How Clubs Got Their Colours: Athletic Bilbao

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Athletic Bilbao is famously Basque and known throughout the world for its red-and-white striped shirts and black shorts. But where did they get those colours? The answer lies in England…


Basque football team Athletic Bilbao is a little like Yorkshire County Cricket Club used to be; to play for the team you had to be born in the region.


In the case of the Basque Country, this includes either side of the Pyrenees, hence French international Bixente Lizarazu’s 16 games with the club in the 1990s.


This fiercely nationalistic club was actually founded – like many football clubs in Spain – by British industrialists. Read Phil Ball’s excellent Morbo for more on the history of Spanish football and British influence.


As a major port on the north coast of Iberia, Bilbao very much mirrors Southampton in England, geographically as well as in industry and importance. The two cities’ football clubs also play in red-and-white stripes and black shorts. This is not a coincidence. [Continues]


Bilbao fans

Athletic Bilbao fans
Credit: Tsutomu Takasu via Creative Commons

Athletic’s original strip was white, then blue-and-white halves before 1909, when Bilbao student Juan Elorduy picked up 50 shirts in Southampton when catching the ship home. The colours are the same as the City of Bilbao’s flag. The club started using its now-familiar colours in 1910.

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Interestingly, surplus shirts from Elorduy’s haul were sent to Athletic’s Madrid youth brand – the future Atlético Madrid – so Southampton FC has inadvertently left its mark on La Liga.


Interesting factoid: Along with Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, Athletic Bilbao is the only team never to have been relegated from the top flight in Spain.