Well, my turn...
First, it's hard to explain I think, because it's a feeling, a very strong one...
Athletic caught my interest a long time ago, I was about 13/14 years old, supporting my local clubs and interested in football in general.
Probably because of that I watched Eurogoals, the famous programme on Eurosport on a regular base. It was there when I saw Athletic for the first time in my life, on TV, on a late evening when my parents weren't at home so I could watch it
. We played some team and Isma Urzaiz scored by a bicycle-kick, a fabulous goal, but it wasn't just the goal which caught my interest, but just the name... Urzaiz... I never heard a name with such a weird pronounciation. It sounded like magic, especially in combination with that goal I saw. Also I think I was extremely lucky to see Athletic because usually we are/were never on Eurogoals or programmes (no pay-tv) about football abroad in general.
That's how I learnt to know Athletic at the very first time, still my feelings were quite neutral, but also I was interested in this club, I started to 'research' a bit and saw Athletic played just with Basques, learnt to know about the policy but didn't really understand why... it wasn't important at the time, I just had to respect such a club, playing just with locals and never relegated to the Segunda, that's class!
Still, I never saw Athletic play in real (although I tried hard to watch more Eurogoals, but like always it's Madrid, Barįa etc), never talked to other fans (because there weren't over here) and actually still didn't really know something about the club. However, I grew older and got more interested in politics, learned more about politics and I think it's fair to say politics play a part in our history... also on politics I can say I've got the same thoughts, in general (!) like people in Euskadi.
As I'm a cycling fan too, I can say I was really impressed by Roberto Laiseka's victory on Luz-Ardiden in 2001. As you might know every year during the Tour de France there's a invasion of Basques in the Pyrrenees. In the past it never interested me, but since I was interested in Athletic I saw a kind of relation, the passion and pride of these people. Laiseka won and I'll never forget his words, in an interview, perhaps not directly after the race, but later on, he emphasized this was a victory for Euskadi, not for Spain... confusing for me at the time, but when I saw the pride and party at the mountains when Laiseka passed them, I realised it must've been very important...
Still I have my doubts, because here in Holland no one talks about Basque Country, there's only one reason when there's something about Euskadi in the news over here, and that's terrorism. So because of these propaganda I didn't know what to think of it, these 'weird' Basques, would they really be so evil???
Couldn't believe it, time to check it our in real! I'm extremely lucky the club decides from time to time to visit Holland during pre-season, just like four year and almost three months ago. In a place almost three hours by train from where I live (but still Holland, it's bigger then you might think
) I visit Athletic for the first time, we lost 2-1 versus AZ
. It was just a boring preseason match, but I again I saw the passion of the fans, my Spanish was horrible so I couldn't talk to the Athletic fans who travelled all the way from Spain, but when they noticed someone not from Basque Country having sympathies for Athletic their reactions where lovely.
Next season Athletic again visited Holland, because I was just 18 years old at the time and didn't have money, I could just visit one match, in Heerenveen, again very far from where I live, this time we won 2-1 but that wasn't important for me, from here on I more learnt to know the players and staff by names (so not just Urzaiz
Then again one year later, after I tried to follow Athletic as much as possible - also I think I discovered this website where Txupa and others made me a lot clear about the club and Euskadi in general - Athletic's women's team visited Holland.
It was during the summer-holiday and I was quite bored, finally got some money so decided to visit all these matches. They played a tournament for the Women's Champions League, accidentally I was again very lucky the draw decided the girls had to play in Holland. I got a brand-new Ikurriņa and I think I showed it there for the first time. When the coach saw me walking he couldn't understand, he thought I ripped his flag (he took one too)... but I explained I didn't, we talked a bit but didn't had a lot of time. Two days later I went again, saw a good match and the coach contacted me again, he asked or I should come as well the last match because he got some presents for me. Of course I visited the last match as well, and when he saw me about 30 mins before the match he gave me a bag full of presents, a shirt, banners, the most weird things.
That was great of course, but for me perhaps more important was the mentality of this guy, he simply loved it someone from outside Euskadi got sympathies for this country... and respected it a lot.
After all these things so far, I just realized this is my club, actually the only one I really love, everything is perfect in relation with my personal believes...
So during this season I discovered the online radio where I tried to follow the matches when I got the time...
Then one season later I got another unique experience, in Essen (Germany) we played the locals of Rot-Weiss in a friendly. When I showed my Ikurriņa over there a reporter of Deia came to me and asked me several things... about the flag, why I showed it, my support to Athletic etc. Some days later I appeared in Deia. Then again two days later we played in Holland where, which is really a coincidence, again a reporter, this time of a local Dutch paper, wanted to interview me. For me at this age this were unique experiences, just because Athletic is such a unique club and very unknown in Holland this reporter got interested, also here I appeared in the paper together with a German fan
. Also I went to Köln this season.
Later on that season I visited Basque Country, La Catedral, Athletic for the first time, which was a great experience with great people. Also this season I visited all pre-season matches and I'm hoping to visit Euskadi soon again, just as I hope Athletic will visit Holland next season again, no matter or it's pre-season, UEFA Cup or Champions League
Could tell much more but also this is already too long... in short it's a combination of the passion and pride of the people... the traditions of the club... (not just the policy but also think about the shirts for example), the stadium and just like b2b says the 'Basqueness' of the club, it's just the only perfect club in the world for me