How Bilbao became the capital of women’s football

Carlos Carabaña

In May of 2016, the Athletic de Bilbao football club was going to give a news conference. In spite of leading the league, and being close to the end of the season, no news media showed up for the event and it had to be cancelled. If this seems impossible, maybe it’s because one bit of information is missing: it was the city’s women’s team. And all of this in spite of the fact that the team hadn’t lost in its previous seven games and was the country’s best women’s football club of modern times.

Although women’s football in Spain dates from 1914, when the sports newspaper Mundo Deportivo included a brief item with the title Las niñas futbolísticas, it was not until the 1988-1989 season that the present competition was launched, first under the name Liga Nacional Femenina; now, following some name changes and different numbers of teams, its called the Primera División Femenina, and has 16 clubs.

If there is one women’s team that has been outstanding in recent decades it has been Athletic Club de Bilbao. According to an analysis in Mundo Deportivo after the 2016-2017 season, it was the club with the highest overall standing: 958 points, as again the 922 of Levante the 800 of Espanyol. Logically it’s also the one that has garnered the most league titles, five.

But this success story began long before. In the 1970s, several local teams sprung up in the Vizcaya province, where Bilbao is located: Kemen from Durango, Ekintza from Zeberio, Soberano from Arratia, Gorantza from Galdakao, Maiona from Sondika, Byas 96 from Bilbao, Basauri, Zamudio and La Arboleda were the best women’s teams taking part in different local tournaments. But in spite of arousing a certain interest in the city, these clubs were largely misunderstood and had economic problems, and most of them disappeared over the years.

In 1982-1983, when the first women’s national league was taking shape, there were two teams from Vizcaya. The following season, there were two more teams, and the years after that, another two. In the year 2000 Sondika, one of the few survivors from the 1970s, founded the Leioa club.

This team went straight to the top in different competitions, until joining the national league. In 2002 it reached an agreement to become Athletic Club de Bilbao. The rest is part of the history of women’s football in Spain –even though many people, including the news media, may ignore its press conferences.

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