Jul
12
2007
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Estadio de San Mames

The stadium
Name: Estadio de San Mames
Address: Calle Felipe Serrate S/N, 48013 Bilbao, Spain
Built: 1913
Last renovation: 1997
Max. standing fans: –
No. of seats: 39,750
VIP: 250
Total capacity: 40,000
Covered: 74%
Home teams: Athletic Club de Bilbao
Website: www.athletic-club.es

San Mames – the “Cathedral”

There are two must-see building for any tourist visiting Bilbao: the Guggenheim museum and San Mames stadium, the latter built in 1913 and know as La Cathedral (“the Cathedral”) of Spanish football.
The legendary stadium has been home to Athletic Bilbao, one of three teams (the others being Real Madrid and Barcelona) never to have been relegated from Spain’s top flight since the league was founded in 1929.
The history of la Cathedral has always been a piece with the history of Spanish football as a whole. The story goes that there was a shrine to San Mames (or St Mamas as he is known in English) on the site chosen for the stadium, which is how it acquired its name. The stadium’s nickname, meanwhile, is attributed to a rumor during the building work that a cathedral was going to be built on this site.
However, what really earned San Mames the nickname la Cathedral was the special atmosphere created at the stadium every Sunday by a knowledgeable crowd who always applauded the best team, regardless of whether it was the home side or the visitors. However, all this may soon come to an end because the club intends to begin work on a new San Mames stadium this year on a site adjacent to that of La Cathedral, with the club set to move for the 1009-2010 season if the work is completed on time. Due to Athletic Bilbao’s policy of only signing players born in the Basque Country, which is unique in world football, mythical players such as “Pichichi”, Telmo Zarra, Jose Angel Iribar, Andoni Zubizarreta, Andoni Goikoetxea and Julen Guerrero have graced San Mames.

Flowers for “Pichichi”
Founded in 1898, Athletic is one of the oldest clubs in Spain and the third most successful in Spanish football after Real Madrid and Barcelona, with eight league titles and 23 cups, and has had a big following in the province of Vizcaya (or Biscay) right from its very beginnings.
The club first played its matches in Lamiako and then Jolaseta in the outskirts of Bilbao, but the fans were adamant that their team should have its home in the province’s capital. On 10 december 1912, Athletic’s board and chaorman Alejandro de la Sota echoed the fans’ desire to have a stadium in the city centre and found a site at the end of the city’s main thoroughfare, the Gran Via. There had once been a shrine on the land to St Mamas, a boy who was martyred by the Romains in the year 273 AD but who earned the respect of a lion. Because of this and the ferocity of Athletic’s players, the team is known as los Leones (“the Lions”).
After the board had given the project their approval, architect Manuel Maria Smith designed the new ground and worked and work began on 20 January 1913 with the blessing of Father Manuel Ortuzar. A mere seven months later, on 21 August 1913, Athletic played their first match at the new 3,500 capacity ground, a 1-1 draw with Racing Club de Irun.
The legendary Rafael Moreno, aka “Pichichi”, scored the first goal at the new stadium. None other than the King of Spain Alfonso XII, and his wife Maria Cristina also attended the inaugural match. The mythical striker “Pichichi”, by whose name the trophy for the top scorer in the Spanish league is known, died in 1922 and a statue was erected in his honor in one of the corners of San Mames in 1926. Tradition dictates that every team visiting San Mames for the first time must leave a bouquet of flowers next to the statue of the Bilbao legend.

A new ground
Soon the 3,500 capacity became too small to accommodate all the fans, whereupon it was expanded to first 9,500 and then 16,000 between 1923 and 1925. Further improvement and expansion work was carried out between 1950 and 1952, which increased the capacity to 35,000. The work continued in 1961 in order for San Mames to be able to accommodate 45,000 fans and this number was increased to 47,000 in 1972.
As a result of improvements for the 1982 FIFA World Cup TM, the capacity was reduced to 46,000 with standing room for 12,000. Athletic were then required to convert San Mames into an all-seater stadium in 1997 in accordance with new UEFA regulations, following which the maximum number of fans that could be admitted to the stadium was lowered to 40,000. This is too few for a club that represents the whole province of Vizcaya, and there is a legendary waiting list for season tickets. This explains why the new 50,000-seater San Mames, on a site adjacent, to the one on which the old stadium sits, will soon become a reality.