Differences In the Regions of Spain Through Football: Basque Country

Pablo Blazquez Dominguez

Editor's Note: This is Part IV of a five part series about the differences in three of the major Spanish regions, Catalonia, Castile and the Basque Country, and how football united the historically different cultures.

The Basque Country is a region located in the North of Spain with a long history. The people there speak in the old language of Euskera, the native Basque language, spoken in the Basque Country as well as in parts of Navarra, territory that is unofficial Basque land. Although the capital city of Bilbao was not an important industrial city until halfway through the 19th century, the United Kingdom was a major trading partner during the 16th and 17th centuries, importing wool from Spain.

While many regions use the common form of Castilian Spanish, the Basque Country uses both Euskera and Castilian as does Catalonia with Catalan and Castilian. Subtle differences such as these show how these two regions compare to Madrid, and in 1894, the Basques wished to eradicate all links to the English roots common to all Spanish football, setting itself apart from other regional football clubs.

That same year of 1894 was when the Basque Nationalist Party, PNV, was created under the guidance of Sabino Arana. The goal of this party was to gain autonomy from Spain, no matter the consequences. Many years later, on the day July 31, 1959, Basques began to push harder for independence when the nationalistic group named ETA was formed, planning to accomplish the goal that had plagued the regional government for decades. Although it did not gain total autonomy, the Basque Country received independence in 1979, allowing it to structure its government and laws as it wished.

Four years after the PNV was founded, Athletic Bilbao was formed in 1898. In 1910, the club began to accept only pure blood Basques, but as time wore on the strictness was relaxed, and eventually anybody who was born in the Basque Country could join. The modern day Athletic Bilbao is much more lenient and now accepts any player that progressed through the youth academy. Unfortunately, some view the transfer policy used by the club as xenophobic because of their acceptance of only Athletic produced players. But with the new policies, players of any nationality can join the team as long as they are produced by the academy.

Athletic Bilbao stands as the only team in La Liga, the Spanish football league, to exclusively use players produced from the youth academy or Basque players that are bought from another club. The team is not considered one of the best teams in the world anymore due to the limits of their transfer policy, but the team itself stands for more than just results. San Mames, the home stadium of Athletic Bilbao, represents a safe haven from the political struggle that is still ongoing, as the region has not received full independence. Fans of the club feel that Athletic Bilbao is more than just a team; it is a symbol of traditions and the history of the Basque people, giving more importance to sustaining that symbol than success on the pitch.

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