Professional Soccer Prejudice

9–6–16, Adil

Spanish soccer club Athletic Bilbao are pretty successful. They have one of the strongest fan bases in the country, with average attendance just below Atletico Madrid and behind Barca and Real Madrid.

However, they have one really distinguishing policy: they only sign players from Basque Country, which has a population of under 2.2 million people.

Ain’t the biggest region

As you may know, that region has a strong independence movement, and in a form of rebellion against the Spanish state, the club believe that they represent their “country.” This is also one of the reasons the club is so fiercely supported, with one of the highest number of season ticket holders too.

[Side note: the policy was also used by Real Sociedad, their neighbors in San Sebastian, until 1989 when they began to go internationally and to other parts of Spain].

Bizarrely, the policy doesn’t apply at all to managers; until WWII, the club had more English managers than Spanish ones, let alone Basque ones. Recent years have seen coaches from different Spanish regions, Germany, and Argentina.

So, you say, “good for them, they prolly suck doe,” that is where it gets more interesting. Bilbao are actually pretty successful historically. Alongside Barca and Real Madrid, they are the only team to never be relegated from Spain’s top division. They have actually won the league 8 times and the league cup (Copa del Ray) 23 times (second most after Barca’s 28, ahead of Real Madrid’s 19). Last season, they finished 5th in La Liga (only after Barca, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, and Villareal).

Critics of the policy point out that it is, uh, racist. Keep in mind the club was formed in 1898 (though this policy wasn’t put in until 1912, not sure what happened in between). It wasn’t until 2011 that right back Jonas Ramalho became the first ever mixed-race player to play for the club (he has a Basque mother and Angolan father). Young winger Inaki Williams is a player recently starting to show signs of stardom, and in February 2015 (!) he became the first black player ever to score for the club. He will likely be the first ever non-white player to establish himself in the first team (he was born and brought up in Bilbao, but his parents are from Ghana and Liberia).

So if you ever dreamed of playing for Athletic Bilbao, you can kiss those dreams goodbye.

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