SUNDAY night, 7pm. As the teams entered the field, a feverish atmosphere engulfed the San Mamés. Any visit of Barcelona to Bilbao is a special occasion, and this is a special stadium.
Soon, Athletic will decamp to a new 55,000 seater adjacent to this cathedral. There is something quintessentially English about this ground. It’s not just the club’s colours, borrowed from Southampton. It’s not just that the crowd sits right on top of the action, forming a part of it. It’s not just that Bilbao are famed for their direct approach, the idolisation of the big, burly centre-forward, currently represented by the hulking handful that is Fernando Llorente. It’s all of this and more.
The rain, falling for some days continued to lash the pitch as kick-off approached. There is something unique about evenings like this. Put simply, to step into the fray on this sort of night is to enter the Spanish equivalent of a wet Wednesday in Stoke with all it entails......................................
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