Hear Me Roar: Athletic – Barça

Liga Preview: Athletic Bilbao – Barça, Saturday 4pmEST, GolTV (check local times here)

Lioness in Tanzania, summer 2009
Lioness in Tanzania, summer 2009

Don’t look now, but there are lions approaching. Hush, we don’t want to startle them. You see, they’re mainly nocturnal animals and we don’t need to distract them from their hunt just yet, before we’ve got the drop on them. No, I’m not kidding, they’re big, strong, have sharp teeth, and aren’t afraid of anyone or anything. Not even Captain Tarzan–I know it sounds crazy! But it’s true.

And don’t forget that we’re going into their lair. Back a wounded animal into a corner and it’ll come at you a hundred times more fiercely than otherwise. Those are some true words, buddy, I’m telling you. I’ve seen them devouring a wildebeast from 20 yards. No, really, I have. Crunching of bone, tearing of flesh, all that: real. I don’t like the idea of being put into a cage with one of those guys when they’re hungry. Come to think of it, I don’t like that idea even if they’re fully fed. Did you know a fully grown male can weigh more than 550lbs (250kg)? That’s two NFL offensive linemen. Two. Or one Refrigerator Perry, I guess.

So in we rumble to The Cathedral, San Mamés, Bilbao, Basque Country. The land of separatists and fierce cultural autonomy. This is a beautiful land, one I have visited and very much enjoyed, including the adventure when my brother left our EuroPass tickets on the train in Pamplona and we had to go to Vitoria-Gasteiz to get them. This land is steeped in tradition and folklore and because it’s so rich in history I’m drawn to it.

The Bridge of San Anton (Wikimedia)
The Bridge of San Anton (Wikimedia)

Bilbao proper was founded in 1300, but Old Bilbao (Bilbao Zarra) was founded some time before that. No one is sure where the name Bilbao derived from–not even what language–and I prefer to think of the city as having started organically, with some Basques getting together and suddenly there was a town. Like most places in Europe, the city has had a tumultuous lifetime, with fires and earthquakes reducing large portions of the place to ash or rubble, including their main church, Catedral de Santiago, but it has recovered handily.

The city’s fortunes took a turn for the better in 1511 when it was granted the exclusive rights to the export of merino wool by the Spanish Crown. What sounds like not much of a hullabaloo was actually an economic coup for Bilbao–if you know anything about wool and the power of wool trading in the 1500s (and who doesn’t?) you’ll know that merino wool is fantastically soft and wonderful enough to make Snuggle Bear hyperventilate. Because of that, Bilbao became a major trading port, located on the northern coast as it is, and was able to survive economically during the periods of hardship for the rest of Spain that were set in motion during the Industrial Revolution thanks mainly to those trade partnerships.

And the Basques are no joke when it comes to wars, either, having never been conquered during the Carlist Wars, despite being besieged numerous times. They’ve immortalized this fact in the city’s motto: “The most noble and most loyal and undefeated” which may or may not take into account the concept that the Carlist Wars had a fourth act in which this guy you may have heard of, Francisco Franco, kind of, um, took the city in June, 1936. Details, schmetails.

This is not, however, some quaint backwater that survives on its past laurels. Instead, and perhaps surprisingly, it is home to the architectural wonder/abomination (depending on who you ask) that is the Guggenheim Museum as well as several two hundred star restaurants (or whatever) that Mario Bitali was more than happy to visit in his documentary, Spain: on the road again, which was generally excellent, by the way.

All of that is just prelude, of course, to the history and present-day magnificence of that other team, the one that just won’t go down to the second division, Athletic Bilbao. Founded in 1898, it is a year older than our beloved club and it is second behind Barça in most Copa del Rey’s won.* They won the first 3 installments of the CDR and appeared in the final the next 2 years as well. They’ve won the league 8 times, putting them fourth all time, just below Atletico de Madrid (9) and just above Valencia (6).

Their stadium, the aforementioned Cathedral, was built in 1913, making it the oldest stadium in the league (Sporting Gijon’s El Molinón was a field and not a proper stadium prior to that, apparently), but it’s not just the age that’s so great about San Mamés, but also the absurdity with which they pack the stadium and the surrounding areas. As I understand it, there’s a sea of red and white outside the stadium, tailgating as Basques do: in bars with tapas and other meat products, putting many American sports complexes utterly to shame with their passion and wanton drinking. The atmosphere in the stadium is, apparently, both euphoric and tense, as the crowd riles itself up against the non-Basque intruders. Remember that the club draws its players mainly, though not exclusively (as Osasuna fans will point out, no doubt), from the Basque population and the fact that they’ve never been out of the first division becomes all the more impressive.

Guggenheim, Bilbao (Wikimedia)
Guggenheim, Bilbao (Wikimedia)

The term Los Leones for the team probably comes from San Mamés, a church near the stadium named after a Christian saint who was supposedly thrown to the lions by the Romans, but the lions refused to eat him. And then he became a saint. Since the name was adopted, however, I think the ferocity of their mascot has infected the team, which is cool.

There’s no specific hatred that I know of between Athletic and Barça, perhaps based on the autonomy claimed by both regions, perhaps because of the cantera system both employ, or perhaps because both teams just hate Madrid a ton. There are several Basque Barça penyas and the scenes from last year’s CDR final were fairly joyous when it came to the fans hanging out together and drinking some crapass Spanish beer before the match. Sorry, but commercial Spanish beer blows. Seriously. Estrella? Ew. Bud Light is better than that swill. Okay, maybe not, but still, ew.

[I’m so distressed right here–I wrote a long and I thought very good preview that, when I pushed “publish” deleted itself because my wireless router chose that moment to spazz out. My level of anger just went from “la-dee-da-happy-day” to “I will fucking murder you“. Seriously. It was an hour’s worth of writing that I didn’t bother saving because I pushed publish. How uncool is that. I had detailed everything–everything–and had links and pictures and….aaaaaargh. So what you get now is a sped up version, a version with no frills. Sorry.]

Athletic sit 8th in the table, tied on points (16) with Sporting Gijon. So they’re not bad. But on to us:

Our squad list: Valdés, Pinto, Alves, Puyol, Piqué, Chygrynskiy, Márquez, Maxwell, Xavi, Keita, Busi, Iniesta, JDS, Messi, Henry, Bojan, Pedro!, Jeffren.

Our absences are: The Yaya (H1N1 swine flu–I think it has him, not him having it), Abidal (injury and H1N1–I assume it’s the only time he couldn’t outrun it), and Ibra (injury). Both The Yaya and Ibra are expected back for the Inter match. Keita and Puyol also have slight knocks (I had a whole paragraph about Puyol not caring and slaughtering fools on the field with or without healthy knees–but it’s gone! Aaaargh).

My predicted lineup: Valdes, Alves, Márquez, Piqué, Maxwell, Busi, Xavi, Iniesta, Pedro!, Messi, Jeffren.

Sorry Banjo Crickets, no love for you because we’ll need some wider wing play and that comes from Jeffren and his gelled hair. I could see Keita getting the nod in midfield if he’s fully recovered and Iniesta being shipped up front onto the left again, but I’d rater see him in midfield to prepare him a bit more for the Inter match.

Official prediction: 1-1. Yeah, we drop points and fall to 2nd in the table as Madrid drop Racing at the Bernabeu. So it goes. Our goal comes from Pedro!, naturally.

Match time: 10pm local, 4pm EST/New York (check your local time here)
Referee: Teixeira Vitienes, who hasn’t reffed a Barça match this year, but was the ref for Sevilla’s dismantling of Athletic in August at San Mamés (0-4). I know nothing about this ref, to be honest. He was the ref for our 6-0 thrashing of Valladolid at the Camp Nou on November 8, 2008 (when Eto’o scored 4 in the first half), for what that’s worth.
Liveblog: Would you like to run the liveblog? I can’t because I’ll be at my first ever live NBA game (watching the Nets and Knicks struggle to both lose, of course) and probably won’t make it back before kickoff and poor unlucky Kevin will be on a plane headed to Barcelona, Spain (you may have heard of that place).

PS If some of this doesn’t make any sense, I apologize–it literally cut the size of this preview in half. I discussed tactics and made Puyol as Tarzan references and made some witty puns…I better stop thinking about it or I’m going to break something or pop a blood vessel in my brain. Sigh.

*The exact number is disputed, listed as either 23 or 24 because the inaugural cup, in 1902, was won by Club Vizcaya (alt spelling, Bizcaya), a team that, in 1903, became know as Athletic Bilbao. I tend to side with the 24, as does the club itself, for obvious reasons, but in case you care, the LFP and RFEF do not list it as an official win or Athletic–I wonder what they would have done if Club Vizcaya’s second incarnation in 1907 had won the final instead of losing to Madrid CF. And that brings up the rather dicey question of who gets that legacy: the now-defunct Club Vizcaya (second iteration) or the still-existent Athletic Bilbao. It’s all so confusing.

By Isaiah

Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in the greater Philadelphia area.


  1. If you don’t hear from me for a few days it’s because my router will be lying in pieces around the entire neighborhood if it ever dares do what it just did again.

    Could have done it 5 seconds earlier or hell, 5 seconds later and no big deal. BUT NO. I don’t hate the Jews or Whitey or anyone else for that matter, but I’ve decided to hate The Routers. They’re taking over the world so quickly and we’re letting them do it!


  2. Wow, great preview, even if it was the sped up version.

    One thing though…

    I’d drink an Estrella Damm over any commercial American beer any day of the week. commercial American beers suck. Unless you are in the 15-20 year old category, when you take what you can get.

    But then again I live in San diego 🙂 one of the worlds best hubs for craft brews… San Diego Beer Week just ended, it was great. Every taproom was filled with tourists from around the country.

    I have a soft spot for Athletic Bilbao. I root for them 36 games out of the season. (I recently found out I am about 50% Basque ethnically) On my “mexican” side of the family, i’ve always wondered why my family was white, and why my mom’s maiden name was so strange (Goicoolea is not castillian). Turns out my family had only arrived in Mexico a few generations back. and it turns out Basques hardly breed with non-basque spaniards, and when they got to Mexico, they hardly-bred with the brown people. They sure are some proud ppl. I was later devastated when X. Alonso joined Real. sadness.

    1. I’m okay with Estrella Damm, to be honest, but I put it in the same category as the Michelob Craft Brew series, which isn’t actually as bad as I thought it would be.

      Being a beer snob (or at least beer snob-esque) I go ahead and look down on both. I’m sure that Spain has some good beer, but they’re doubtless of the craft brew variety. I’m also a classic American hop-head, so to speak–give me an Imperial IPA any day of the week over basically anything else (though I have a funny soft spot for Young’s Double Chocolate Stout on a cold winter day). Not that you know what cold winter days are, you damned Southern Californian. Go to hell with your year-round nice weather!

      I only encountered a couple of beers in Spain, which was too bad because my brother and I were searching for good drinks most of the time. Sangria, fortunately, held its own in bars around the country.

    2. I am actually torn in half. Half of me loves the IPAs… the hoppier the better. The other half is in love with the Belgian Tripel style. I usually drink one exclusively for a month at a time, then switch to the other.

      Until a local Brewery (Green Flash) made something called LeFreak which combines the Belgian Tripel style with the West Coast Imperial IPA stlye. It is my favorite beer on earth. But with an average price of $8 for a 22, it is definitely a beer i only have once in a while.

      I am just now beginning to “understand” stouts and porters. Since its winter its all that my friends are drinking..

      and hey… today our high is 65 F with a low of 52 F. That is downright freezing. I am walking around with a beanie, a long sleeve and a jacket. Yesterday i even wore soccer socks under under my pants to keep warm!

    3. Loving the beer talk. Anyone into American Wild Ales? Lost Coast (in San Diego) and Russian River have been making some interesting lambics, geuzes, flanders-style reds and all sorts of other farmhouse-y, sour beers.

    4. I totally meant Lost Abbey, not Lost Coast, which is a different type of microbrewery all together… my bad.

    5. I actually don’t like them a whole lot, but New Belgium Brewing (makers of Fat Tire) brought a line up of 5-7 American Wild Ales on tap to my local beer bar for Beer Week. My friends really liked them. Too sour for my tastes though.

      Lost Abbey does make good beer. try Judgement Day Ale. It is a Black Quadrupel Ale with a 10.5 ABV. you’ll need to drink this with a glass of water on the side. not for lager fans 🙂

      Just now i am organizing a trip to Stone Brewery. They do Special Edition fills of beer if you’ve purchased one of their containers. I am going to go get 2 liters of Stone 13th Anniversery. prob the 2nd best beer i have ever tasted.

    6. i always felt that most brewerys overhop to cover up the fact there beer isnt very good. if you dont like the overhopping, then they claim your not a real man or some bull like that.

    7. I love Estrella Damn, I get all teary eyed everytime I drink it. Makes me think off all the good times i’ve had in barcelona.

  3. still a great read Isaiah, but come on, haven’t you had Cruzcampo? it’s not THAT bad, and hell even though it comes from Madrid, Mahou is alright too. And Alhambra is just delicious….sorry I digress, I love beer too much.

    Anyways, what, in your opinion, is the probability of Ibra being ready for the Inter match? Could he just a nice “placenta massage” ala Robin Van Persie?


  4. I can’t beleive you just compared Estrella to Bud Light….. speechless.

    Have you ever tried Voll-Damm? Now theres a damn good beer that will get you nice and saucy.

    1. If you are absolutely broke, and can’t afford anything, you might as well go with a PBR, or some Natural Light (30 pack for $11 at my local Sam’s Club)

    2. Watch out, some ridiculous hipster bars put pbr tallboys in the pricey range for beer. But that is here in LA, the town Jason hates.

    3. Haha… YeAh… We have the PBR tall boys in deuchy lounges.

      Every so often it’s trendy to be poor

    4. Wait, when I said “Estrella Damm” above, I totally meant “Voll-Damm”…aren’t they from the same company? I enjoyed it while I was there, but given the choice, I wouldn’t drink it over American craft brews (not because I’m patriotic, which I’m not). Bud Light has its place and it’s right next to Estrella in my book. Perhaps I’m being unfair and should get some Estrella and a Bud Light and blind taste test that shit. I guarantee I can tell you which is the Bud Light, but whether I’d like one over the other…

      I haven’t had Alhambra, but I also never saw it in Madrid, Barcelona, or Pamplona, for what that’s worth. I didn’t make it to the more southern parts of the country (sorry, we went to Prague instead…), so I didn’t get to sample their delicious cuisine and shit-face making juice.

    5. Estrella-Damm and Voll-Damm are both made by Damm Brewery in Catalunya. Voll-Damm is a full-bodied beer that emulates a German-style “Vollbier” and contains 7.2% alcohol.


    6. isaiah,

      is it any wonder that your router mysteriously died immediately after you dare disparage both bud light and estrella damm. The beer gods look down from upon high and will right any wrongs. Let that be a warning to all.

      now enough beer talk lets hope for three points and no more injuries, h1n1, locusts and handballs as we prepare for our big week.

    7. dude, seriously..

      Voll Damm >>> Estrella Damm >>>> any beer >>>>> Bud Light 🙂

      but yeah, they are from the same company(voll and estrella)

    8. WHOA WHOA WHOA….Bud Light > Coors Light > Schlitz/Red Label. PBR on stays out of that category because of nostalgia.

      But no, something like Avery Maharajah Imperial IPA > Voll Damm.

    1. but you said “no natalie portman…”

      Lost interest…

      just kidding, I’m brainstorming ideas… the interesting one is how to incorporate the “blog” part of in. Because it’s easy to make a “Barcelona banner”, but a “Barcelona Blog Banner” is a whole different pickle.

    2. I know. That’s why the quote ends with an elipsis, not a period.

      But then again… I use an elipsis every 20 or so words, so you really had no way of knowing… I am very negligent with my punctuation…

  5. I think he will play Bojane. Bojan always does well against Athletic and specially in San Mamés. That line-up you posted has too little goal.

  6. Love your line-up except for including Jeffren for Bojan… We already have both Alves & Maxwell to provide the necessary width on both the wings!! So I’d include Keita for Iniesta in there, to not only help the attack with his adorable runs into the box but also help Maxwell in defense. And then I’d add Bojan for Jeffren and plays on LW. Would serve good if we’d have to play without Ibra in the upcoming season-deciders!!


    Subs: Iniesta, Henry & Jeffren/Dima/JDS

    I wonder why wasn’t Jonathan Soriano called up for this match, in such a crisis situation!! Or is he affected by the flu!? Wasn’t their game called off last week for that?

    1. why the hell soriano should be called up? tehe ist only one of our 6 strikers out of the game. so there are 5 left. do we need 6 strikers for one game? i guess that even jeffren won?t get a minute tonight, so why should soriano play with his balls 90 minute long too?

  7. I love how most of these comments are about beer 😛

    I have no idea what you guys are talking about (doesn’t drink and proud! Lol) What about poor Atletic Bilbao who Isaiah claims will take a point off of us? 😛

    Anyway, San Mames is usually killer for us and a really, really tight game! Here’s hoping for a 2-1 or 3-1. (With Busi in the line-up…let’s hope starting for Spain has given him enough confidence to cure his Giveawayitis)

    1. Oddly, San Mames ISN’T usually a killer for us. According to the official site (if I’m remembering correctly) we’ve won 8 times there in the last decade. Crazy!

  8. i’ll be missing a barca game again 🙁 but already planning to clock out early this week for inter

    holy moly one week til the clasico…

  9. Confirmed: No Abidal or Toure for the Inter match. If the H1N1 thing gets worse, we will petition UEFA to postpone the match, though that is unlikely at present. The outbreak appears to be contained to those two.

    Poor Betis has 13 players with it.

    1. Regarding the incident: Professional Lawyers do not through shit on each other on public no matter what, so as doctors, Judges, engineers…and players…

      Regarding match replay: There is unfortunately no base for the replay claim. The Irish argument is weak in this matter. So what happened just happened. Not the first time game pass through a low-leveled situation nor it will be the last time. Life continues.

  10. dont you think its risky playing both alves and maxwell? especially with no keita or yaya to drop back?

    what about txigrxtrxctrsy? dont you think he will get a game since he has to sit out the CL midweek and i doubt he will be played for RM

    1. Yap, at least he’s got the symptoms. Will be replaced by Andreu Fontas, which is not necessarily a downgrade.

      But seriously, what the heck is going on??? I thought lightning doesn’t strike twice… and now there seems to be a storm above us which equals the one in “The War of the Worlds” 🙁
      My feeling for the next three decisive matches is becoming less and less optimistic.

  11. I think Roy’s comments have less to do with the incident and more to do with having (yet) another go at the Irish FA, Kxevin. He really is the most unstable manager I think I’ve ever seen . .. and there is decent competition in that category.

    I’ve no problem with Alves and Maxwell as long as they don’t both bomb forward at the same time. Can’t be hard to stick to that instruction. Looking forward to seeing Xavi and Iniesta together again and both playing well. I hop Henry does play as he needs to get his head over the week’s events and we need to get our first team some playing time together before the big matches.

    Bad news about the swine flu. Hope it doesn’t catch at the club or you might find yourself without either match Kxevin. What a bummer that would be 🙁 Hope it doesn’t happen and you get two classic matches. It certainly has the feel of a week that will set the tone for the season. Win them both and the team will be flying again.

    1. The way I figure, Jim, I’m still spending 10 days in Barcelona with my lovely wife. Temps are going to be in the mid to upper 60s, with lots of sunshine. We’ll be able to find stuff to do if I don’t have matches to hit, though we’d have to be pretty far along for UEFA or the Liga to cancel/postpone either match.

      On the up side, if we didn’t get the result that I anticipate, I wouldn’t be in a mopey, glowering sulk for days afterward. 😀

      I suspect that Bilbao will be either a loss or a draw at best. There’s just too much going on right now with injuries, illnesses, etc for the side to be at its best. With two such immense matches on the docket, you have to “forget about” one of them.

      And replacing Marquez with Fontas, especially with Pique healthy, is a wash. What you lose in experience you gain in pace.

  12. Sport says Krkic to replace Ibrahimovic at the point. I also don’t think that Henry will play much. He’s too important for the upcoming matches, in case we don’t have a fit Ibrahimovic.

    We’ll be tight at the back, and probably see a Messi/Krkic/Pedro! front line, and it would surprise me if Messi played a full match.

  13. I think Henry will play as a striker in this game. He may not be fully fit for this one, but now that Ibra is not available, the general output of the offense will be much better with him half fit, than with any other combination.

    And I don’t think we will rotate players against Inter to save some energy for the Classico. The Inter game is more important and the result there can prove irreversible. So if Henry can’t play the three games, then we can rotate him against Real when Ibra returns.

  14. Rubin Kazan just Retained the Russian League Title…..This can either be good or bad news for us. They might not be in tip top form to face Inter on the final match day.

  15. You’re right about Barcelona. For me, the most interesting city I’ve been to . Sitting here with rain chucking it down in unprecedented amounts, hoping the local river doesn’t flood . . . . and remembering the view from Tibidabo last summer !

    1. I should actually know the Bilbao result before the plane takes off …. just. Unfortunately my smart phone’s data connection isn’t sufficient to stream from a link. Or is it. Anyone tried it?

      The thing about Barcelona for me Jim, is even when you don’t want to do anything at all, it’s still an interesting city. Just grab a spot at a sidewalk cafe and load up on xocolata and people-watching. We also want to take a day trip to Girona, probably on the drive to Pezenas, our favorite small town in France.

      We aren’t staying directly on the Passeig de Gracia this year, which I think I’m going to like. Got a little noisy in the early a.m.

      And even as I’m basking in the Chicago weather of 52 and sunny, I look at the Barcelona weather and realize that 52 is the low for the next 10 days. 😀

  16. So I’m guessing no one wants to run the liveblog? If you don’t know how, but want to give it a shot, I can email you all the instructions you’ll need.

  17. Hey, I also see that BarcaTV is going to briefly come to life to broadcast the Inter and Clasico matches, for folks wondering about a quality stream. That’s as quality as it gets.

  18. Why is Ibra always injured? I wasn’t expecting Barca to dish out 60 million Euros for damaged property.

    Every week Isaiah is predicting dropped points–

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