The Basque market town of Gernika (Guernica) was immortalised in art form by Pablo Picasso after its destruction by aerial bombardment during the Spanish Civil War. It is now a thriving and peaceful town with a struggling third tier football club. We paid homage to both Gernika’s history and football team when we visited.
The historic town of Gernika (Guernica), rather like Coventry, Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki after it, is one of those cities synonymous with being destroyed by bombing. In fact, Gernika was arguably the first systematic bombing raid on an unarmed civilian population.
Gernika was a symbolic seat of the Basque tradition long before the morning of 26 April 1937. On this day – a market day when the population was swelled to around 10,000 people – Hitler and Mussolini’s air forces at the behest of General Franco descended on the town. When they left, it was a smouldering wreck.
While the town was 30kms away from a major front line in the Spanish Civil War, it was a clear attempt to strike at the heart of Basque culture and moral.
Here’s the first report out of Gernika following the bombing:
The world was outraged, and Pablo Picasso with them. He painted the infamous mural with now lies behind reinforced glass at Madrid’s Reina Sofia gallery.
Fast-forward to 2016 and I took a 50-minute train ride from Bilbao’s Atxuri station, which weaves through wonderfully serene, pine-laden mountains, and I found a very pleasant and peaceful town.
The famous oak of Gernika, where Basque leaders have traditionally met over the centuries, is still there, meaning Gernika maintains its significance in the administrative life of the Basque Country. It’s a relatively young oak, but the previous occupant survived the bombing. There’s a museum to what happened in April 1937 and a park commemorating peace, which includes a Henry Moore statue.
Visiting Gernika Club
Gernika Club plays in the third tier of Spanish football, La Segunda Division B, Group 2. Since its foundation in 1922 the club has never been higher than this level.
The club plays at the 2,290-capacity Estadio Urbieta, a sports complex that also features a rugby club and several five-a-side pitches. It’s only a 15-minute walk along the river from the centre of town.
The ticket booth didn’t open until 50 minutes before kick-off and I paid €15 for a colourful bucket seat and a view partially blocked by cameras.
The opposition was the far more illustrious Albacete from Spain’s east. They had a hardcore six fans who mingled well enough with the home crowd. Albacete had a very attractive Roma-like away kit made by Hummel, while Gernika Club were Valencia-esque with their white shirts and black shorts. The oak of Gernika features on the club crest, of course, and both teams lined up one to eleven, which was old skool in a good way.
The artificial pitch made for interesting viewing, and a surprising amount was played in the air. The old boys next to me chuntered away only to break into voice when unhappy, shouting ‘¡Hostia!’ and ‘¡Joder!’ as the home team laboured.
Gernika Club took the lead on 30 minutes through a deflected shot. The keeper could have done better, I think. The lead only lasted ten minutes, but close to the end a golazo (amazing goal) from Gernika Club’s substitute – his first touch – settled affairs minutes from the end.
It was a pleasant experience – there were no songs, no chants, no ultras or drums, just a sedate and communal, family friendly diversion.
How to get to Gernika Club
Gernika is 50 minutes by train from Bilbao Atxuri station. Fares cost €3.15 each way. The Urbieta stadium is 15 minutes walk north.