Remembering Athletic Club’s Historic 1-0 Victory Over Newcastle 25 Years Later
There have been many special moments throughout the history of Athletic Club, but not many nights live up to what happened 25 years ago at the old San Mamés. The Lions were hosting Newcastle, who led the Premier League table at the time, in the second round of what is now commonly referred to as the Europa League. After falling behind 3-0 in the first leg in England, many considered Athletic already eliminated, but the Basques had other plans.
“They were a great team and they were confident in the first leg when they led 3-0, but we continued to play and made it 3-1,” Kuko Ziganda recalled in an interview with Mundo Deportivo. “They became nervous and we were hopeful with the support of 3,000 Athletic fans in the English stands.” Bittor Alkiza remembers the first leg fondly as well. “It was beautiful because of all the fans who were with us in England and the good atmosphere between the two groups of fans.”
Going into the second leg on 1 November, 1994 Athletic were in a difficult situation. Not only were the Lions trailing 3-2 on aggregate, but they had several injuries in the team. Ziganda explained that new manager Javier Irureta had to make some difficult decisions.
“Playing in Europe wears you down and I say that from experience. There were many injuries and a lot of demand. Jabo (Javier Irureta) had to suffer a hard start to the season but he adapted well to the circumstances and we were always a compact team that competed well. Suances, for example, came on as a substitute in the first match and scored a goal, then he started the second [match].”
While Ziganda was a seasoned player for Athletic at the time, Alkiza had just joined the club from rivals Real Sociedad. “That was my first season and until then I had not played well,” said the former midfielder with a laugh. “That month Julen Guerrero was injured. Normally I played more on the wing and those games I played inside with Julen out. I had a hard time.”
The rest, as they say, is history. Athletic played a great game against Newcastle. The match was very open and both sides had chances, but only one goal was scored. In the 67th minute Alkiza split the defense with a pass to Ziganda who took the ball into the box and beat the keeper with a low shot at the near post. “I don’t know if it was my best goal, but it’s the goal that everyone remembers,” Ziganda said with a smile.
Alkiza hasn’t forgotten the pass that he made, but was sure to praise Ziganda for finishing the chance. “I remember the pass to Kuko because I’ve seen it replayed several times,” he said. “The ball was between the lines, no defenders, and the pass was relatively simple. The one that made the play was Kuko because it wasn’t an easy shot. That goal allowed us to advance after we already seemed eliminated in the first game.”
Athletic would have the opportunity to double their lead later in the match when Gonzalo Suances won a penalty after a counter attack. However, Ander Garitano’s shot was sent off the left post and the rebound put over the crossbar. Ziganda’s goal would prove to be the winner as Athletic fans rushed onto the field to celebrate the 1-0 victory after the final whistle. The Basques had advanced to the Round of 16 on away goals.
“I remember everything very well because it was one of the most beautiful night’s we ever lived at San Mamés,” Alkiza said looking back on the entire experience. “I have a very vivid memory. It was spectacular. Fans jumped onto the field at the end of the game. What a great atmosphere it was in San Mamés!”
Looking back, Ziganda understands just how important the result was for the club. “It had been a few years since Athletic had been in Europe and our fans were eager to remember the old times. What a better draw than against the leaders in the Premier League! It’s been 25 years and it’s impossible for me to forget because every time I meet fans they remind me, not only of the goal, but the way we played that game against Newcastle.”
Despite the magnitude of the result, Ziganda can’t fully recall the entire match. I remember that the game was good, back and forth, that they had some clear chances and we had the penalty that hit the post,” he said thinking back. “Other than my goal I don’t really remember. One of the most beautiful photos I have of football is with Bittor after that goal. It’s a pity the shirt is blue and not the red and white.”
On the other hand, Alkiza believes even bigger moments have happened since that unforgettable night in Bilbao. “That game is one of the most well remembered, but there have been more important moments. Bielsa’s first year was great and then Txingurri (Ernesto Valverde) set the bar very high.”
Unfortunately, Athletic wouldn’t advance past the Round of 16. The Zurigorri won the home leg 1-0 over Parma with another goal from Ziganda, but fell 4-2 in Italy. Javier Irureta would eventually be relieved of his duties following a 2-0 loss to Sevilla in March. Bilbao Athletic coach José María Amorrortu replaced Irureta as a caretaker manager and led the first team to an 8th place finish in the La Liga table.
Ziganda would go on to make 291 appearances for Athletic, scoring 91 goals, before eventually becoming a manager for Bilbao Athletic followed by one season as the first team coach. He and Irureta experienced a similar situation, taking over after a highly successful manager left the club, and Ziganda offered his opinion on why the pair struggled to find success.
“The moment was very important and Jabo came after Heynckes who had two incredible years as coach where Athletic played spectacular football. Jupp changed the mentality and style, he made the team very offensive so games were open and we scored many goals. The impact left by Jupp was deep and strong. With Jabo there was another style. He came after the elections, was coaching in Europe, and had to deal with a lot of injuries. Let’s just say that I can understand the difficulties he faced even more now than when I was a player.”
Although Ziganda’s lone season as Athletic manager is widely considered a failure, he doesn’t think it ruined his legacy as a player. “I don’t think so. I live in Bilbao now and when I walk down the street everyone talks to me with respect and admiration. The coach and the president are the two most visible people at the club, the most exposed to extreme criticism for better or worse. You have to know that if you are going to be an Athletic coach you will receive criticism, good and bad. Fans continue to identify me with that goal; I’ll always be the one who scored against Newcastle.”
For his part, Alkiza made 328 appearances for Athletic and also went into coaching after retirement. Currently, Alkiza is an assistant coach for Osasuna and also recognizes the difficulties that Irureta faced. “There were moments at San Mamés that were surely very hard for him and his family as well. I didn’t realize so much as a player, but now that I’m on the other side it had to be very hard.”
Regardless of how the rest of the season played out, that special night at San Mamés 25 years ago will always be remembered as one of the greatest moments in Athletic history. The Lions overcame the odds to win at the Cathedral and advance in Europe. It will long be recorded in the annals of Athletic legend and as fans rushed the field at the end of the game everyone felt the magnitude of what had just been accomplished.