Home News In the Basque Country, cheers for Spanish football team are muted

In the Basque Country, cheers for Spanish football team are muted


Miguel Martinez didn’t know how to react. Standing outside a bar in Bilbao on Monday night, he listened to colleagues’ conversation and stared at the TV screen inside the bar. He said he had been eagerly following Spain’s progress in the European Football Championship and that business travel would not get in the way.

He watched Spain’s first two games in his hometown of Seville with his 13-year-old son. He said the city had fallen into a serious mega-game fever, which sweeps across Europe every two years. Balconies were adorned with Spanish flags. Streets were littered with Spanish jerseys. Spain’s wins sparked wild celebrations.

Still, as far as Mr. Martinez could tell, Bilbao was somewhat immune. Balconies were covered with flags, but they represented Palestine or Pride or, most often, the Basque Country itself, in the form of the region’s traditional Ikurriña. The Spanish flag flew on only a few official buildings.

Mr Martinez is well aware of why. The Basque Country, a mountainous region in northern Spain bordered by the Bay of Biscay and the Pyrenees, has long considered itself distinct from the rest of Spain. It has its own language, culture and identity. The Basque people’s struggle for autonomy and even independence has been Bloody and long roots.

As such, he wanted to respect the hosts and not cause offence. When Spain scored early in their third group match against Albania, he and his teammates gave a brief, muted cheer – barely an exhale, not the kind of jubilation they might have shown in Seville.

“Maybe it’s better to be cautious,” he said. “I don’t know what people here think of the national team.”

Over the years, his anxiety has been justified. Although the Spanish team’s first home game was played at San Mamés, the home of Athletic Club de Bilbao, Bilbao’s most fervently supported local team, 1921the men’s national team has not visited the city since 1967, seemingly acknowledging that it was not a safe place during the years when the Basque separatist group ETA was active.

In 2014, when it was announced that Bilbao would host a number of Euro 2020 matches – three of which were earmarked as Spain’s “home” games – a leading Basque politician said the idea would inevitably lead to “Tanks on the street

Ultimately, due to the coronavirus pandemic, when the postponed tournament was finally held, Bilbao was dropped from hosting and was replaced by Sevilla.

It is suspected that the change of venue to a more suitable area will be a relief for the authorities: Athletic Bilbao fans habitually laugh at Spanish National AnthemAfter all. Basque nationalist party leader Andoni Altuzar said during the tournament that he hoped EnglandInstead of Spain winning.

On the surface, things haven’t changed much this year. This month, Ortuzar’s colleague Aitor Esteban admitted He won’t support Spain during Euro 2024. “My team is the Basques, not the Spanish,” he said. “If I were a fan, I would support someone else.”

The absence of Spanish flags and jerseys on the streets of Bilbao seems to indicate that many people share the same view. “For most of the Basque media, the situation with the Spanish national team is news, but they don’t follow it with particular enthusiasm,” said Joseba Agirreazkuenaga, a professor of Basque regional history.

(A look at the newsstands the day after Spain’s victory over Albania made this clear: Spain’s national newspaper gave the victory front and center. Most Basque newspapers gave it only a passing mention.)

Yet for Inaki Alvarez, who plays soccer with his nephews in the Plaza Nueva in the heart of Bilbao’s cobbled old town, things are different. “It was much more complicated 20 years ago,” he said. “Some supported them, some didn’t. And some didn’t care. But before you wouldn’t see anyone wearing a Spain shirt in Bilbao. Now, not so much, but if you do, it doesn’t matter. It’s much calmer now than before.”

This was evidenced, for example, by the fact that Mr. Martinez easily found a bar showing a Spanish game.

In 2008, there’s a (probably apocryphal) story that only one bar in Bilbao had a big screen showing the Spain-Germany match in that year’s European Championship final: Ein Prosit, a German-themed café a few steps from the Plaza Mayora. The story goes that the bar was allowed to show the match because everyone tacitly wanted Germany to win.

Now Mr Martinez and his colleagues can choose between six locations along the Licenciado de Pozo, a street that runs from the city centre to San Mamés, and many others in the old town.

Dani Álvarez, who is no relation to Inaki and is the head of news at Basque public broadcaster Radio Basque, said much of the change was a testament to a series of slow but dramatic changes in Basque culture.

“The legacy of the horrors we went through has made the Basque Country very welcoming, very tolerant,” he said. “At the same time, the generation that grew up in the digital age, without the active presence of ETA, does not understand why their parents or grandparents wanted Spain to fail. It is natural for them to now live with a dual identity: they can easily consider themselves both Basque and Spanish.”

But he admitted that it could also be because the current Spanish squad has a distinctly Basque feel. The region’s two biggest clubs, Athletic Bilbao and Real Sociedad, are both based in San Sebastian and have always provided a large number of players to the national team, but this year’s crop is particularly rich.

8 out of 26 Player The players who represent Spain are either from the Basque Country, the administrative concept of the Basque Country, or from the Basque Country, the spiritual homeland of the Basque Country. (The ninth player, Robin Lenormand, was born in France but plays for Real Sociedad.)

Coach Luis de la Fuente comes from the neighbouring province of La Rioja, but he is a Basque in football terms: he spent 11 years of his professional career at Athletic Bilbao, a team that still has Basque players only. Alvarez said the link gave fans more hope that at least some of the Spanish team’s players would perform well this summer.

“Players like Unai Simon and Nico Williams are not just part of the team, they are leaders,” he said of Athletic Bilbao’s two stars. “They represent Basque football. Their success has helped Athletic Bilbao gain international fame. So why would you go against a team with players you like?”

But exactly how strong the sentiment is is unclear. Martinez and his colleagues were not faulted for their artful celebration of Spain’s goal, but no one was cheering the result either. “Of course, some people wanted Spain to win,” Alvarez said. “But maybe it’s something more personal.”

Minutes after Spain’s match with Albania ended, with the Spanish team having qualified for Sunday’s round of 16, a roar of applause broke out in the old town: the kind of unbridled joy that often means someone, somewhere, has developed major-event fever.

The outbreak soon broke out in a bar, where a screen was showing another match of the evening, Italy vs. Croatia. Italy equalized at the last minute to secure their place in the next round. The Italians who gathered around the screen to watch the match did not hesitate to express their joy to everyone.

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