Friday morning began with a one-hour shuttle ride from Bilbao to Eibar, a quaint village in the mountainous Basque region.
Despite its tiny population of 27 000 inhabitants, the remote village had plenty to cheer about five years ago as local club SD Eibar, who play out of the 7 083-capacity Estadio Ipuara, gained promotion to LaLiga for the first time in their history.
The group of journalists were told about the club’s unique structure and history by Eibar’s International Development Coordinator Eduardo Valdes, before engaging with club CEO Patricia Rodriquez – the only female CEO of any club in LaLiga.
We were then given a tour of the stadium, and taken to the changeroom, boot room, museum and onto the pitch, which is flanked by two high rise apartment blocks from where residents have front-row seats to LaLiga matches.
Here's a panoramic view of the compact venue. Surrounded by mountains and buildings, this year's renovations will only increase the capacity to 8 000.— Fabio De Dominicis (@fabiodedoms) October 5, 2018
Locals living in the apartments behind the North Stand are said to be closer to the players on the pitch than at the Bernabeu! pic.twitter.com/HuHk9RHUUX
Lunch was then had at the stadium’s restaurant, an important gathering space for players, trainers as well as fans to meet and enjoy their company together.
Following the ride back to Bilbao and free time in the afternoon, we then gathered before making the short five-minute walk to the impressive San Mames Stadium ahead of the evening’s big Basque Derby clash between hosts Athletic Club and Real Sociedad, who sat a point ahead of their neighbours before kick-off.
The streets around the stadium were filled with fans clad in red and white, with specks of Sociedad blue and white seen in between.
Yet as kick-off loomed in the spectacular 47 000-seater arena, fans held red and white sheets above their heads in a clear and united showing of Bilbao’s considerably greater home support.
Despite their good start, Bilbao went behind after a VAR decision led to a penalty which Mikel Oyarzabal would tuck away to give the visitors the lead. Bilbao would hit straight back, levelling through Iker Muniain, yet Luca Sangalli’s strike two minutes into the second half toom the wind out of Bilbao’s sails, and when Oyarzabal slotted home a second penalty 15 minutes from time, it was all over for Bilbao, who succumbed to a 3-1 home defeat, leaving them 16th on the log while Sociedad jump temporarily to eighth.
Fans remained in good spirits however, and with this rivalry known to be a ‘friendly derby’, opposing fans were able to embrace and join each other for a drink in the local watering holes surrounding the stadium after the game.