448 Zenbakia 2008-07-11 / 2008-07-18


Jose Angel Iribar. Ex-football players: To be a good sportsmen to need a lot of imagination; you need to use it right back from you are young



Our weekly magazine Euskonews & Media will reach its tenth anniversary in 2008. To mark this event, within a very extensive programme of activities, every month until December we will publish a special interview with an inportant figure in the recent history of our country. It is the best gift we can give the thousands of readers who read our magazine every week.

Jose Angel Iribar is one of the most important names in the world of Basque football, if not the greatest. He reached the peak of his profession, where he remained a long time, in particular during his period as goalkeeper of the Athletic de Bilbao. This made his name spread throughout the world, where his simple character earned him the respect of all the enthusiasts of football and of sport in general. On another note, since he began his career in football, he combined his profession to perfection with the Basque culture, especially with the Basque language, becoming a grand example for all of the Basque society.

Basque soccer simply would not be the same without Jose Angel Iribar, would it?

I think I have done everything I could to contribute, but a great many others have done exactly the same as I have. There has been Basque soccer for long time now, and there have always been many good players, well known all over the world. In this sense Basque football is something we have built all together. This is quite clear for me, everybody has contributed what they could, of course, everybody from their own field. Models have never been the same with the passing of time, and this is also the case in soccer. Therefore, we could say that many of us have pushed Basque soccer to the forefront.

Jose Angel, as humble as ever. In any case you had an exceptional opportunity. It was in your times, in fact, when there appeared media that did not exist up to then, especially television. Thanks to television you became much more famous than any of the previous mythical players. We have all heard about Zarra, Panizo and many others, but since we had not seen them on a soccer pitch, the image of Iribar is therefore much closer to us... without doubt, television has been a big help in that aspect...

Yes, indeed. As you say, television started in the times when I was starting in the world of soccer. I believe the first world championship that was broadcast live on television was that in England in 1966. And I was there. That contributed very much to disseminating one’s image and one’s way of playing but, in any case, there have always been chronicles on the players from the times before us. And those chronicles were very valuable for me. Because, at the end of the day, that is where we have been feeding from, so to say, and that’s also where we have learnt from: the way soccer was, its rules, its tricks...

Iribar: zarauztarra, euskaldun, you yourself have preferred to carry out this interview in Basque... I remember that when you retired from soccer, the money raised in your homage match was dedicated to financing a Basque dictionary on soccer terminology. This honours you. Why did you take that decision then?

Well, because there was then an enormous blank space to cover on the matter. We used to feel it in our playing, among friends and in the cloakrooms. We used to comment: “why don’t we use Basque more when we play and in the rest of the world of soccer?” But, it was also that we had a very ... how could I say? A very limited terminology. There were too few words to be able to use them well. Those were the 1980s; it was when Basque television, radio stations in Basque, etc were starting. They were trying to take the Basque language to the media. As for me, when I saw the opportunity was there, at that time I thought it was very appropriate for me to offer something to this game that had given me so much. Because until then I had always considered that homages were just another way of making money, that’s all. In my opinion, in a homage it is necessary to have a feeling, to feel well and receive the applause and affection from people. Then I thought: “I am going to make that contribution”, and I thought it was the appropriate moment, also because among us there was a great feeling of unity. And looking back from the present, I think it was a very good decision. That’s the way I see it. Without any vanity I can say I am proud of that decision.

To be proud of something is no sin...

And more so seeing how Basque is used now in sports, not only in soccer but in many other sports as well. Yes, this dictionary was beneficial in terms of using Basque. It was an instrument to bring it out to the media, to the newspapers... well... I am quite happy about it.

In that aspect you were also a model to follow. And at least we, the Basque speakers, and those of us who love the Basque language, have to be grateful to you.

I was not the first to do something like that. We all know through the media, that many famous players have donated considerable amounts of money, perhaps not for a dictionary, but for other initiatives. I always appreciated that kind of thing.

You were telling us before that Basque had progressed a lot in the media, and in all sports, and, of course, in the world of soccer... I must confess to you that I met a young soccer player in the early 1970s, one morning when the monks of Mondragon took us to Basozelai in Basauri. And there was a certain Iribar, still quite young, just arrived from Zarautz, who used to play as a goalkeeper in the Baskonia... I don’t remember the score of that match against the Indautxu. But the image of that goalkeeper is still engraved in my brain. Since then he was my favourite. And since then, just like Basque has progressed, soccer has also changed quite notoriously, hasn’t it?

Yes, it has changed enormously. Just think: that must have been way back in the 1961-1962 season. I think the main change has taken place in the way soccer is managed. It has also become much more professionalised. It used to be much more of an amateur affair, to a certain extent. Also, people did not use to dedicate so much time to work on sports, to reflect on tactics, in the implementation of theory. That, to some extent, had its advantages, mainly in terms of the sport. Before, perhaps, it used to be nicer to watch, because players made more mistakes, and the more crafty players would take advantage of that and that’s what made it spectacular. How? Scoring more goals and playing in a far more open manner. Now the game is much more closed and, on the other hand, clubs and club managers do their work in a different way. Above all, nearly all the current clubs have become joint stock companies. They invest money in the club as if it was business with which to make money. Sport, therefore, has become an excuse to make a profit. This wasn’t so before. Before, the team was made up with the money that was raised on the pitch, and all the teams used to play more or less in the same way.

But a soccer joint stock company cannot be the same as a company that manufactures locks or produces chocolate. Its investment plans cannot be the same either. We can invest money in industry, but how on earth can anybody risk money in soccer team, if its products depend on the virtues and mistakes of 11 players who run behind a ball in short trousers on Sundays?

It’s completely different, although there are those who do not see it that way. In soccer, there are a lot of new people and many of them think, it seems to me at least, that everything should be managed as in a company. And it is not like that; players are people, with all their advantages, defects and virtues... one is not the same as the companion next to him... ever. This is a very difficult job. As you well say, it is not like manufacturing locks...

I have a friend who immediately left the job of vice president of the Athletic of Bilbao, for which he had been chosen. As he confessed to me, professionally he came from the Iberdrola company, and he could not make the club’s corporate model depend on a bad night the centre-forward may have had. He just couldn’t risk it. In my friend’s opinion, the Athletic –and all the other teams like it– was not an ordinary company but a sports club and therefore could not be managed with the mentality of an entrepreneur.

I agree completely with that friend of yours. And if he is the one I am thinking of... he knew the reason well, because before being in management he had been a player in the Athletic. That is true: the best corporate management cannot guarantee the best result, not even a good result.

In any case, soccer has changed, without doubt. Those of us who lived then remember that during the Franquist period one used to say –and we were quite convinced of it besides– that the regime used to use soccer to keep people quiet. But nowadays there is much more soccer than in Franco’s times, it being clear, however, that the current model does not mean that Franquism did not drug us with soccer. But in England, France, in Germany... they have all gone through a similar transformation and it must be significant to be surrounded by so much soccer, don’t you think?... the different sectors of society speak about soccer in absolute tranquillity. Left-wingers –in public at least– used to abhor soccer.

First, I believe soccer has its charm, and many people like it, more and more everyday. It is attractive in many aspects and it has become a world-level social phenomenon. As you say, nowadays, many people have joined in, and all have introduced themselves to some extent into the world of soccer. Even intellectuals appreciate it, recognise it, criticise it... that used to be different, that is true. In Franco’s times it was said that it was a sport imposed on the working-class from above. People used to use that expression... the opium of the people. But nowadays, or so I think, there has been a noteworthy change and more people like it. Otherwise, not so many spectators would go to soccer stadiums. It is also true that the media are giving more and more importance to sport, to soccer in our case. In a certain way this helps us in our daily lives, how could I say? ... even if only to bring out the devil we bear within. And since it is a frivolous matter, because with sport it is possible to be frivolous, you can speak about any player in absolute freedom... I think that also has its influence. It is tremendous to see how soccer is the subject of conversation for so many people... yes, yes, it is a world-level phenomenon, throughout the world.

So it is, because even in those places were soccer was not played before, the same thing is happening. It seems to be a contagious passion...

Yes, it is a passion... of course, there is also another reason, and it is that it is very organised: there is the FIFA, the UEFA... In Africa, in any town, in any country, everybody knows about soccer. And now even in the United States. Television takes the show to the very last nook and cranny of the world. And it has boosted passion.

That is significant...

Yes. Besides, when the great championships are organised, every town, every village in every nation uses soccer to show to the world its own little speck of superiority, which are their characteristics, how far forward they are...

Like a propaganda platform...

That’s it, like a platform. As a means of promoting a country. That is visible in the European Championship, in a League Championship, both in the European and in the World Championships. In terms of infrastructures, the expenses, the investments that are made are enormous, but they are taken advantage of even to promote certain artistic aspects. The works that are made now are considered monuments. Both the new stadiums and their surroundings have the same consideration as the pyramids or similar monuments in history... and it seems that the demonstration makes it possible to did use that the country that is not capable of doing something like that can not expect anything from the modern world. Therefore, soccer is and it is a platform for that promotion, and well taken advantage of by politicians.

When you were speaking I was remembering those images offered to us so often by the media. Their power is enormous; in fact, we have all been able to see in the footage of those terrible reports that keep coming from a poor country in Africa, from Iraq or from Iran, kids and youngsters with T-shirts from the Barcelona or Manchester United. Even the biggest of miseries there is always somebody that turns up with a T-shirt that bears the name of Ronaldinho...

Yes, soccer penetrates even in those places with the biggest of miseries. In this globalised world you always find image and publicity... as soon as it happens, news is known in the other end of the world. This has changed the incidence of soccer considerably. Current players are very well known all over the world, which didn’t happen to us in the past. If we played a world championship, the most that happened was that part of the world saw us, but now absolutely everybody sees you.

However, this phenomenon is not applicable to all sports...

No, no. Soccer has... another dimension, at least from my point of view. Somebody could say to me: “it is a big world and there are other sports in it”. I don’t know. In the United States, for example, they have a different kind of football, and other sports. But, in general, soccer is the most watched sport and the sport that moves the most spectators.

Jose Angel, what do you feel when a teenager approaches you and says he wants to be a goalkeeper? What do you say to him?

(Laughs) That brings fond memories. When I was young, I saw Carmelo, of the Athletic in Zarautz and being beside him was very agreeable. What do I feel and what do I say? Well, first I speak a little with him. I encourage him, I transmit a message of happiness for him to like soccer. “How old are you? No, you are tall; let’s see those hands... No, those hands... what do you eat? Do you take care of yourself?... don’t go around closing bars, eh?” If you say things like that they look at your face and they are impressed. They see there are people standing around and they feel proud of themselves. You have to use a bit of pedagogy... and often the parents then come and say to me: “Jeez, congratulations! Now the kid obeys me, whereas before...” you always have to use your common sense, and with kids you should not take things out of context. The objective is not that they live obsessed with soccer because they are kids. This is not good for a teenager. They have to follow all the process step by step, without a hurry.

Did somebody advise you?

Yes, yes. As a kid, and tell you the truth, our myths –so to say– were local, or from the village, those who played in Zarautz. And when they said something to you, jeez, that was something to take into account.

And then, did anybody advise you in your sports life?

Of course. That is the trainer’s job; some do it more than others. At the beginning, at least, during the first few years, when you get started, the trainer has to point out certain corrections, breathing exercises and other things. Then, to tell the truth, when you have been playing for a few years, if the trainers see that you work well, well, they tend to leave the goalkeeper in peace. In my case, at least once I had attained a certain category they trusted me and I did what I wanted. In any case, a sportsman’s life is full of risks, and to have trusted advisers is a good thing. And more so if we bear in mind the hectic rhythm of contemporary life.

You are the trainer of the Basque national soccer team ... and it’s been quite some time since we have been waiting for our national soccer team to become official one day. I wonder if we would not do better, instead of insisting along that long and winding road, if we would not do better to start with the sport that is completely ours. Soccer, of course is there, but in my opinion we have jai alai... why don’t we start there?

I also make myself the same question, because we have seen how difficult it is to introduce oneself in the international circuits. The very jai alai, that is played all over the world and is originally ours, and they don’t give us the chance to play as a Basque national team throughout the world... if this happens with jai alai what wouldn’t happen with other sports? This is an extremely incisive question. I don’t have an answer.

I am not saying, by any means, that we should stop knocking on the door to attain international recognition. But, what happens if we don’t attain such a recognition? Are we going to be desperate because of that? Isn’t it after all a mere sport?

Yes, without doubt. We have to keep practising sport, whether it is official or not, but each of us within his possibilities and means, we have to keep going forward.

When we speak of these races to attain the international status, sport covers certain feelings. We all know, of course, what there is behind this movement. But, so many years have gone by... do you have any good vibrations on the matter? On the efforts being made to offer Basque sports an official international status?

I think this is a very difficult matter. I have always told myself that things should be more natural, more normal; at the end of the day, soccer is soccer, and private institutions manage it. UEFA, FIFA and all those entities are private. The most normal things should be, if I have the intention to participate in that entity, to make my application, in much the same manner as in any other private entity. And if you put your capacity on the table, together with the necessary instruments, and to fulfil all the conditions the entity demands of its members ... the doors should be open, right? Well no! You have to follow the official path and in our case we need permission from the Spanish Federation ... all of this is quite incomprehensible, isn’t it? Finally, what counts is the will, the nonexistent political will in the Spanish authorities for us to attain an international status. In various fields, answering your question, the path has been followed right to the end. We have been to the institutions, but in vain. Even though we want it, the response has been negative.

Surely you know Alfredo Etxabe, don’t you?

Yes, of course I do.

Alfredo Etxabe managed, way back in 1980, to introduce the Basque national team in the International Sambo Federation. As you know, Sambo is a mortality of wrestling. He even managed to bring the world championship to Gasteiz. The Spanish government sent the Guardia Civil to the sports installation in which the games were being held in order to stop it. They went in and they stopped the championship from taking place with the force of arms. A few months later something curious happened: the Spanish national football team was playing against Scotland and from that game depended its participation in I don’t remember what championship. Spanish society was trembling, because it wasn’t quite sure that the national team would be able to overcome that game. The media were also nervous: patriotic honour was endangered. Taking advantage of this matter, I wrote an article offering the Spaniards the formula for their classification, reminding them of what they did with the Sambo championship in Vitoria-Gasteiz: to send in the Guardia Civil and forbid the Spain-Scotland match. As far as I know, Scotland is not a state is it? So, arrest the Scottish football players and that’s it! As you have mentioned, private law regulates International Federations. We have not been able to overcome obstacles and barriers. And I have a few questions. Don’t we have the necessary lobbying capacity to do so? Where is the Basque Diaspora in the case of jai alai?

We should generate more pressure. But in an international context. And we are too few and too dispersed for that, in my opinion. It is not easy at all. At the end of the day, there is a legal political position that was taken here in the Parliament. The Basque Parliament opened the way to act in an official capacity. The law on Basque sport has also opened that possibility. The Statute proclaims that right quite clearly. But afterwards, when it comes to implementing the machinery, that has to be done from above, and as there is no will for that, you do not get anything... it is clear that there is something that doesn’t work well. The Basque Diaspora could also do something more in the case of jai alai... but I believe this is quite a slippery matter...

Who will be the first to manage it? Catalonia, the Basque Country?

They may both get there at the same time. I believe we could go together... Catalonia has other sports modalities they are more identified with. Hockey, for example. They were just about to get it, but in the end the International Federation rejected it, and that is the discussion they are in now.

Going back to soccer. I am going to put you in a tight spot. Could you please give me the names of the 11 best Basque players that you have met, so as to form your ideal team with them? You are a trainer, and I am sure you would dare to do so...

The list would be much longer than just 11 and I would not want... I don’t want anybody to get angry with me...

Don’t you dare...?

No, I don’t want to forget everybody, and I could easily forget somebody. There are many. I played for 17 years and I am also in it as the national trainer. Therefore, I have some very long lists and two or three players with a very high standard could occupy each position. Without doubt, every football fan has his own team, right? I would let the fans make the team; they know a lot, and perhaps they are under less pressure and I am sure they would be right.

So you decline my petition. Tell me at least, in other sports, who has been in the elite in the Basque Country?

In the Basque Country? In cycling, Indurain, without doubt. I also liked Marino Lejarreta quite a lot. In soccer, as a goalkeeper I used to appreciate Zubizarreta and Arkonada quite a lot. Retegi in jai alai, and now I support Aimar Olaizola quite a lot...

¿And in rowing?

Zarautz has brought out very few boats. I have supported Orio. I have an uncle in Orio who used to row, as did his son as well. I have always had an eye on Orio. Now I am a little bit out, but I am sure that in my times there were some very good and famous sportsmen.

As far as I am concerned, I have to confess that you were always my favourite, but that is nothing especially original because in those times we all supported Iribar, didn’t we? What a trio! Zamora on one hand, Yashin after him and lastly Iribar. Those were our references in soccer ...

That was a very long time ago...

You met both one and the other. What were those characters like?

They were very nice in my opinion. I was younger but in all the occasions I was with them they had a very good attitude with me, they spoke very well of me. They greeted me very warmly and I have always been very thankful to them for that. They were both the best goalkeepers in their times and I have always remember the attitude they had with me. When I was still active, playing, during a summer tournament they made me a small homage and they both participated. I thanked them from the bottom of my heart for that. It was for me an inmense honour to have those two goalkeepers beside me... I appreciate them both as sportsmen and as individual persons.

Is there any other goalkeeper that you have admired?

Yes, from my times I used to like Gordon Banks, the famous English goalkeeper. He was very good. Afterwards there have been others with a very high level: the German Sepp Maier in Bayern Munich, the Dane Peter Schemeichel who played for many years in Manchester United, the Italian Dino Zoff in Juventus. Also, here, los those that came after me, both Zubizarreta and Arkonada. As I said before, I have admired both very much. I believe they have been very high-level goalkeepers, valued throughout the world. And now, the goalkeeper who everybody is paying attention to them that I also like is Iker Casillas.

And why aren’t there any more relevant Basque goalkeepers lately?

That is an interesting question. I believe there are good goalkeepers, but right now none of them is number one. A few of them are very good. There is, for example, Almunia, who was playing in Arsenal. He has become a high-level goalkeeper; it was difficult for him, he has stood out a bit late in the day, but there he is. In the Athletic we have Gorka Iraizoz, who is also extraordinary; but unfortunately he got injured but he is other goalkeeper who can do a lot, who can become a Basque football star.

There is also the fact that a goalkeeper’s work has always been very well valued around here. Perhaps we work more; starting on the beach and then little by little, we get to the top. Perhaps it is that in other places the goalkeeper’s work is valued less, and less work is done with them. That gives us a certain advantage. In Europe I also used to see Slavic, Norwegian, Swedish and Dutch goalkeepers and they still needed a little bit of work. Now all of them, since they started to work as we used to do, have reduced the advantage we have over them. Over the last few years they have been specifically working with goalkeepers, and they are starting to catch up with our level.

So we have not gone down in level but ...

... the others have increased theirs.

It used to be said before that another reason was that goalkeepers here used to play jai alai...

That helped a lot. Jai alai has certain special characteristics. Perhaps all sports have to do with the necessary attitude in soccer, but jai alai contributes an enormous advantage. Starting young, you need intuition in the way you position yourself, in the way you find your balance, in the way you move backwards and forwards, left and right, in the type of reflexes. To play jai alai well you need all those abilities and all those abilities can be channelled towards soccer. Perhaps like in tennis; there are some games that offer that possibility. I also played jai alai, like everybody else my age.

But going back to the previous question about why we don’t have good goalkeepers as we used to, I would like to expand on that. The situation in which we lived since we were kids, the style of life, has nothing to do with what youngsters today are living through. The way you have grown up as a kid is very important, because this has an evident influence in all the rest of your life. And this is also quite clear in sports. In other words, we used to grow and educate ourselves in sport, whereas today’s youngsters have everything within reach; perhaps we have given them too much and this is noticeable.

They have too much?

Yes, too much, we, on the other hand, were always hungry, so to say, right? And this is important to practise sport and progress all you need. Now players are offered everything prepared, and for this reason they do not work too much using the head. And to be a good sportsmen to need a lot of imagination; you need to use the imagination right back from the moment when you are young.

This also has its projection to all the other fields, if youngsters are given everything, then they do not use their imagination very much.

I have no doubt that this could be applied to many other fields. As far as soccer players are concerned, in terms of exercise, capacity of coordination in psicomotricity, in my times we had an enormous advantage. Until we were eight years old, I don’t know how many kilometres we might have run, how many trees we might have climbed, walking up and down the countryside... if you compare that with young people today... what do you find? They are sitting down, I don’t know how many hours sitting down! With their electronic games, with their attention on God knows what. They can’t even go up some stairs, and that because they have all the facilities. Treatises have been written on the matter.

This means that sports people from poor countries are better...

They have a considerable advantage, and that is the ability. For me it is clear that during the first years we have to give kids a ball, because loads of games can be played with a ball, out in the open. Everybody needs to research about themselves, and you don’t need great masters there, everybody has to exercise playing with his friends. In this way, everybody fulfils his possibilities and also enjoys it. And we have not offered this to today’s young people. Many young players to come to us age 9, 10, or 11 completely discoordinated in terms of their motricity, and this is a shame. Why is there such little intelligence in soccer? The problem comes right down from the roots: we have not brought up and educated our kids in a working environment. Those players who come from Africa, on the other hand, clearly show a different kind of strength, a different attitude, a different coordination ...

Then, in this aspect at least, we are going backwards, right?

In this yes. And then we want to correct it all with technology, with specific training. But it is too late, that is something you have to learn to be very good, to be a first class player.

That reality clashes with the philosophy of the Athletic...

Yes, it does, because what we have here is cement. And you notice it. Many kids you take today do not have the physical condition we used to have in our times, no way. Some things they do well, but they have a tremendous lack of coordination. They do not have the physical level they should have for their ages. Besides, they are very fragile, in that when they bump into a problem... they go away. Now you need a lot of psychologists to channel a little young people’s behaviour and for them to have a greater self-esteem.

On the short run it is very difficult to change that trend and besides I don’t know if such a change would not be considered as a step backwards... this is the negative side of development...

No doubt about it... and things are really difficult, yes Sir.

We mentioned Lev Yashin before, and I would not like to continue without saying that we used to know him as the “Black Spider” and that you also used to go out on the pitch dressed in black. Was this because of his influence on you?

That was then quite normal, it was normal played in black or in dark colours. When I arrived, Carmelo here also used to dress in black. That’s why, when I went into the Athletic that was the official goalkeeper T-shirt. After that, I made it my own colour, because I felt comfortable, and perhaps also –why not?– because the “Black Spider” used it. Having a model is quite habitual. I am not saying it is good or bad, just that in these things there is usually a certain complicity, the desire to imitate somebody. In the world of sports the same thing happens and I, always dressed in black, felt quite comfortable and elegant.

You are, if I am not mistaken, the player who has played the most matches in the Athletic: about 450...

Those are league matches. In total, indifferent championships, I played in 614.

There must have been both sweet and sour moments...

Those are the things that you remember. The best, the first, when I was contracted by Athletic. That was a dream come true, an enormous dream! Later, when you win the championship. When we brought back what was my first cup, seeing how people received us here in Bilbao, in Bizkaia, in the Basque Country, I felt tremendously satisfied, very happy, very proud. You felt you were part of the people, and this gave you a sense of happiness. Normally those moments are the best, like in many other aspects of life. The sense of triumph and the sense of being appreciated.

And the sad moments ?

The worst, probably, when we got to the UEFA championship final and we did not manage to win, even though we deserved it. This happened in the very Bilbao, in San Mames Stadium, in 1977, and although we had beaten Juventus 2-1 in the first match... the great Zoff we were speaking about before was in the other goal! That was a bad moment, and besides, that same year we lost the King’s Cup to Betis, in that famous final match in which we had to shoot 20 penalties. Unfortunately, things did not turn out well. As for sport, those were the worst moments. In Athletic at least. Afterwards, when I played in the Spanish national team, in 1964 we won the European Cup... in terms of sports this was very gratifying.

The famous goal...

Yes, Marcelino’s goal, scored against Yashin besides, Russia’s goalkeeper. Those were the most noteworthy moments in terms of sports.

That Spain and match was played in Madrid, presided by Franco...

Yes, in Madrid, in 1964, with Franco presiding. And Chamartin Stadium full to the top, with an extraordinary atmosphere.

In 1964 you were a national hero for the Spaniards. The last international match you played in April 1976. And on 5th December of the same year, you brought out the Basque flag in Atotxa Stadium, in the match against Real Sociedad, and suddenly you became the bull’s-eye of Spanish hate... of course, you did not return to the Spanish national team...

They did not call me any more.

What did you think when you brought out the Basque flag together with Kortabarria?

A very strong emotion and happiness when I saw and heard how the fans greeted it.

You confessed before that you sympathised with Arkonada and Zubizarreta. I remember the used to sing to A Arkonada that you: “No problem, we’ve got Arkonada”, and to Jose Angel Iribar: “Iribar, Iribar is great, nobody like Iribar”... What does one feel when you hear that from 40.000 people?

It makes you tremble. Of course, if they say this when you are playing correctly, then it can be very convenient, but if they say it because you have not been at your best ... it is not the same. It usually depended on what happened at each moment. I, for my part, I always took it as a way of cheering me along. Besides I used to think also that I had to channel the influence of the song towards the team, so that the positive for all, because at the end of the day soccer is a team game, and the team is what it should be based on.

At the beginning to commented that most teams, with the exception of Athletic, are joint stock companies. Besides, its peculiarity is that all its players are from the Basque Country. How much longer will it be able to maintain this model?

I think the members have something important to say on the matter, and also society as a whole has more and more to say, and the end of the day, society is very much implicated in the Athletic Club. Therefore, they all have the last word, and when it is necessary to take a decision, to change models or something like that... the members and society as a whole will be the ones who will decide. I am in favour of continuing with this model, with this philosophy, even if you have to overcome all kinds of difficulties. I believe that in this way we can provide an added value to the fan. That value comes out every bank holiday, every Sunday, in the Stadium with the response of the fans and spectators. It is very thrilling, although it does have its cost, and the fact is we make the product with the elements we have here.

That’s it, and it will also have its economic cost, won’t it? Besides, we are betting in favour of this philosophy, in favour of the breeding ground. And somebody else could take the fruit of that effort... as we usually say, “breeding ground or chequebook”. And we can see very well what happens...

Yes, yes. Even if soccer is in vogue, we have to think that we have to develop both the breeding ground and the chequebook. It is necessary to invest a lot. You have to invest in the breeding ground and you must reap a performance from that investment. That performance will depend on each era. Sportsmen are not produced like screws, always the same, but there are usually good years, that bring good harvests, and those are the ones that contribute strength in to recover and produce good results. That is my model.

Looking at the situation of Basque society, divided and powerless, looking at ourselves, what is it that unites the Basques more? The Athletic or the Tree of Gernika?

That is a delicate question. Both unite, but I think the Tree of Gernika more, because it reaches more the. Besides, it seems to me that the Tree of Gernika is something more serious. It is true that the Athletic as a very positive characteristic, and it is that it gathers in a single project people from different ideologies. Within this project power is not within a single group or a single ideology, of the whole of the entity in spite of the different ideologies, and that implies a considerable wealth. And that particularity has considerable value in the situation we are in now. Not too long ago we brought out all the politicians of the Town Hall of Bilbao in unison in a photograph. That is well that is also should be looking at in society.

30 years ago, politicians from the whole of the political spectrum gathered together under the Tree of Gernika, and nowadays it seems to me that it would be easier to get them together in San Mames stadium rather than in Gernika...

Perhaps so, perhaps more easily in the 110th anniversary of the Athletic or in the festivities.

If you were born again would you repeat what you have been? I am quite happy with what I have been. I believe that, knowing what I know now, I would do things better in soccer... and in life too. Jose Angel Iribar (Zarautz, 1943) Jose Angel Iribar Kortajarena, football player and trainer, was born in Zarautz (Gipuzkoa) on 1 March, 1943. He played in the position of goalkeeper in various teams: Salleco, Zarauz, Baskonia, and Athelic Club. Apart from this, he has been trainer of the Basque selection. From an early age, Jose Angel Iribar played in the lower categories of the Athletic, until in 1962 he joined the top category in First Division. His debut in First Division was on the 23 September, 1962 in a match against Malaga. In the 1969-1970 season, Jose Angel Iribar was awarded the Trofeo Zamora to the goalkeeper with the least goals conceded, with only 20 goals in 30 matches. He has played a total of 466 matches in First Division, becoming the player with the highest number of matches played in the history of the Athletic. In 1980, Jose Angel Iribar retired from the playing fields and went on to become trainer of the lower category teams in his club. During this period, in the 83-84 season, Bilbao Athletic came second in the Second Division league with his inestimable help. In the 86-87 season he became trainer of the top division team of the Athletic Football Club. Jose Angel Iribar has played internationally in the Spanish selection 49 times. His debut as an international placer was on the 8th of April 1964, in a match against Ireland. The last international match he played was on the 24th of April, 1976 against the Federal Republic of Germany. He was titular goalkeeper in the Eurocup in 1964, where Spain was crowned as champion.