Since LaLiga’s inaugural season in 1929, the Basque derby between Athletic Bilbao and Real Sociedad has become one of the most important fixtures in its history. This is a fixture packed full of history and importance. Here’s why:
1. This fixture goes way, way back
LaLiga was founded in 1929, with 10 teams playing one another home and away over 18 rounds to determine the first champions. Barcelona won the title that year, but Athletic Bilbao and Real Sociedad both did well and finished third and fourth with 20 points each. They actually met in the very first round of that inaugural season, drawing 1-1, before Bilbao ran out 4-2 winners in the season’s second meeting.
2. This fixture has directly yielded championships
The start of the 1980s was dominated by Basque football. Real Sociedad won the league title in the 1980/81 and 1981/82 seasons, before Athletic Bilbao took the LaLiga crown in 1982/83 and 1983/84. Incredibly, both clubs actually won one of their titles through this derby. Sociedad defeated Bilbao 2-1 on the final day of the 1981/82 campaign to pip Barcelona to the title, before a 2-1 Bilbao victory over Sociedad two years later saw the title go to them and not to Real Madrid.
3. Some of LaLiga’s most iconic players have played in this fixture
Bilbao are renowned for fielding only players of Basque origin, and they have boasted some of the most famous players in LaLiga history, including Telmo Zarra (the league’s top all-time goalscorer until 2014), goalkeeper Andoni Zubizarreta and playmaker Julen Guerrero. All eyes are now on the current side’s stars: young winger Inaki Williams, the forever-young Iker Muniain and the international goalkeeper Unai Simon.
Sociedad used to have a similar policy of fielding only Basque players, but broke with tradition to bring in Liverpool striker John Aldridge in the late-1980s. While the likes of Darko Kovacevic and Nihat Kahveci have starred up front in the past, today’s side is spearheaded by Spanish players Mikel Oyarzabal, Portu and David Silva.
4. Real Sociedad have never knocked Athletic Bilbao out Copa del Rey
While both sides have experienced joy and suffering during their league meetings, the three Copa del Rey ties these teams have contested in have all ended in Bilbao’s favour. They won 5-1 on aggregate during the 1960/61 last-16 clash, 3-1 on aggregate in the 1971/72 quarter-finals and via a penalty shootout in the 1974/75 quarter-finals after a 4-4 draw on aggregate. They still have to play the 2020 final, postponed due to COVID-19 crisis.
5. This is a friendly rivalry
While the desire to come out on top is strong, this fixture is a friendly one and there is very little hostility in the stands. Unlike many other derbies, fans of both teams are often seen sitting together in the stands during the game. Of course, there may be some teasing towards the losing set of supporters, but the Basque solidarity is stronger than any hatred of a rival club.
Watch Athletic Bilbao vs Real Sociedad this Thursday at your local broadcasters.
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