Athletic Club de Bilbao are renowned for having a rather peculiar criteria when choosing their players: they all have to come from the Basque Country, a historic region located between a section of the North of Spain and the South of France. But there are other aspects that make Athletic a special club; for instance, their great effort in promoting cultural activities.
This month, Athletic Club have organised the eighth edition of their Festival Letras y Fútbol, a festival about football literature. Working alongside the Biblioteca Foral de Bilbao, one of the main libraries in the city, the club has arranged a series of sessions with 11 different football authors. The festival started on the 20th of November with a conversation between Jonathan Wilson, Sid Lowe and Michael Calvin under the title ‘Can the world be explained through football?’. The other three talks that followed (‘Football, culture and surroundings’, ‘Football and Euskera Culture’ and ‘Football, literature and society’) were with local cultural personalities including authors, musicians and film directors.
This year’s festival had another feature beside the main four sessions. In August, the German author David Safier had written a short story from the pitch of San Mamés. Athletic Club’s foundation —the body responsible for the organisation of these cultural events— printed 20,000 copies of that short story which were given away for free on the local libraries this month. Back in 2014, they had already given away 60,000 copies of short stories in the tube and the buses of the city. Those short stories were given to those who were spotted reading a book during the journey.
German author David Safier writing his short story from the pitch:
In 2015, the festival was given a new addition that strengthened the links between the team and the supporters. It was named ‘Athletic Club de Lectura (Athletic Reading Club).’ Through this project, the fans could suggest a book to a member of the club —it could be the president, the manager or one of the players— and then that member would have to chose one book, read it, and talk about it on a session of the festival. The reading club had a great reception, and so this year it is not limited to the festival but will take place throughout the whole year. Every month will have a different player receiving suggestions from the supporters, who can send their recommended books through the club’s website.
‘Athletic Club de Lectura’ paid homage to Eduardo Galeano in 2015, an Uruguayan author that had written one of the finest examples of football literature. Following Galeano’s death, the club published a video featuring a legendary goalkeeper for the club, José Ángel Iribar, two goalkeepers which were playing at the time for the men’s first team and one goalkeeper from the women’s side. They all read the chapter about the goalkeeper position from Galeano’s iconic book ‘Football in Sun and Shadow’:
With these kind of cultural projects, Athletic Club not only promotes football literature and reading habits for their players, but they also enhance the feeling of belonging at the club.