Around The Grounds: San Mames, Athletic Bilbao

Chris Wright

13th, March 2013


By Chris Wright

At the end of the current season Atheltic Bilbao’s historic San Mames stadium will be closing its doors for the final time ahead of the club completing their proposed move into their new stadium – the Nuevo San Mames – for the 2013/14 campaign.

As such, 2012/13 will be Bilbao’s 100th and final season at La Catedral, with building work almost complete on the three sides of their new home that are due to open up in time for next season. The Nuevo San Mames is being built directly adjacent to the old ground, with the West stand (which currently sports the famous “San Mames Arch”) being turned around and converted into a new end terrace – such is the size hike of the new stadium.

The three stands that are to open for the 2013/14 La Liga campaign will provide a temporary capacity of around 36,000, though once work is complete on the fourth side of the bowl (they’re hoping it’s done in time for 2014/15) the total capacity of the nuevo stadium will just a shade under 53,000…

Sadly, it looks like the arch is set to go too if the architect’s drawings are anything to go by.

Built in 1913 and named after the nearby Church of San Mames (Saint Mammes was a 15-year-old Christian martyr who was thrown to lions at Caesarea, hence Athletic’s club nickname: Los Leones), the original stadium is and forever will be referred to as “La Catedral” by Bilbao fans; partly due to it’s religious provenance and partly due to the fact that 40,000 supporters flock to worship there ever other weekend or so.

It’s not like we’ve ever been in the flesh, but we’ll always remember the San Mames fondly for the unique atmosphere it has radiated through our television screens on several occasions over the past few years – the last time being the great game between Athletic and Manchester United in the Europa League last season.

Intense, passionate and lively as well as being warm, welcoming and family-orientated, the knackered old concrete terraces of the San Mames have in essence served as the Basque region’s national stadium for the past century and, Gawd bless ‘er, she will be missed…

For those wanting to read on further about the history of San Mames, you could do worse than scour Estadios de Futbol en Espana’s piece on Bilbao’s spiritual home.

This post was inspired by Pies’ good buddy @MatthewStanger and his wonderful little lament for San Mames as part of his Top 10 Favourite Stadiums piece for Football 365 (spoiler: it’s only at No. 8!).

(Photos: PA/exterior shot: Inside Spanish Football)

More in Pies’ Around the Grounds series…

FC Gspon’s Ottmar Hitzfeld Stadium, The Highest Pitch In Europe
Valley Parade, Bradford City
Prenton Park, Tranmere
Wankdorf, Young Boys

Estadio Municipal, SC Braga

Home Park, Plymouth Argyle

Victoria Park, Hartlepool United
Bloomfield Road, Blackpool
Ninian Park, Cardiff City
Wankdorf Stadium, Young Boys
Portman Road, Ipswich Town
Recreation Ground, Aldershot