

28. Straight for 3mins

29. Turn right

30. Destination

All pictures taken by Jason Kurmoo


Aahhh Bilbao….. Part 2

Saturday 4 February

Match day between Athletic Club Bilbao and Espanyol. We decide to walk from our hotel to the stadium aided by a map and in the hope we can see different parts of the city.

One point to mention is everyone (that is a football fan in some way) appears to be an Athletic Bilbao fan and not just for match day, as we see many shops and flats displaying the club flag:


All pictures taken by Jason Kurmoo

Not once did I see any other football teams colours being displayed including the all-conquering Barcelona or Real Madrid or local rivalry team, Real Sociadad. The club appears to have the cities people backing the club completely which must have deeper meanings that we must find out through more research.

Attempting to walk to the Athletic Bilbao stadium was very simple although we got lost 2 or 3 times again and again the locals were friendly and approached us to offer assistance! Walking to the stadium in Coventry would not be quite so easy as there are too many main roads on the route, but in Bilbao a city that is easy to walk with the stadium at the end of the city’s centre was very pleasant and after the match it was like a carnival walking back to the hotel as everyone took the same route back stopping at various bars to drink and socialise.

Sunday 5 February

We visit the Guggenheim, which looks spectacular from the outside:

All pictures taken by Jason Kurmoo

From the inside, the Guggenheim is like Dr. Who’s Tardis, it is huge with so many galleries to view sculptures and art. I focused on the artists who used ideas on space – Richard Serra and Constantin Brancusi.