On March 28, 1921, Dulwich Hamlet triumphed over Athletic Bilbao 4-2 at San Mames. And fast-forward 102 years, 30 Athleticzales made the trip to the UK to cheer on their former rivals in an eagerly-anticipated fixture against Oxford.
On Saturday, to celebrate Non-League day, the passionate fans joined a 3500-strong crowd at Champion Hill in south London to watch the teams play to an exciting 2-2 draw. And while the standard wasn’t at the level of La Liga, the travelling football supporters loved watching the two National League South sides, put it all on the line.
The match was entertaining, competitive and, above all, pure Non-League football.
Since 2010, the initiative has supported British non-professional football, taking advantage of a weekend without Premier League or Championship fixtures. The special day is promoted by the top clubs, their players and the nation’s media, in a bid to raise awareness of the importance of grassroots football and encourage fans to get out and show their faces at lower-league grounds.
The scheme is close to Athletic Club’s heart, with youth and supporting the community at the core of their philosophy. Consequently, the Spanish giants are attempting to implement the first edition of Non-League Day supported by a La Liga team. The monumental occasion is set to take place in Bizkaia on September 9 and 10.
But before the special date, the club wanted to experience the occasion alongside Dulwich Hamlet.
Athletic Bilbao and Dulwich Hamlet share a fascinating history
Jon Ruigómez, who stood alongside the Athleticzales throughout the match, said: “It is well known that football was created here and that through industry links, it came to us. So, we have a strong and deep-rooted relationship with the UK. Moreover, our values are very much in line with those of the Non-League Day movement. It helps to promote the type of youth and grassroots football that is so important to our philosophy.”
Prior to the fixture, the London club organised a historical exhibition. During this, they showed off artefacts from their visit to Bilbao in 1921. Furthermore, their club historian delivered an incredibly insightful speech.
In the aftermath of the presentation, the Vice-President of the Spanish side, Jon Ruigómez, gifted a small lion statue to Dulwich chairman, Ben Clasper.
The base of the figure read: “From the Pride of Biscay to the Pride of South London, celebrating community football on Non-League Day.”
Clasper showed his gratitude to Athletic Club for the support, highlighting the shared values that both clubs aim to uphold.
He said: “It’s fantastic. One of the things that people like about this club is that we treat away fans the same as home fans. So they love coming here. But to have visitors, especially from Athletic, is just superb. They’ll fit in really well. We looked into the way the clubs are run, the supporters. I think it’s a really good fit and they’ll have a fantastic day.”
Athletic Bilbao and Dulwich Hamlet share the same goal
The enthusiastic travelling contingent handed out badges to anyone who asked about their attendance.
Ultimately both clubs believe in the Spanish phrase, ‘auzolana’ (a neighbourhood working together for the common good). And that certainly showed in abundance. So often in football, fans forget their love of the game and clash in horrifying scenes. But on Saturday, there was a real feeling of solidarity, which will hopefully have a monumental impact on the way we celebrate ‘the beautiful game’ going forward.
Read: Manchester United and Real Betis team up for a very worthy cause (sporf.com)
Featured Image Credit: Athletic Bilbao