Real Sociedad embark on an exciting new phase in Txuri-Urdin history
Real Sociedad travel along the coast to Basque neighbours Athletic Club for the latest installment of their century-old rivalry on October 5th with the San Sebastian club entering an exciting new phase in their history.
The meeting of the two historically biggest teams in the Basque country is always a big event. In recent years each home team has generally had the upper hand, with La Real’s only win in Bilbao in the last five years coming in 2016. But the Txuri-urdin [blue and whites] will be confident having won the most recent derby 3-1 at their Anoeta stadium last April.
The Basque Derby has long been a big deal, with the rivalry between aristocratic San Sebastian and industrial Bilbao dating back to well before the introduction of football at the beginning of the 20th century.
San Sebastian’s 'Real Sociedad de Futbol' [Royal Society of football] was formed in 1909, with the official seal of Spain’s King Alfonso XIII, a regular visitor to the city. The first game between La Real and Athletic Club came in a Basque Regional League clash as their first Atotxa stadium was opened in 1913 before the contest moved into the newly formed LaLiga championship in 1929.
The 1980s was a golden decade for La Real, with local coach Alberto Ormaetxea's team built around home-grown youth products including goalkeeper Luis Miguel Arconada, defender Jon Andoni Larrañaga and forward Roberto Lopez Ufarte.
The LaLiga title was claimed in 1980/81 and 81/82, and the European Cup semi-finals reached in 1982/83. By 1987, Welshman John Toshack was on the bench for the club’s only modern Copa del Rey victory.
The succeeding decades brought ups and downs, with a young Xabi Alonso almost inspiring the team to the LaLiga title in 2002/03 and a teenage Antoine Griezmann helping La Real back to the top flight in 2009/10.
The current senior side includes 13 graduates of the club’s Zubieta academy - including full Spain internationals Asier Illarramendi and Mikel Oyazarbal – alongside Latin Americans Hector Moreno [Mexico], Geronimo Rulli [Argentina] and Willian Jose [Brazil]. Gipuzkoa-born Asier Garitano took over as coach last summer, having previously guided suburban Madrid side Leganes from the third tier to safety in LaLiga Santander.
An up and down start to 2018/19 brought victories for Garitano’s side away at Villarreal and Huesca, but also a 2-1 defeat in their first Basque derby at smaller neighbours Eibar in late August.
Many in San Sebastian are already looking forward eagerly to next February when Athletic will visit La Real’s Anoeta home, which is currently being renovated to bring its capacity to over 40,000 and remove the running track.
When the project is completed in autumn 2019, Anoeta will have a new illuminated exterior skin. The modern design recalls the city’s famous Kursaal Auditorium, home each year to San Sebastian’s internationally-renowned film and jazz festivals.
The Kursaal sits close to the ‘pintxo’ bars and restaurants of the old town, which buzz every game day.
Another fascinating link between club and city is locally-born artist Eduardo Chillida, a goalkeeper for La Real in his youth, who switched career after injury and later created the world-renowned 'Peine del Viento' [Comb of the Wind] set of steel sculptures just to the west of San Sebastian’s iconic La Concha beach.