SportsThe "department of smiles" of San Mamés

The “department of smiles” of San Mamés

When they started going to San Mamés together, his grandfather presented him as the future ‘9’ of Athletic Club. Although that illusion quickly vanished for Galder Reguera (Bilbao, 1975). At the age of eight or nine, he already knew that he would never be good enough to play with the lions. Disappointment left a splinter stuck in the rather sensitive heart of a boy who was putting aside the balls to grab the books. He devoured classic novels, graduated in Philosophy, began to write, but not even in those did he forget his first great love. There were so many nights dreaming on the lawn of La Catedral that one day he ended up trying an unlikely leap from letters to sports. And it turned out well. In 2008, the team of his life allowed him to start a unique cultural project and fulfill what his aitite, who was no longer there, would have always dreamed: to see him contribute to the greatness of the colors red and white.

Reguera’s is one of the prominent surnames on the increasingly fruitful path that unites football and culture. In his spare time, and stimulated by the current generated by magazines such as Panenka or Libero and publishers like KO books or Against, began to build a work steeped in a deep and at the same time sentimental discourse on the game based on essays (Soccer culture (s), 2008), novels (Life offside, 2019 and Death and the fan, 2019) or diaries crossed by memory and reflection (Sons of soccer, 2017). Something not so frequent in Spain, where there are few figures equivalent to those of Nick Hornby or Eduardo Galeano, writers who raised and expanded the story around the spherical by putting it to roll in the field of fiction.

Professionally, his position as Project Manager at the Athletic Club Foundation allowed him to open the same path in reverse. That is, to get a team and its employees interested in and encouraged the arts or thinking. A change of perspective that brought initiatives never seen before – the last, a photo exhibition of former player and coach Ernesto Valverde, and the next the eighth edition of a film and football festival – and perhaps a new trophy (without the need to score goals ) to the Biscayan showcases. In November they will know if they take the More than Football Award, an award for the best social initiative among all European clubs and federations.

Coach Ernesto Valverde in the exhibition of photographs signed by him that can be visited in Bilbao.Athletic club
Footballer Xabi Etxeita and writer Héctor Abad Faciolince at an event organized by the Athletic Club Foundation in 2016.
Soccer player Xabi Etxeita and writer Héctor Abad Faciolince at an event organized by the Athletic Club Foundation in 2016.Athletic club

The writer likes to define his area, where he shares space with a dozen colleagues, such as the “department of smiles.” He says it because of the emotional nature of his work, because on many occasions they have been closer to tears and goose bumps than joy. For example, when players from the first women’s team met at the film festival organized by the club with the protagonist of Freedom fields, a documentary about a group of women determined to form a national team in Libya. Or when the central Xabi Etxeita (today a SD Eibar player) and the novelist Héctor Abad Faciolince, world renowned for The oblivion that we will be, adapted by Fernando Trueba in the cinema, they began to talk about the death of their respective parents in a library. “We do small things, but very big,” says the author, also affected by the absence of a biological father figure that he portrayed in Family Book, his last title published by Seix Barral last year.

“You lost the game, but you beat me”

The involvement of elite professionals is perhaps the most striking of the Foundation’s cultural activities; They range from reading clubs among fans and footballers to the publication of texts signed by active figures, such as Óscar de Marcos and Ainhoa ​​Tirapu, who has gone from being a myth in goal to training goalkeepers in Lezama, or the distribution of more than 50,000 books in educational centers, where posters promoting reading were also placed with male and female players. In this trait, Reguera believes, underlies the will of an institution that wants to resemble a family and, therefore, asks its stars to get involved in the improvement of society, taking root with a land and a hobby.

“In the meetings they do not come to appear, they are at the same level as the public. Those who come do so of their own free will and many times there are several candidates ”, says the person in charge of the project who has been able to bury times where other football and other masculinities prevailed. “At the beginning, I knew of a player who read a lot and I invited him [a un club de lectura]. He refused because he did not want to be pigeonholed in the image of an intellectual ”, says the writer about a professional who two years later did end up accepting the proposal.

The players of the Athletic Club women's first team with the protagonist of one of the films presented at the club's film festival in 2019.
The players of the Athletic Club first women’s team with the protagonist of one of the films presented at the club’s film festival in 2019.Athletic club
Athletic Club footballer Óscar de Marcos during the presentation of his book 'Togo' in 2019.
Athletic Club footballer Óscar de Marcos during the presentation of his book ‘Togo’ in 2019.Athletic club

For Reguera, it is not surprising that such experiences germinated in a team of a profound “existentialist” nature: “The fan here is very philosophical. We are always wondering who we are, where we come from and where we are going. On the value of our identity [solo juegan con futbolistas nacidos, criados o con raíces en el País Vasco y Navarra] in such a globalized context. On the idea that we can only win in a certain way ”, he reflects.

Being from Athletic is something different and he learned it first hand on one of the many afternoons he accompanied his grandfather to the stadium. “I was about 12 years old and in a game I rebuked a rival. He pointed to the ground and told me not here, as if making me understand that we were in the Cathedral and that it was sacred ”.

Since he abandoned his status as a fan in love to become a representative of the club, the writer was more aware than ever of the need to preach and practice the values ​​of a group that has earned the respect of the football planet and of some of the most illustrious fans. “In 2012 we invited Eduardo Galeano. I saw the final of the Copa del Rey against Barça at his side. The next day, after the defeat, he came to Bilbao to give a conference and told me: ‘You lost the game, but you beat me.’