Basque Groundhopping 1: Bilbao Athletic Vs UD Logroñés

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Club Name: Bilbao Athletic

Level: Segunda División B

Stadium: Lezama Training Complex

Maximum Capacity: 1500

Ticket Price: 10€

How to arrive: Frequent trains run from Casco Viejo San Nicolas provided by Euskotren, with cost under 4€, cheaper with a barik card.

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I decided to begin the season by heading to Lezama to see Bilbao Athletic play their first game of the season against UD Logroñés from the city of Logroño. Mostly, I chose this game because Lezama is close to where I live and I knew there wouldn’t be too many issues in getting there as I had been before to see Athletic Club train. Moreover, as a resident of Bilbao and a converted fan of Athletic Club de Bilbao the idea of seeing Bilbao Athletic for the first game of my project stood out in my mind.

Bilbao Athletic are the reserve team of Athletic Club de Bilbao and play an important role in developing players for the first team.It is vital in maintaining the club’s Basque-players only policy. It goes without saying, that due to said policy if Bilbao Athletic can’t produce high quality players then the first team suffers. In recent years, many first-team players such as Aymeric Laporte, Iñaki Williams and Yeray Àlvarez have learnt their trade battling it out for the second string side in the lower leagues. In addition to this, only two years ago Bilbao Athletic were playing in the Segunda División -at that time they were the only affiliate of a La Liga club in the league- and their recently-appointed manager Gaizka Garitano was the man who masterminded SD Eibar’s meteoric rise to La Liga so suffice to say I was expecting to see some future starlets and some decent football from Bilbao Athletic at the very least.

With respect to UD Logroñes other than a quick glance at their webiste and wikipedia page I knew next to nothing about the club or their players. I all know is that Logroño, the city where they are based, has to be one of the largest cities in Spain without a club in La Liga. Therefore I supposed that the side would be strong or at least capable enough to provide Bilbao Athletic with a tough challenge.

Down to the logistics. I used my barik card (the Bizkaia version of an oyster card) to take a thirty minute train journey (Euskotren) from the Casco Viejo station directly to Lezama, the journey cost me no more than 3€ and was quite pleasant and scenic to boot. Once I arrived I found the training complex quite easy to get to, it was a simple five minute walk that consisted of going down a hill turning left at a roundabout continuing a bit further down the road before turning right and crossing the road.

The revamped complex is quite impressive. It’s tucked away in between the Basque hills and mountains it certainly made for a very picturesque match. In recent years, a lot of upgrades have been made to the place including the construction of a new car park and general vast improvements to the facilities. For example, Bilbao Athletic play in a small stadium which contains two stands on either side of its pitch, one of which has been fitted with the iconic arch from the old San Mamés. Upon walking into the complex, I found the ticket office and paid a reasonable 10€ for my ticket which granted me a seat in whichever place I desired that was not already taken. There was a spirited yet friendly atmosphere amongst the stands with plenty of Basque songs being played over the tannoy to keep the crowd in good spirits. Much to my surprise, UD Logroñes had brought a large travelling contingent so there was a moderately high attendance of 970 spectators in the 1500 capacity stadium.

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The game itself was a physical and testy affair with some moments of brilliance. The opening 20 minutes were quite tight as neither team were able to completely dominate the match. However, in the 25th minute, the game was turned on it’s head thanks to a remarkable goal from UD Logroñés. Their centre-back Zubiri sent a long, precise pass forward that managed to find the feet of the pacey and menacing left winger Ñoño, he passed the ball to left-back Paredes who slid it into the box into for number 9 Carles Salvador who then managed to skilfully turn away from his marker before pumping the ball into the top right of the net with a powerful finish. The next 15 minutes were quite uneventful and the game once again became scrappy until the 42nd minute thanks to a well-worked goal from Bilbao Athletic Centre-Forward Guruzeta, who collected a long-ball on the half-way line before passing to his teammate and left-back Andoni Lopez who was moving forward down his flank, the left back returned the favour as he played in the marauding Guruzeta who now at the edge of the box hit a wonderful first-time shot with his left pin into the bottom right, leaving the keeper with no chance. This ensured the game went into half-time as a draw.

During the break, Garitano stregthened his midfield by making a change in formation which meant that the largely ineffective forward Iñigo Vicente made way for attacking midfielder Tarsi. The substitution made little difference; the same mistakes that had effected the first half seeped back into the game as both teams made an array of errors that resulted in neither one finding their flow. However, in the 57th minute UD Logroñes broke the deadlock with some great play when Left-back Paredes sent in a perfect cross which was met by an even better left-footed low volley from number 10 Muneta who fired straight into the bottom right to leave the home side reeling. After this, the game opened up substantially as Athletic became more offensive desperate to not start their season with a loss at home, but a lack of precision and cutting edge meant they squandered the chances they had, including a well-placed free-kick opportunity in the 81st minute which was wasted when the taker opted for a fancy free-kick routine which involved chipping the ball over the wall to a teammate instead of taking a shot. Needless to say, Bilbao lost posession of the ball and Logroñes held on for the next ten minutes to take all 3 points and were applauded off the pitch by their fans.

All in all, I felt this was the perfect game to see myself into the project. The match, although understandably sloppy at times given it was the first game of the season, was of a respectable standard and it was fun to watch. Furthermore, the fans were great and the atmosphere was beyond what I had believed it would be. The season is long but it was a great start (although not for Bilbao Athletic) and the experience has left me with more ‘ganas’ for the rest the campaign.

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