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La perspectiva del Athletic Bilbao - with Paul Giblin (8th August, 2017)

This season, LaLiga TV has a new English commentator. This is an interview with him.

You can follow Paul Giblin on Twitter here.

A bit about yourself and your background

I'm from Hull in the north of England and I moved to Spain in 1991 basically to work as a teacher (was out of work in UK and it seemed like a good idea, to do some work and learn a new language…). I got into journalism through luck, my aunt saw an advert in the local paper, I sent in a CV and the rest is history as they say… Actually David Beckham's arrival was a huge boost as there was more interest in Spanish football and I got into doing football commentary thanks to that…. That was with the production company Mediapro and they are linked to BeIN sports etc, so that's more or less where I am today…. Small issue of girlfriend etc apart....

How long have you been a fan of Athletic and what made you support them in the first place?

I moved to Bilbao in 1992 and was sharing a flat with a big footy fan, we all played in the same side and used to go and see Athletic when money permitted. It was the old San Mamés, which I still miss, despite the new ground. I loved the atmosphere and the philosophy of the club. (I'm from Yorkshire and the Yorkshire cricket team (who I also support) used to have a policy of only having players born in the county, so I understood Athletic's idea from the start and related to it.

Describe your first experience of watching Athletic play?

First game: Athletic vs Sevilla (2-1) in 1992. It was Diego Maradona's return after a drug ban and I have never forgiven him for the 'Hand of God' goal (hand of cheat to me). Athletic fans also loathe Maradona for issues going back to when I was at Barca in the early 1980's i.e. that fight after we won the 1984 Cup final…. So along I went. We went 0-1 down, but turned it around thanks to the speed of substitute Luque…. It was a great side: Valverde and Ziganda in attack, Rafa Alkorta at center half and Julen Guerrero in his first season

To an outsider - how would you describe Athletic's playing style, what it means to be a fan of the club, and what it means to be a player of the club?

Athletic have long had an undeserved reputation of playing "English" football, i.e. kick and rush and solid defense, but although that was probably true on the heavier pitches on the past, now I think we play a pretty decent passing game, pressing high up the field looking to win the ball and using the wings whenever possible. Most of Athletic's recent coaches (with the exception of Joaquín Caparrós) have looked to play decent football, while at the same time not ruling out the traditional strengths….
Supporting Athletic is special. Because of the recruitment policy, you get a feeling of all being part of something special (I have to say nobody has ever said I shouldn't support them because I am not Basque)

Describe the importance and significance of a game against a rival such as Real Sociedad or Osasuna? What do you think would be the key differences between a Athletic fan and a fan of those clubs?

It's always nice to win a derby and I especially get pleasure out of beating la Real but I think for Athletic our two big games are against Real Madrid and Barca. Maybe Real Sociedad and Alavés think of us as the side they most want to beat and I can accept that, as we are the biggest and economically most powerful club in Euskadi.

There was a time when Athletic was inconsistent in obtaining a top 10 spot. However, in the past few years it has consolidated itself in the European places. How would you describe the last few seasons for Athletic fans?

There will be tough years when we will look back on this as an incredible period. I don't think Valverde really got the credit he deserves for taking Athletic to four European qualifications in four years, especially considering we lost key players (Llorente, Javi Martínez and Ander Herrera) and have not made many signings at all…none in the last two years. Bielsa's first year was great with the two finals, but his second was a warning of what could happen if we take our eye off the ball

What is your opinion on the utilization of the youth teams? How would you rate the opportunities that youth players get in the first team?

I think they are doing a good job: year after year at least one or two lads come into the first team and that is the main task of your youth system: to produce first team players… Athletic's youngsters know they WILL get a chance if they are good enough, compare that to say, Álvaro Morata, who had to leave Real Madrid… Last year Yeray came through and Kepa finally made his debut, Vesga also got time as did Villalibre. This year, I like the look of Iñigo Córdoba and Unai Núñez, so it is clearly working. A word of warning however, the nature of the game means that there will be years when the youth team doesn't produce and those tend to be when we suffer more.

List some things you appreciate and some things you can't stand about the club management. Rant away :)

No real issues regarding this, from a journalist point of view, I have to say they can be a bit 'precious' in a few aspects. (I did a report on La Real a couple of years ago and they were the most helpful club ever…). I have to say, I wasn’t impressed by the way Urrutia got re-elected by basically ensuring nobody would stand against him with the season still in swing. It’s great that the fans own the club, but I have to say that elections for President can sometimes bring unnecessary upheaval with candidates promising signings, new coaches etc….. best avoided, but Urrutia was a bit sneaky and perhaps too close to Florentino Pérez in his tactics for comfort.

The most famous ultra group at Athletic is the Herri Norte. How would you describe them and their political affiliations? What is the feeling of fans of Athletic and of other clubs towards them? How would you characterize the Athletic board's support to them?

Herri Norte…. Ooof. Well they get behind the side (although their influence has waned of late with the move to the new ground). They were left wing very pro-Basque independence. I wouldn't say the club actively supported them, but ultra groups used to have a lot of influence in every club.

Personally I am quite happy to see their influences waning all over Spain.

I would however, like to see some safe standing zones in San Mamés in order to help the atmosphere and also to allow fans to buy some cheaper tickets.

Any other notable ultras or fan groups that are worth mentioning?

The old San Mamés used to have the Aberzale Sur…. If I remember correctly their banner was someone about to throw a Molatov cocktail…. Enough said ;)

That apart it's mainly Peñas…. Supporters groups from all over the region and beyond, but they have no political affiliations, which is for the best.

How would you contrast the "Athletic fan experience" under Josu Urrutia?

I don't get to San Mamés enough to be honest to comment, but with so many 'socios' who have season tickets there are never that many tickets on sale, although more now than before. It annoys me at time to see the ground not full, as a full San Mamés is a huge help for Athletic. As I said above, I would like to see some safe standing behind the goals, to help that atmosphere and get in a few more who maybe can't afford match-day prices.

Oh and I am not a fan of the 'day of the club' they (and most sides) tend to use when Madrid or Barca are in town…. That means Socios have to pay as well and that can't help getting the ground as full as possible.

Is there something that the media doesn't (or maybe doesn't want to) talk about Athletic that you think is worth mentioning?

Not really, except to highlight that in the recent friendly against Liverpool we started with 11 homegrown players…. Can ANY top flight side in Europe make a similar claim?

Your thoughts on the season ahead?

A new season with a new coach is always hard to predict, but if anyone knows the club and the players, many of whom have been in the B-team with him, then it's Cuco Ziganda. So far I have liked what I have seen, but it will be a tough season, especially if we get into the group stage of the Europa League. If we do that, we will be away the weekend after every European game and that will be really taxing.

I would have liked to have seen Mikel Merino arrive, just to inject some new blood into the squad and perhaps add a bit of pace to a midfield which I think is talented (Beñat, Iturraspe, Vesga) but lacking in pace. Aduriz can't go on forever (can he?) so I think Iñaki Williams will have to step up his goal scoring and I hope Muniain can continue his return to his best form.

We have a great keeper in Kepa and a solid defense (fingers crossed for Yeray). We should be as good a side as last year and if injuries respect, perhaps even better, so where we finish perhaps depends on how other clubs i.e. Betis, Valencia and perhaps, Espanyol perform. We should be top half again and I hope knocking on the door or Europe.


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