Proud Athletic Bilbao are on a journey to find ways to win beyond ball games

first_img“They push me against the wall, hands on my head. They frisk me, recriminating me in a language I don’t understand. Something’s happening, but I don’t know what. Before I know it, it’s happening. I respond to their threats by shouting: ‘Please, help, please!’” So begins Togo, a book in which fear is a recurring theme. Written by Óscar de Marcos, it tells the story of the journeys that shaped him, the chapters alternating between his arrival in Africa and at Athletic Club Bilbao.In the book De Marcos says his parents wanted him to be happy, seeing football as a means of education. But players, he writes, become vain and fall fast, pressure bringing a realisation that you are alone. He explains how Togo “tore away that bubble, that nonsense, that fame, in one go”. The opening scene is just a moment but also a metaphor. “When I read the [first draft of the] book back, I thought ‘it’s too much’,” he admits. “I wasn’t planning to open up like that.” Pace, precision, power, joy: Real Sociedad are storming in La Liga Sportblog features Facebook Here talk of values does not sound empty. They call San Mamés the Cathedral; go and you may understand why. No, they are not the only club who have a foundation or who run social projects or champion literacy crusades. But events such as this reinforce that personality, reflected in the way they choose to express their identity.In part that is because trophies cannot – a growing predicament in the super-club era. There must be something other than success, some other measurement of it. “They think about more than winning games,” says the American coach Bob Bradley, who introduced American Pharaoh at the festival. There must be something, full stop. So there is: themselves. Yet it goes beyond that, to something more universal, to ideals celebrated in others too. Athletic set up the One Club Man/Woman award, designed to celebrate loyalty, which has been awarded to Billy McNeil and Malin Mostrom (2019), Carles Puyol (2018), Sepp Maier (2017) and Paolo Maldini (2016). T-shirts echo a line from the first winner, Matt Le Tissier: It’s a challenge to play for a big club, but it’s a bigger challenge to play against them and beat them.Most of the time, you will not beat them but there are other ways to win. There is something beyond the ball, expressed through culture and belonging. Sport is something to be shared, communicated: on film, in books, verbally. “The relationship between club and culture is unique,” said David Stewart, the director of 89. “It’s an important lesson for clubs around the world. If you were designing a football club, this would be a fantastic model.”As Óscar de Marcos says: “Athletic wouldn’t be Athletic without this.” In Togo he describes discovering who he is one day in Africa. In it he connects this moment’s realisation to the club where he had just begun and where he still plays a decade on, for whom he has now written a book. “It’s like Athletic,” he writes, “which without identity is nothing.” Nabil Fekir, Rubí and a picture that sums up sport Athletic have commissioned and published 10 books before – from authors including David Trueba and David Safier, who read his from the centre spot at San Mamés – but this is the first time players have written them. They have read them, though. De Marcos and Tirpau’s books have been published as part of Athletic’s annual Fútbol y Letras (football and letters) literature festival. Run by Reguera, author of a wonderful book about how father-son relationships are forged through football, the festival is now in its 10th year, championing the link between culture and sport. It has drawn authors such as Jorge Valdano, Philip Kerr and Eduardo Galeano.As part of that programme Athletic set up the Athletic Reading Club, where supporters recommend books from which a selection is made. In the first year the president, manager and captain volunteered to read and report back on chosen texts. Every year since, players have taken part, reading books, discussing them and making recommendations of their own. La Liga Share on Facebook Share on Messenger Pinterest Share on LinkedIn Share on Twitter Reuse this content Topics He was not planning to write a book at all. But, having first said no, De Marcos gave in. There is nothing unusual about a footballer writing a book but this is a little different. There is no contract and no money made. “They’re friends, they’ve been working with us 10 years; it’s hard to say no,” De Marcos says.“They” means José Mari Isasi, from Athletic’s communications department, and Galder Reguera, cultural director at the club’s foundation, which this week published two books: Togo by De Marcos and the Basque-language Bizitzu Eskukadaka by Ainhoa Tirpau, goalkeeper and captain of the women’s team. Thirteen thousand copies will be distributed to schools and local clubs as well as being available, for free, in the club store and bookshops. Read more Ernesto Valverde, the Barcelona manager, put forward Ronnie Reng’s A Life Too Short, about the suicide in 2009 of the Hannover goalkeeper Robert Enke, and Edward Bunker’s memoirs, Education of a Felon. Xabi Etxeita, whose dad died when he was young, read Hector Facionlince’s Oblivion, about his father’s murder by Colombian paramilitaries. The former Liverpool defender Mikel San José read Andre Agassi’s Open, a book that is full of lessons about the dangers of élite sport, with parents of the club’s youth-teamers.Then there is the film festival, Thinking Football. Almost 100 films have been screened over seven years, often with a marked social or political dimension, although De Marcos describes projects like these, like his, as “human”.Perhaps the most “local” club there is also includes an international aspect. British films have been successful – the Dalglish film Kenny won last year, like Next Goal Wins and The Pass before – with recent screenings including 89, about Arsenal’s title win, Kaiser! and I Believe in Miracles, about Brian Clough at Nottingham Forest, with directors, actors and protagonists invited and players: Ossie Ardíles, Ledley King, Lee Dixon. It is a shame no one recorded John Robertson’s catalogue of jokes when he came.For the past six years Athletic have also worked with Real Sociedad, staging a bertso derbia before each derby – a kind of competitive, improvised traditional Basque street poetry between “teams” representing the clubs.Then, come kick-off, the identity remains. Seventeen of the 22 starters this season were Basque. The Basque Country makes up 1.4% of Spain’s territory, 4.9% of its population and 20% of its top-flight football teams: Alavés, Eibar, Real Sociedad and Athletic. Include Osasuna (the name is Basque) and Navarre (some consider it one of seven historic Basque provinces) and it has a quarter of first division teams. All five have Basque managers. Athletic famously have only Basque players – and have never been relegated. Share on WhatsApp Share via Email Facebook Twitter The films shown at the club’s film festival often have a social or political dimension. Photograph: No Credit Pinterest Twitter Read more Each derby with Real Sociedad is preceded by competitive, improvised traditional Basque street poetry between ‘teams’ representing the clubs. Photograph: No Credit Athletic ‘s annual literature festival is now in its 10th year. Photograph: No Credit Share on Pinterest European club football Athletic Bilbaolast_img

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *