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Going the Extra Mile: I’ve been going to games for 76 years – Athletic Club’s eternal fan

BeSoccer by BeSoccer @besoccer_com - 0 240

Pin For 76 years Agirrezabala, the man they call la Txapela del Athletic, has been following his side.
For 76 years Agirrezabala, the man they call la Txapela del Athletic, has been following his side.

Going the Extra Mile: I’ve been going to games for 76 years – Athletic Club’s eternal fan

BeSoccer by BeSoccer @besoccer_com - 0 240

As proud sponsor of the UEFA Europa League, Enterprise Rent-A-Car is celebrating those who Go the Extra Mile for their team

It was the dawn of a new era, the opening of a new home. They had to move on, but they’d refused to go far. After 99 years and 11 months, Athletic Bilbao had upped sticks and hit the road, only to settle some 50 metres away. They’d left the old San Mames for the new San Mames, a place where new memories would be born, and where the old ones would never be forgotten.

On opening night in 2013, as the TV cameras scanned the unfamiliar in search of some home comforts, of a reminder of what this place was and who it was for, they honed in on a lone Basque beret, perched just a few metres from the dugout.
 
For 76 years Jesus Agirrezabala, the man they call la Txapela del Athletic, has been following his side. Come rain or shine, his trademark txapela beret has been part of the fixtures and fittings at one of Spain’s oldest clubs.

“I was 10-years-old when I started going to Athletic and it has been the magic in my life ever since,” Jesus told Goal.

“One day I came up with the idea of showing my support with a txapela in Athletic colours, and I have worn it ever since.”

It’s not all he’s worn. His heart resting firmly on his Athletic sleeve, Jesus has battled fatigue and ill-health in his later life, but nothing can keep him away.

“Every time I go to a game people go mad, taking photos with me. It's a source of great pride,” says the 86-year-old.

And a humble pride at that. From the security staff to the players and all the way up to the club president, everyone knows Jesus.

“I’d always dreamed of meeting my idol, striker Julen Guerrero,” says Jesus’ grandson, Jon.

“When I was about 9-years-old, we went to a training session and Guerrero recognised my grandfather. ‘Jesus, come here!’ he said. That afternoon I played football with my hero and then we all went back to Guerrero’s house for coffee.”

Jesus has also been invited to the presidential suite on numerous occasions, but always declines. After all, la Txapela is part of the furniture. To leave his place would upset the feng shui.

“I remember one year I had to miss two or three games and everyone was so concerned that even the TV stations were asking where I was. 'Txapela? He’s not here? What's happening?'", recalls Jesus.

“Lots of television cameras have been to my home: local stations, yes, but also three from Madrid – and two who came all the way from Japan! That was crazy.”

Jesus is crazy for Athletic, and this season’s Europa League, too. He has great memories of Marcelo Bielsa’s thrilling side that finished runners-up in the 2011-12 season, particularly that magical evening when they blew away Manchester United at Old Trafford.

But Jesus is not expecting a repeat of those heroics this term, insisting he is just happy to see his club back in the competition.

“We are playing with a team of villagers, as we say here (Athletic select only players of Basque nationality). And we are up against the world! So, whatever it brings, we will be satisfied.”

He was more than satisfied on matchday 4, when local hero Aritz Aduriz became the first player to score five times in a single UEFA Europa League fixture as Genk were cast aside 5-3.

“It was another huge moment in our history,” says Jesus, who is more than familiar with Athletic’s great past.

“I've been here through it all, I’ve seen the greats: [Telmo] Zarra, [Rafael] Iriondo, Venancio [Garcia]... but the old football was totally different.”

Jesus, too, is different. He is special, the pride and passion of Athletic personified. And he’s leaving a legacy. Jon, a fanatical Athletic fan, is now following in his footsteps.

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