Athletic Bilbao bid farewell to San Mames with defeat

26 May 2013 10:17

Athletic Bilbao bade an emotional farewell to their San Mames stadium on Sunday as they were beaten 1-0 by Levante in their last ever competitive match after 100 years at the ground known as "La Catedral."

In a disappointing farewell the hosts were reduced to 10 men in the second-half when Iker Muniain was shown a straight red card just after the hour mark.

And the nightmare end for the Basques was sealed when Juanlu volleyed home in stoppage time to register the last ever goal at San Mames and an unlikely victory for Levante, who had only won once in the league since January.

"The match had many incentives and to lose it has been a blow," captain Andoni Iraola admitted to reporters afterwards.

"From the moment we entered the stadium you could see it was a special match and the fans have witnessed something historic."

After the final whistle, the Athletic players were joined by all of the club's youth teams for 100 seconds applause to remember their 100 years at the famous old ground.

There will be one final exhibition match against a Basque select on June 5 as part of the club's celebrations of their centenary year at the stadium.

Built in 1913 alongside a church from which it draws its name, San Mames is the only ground to have witnessed every season of top flight Spanish football since the league's inception in 1929.

And one of the 40,000 fans that filled the stadium for the final time, Joseba Moro, said it is the weight of history that San Mames carried that will be missed.

"What makes San Mames special, more even that the fans, is the historic weight that is has," said Moro, who has written a book on Athletic's 100 years at the stadium.

"It is a stadium that has 100 years of history and a mythical air. It has seen all the league seasons since the start, something you can't even say about the Bernabeu or the Camp Nou."

Although the locals haven't lived the lows of relegation in their 100-year stay at "La Catedral", they have endured their share of lows, particularly losing out to Juventus on away goals in the UEFA Cup final of 1977.

And despite a disappointing season to close the curtain there was one last run of European glory last season with special nights when the likes of Manchester United, Schalke and Sporting Lisbon left the Basque country eliminated.

However, they won't be moving too far away with three sides of the new ground in which they will play from the start of next season now built next door to the current stadium. Indeed the space between the two stadiums is so tight that the fourth stand of the new build cannot be completed until the demolition of San Mames has taken place.

And another fan called Diego, who runs the supporters' website, believes such a similar location is in the new ground's favour.

"One of the right things about the new San Mames is that is in the centre of the city, overlapping the location of the old one. This, along with the lights that will shine whether Athletic are playing or not, and the views from the river of the stadium ought to compensate for the charm of the old stadium and it's mythical arch."

Source: AFP

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