On Wednesday night, tens of thousands of people turned up to see Athletic Bilbao and Atlético Madrid play against each other in the San Mamés stadium in Bilbao, in Spain’s northern Basque Country region. It was a great success for women’s soccer in Spain. Even players from other teams in the Iberdrola League, Spain’s first division competition for women’s soccer, remarked on the massive turnout on social media.
The teams were not even fighting for a title – it was the quarterfinals of the Copa de la Reina, the equivalent of the men’s Copa del Rey. Atlético won 2-0 and advanced to the semifinals thanks to midfielders Ángela Sosa, who scored in the first half of the match, and Aurélie Kaci, who scored in the 94th minute.
No other stadium in Spain has seen so many spectators for a women’s sports competition
The match marks a milestone for women’s soccer in Spain. While there was a buildup of excitement ahead of the game in Bilbao, no one expected such high attendance. No other stadium in Spain has seen so many spectators for a women’s sports competition. According to official data, 48,121 people attended the game – 8,000 more than the number of spectators who turned up for Athletic Bilbao against Real Betis in the men’s division last Sunday. In fact, it is the largest turnout the stadium has seen this season.
The match breaks the previous record, also set in Bilbao, by 12,000 people. In 2003, in the former stadium, 36,000 spectators watched Athletic beat Seville’s team Hispalis 5-1. What’s more, the 48,000-strong crowd is the second-largest to attend a women’s soccer game in the world. The match is beaten only by the 51,211 people who turned out to see the Monterrey-Tigres game in the Mexican League last year. The last three finals of the women’s Champions League would have to be added up to come close to the turnout at San Mamés.
What’s more, the record was set on rainy, miserable night in the middle of winter. Athletic is one of the clubs that has most invested in women’s soccer. The club invited more than a hundred women to Wednesday’s match, including former players, and people from various fields of politics and sports. Basque premier Iñigo Urkullo also attended the match. The stadium’s stands had not filled up until 15 minutes into the game. At first it seemed that Athletic could wrest back control of the match when Catalan referee Acevedo Dudley gave Atlético midfielder Kenti Robles a red card, preventing her from playing in the second half. Although the team pressed and had their opportunities, Atlético prevailed in the end. But the real winner was women’s soccer.
“A memory that will last forever”
José Luis Sánchez Vera, Atlético de Madrid's coach, left San Mamés surprised by the turnout for the match. "This is a memory that will last forever. There is nothing better than beating an attendance record," he said in the press room. "We are proud to have won against a team like Athletic in a match with almost 50,000 people in the stands. This is unforgettable."
Joseba Agirre, manager of Athletic Bilbao, said he was proud of his team. "The public responded phenomenally. The 0-2 score is a pity, we were very close, and it doesn't do justice to the talent on the field."
Athletic's captain, Erika Vázquez, the top scorer of the Iberdrola League, explained that "we are proud of ourselves, and of the record. The fact that the match was the largest ever attended in Europe is more than enough to be proud of. "
English version by Asia London Palomba.