March 1, 2020 will not go down in Athletic history as another date. The same day that José Ángel Iribar, the legendary Txopo, turned 77, the rojiblanca fans said goodbye, without realizing it, to going to San Mamés.

That duel between Athletic and Villarreal was still one more confrontation of the many that the Bilbao team has to face throughout a season. The lions were then imposed by the minimum to the yellow team with a goal, a penalty, a Raul Garcia. 36,350 spectators, according to official data, watch the game.

The San Mamés lathes have not worked since. The coronavirus pandemic forced a closure to the public of the stadium that still lasts. Closed-door meetings became the norm.

Soccer, as a sport rather than a business, began to lose its true essence in an emblematic temple from that day on. There is nothing colder than seeing the lions in action in front of their rival on duty without hearing a single murmur in the stands. The feeling of emptiness in life has little or nothing to do with what can be sensed through the small screen.

Television, as far as the entire show is concerned, limits the viewer's vision to what happens around the green and its surroundings. The passion of the fans is only felt and shared in a rigorous live. The same feeling of emptiness, of saying ‘this is not football’, can be felt, of course, in Anoeta, Mendizorrotza, Ipurua or any other field in the world.

Health, of course, is what matters, but beyond this non-negotiable premise, what is evident is that the closure of San Mamés is a real problem for Athletic. At a sporting level, but also economic, social and institutional. The rojiblanco club cannot be conceived without the afternoons, nights or even mornings in their stadium watching the lions in action. The big problem today is not the level of animation, but the discouragement.


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