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IN IMAGES: 1 million revellers flood into Bilbao to celebrate first trophy in 40 years

AFP
AFP - [email protected]
IN IMAGES: 1 million revellers flood into Bilbao to celebrate first trophy in 40 years
Athletic Bilbao's supporters cheer during the celebration of their victory in the Spanish Copa del Rey (King's Cup) in Bilbao on April 11, 2024. (Photo by ANDER GILLENEA / AFP)

Athletic Bilbao fans filled the streets of their city on Thursday to celebrate the team's Copa del Rey triumph, their first major trophy for 40 years, paraded down the Nervión river on a boat during a spectacular party in the Basque city.

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Players boarded a barge known as the 'Gabarra' and sailed 13 kilometres down the river from the affluent town of Getxo to the Bilbao city hall, where the party continued.

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Hundeds of thousands of fans lining the river banks and crammed onto balconies let off smoke bombs and flares, waving flags and scarves in celebration as Athletic celebrated their first cup win since a domestic double in 1984.

Athletic Bilbao's players on board 'La Gabarra'. (Photo by ANDER GILLENEA / AFP)

Ernesto Valverde's Athletic side beat Mallorca on penalties last weekend in Seville to win the cup, four decades after the club defeated a Barcelona team led by Diego Maradona in the final.

"At Lezama (the club's youth academy) we have the photo of the Gabarra, and we've always talked about how it would be to live something like this," said midfielder Ander Herrera.

A giant jersey of Athletic Bilbao is seen as Athletic Bilbao's supporters wait for the start of the celebration. (Photo by ANDER GILLENEA / AFP)

Players from that team, immortalised in photos in most Bilbao bars and restaurants, were also present at the celebrations.

"The whole squad's here and we're remembering old times and enjoying it, so these kids see what these fans are truly about," said Javier Clemente, who coached Athletic between 1981-1986.

"(Athletic) teams are sometimes good, sometimes bad, but the fans are always good. The fans give you goosebumps."

The Athletic players' boat was followed by a fleet of other vessels filled with supporters, including one driven by Barcelona defender Inigo Martinez.

Dozens of boats filled the waters of the Nervión river during this special celebration. (Photo by ANDER GILLENEA / AFP)

The centre-back, who played for Bilbao between 2018 and 2023, when he joined Barca, did not want to miss the celebrations.

With schools shut early so children could enjoy the celebrations, over a million fans were expected to attend.

Athletic coach Valverde, a keen photographer, boarded the boat with a camera, and took snaps of the joyous scenes.

Athletic Club Bilbao won the 2024 Copa del Rey (King's Cup) on April 6th in Seville, their 24th Copa trophy but their first major silverware for 40 years. (Photo by Ander Gillenea / AFP)

"This is for those who are here, those who are not here and those who have left us," said Athletic striker Inaki Williams.

"For those who played at Athletic and gave everything for Athletic to be a champion side."

Athletic Bilbao's captain Iker Muniain (C,L) and defender Oscar De Marcos hold the trophy in front of adoring fans. (Photo by ANDER GILLENEA / AFP)

Captain Iker Muniain led the celebrations from the balcony of the city hall.

"Who are we? Athletic! And what are we? Champions!" he yelled to a sea of supporters decked out in red-and-white, who will party long into the night.

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