Sun05272018

Last update02:06:32 PM

Today Live:

Ronaldo signs his name on Holy ledger of San Mames

Athletic Bilbao vs. Real Madrid is one of the historic classics of Spanish football. It may not carry the international weight that Barcelona-Real clashes currently enjoy, but back in the day these sides were the powerhouses of the national league.

In the early to mid-1930s Athletic and Real regularly battled for the league title. After the Civil War, Telmo Zarra emerged as La Liga's most lethal striker -- until one Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro appeared on the Spanish scene -- helping the Basque club to a league title, a few runners-up positions and a fistful of King's Cup trophies.

Toward the end of his career, Zarra lined up against Alfredo di Stefano, one of the many players who were able to compete in the Spanish league under the (then) dubious dual-nationality rule, which allowed teams to field more than the three foreign players allowed by Liga regulations; a rule that, by its own definition of itself, backed up to the very day by a recruitment policy that gives Athletic a catchment area of the Basque Country, parts of La Rioja and Navarre and a sliver of southern France. The Lions of San Mames were destined to tame themselves.

However, despite that demographic impediment, only three teams have never been relegated from the top tier of La Liga: Barcelona, Real and Athletic. The capital club's 3-0 win in San Mames Sunday was unremarkable apart from an underlying narrative that the home crowd was all-too-aware of: this would be the last meeting between the sides at the Cathedral, the Lion's Den, the home of Athletic Bilbao....