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