On April 18, 2020, the final of the King’s Cup of Spanish football. was to be played in the city of Seville. Thousands of Basques had already completely booked all of the hotels, flats, apartments and hostels of the capital of Andalusia, as well as in the neighboring towns, although many of them knew that they wouldn’t even have a chance for a seat inside the stadium. The bars and restaurants were also rubbing their hands together picturing the invasion of fans of the two teams that had achieved their goal of reaching the big day: the Athletic Club of Bilbao and the Real Sociedad of San Sebastian.
Then, COVID-19 hit and everything fell apart. The Final was postponed until sporting activities would resume. Professional football started up again in June with no spectators and the Spanish Football Federation tried to reschedule the Final before summer, but pressure from the fans from both sides forced its further postponement without their presence in the stadium. Deep down there was a sense that the pandemic would not last so long, but reality turned out to been cruel, and the Final will be played in the same stadium almost a year later, on April 3rd, before an empty stadium. If it had been known that everything would remain the same, the trophy would already be in the display cases of one of its Basque clubs, but this was impossible to foresee. So, the big match will be played by some players who last year did not belong to the rosters of the qualifying teams and others that did belong to the teams are no longer there. So, in this sense as well, it’s a unique situation.
Maybe the only ones who will breathe easy in the absence of public will be the King of Spain and the authorities of the Spanish Government. The reason is very simple: in addition to a great sporting event, the match was to become a vindictive celebration assured of a huge booing session by Basque fans to the Spanish anthem and to the King who gives the name to the competition. The King’s Cup is the second competition of Spanish professional football, after the League. It is played in an elimination tournament in parallel to the League and awakens the passions of the fans annually. It is also the case that Athletic Bilbao has qualified to play the 2021 King’s Cup Final against F.C. Barcelona just two weeks later. It is an extraordinary fact for the Basque club, which has been one of the best in this competition throughout its history.
Experts say there’s no clear favorite. The San Sebastian team is better off in the League (they are fifth, with a 10-point difference above their Bilbao neighbors, who are ninth), but Athletic is on an upward trend after changing its coach in January and, in addition, is known for showing great strength in these kinds of matches. It is also not known whether all players from both teams will be available to play, due to injuries. What is certain is that in the Basque Country there are great expectations, especially in the provinces of Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa, since we cannot forget that in first division Spanish football league there are other Basque teams as well: Osasuna, Alavés and Eibar.
The media is already preparing special programs and supplements. ETB, Basque television, has bought the broadcast rights for the Basque Country so that the match can be followed in Euskera, the Basque language. Social media is full of photos, videos and messages of encouragement from far away by followers of both teams. And the clubs are launching big initiatives to get people excited the days before a match which everyone will watch from their sofas in their own homes since the bars will be closed before the game begins. That’s why balconies, windows, terraces and the yards of thousands of Basque homes are being decked with red and white or blue and white, the colors of the two clubs, along with the colors of the Ikurriña, the Basque flag.
Everything will be unusual, even strange, but the circumstances of the pandemic and confinement will not manage to prevent the passion of fans echoing through the living rooms and kitchens of their Basque followers. Anyway, it is clear that the city of Seville, its stadium, La Cartuja, and the streets of Basque towns are going to miss a great celebration of Basque football. One more chapter in the long history of the rivalry between these two teams that, since they first faced each other in 1913, have written great stories like the one when they jointly displayed the Ikurriña, the Basque flag still illegal in 1976, after Franco’s dictatorship.
As the grand Final approaches, Basque Tribune readers need to know two important things about Basque football. The first one is that, fortunately, women’s football is also moving forward yet there is still a long way to go, but clubs and the media are beginning to respect women more and their fan base is increasing. The second is that, the fight for Basque football (actually for sports in general) achieving an official presence in international competitions continues. It is a matter of great legal and political difficulty, but the vast majority of citizens who share the aspiration to see Basque teams take part in European, World Cup and Olympic championships has not lost hope for achieving this goal. And, of course it will keep pushing for it whatever it takes, including at the next Final to be played with audiences.
Real Sociedad won the Final 1-0 with Mikel Oyarzabal’s penalty goal in the 62nd minute of the match