Groundhopper Guide to Athletic Bilbao

Paul Gerald · Profile
Groundhopper Guide to Athletic Bilbao

(Above photo by imagestockdesign via shutterstock)

Athletic Bilbao are best known for three things: A large and passionate fan base; only signing players with Basque heritage; and being in the amazing city of Bilbao in Spain’s Basque region.

So let’s get to know Athletic Club, one of the most successful clubs in Spain and one where Groundhopper Guides sells tickets.

Location: Bilbao, Spain

Contacts: athletic-club.eus, +34 94 406 18 98, #AthleticClub

Nicknames: Los Leones (The Lions). This name is derived from the church near their stadium called San Mamés, which was named after Saint Mammes, an early Christian thrown to the lions by the Romans.

Celebrating a Copa del Rey win in 2019. (Photo by Cesar Ortiz Gonzalez via shutterstock)

Athletic Bilbao History

Football was introduced to the city of Bilbao by Basque students returning from their studies in England, as well as English workers moving to the city to work in various industries. These two groups came together in 1898 and founded “Athletic Club,” originally using the English spelling. In 1902 Athletic merged with Bilbao FC and began to compete in the Copa de la Coronación, which was the precursor to the Copa del Rey. They won the competition in 1903, securing the club their first major trophy.

In 1912, after signing mainly English players to that point, they introduced an unwritten policy that they will only develop and sign players born in the Basque region or who learned football at a Basque club. They have stuck with this policy ever since, though it has at times been the subject of debate, like how far back in one’s ancestry can you go to find a Basque relative, or does moving from another country to a Basque youth academy constitute a connection to Basque culture.

They are fourth on the list of Spanish league titles and second on the list of Copas, behind only Barcelona. But virtually all those wins came before the 1960s, in the glory years which, combined with their Basque-centric policies, built a large and devout fanbase that is truly a thing to behold.

They won eight Copa del Reys from 1904 to 1923. In 1928, Athletic Club became one of the founding members of La Liga, making them one of the five Basque clubs in the first division. They are also, along with Barcelona and Real Madrid, the only club to never be relegated out of Spain’s top tier.

Athletic Club continued their success in the Copa del Rey in the 1930s, winning seven between 1930 and 1945. They also won their first League title in 1930 and claimed three more titles in the next six years.

In 1941 the club officially changed its name to Atlético Bilbao following a decree by Francisco Franco. The very same year, Bilbao legend Telmo Zarra made his debut. He would go on to 294 goals for Athletic. In 1943, Athletic won the league title and the Copa del Rey. They held the Copa del Rey for the next two years, securing them three cups in a row. They would go on to win another double in 1956 and two more Copa wins in 1955 and 1958.

Since then, they reverted (in the post-Franco 70s) to the current name, but they have only gathered one cup each in the 1960s and 70s. They did reach the UEFA Cup final in 1977, losing to Juventus.

During the 1980s Athletic gained a bit of their success back after winning the league in 1983 and a double in 1984. The next two seasons they finished 3rd and 4th. Since the 90s, they have lost a few finals and survived a few relegation scares, and in 2015, they defeated Barcelona over two legs to secure the Supercopa de España, their first trophy in 29 years. Athletic had an incredible Copa del Rey run in 2024, ending in a successful penalty shootout over Mallorca to win their first Copa del Rey in 40 years.

2023-24 SEASON: 5th in La Liga, Copa del Rey Champions 

2024–25 SEASON: La Liga (since the beginning), UEFA Europa League

Pregame atmosphere at the San Mames (photo by Mikolaj Barbanell via shutterstock)

Athletic Bilbao Stadium

Athletic Bilbao’s current stadium, San Mamés Stadium, was built in 2013 and has a capacity of over 53,000. The new San Mamés replaced the old stadium which was originally built in 1913, and it sits essentially on the same site. On its opening in 2013, many fans voiced their displeasure at the roof not covering the entire seating area, and in 2017 an extension was added to the roof to protect from Bilbao’s frequent rainy weather.

It sits on a hill overlooking the Nervión River and has dynamic exterior lighting similar to Bayern Munich’s stadium.

The north stand is the home of the ultras, and its lower tier has safe standing rail seats.

Athletic Bilbao Rivalries

Athletic Bilbao shares a fierce rivalry with Real Sociedad, which is known as the Basque Derby. This rivalry has very strong regional ties as both teams come from the Basque capitals of San Sebastian and Bilbao. 

This rivalry is also so well known because these two clubs are the largest in the Basque regions and have spent the most time in La Liga. There was also a time in the 1980s where 4 were where won in a row between the two clubs, with both also only using local players.

While this is a fierce rivalry, the fans of these two clubs often get along quite well on game days. On derby days, the fans will have a parade with both supporters present, along with singing and poetry competitions.

Athletic Bilbao Women’s Team

Athletic Club Femenino is the club’s women’s team. They were founded in 2002 and soon after joined the Superliga Femenina. They took the league by storm, winning the league in their first 3 years. Currently, Athletic Club Femenino has won 5 league titles and has competed in the UEFA Women’s Champions League 5 times.

Athletic Bilbao Songs

Their anthem is pretty impressive, especially here against Barcelona!

Athletic Bilbao Tickets

Tickets can be purchased directly from the club. Visit Athletic Bilbao’s ticket page to learn more.

Groundhopper Guides is also a registered ticket agent for games at Athletic Bilbao. Check out our Athletic Bilbao tickets, or just fill out the form below, and we will be in touch. 


Written By Paul Gerald
Paul Gerald, Owner and Founder of Groundhopper Soccer Guides · Profile
Paul started Groundhopper Soccer Guides as EnglishSoccerGuide.com in 2014. He has been to more than 250 games around the UK and Europe, and he currently lives in Madrid.

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