5 things you may not know about the Basque Derby

Since LaLiga’s inaugural season in 1929 the Basque derby between Athletic Club from Bilbao and Real Sociedad of San Sebastián has become one of the most important fixtures in LaLiga history. This is a fixture packed full of history and importance.

Athletic Bilbao and Real Sociedad (La Liga)

Here’s why.

LaLiga was founded in 1929, with 10 teams playing each other home and away over 18 rounds to determine the first champion. Barcelona won the title that year, but Athletic Club and Real Sociedad both did well and finished third and fourth with 20 points each. They actually met in the very first round of that inaugural season, drawing 1-1 before Athletic Club ran out 4-2 winners in the season’s second meeting.

The start of the 1980s was dominated by Basque football. Real Sociedad won the league title in the 1980/81 and 1981/82 seasons, before Athletic Club took the LaLiga crown east to Bilbao in 1982/83 and 1983/84. Incredibly, both clubs actually won one of their titles through this derby. La Real defeated Athletic 2-1 on the final day of the 1981/82 campaign to pip Barcelona to the title, before a 2-1 Athletic victory two years later saw the title go to Bilbao and not to Real Madrid.

Athletic are renowned for only fielding players of Basque origin but they have still boasted some of the most famous players in LaLiga history, including Telmo Zarra (the league’s top all-time goalscorer until 2014), goalkeeper Andoni Zubizarreta and cultured playmaker Julen Guerrero. All eyes are now on the current side’s stars: young winger Iñaki Williams and evergreen prolific frontman Aritz Aduriz.

La Real used to have a similar policy of fielding only Basque players but broke with tradition to bring in Liverpool striker John Aldridge in the late-1980s. While the likes of Darko Kovacevic and Nihat Kahveci have starred up front in the past, today’s side is spearheaded by Brazilian Willian Jose.

While both sides have experienced joy and suffering during their league meetings, the three Copa del Rey ties these teams have contested have all ended in Athletic’s favour. The team from Bilbao won 5-1 on aggregate during the 1960/61 last 16, 3-1 on aggregate in the 1971/72 quarter-finals and via a penalty shootout in the 1974/75 quarter-finals after a 4-4 draw on aggregate.

While the desire to come out on top is strong, this fixture is a friendly one and there is very little hostility in the stands. Unlike many other derbies, fans of both teams are often seen sitting together in the stands during the game. Of course, there may be some teasing towards the losing set of supporters, but the Basque solidarity is stronger than any hatred of a rival club.

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